We have reached that point when women running for the highest government positions are no longer looked at as aberrations. After all, the Philippines has had two women presidents, a feat that very few countries can equal, a respectable number of senators, representatives, and Cabinet secretaries. This is good because it appears that the image of a leader has evolved to the extent that significant public offices are not anymore considered as exclusively men’s turf.
However, we are also at that stage when candidates can get away with publicly disregarding, even disrespecting women’s rights. We are also still at that phase when very few candidates, males and females, consider addressing women’s issues as a priority in their platforms of governance. A few are even caught bluffing their way out when pressed for their agenda for women. Something is very wrong here.
Let’s look at the numbers. Two presidential, one vice presidential, and around seven senatorial candidates are women. For the top post, Senator Grace Poe, despite the disqualification cases she faces, remains a strong contender. Per the most recent Pulse Asia survey, Poe leads the other candidates with the other woman bet, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, said to be battling cancer, occupying the last position.
The numbers of vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo are continuously improving. Per the same survey, she ranks third following Senators Chiz Escudero and Bongbong Marcos but ahead of three other candidates.
What possibilities do these survey ranks show us? One, barring disqualification, we may have another woman president in the person of Grace Poe. If the Supreme Court disqualifies her, we will definitely have a male president. Of the male presidential candidates, Binay is only ahead of Mar Roxas and Digong Duterte (who are both in the third spot) by three points. Therefore, the biggest beneficiary of Poe votes may win the race.
How do these possibilities look for the Filipino women? I expect a Poe presidency to be, at the very least, friendly to women’s issues. After all, she is a modern woman who spent a good part of her life in the United States and may be free from the very traditional and conservative views on women. However, I find her platform wanting in terms of what gender-specific problems her presidency will prioritize.
Of the other candidates, only one, Defensor-Santiago, has an unquestionable track record in addressing women’s rights. At this point and with the very lackluster campaign she is running, it might need a miracle for her to win.
Of the men, only Duterte has some good record on women’s issues with the progressive policies he has put in place in Davao City and his pro-RH, pro-divorce pronouncements. But, and this is a big BUT, Duterte is also first to publicly disrespect women’s rights with his machismo. Publicly making sexual advances to women during his campaign sorties, using his power as a male and a politician to just go on kissing female supporters like he owns them cannot be acceptable and defendable any which way one looks at it. These acts speak volumes of how he regards women and one wonders how he will respect women if he becomes president. Candidates allied with him who defended these actions are, to say the least, disappointing.
Remember the Tolentino Playgirls scandal? I say that Duterte’s actions are the same, if not worse. Not a few are turned-off. No wonder, some are saying that Duterte is sabotaging his own chances at the presidency.
Binay and Roxas have virtually no track record on defending women’s rights. Binay is anti-RH, and well, Roxas, resigned from the Board of one foundation that was at the forefront of the pro-RH struggle. Roxas was a fence-sitter on the RH issue (and may I add, on many other controversial issues).
As far as the vice presidency is concerned, the best bet as far as being progressive and pro-women is Leni Robredo. Years before she became a public official, she has been defending women and the poor as a lawyer. Her pro-poor, pro-women bias is the reason why groups of development workers and women’s organizations support her. Robredo’s winning the elections, I have no doubt, will be good for the country. However, as of now, she is third and the leading candidate, Senator Chiz Escudero, is ahead by many points.
Escudero has never been known as a women’s rights advocate. While he voted yes to the RH law in the end, he was never on the side of the advocates and has even made anti-RH remarks before. Escudero is too much of a political chameleon perceived as being neither here nor there on social issues.
Solely on gender issues, the other candidates who have displayed some level of being pro-women are Senators Bongbong Marcos and Alan Peter Cayetano. Yes, the late dictator’s son who is within a striking distance primarily because of the Ilocano vote and the fact that the younger voters have no memory of how it was during the Marcos dictatorship. The young Marcos and Cayetano clearly sided with the women and other advocates during the RH struggle. The other candidates, Honasan and Trillanes, have zero credibility on women’s issues.
The possibility of having women occupying the two top government positions is there. If this happens, the Philippines is going to make history in women’s political participation. However, there are major obstacles for this to happen.
For now, the need is for the electorate, especially the women voters and progressive groups, to demand from candidates their platform on gender issues, especially the controversial ones like RH, divorce, and LGBT rights. Candidates should be asked how they will uphold human rights, particularly women’s rights.
Besides having women candidates, we need pro-women candidates with a clear platform and plan on actualizing rights, whether these are males or females running for positions.
Women’s rights need to be at the core of the 2016 electoral campaign.
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