Press Release
September 29, 2018

Speech of Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III
Federation of Asia-Pacific Women's Association
23rd Convention
Sept. 29, 2018


Honorable Tita Mary Jane C. Ortega, President of the Federation of Asia-Pacific Women's Association and former three-term mayor of San Fernando, La Union, officers and members of this prestigious federation of women's association, guests, ladies and gentlemen, good day to all of us.

Sixty years ago, in 1958, Geronima T. Pecson of the National Federation of Womens Clubs in the Philippines conceived of creating a federation of Asian women's clubs. Her vision was the unification of Asian women for the progress of Asia and the protection of the ideals of freedom and justice, thereby contributing to the world effort to build lasting peace. When representatives of Asian women's clubs met in the Little Theater of Arellano University in June 1959, the Federation of Asia-Pacific Women's Association was organized and its constitution was ratified in a record breaking two days.

FAWA was organized to bring about major changes in the status of women. The aim was to create opportunities for women to get together and discuss problems affecting Asian countries and communities, and to try and find solutions to these problems. It was also to provide an opportunity for women to be exposed to and to better understand the various Asian cultures, traditions and ways of life that are different from their own.

It was decided that this could be achieved through the holding of periodic conventions and meetings in different member countries. These periodic meetings also served to strengthen mutual understanding and cooperation. The themes and proceedings of each convention reflect the issues of the times.

Today, the theme of your convention is sustainable development. This indeed is the issue of the day. Sustainable development is so vital that the United Nations General Assembly has set a collection of seventeen (17) global goals which are known popularly as SDGs.

Perhaps Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals is the most relevant to the ideals of FAWA - gender equality. According to the United Nations, "gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world." Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will nurture sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.

It may come as a surprise to us but in the Asia-Pacific it is said that 2.6 Million women and girls are never born due to prenatal sex selection or who die prematurely from abuse or maternal mortality. In South Asia, more women die in childbirth than in any other part of the world. Domestic violence is rampant and so is discrimination in the workplace especially for domestic workers who are more often than not - women.

The good news, however, is there have been major advances in expanding education's reach in the Asia-Pacific region. For example, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the number of girls and women who have gained access to education in the region increased substantially from 2000 to 2016. During that time, the number of female out-of-school children, adolescents, and youth of primary and secondary school age in the region dropped by 67 million.

As the number of females going to school increased, gender parity was reached in Central Asia and East Asia and the Pacific in 2016. In fact, female enrollments increased in tertiary education by 41 million between 2000 and 2016, resulting in participation levels being in favor of females in many parts of Asia-Pacific today.

Ensuring gender equality is not merely rhetoric but yields tangible positive results. In the East Asia and Pacific region, output per worker could be 7-18% higher if female entrepreneurs and workers were in the same sectors, types of jobs and activities as men, and had the same access to productive resources.

I am reminded of what Michelle Obama said in a conversation with George Bush when they were discussing how countries who oppress women are usually countries who are struggling economically. "We can't waste this spotlight," Obama said, on the experience of being First Lady. "It is temporary, and life is short, and change is needed, and women are smarter than men." She ended by saying "And the men can't complain because you're outnumbered today."

Indeed, each time we are given an opportunity to change the world, we should grab it because life is short and change is urgently needed in our world. Today, I am prepared to concede that indeed women are smarter than men. Mainly because I am now outnumbered by women.

But seriously, there is empirical data which support the positive influence of women. A study of women elected to local government in India found that female leadership positively affected the provision of services for both men and women.

Indeed we have had many prominent Filipina leaders who have contributed positively to our nation's history. Since I am a part of the Philippine Senate, allow me to restrict myself to notable women Senators, or else we might be here until tomorrow. Will it surprise you to learn that since 1947, there have only been twenty-two (22) women senators?

Of course, we have to start with Senator Geronima Pecson who conceived of organizing FAWA. Not only was she the first woman senator, she was also the first Filipino and the first woman elected to UNESCO. She received numerous awards in her lifetime, the most notable of which are the Press Association's Legion of Honor Award from the President of the Philippines, the Pro Patria Presidential Award, and the 1964 Outstanding Award because of her "excellent service in Philippines education".

Santanina Rasul was the first Muslim woman elected Senator. She co-authored with Senator Raul Roco Republic Act No. 7192 or the Women in Development and Nation-Building Act of 1995. The Act outlawed discrimination against women, opened the doors of the Philippine Military Academy to women, and mandated that a substantial portion of government funds at all levels be used for programs that would benefit and develop women's capabilities.

Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani was the first Filipino woman to become Senate President pro tempore. She authored Republic Act 6725, dubbed as the "Shahani Law", which addresses gender discrimination at work. She introduced the Anti-Rape Law of 1997 and the Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act of 1998, among others.

Senator Loren Legarda, a champion for the environment was the first Filipino woman to become Majority Floor Leader in the Senate. She authored the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act (RA 9262); the Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710); the Anti-Child Labor Law (RA 9231); the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (RA 9208) and its expanded version (RA 10364) and the Climate Change Act (RA 9729) among many others.

Then of course my favorite professor Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. She was the first Filipino and first Asian elected Judge of the International Criminal Court. She was former Secretary of Agrarian Reform; former Commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation; and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee.

My friend, Senator Pia Cayetano, was the youngest woman elected senator in the history of the Philippines at the age of 40. Also a champion of women's rights she sponsored among others the Reproductive Health Law (RA 10354), which provides women with access to information and health care services to realize their reproductive health rights.

There are many more, but I am sure you get my point.

Women have a unique vantage point especially in leadership roles. The nurturing and nursing nature of women manifests in the little simple acts of kindness and friendliness which are put in things. These are the values that are easily taken for granted, or even neglected because they are so simple or natural. Women have a knack for removing barriers that hinder happiness, peace, and harmony which they capably and naturally initiate in the home circle radiating to the community, to the work place, the corporate world and to the entire planet.

One wonders why this comes so easy for the women? And I found the answer which is scripturally based: Because women are blessed with a womb which in scripture is the center of wisdom and emotion (Isaiah 66:7-12). We, men, must concede that women have an extra gift from our Creator that make you special and superior in many ways. In the Filipino setting we take this as gospel truth in the saying that, "ang ina ang ilaw ng tahanan." And men universally admit that, "behind every man's success is a woman."

I join you in looking forward to celebrating your federation's 60th year since its organization next year as we prepare our hearts and minds in nurturing the peace that you have planted in proclaiming the value of interdependence of human beings.

Peace as we all know does not only mean absence of war or disarmament. Peace is so intricately interlaced in the social conditions that best serve and promote and protect our dignity. So, we stand side by side as we walk together in inculcating and fostering life that upholds personal and social responsibility.

Together we face up to the present challenge of addressing with more urgency the concerns of the vulnerable, marginalized and exploited that tend to become more pronounced each day amidst the wave of digital cultural phenomena, modern consumerism, and advances in technology.

Allow me to share with you the prophetic insight of Christopher Dawson when he wrote these words in 1933 as the Nazi threat was taking shape, and I quote:

"In fact, the great tragedy of modern civilization is to be found in the failure of material progress to satisfy human needs. The modern world has more power than any previous age, but it has used its new power for destruction as much for life; it has more wealth, yet we are in the throes of a vast economic crisis; it has more knowledge, and yet our knowledge seems powerless to help us. What our civilization lacks is not power, wealth and knowledge, but spiritual vitality, and unless it is possible to secure that, nothing can save us from the fate that overtook the civilization of classical antiquity and so many other civilizations that were powerful and brilliant in their day."

The other side of the spectrum is the trauma and the constant threat of calamities - natural and manmade. The Marawi siege, the catastrophic damage of Yolanda, and the most recent, the horrific devastation of Typhoon Ompong. These are but a few of the many that the Filipino nation has survived. And we are most thankful for the grace of resiliency of the Filipino people. In our own small way, my political party created PDP-Laban Cares, a humanitarian arm which is competently and affectively chaired by a woman, to respond to the needs of victims whose peace is shaken by calamities.

The challenge remains and our task of sustaining what we have started continues. Translating this in more concrete terms, I hope that this third millennium will see us with the hungry no longer hungry; the homeless no longer homeless; the unemployed no longer unemployed; the sick and disabled no longer unattended; children deprived of school get educated; that every citizen becomes a steward of our environment where everyone enjoys the protection of life; a society that is free from fear, enjoys freedom from violence and threats of terrorism. A fair, peaceful and happy society.

There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.

Let's continue our partnership in our intent for peace and stability and be active influencers in our respective roles - for my part to continue legislating laws which will help in the upliftment of the lives of our people, domestically and globally. It will be a pleasure and beneficial to hear from women's groups valuable inputs to form part of my legislative agenda.

And at this point, I seek your help in urging our countrymen to always use their KOKOte in deciding what is best for our country so that we may achieve our vision of a Philippine society which is just and fair; which saves and shares; scientific and objective; safe and peaceful; educated, healthy and productive; democratic; and which is, most of all, happy and free, with overflowing love of God and country.

I wish you success in all your future endeavors.

Maraming salamat po. Mabuhay ang FAWA!

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