Gina de Venecia: Making advocacies happen

Published March 18, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Anna Mae Lamentillo

(In celebration of Women’s Month, Manila Bulletin is publishing stories featuring women who have made outstanding contributions to the country or to their communities.)

FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN GINA DE VENECIA

They say that “behind every successful man is a woman.” But in a gender-equal world, it can work both ways.
Former congresswoman Gina De Venecia, fondly called by many as “Manay Gina,” is a woman blessed with a husband — former five-time House Speaker Jose De Venecia, Jr. (JDV) — who’s very supportive of her advocacies. She describes him as “the wind beneath my wings.”

She said that without the former Speaker’s support, many of her dreams would have remained just dreams. “Through his loving guidance, I bloomed to become a better version of myself,” she quipped.

When JDV was in Congress, Manay Gina supported his advocacies.  

As the president of the Congressional Spouses Foundation, Inc. (CSFI), the organization built The Haven for Women. Now with 15 regional centers managed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), these are rehabilitation facilities for women-in crisis, the victims of rape, incest, forced prostitution and the like.

She also established The Haven for Children with four regional centers that help street children; and The Haven for the Elderly in Tanay, Rizal,which serves as a shelter for senior citizens who have been abandoned by their families.

From congressional spouse to Congresswoman

When JDV’s term as congressman of the 4th District of Pangasinan was ending, someone who knew his plans by heart had to continue his unfinished programs. That’s when she decided to enter government service.

In the 2010 elections, she won as congresswoman of the Fourth District of Pangasinan and became part of the 15th Congress, wherein she was elected as president of the Association of Women Legislators Foundation, Inc. (AWLFI).
Manay Gina shared that one of her unforgettable experiences in public service was her visit to Palo, Leyte in December 2013 to help the victims of Supertyphoon Yolanda. She saw first-hand the harrowing destruction brought by climate change.

“As an island-nation, our country is very vulnerable to the grim effects of global warming that brings extreme weather.  It’s hard to imagine what we as individuals can do to resolve a problem of this scale and severity, but all of us, should be proactive in preventing further degradation of our environment,” said the former lawmaker.

THE SIGNING of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the CSFI and DILG regarding the creation of Women’s Desk in all police precincts, Feb. 15, 1997.


 
Empowering women and the vulnerable

Anyone who knows Manay Gina would agree that she is one strong woman. She was able to turn a very tragic incident into a source of hope and inspiration for fellow women and parents.

In December 2004, her youngest daughter KC died. Manay Gina describes it as “the most devastating pain that I have experienced, nothing else will ever compare.”

Months after, Manay Gina and Ali Sotto organized the Inang Naulila sa Anak (INA) Foundation. The INA Foundation helped orphaned mothers to move on from a place of grief to a place of optimism.

During that December 2013 visit to Palo, Leyte, Manay Gina, who was then president of the AWLFI, was with fellow women lawmakers and some members of INA Foundation. In addition to the relief goods prepared by the congresswomen, the INA members met with parents who lost several members of their family. One of them was Michael Abadia who lost his wife and five children.

As someone who experienced losing a child, Manay Gina could understand Michael’s grief. She also realized that in great tragedies, equally important is the moral support to the victims.

With the help of the DSWD and JDV, Manay Gina founded the INA Healing Center in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, that offers free counselling services to orphaned mothers. The INA Healing Center and the INA Foundation are also assisting the DSWD and local government units in training barangay health workers as grief counselors.
 
Women’s Protection Desks

Manay Gina was also instrumental in the creation of the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Women and Children Protection Desks nationwide.

In the course of her interactions with The Haven for Women’s clients, she learned that many abused victims failed to file police reports because they were too embarrassed to report deeply intimate complaints to mostly male police authorities.  She was convinced of the need for a special unit in law enforcement to address this particular concern.
She relayed the idea to then Secretary Bobby Barbers of Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
On Feb. 15, 1997, Manay Gina, as CSFI president, and DILG Secretary Barbers signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) regarding the creation of Women’s Desk in all police precincts. All police precincts in the entire country have a section called the Women and Children Protection Desk, and even the barangays have their Violence Against Women (VAW) Desk.

WITH THEIR CHILDREN — Christopher (left), Carissa, former Congresswoman Gina de Venecia, former House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., KC and Philip.

Strengthened by a loving family

Manay Gina also acknowledges her parents’ upbringing as an instrument in her successes, especially her resilience.
She shared that she was a shy kid but her childhood was solid and happy because she was doted on by her parents and grandparents. They lived just a few meters away from the family-owned movie studio, Sampaguita Pictures.
She remembers her parents teaching her how “to walk with kings and dine with paupers.” While she grew up among movie kings and queens of that generation, she was also taught to love the masses, because they are the ones who support their movies. Every year, they would have outreach programs, especially when there were typhoons and floods.
She credits her father, Jose Perez, for teaching the value of compassion, empathy and generosity, and her mother, Azucena Vera-Perez for showing her how to be a confident woman.  

 
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