Archive for March, 2013

Hanging Out in Tagaytay

by on Sunday, March 31st, 2013

View of Taal Lake from Starbucks in Tagaytay

Map showing route from Manila to Tagaytay, with Taal Volcano

An hour’s drive from Metro Manila will take you to a cool place. In fact, in my beginning Tagalog textbook it shows up often in connection with coolness, as in, “Alin ang mas maginaw, ang Tagaytay o ang Baguio?” (Which is colder, Tagatay or Baguio?) Both are mountainous areas known for providing relief from the summer heat. Both have terrific views. From many parts of Tagaytay, you can see the Taal Lake its volcanic crater, as well as the mountain ridges and forests where revolutionaries hid out during the 1896 the war against Spanish rule. Tagaytay is popular with tourists and recently also with new residents. Real estate prices are rising. Many upscale restaurants are available. It’s also a great place to just hang out.

On one trip we visited the guesthouse originally built by Imelda Marcos, reportedly for Ronald Reagan, who never show up. After the 1986 overthrow of the Marcos regime, it was named the People’s Park in the Sky.

The People’s Park in the Sky


The amphitheater at People’s Park

Another place well worth visiting is the Daughters of Divine Zeal, a community of sisters which maintains well-tended fields, a restaurant with Italian food and a bee farm. We have gotten into the habit of going there to pick up natural productions like cosmetics containing honey, which are available in the showroom. There’s also a shelter for abused women.

Natural products for sale in the shop

Italian restaurant at the Daughters of Divine Zeal

The bees

A typical Filipino gate

On one visit we stayed in a vacation home surrounded by flowers.

Inside the house

Inside the traditional house

The front porch with locally made wooden furniture

But I fell in love with this traditional Filipino house with its various woods and very relaxing mood, inside and out.

The traditional house from the gate

Woodwork details

Another time we did a retreat at the Angel Hills Retreat Center (below). Always we ate well, including local dishes like bulalot. Fruit from Tagaytay is well known, so we often stopped to take some home.

Fruit vendor near People’s Park

Bulalot, or bone marrow soup, which tastes a lot like Korean beef rib stew


The Ones Who Leave and the Ones Who Get Left

by on Friday, March 15th, 2013

Lysley Tenorio in Makati

In general, I prefer novels to short story collections, but Lysley Tenorio’s Monstress is an exception. Each of these eight stories has a satisfying fullness, and the collection has a novel-like breadth. It really dives into the Filipino-American cultural divide, particularly on an emotional level. Lysley and I met at the author’s book-signing in Makati. The following interview took place over Skype after he had returned to the States, where he teaches at Saint Mary’s College of California.

 CD:  Can you tell me about your immigration from the Philippines to the States?

LT:  I was seven months old, so it was a fairly easy transition for me, without a process of assimilation. But through my siblings I witnessed and maybe experienced vicariously the struggle and the joy and the uncertainty of making a place for oneself in the new country. My oldest brother was nineteen years old, and my older sister fifteen. The teenage years are so volatile that it’s hard not to get a sense of the impact of leaving for a new home. So the sense of transformation, of trying to adjust, trying to make one’s way, is such a heart-felt and intense endeavor that it was palpable to me when I was growing up even if it wasn’t my own personal experience.

CD:  Did you become part of a Filipino-American community, or was your family more isolated?

LT:  It’s hard for me to say about the early years, but I grew up in San Diego in a little community, Mare Mesa, which was nicknamed “Manila Mesa” because of all the Filipinos. There are so many different faces and ethnicities that I never felt isolated or alienated—certainly in terms of public life, like going to school or to the supermarket. I don’t recall a conscious effort on my part to immerse myself in the Filipino or Filipino-American community, but I certainly had Filipino friends. That was just the reality of the place.

The point-of-view characters

CD:  So you didn’t feel isolated or alienated, unlike perhaps your characters. I find them fascinating because they’re all in really extreme circumstances, but as the stories progress, they’re revealed to be very human and in some ways very ordinary people. Can you talk about your construction of characters?

LT:  I’m drawn to circumstances that seem almost too strange to be true because they provide good drama and tension. If the situation verges on the unbelievable, but is actually real, it comes with an emotional depth that’s worthy of exploration if you’re writing character-driven fiction. I’m drawn to strange but true intersections between the Philippines and America. For example, “Help” is about some Filipino guys, Marcos loyalists, who beat up the Beatles because one of them had supposedly said something lewd about Imelda Marcos. It’s based on a true story. I need to ask myself: who are the characters who might occupy this strange space? The challenge is to take characters arising from strange, weird, seemingly unbelievable situations and make them emotionally complex, give them psychological depth so the reader can experience an empathic tension with them.

CD:  Do you start with an emotion or some kind of emotional blueprint?

LT:  No, I would be cautious about that kind of approach. The construction of character really comes from situation and plot. I don’t want to call it a blueprint, but certainly the majority of characters are caught up in the struggle between a kind of collective history that they’re trying to honor or abide by and the individual need to be on one’s own. That’s a common emotional thread. But they’re really shaped by their individual circumstances, which are often dictated by weird, wacky thoughts.

CD:  Could you give an example of collective history?

LT:  I don’t mean a national history or the history of the Philippines, but family history and loyalty ties. For example, in “Help,” the young narrator is caught between loyalty to his uncle—so, honoring the family through his uncle—and his own individual desire, which in the immediate story is simply to meet the Beatles and have a moment with them, not attack them because of an insult to Imelda Marcos.

CD:  Where do you find the collective in the story in the lepers’ colony?

LT:  Well, I think the main character’s problem is that she doesn’t have one. When she was in America for a brief period, she was happy, and her mother was happy. But then she developed this terrible disease and was discarded. In the colony she identifies with the other American patient because she still sees herself as very American even though she’s been exiled for years. When she sees how disfigured he is, it hits her on such a complicated level that it reminds her she’s alone, she’s isolated. Then she can’t connect with this individual or, for that matter, with her claim to the American identity she once relished.

CD:  The collection opens with “Monstress” and this first line: “In 1966, the president of Cocoloco Pictures broke the news to us in English: ‘As the Americanos say, it is time to listen to the music. Your movies are shit.’” —  I hear from time to time that Filipinos don’t get irony, although I haven’t personally found this to be true. There’s a lot of gentle irony in these stories, both with words and with situations. How do your readers react? 

LT:  The ones I’ve spoken with seem to get it. Of course a lot of them are Filipino-Americans with American sensibility, or they may just have more experience with different forms of entertainment, maybe a postmodern sensibility.

My mother subscribes to the Filipino television channel, TFC, which she watches at home in San Diego. Sometimes I’ll watch the dramas or telanovellas with her. They’re very melodramatic, but I don’t think they’re meant to be ironic. It’s like the way Filipinos embrace their beauty queens. The Miss Universe Pageant is still a big deal, which is not to say that some Filipinos don’t look at it with irony or that admiration for beauty queens is inherently Filipino. But in the Philippines beauty queens are elevated to the point of becoming historical figures. I appreciate that they’re able to see something like a beauty pageant through a serious and respectful lens. Even though some of my stories may take a whimsical attitude toward things like monster movies, I do try to respect what they are in and of themselves. In “Monstress” the narrator has played the monster in B-movies, these terrible, tacky things. But when she watches them twenty years later they take on a kind of beauty. One could say that’s just nostalgia at work, but I think she comes to realize that those movie monsters, as silly as they might have been, were created as an act of love. So she comes to respect their purity.

CD:  I really like the way the San Francisco story moves back and forth in time. How did you construct it?

LT:  I’d looked at some stories that have that novelistic feel, that go back and forth between a present time situation and the character’s entire history. So I very willfully borrowed some of those structures. When I tried writing the story from a first-person perspective, it didn’t work, so I changed it to third-person. It felt easier to assert that kind of authority, to say, “Here we are in this small, present-time moment. Now I’m going to fling the reader back forty years and give a lot of information but also palatable drama, even if these are flashbacks. Hopefully those timelines will somehow emotionally converge.”At first I was afraid that it seemed a little too gimmicky to go back and forth between a single night and an entire life. But once I’d decided that this was what the temporal space was going to be, I had to commit to it. I think once I got over that initial concern it felt right. That was a hard story to write, so I appreciate [your saying that it works].

CD:  Your plots seem to turn on some kind of betrayal. Could you talk about that in terms of your construction of stories?

LT:  That’s been pointed out to me before. I don’t think I can speak about it because it’s not a narrative mechanism I rely on. Betrayal has to be dictated by character and circumstances. Hopefully, it’s believable, and whoever betrays does it for reasons one can both empathize with and condemn.

CD:  Your writing seems to go really deeply into the Philippines as I’ve observed it. I’d like to ask about your research, for example with the albularyo, the faith healers.

LT:  It’s very focused research. That story was based on Alex Orbito, a prominent faith healer. Years ago I borrowed a library book about psychic surgeons in the Philippines. So that’s when my interest first developed. Later I looked up “psychic surgery” and found a few videos which show it being performed and others showing it being debunked—like how the surgeons palm the little bags of blood. I tried to imagine the physicality of the gesture as I saw it. With Culion, the leper colony, I was able to get some primary sources about the island, and I did some research on leprosy. But I’ve learned you don’t want to be weighted down by an excess of factual information. You want to commit to the story, so you’ve got to pick and choose your facts and not be seduced by the fascinating information you might find. Stick to the story and the character, and use the information that’s most useful to you. Of course if your writing relies on some factual truth, you want to maintain that integrity without being oppressed by it.

CD:  How did you decide which situations to write about?

LT:  You know, not too many stories in contemporary fiction take place in a leper colony. If I were a reader stumbling across a story like that, I’d be interested. I need subject matter I assume will be interesting to a reader—even on the surface level, on the level of plot. More importantly, it has to be interesting to me, or I can’t commit to it. So I find subjects and themes inherent on those subjects that are both workable and fun to think about, although of course they may be sad, or even dark. I’m the one who writes these stories. I have to take care of these characters. It eats up a lot of my time. So the subjects have to be interesting to me.

CD:  What do you do in terms of constructing the setting?

LT:  If it’s based on a real place, certainly I’ll try to find photos or diagrams or blueprints. That’s always sort of my go-to source. If it’s fictional, I don’t draw it out, but I do have a visual sense of it. It’s never all that specific, kind of amorphous. For example, in “L’Amour, CA,” the narrator hates the house, which he says is too big. I don’t have a clear layout of it, but I have a sense of maybe the light in the room as it comes through the windows. Maybe the color of the walls. I have a visual sense of the most basic planes in the space. Rarely is it that important.

CD:  When you use a setting that actually exists, do you look at it and have the sense of the scene arising in it?

Sometimes, but not too often. When I was in the Philippines thirteen years ago—the last time I was there before the event where I met you—I was at the Manila International Airport, thinking about the part it played in “Help.” I’d meant to collect information and take notes, but as I looked around, I didn’t know how to use what I was seeing. In fact, it felt stifling. But then I saw a sign on the way to the departure gates which said, “No well-wishers beyond this point.” I thought it was such a great visual, such a great message, which works on so many different levels. It helped me understand my character more. He’s just a kid, and his mother is about to leave the country. He tries to follow her, but the guard pulls him back and points at the sign. He says, “I wanted to tell him that the sign didn’t apply to me, that I didn’t wish my mother well at all, that in fact, I wished her a terrible trip, a time so awful she would take the first flight back to Manila.” So that was a serendipitous moment where a detail which had seemed insignificant turned out to be pivotal.

CD:  You were traveling a lot while writing, so these stories were written in several different places. What effect does the place where you are physically have on what you write?

LT: When I go away to write, I rarely go to a place for a specific story. I can’t say the places where the work was written influenced it, although I’m sure on some subconscious level they did. When I’m writing about a particular place I don’t feel a strong need to be there. I used to think that because a lot of these stories are set in the Philippines I had to spend years and years there in order to get them right, but that hasn’t been the case. That may be different with stories or novels to come. Now I go off to a quiet place away from what’s familiar. I feel that the stories are more alive because there’s very little else to take my attention. It’s really helpful to detach from my life—like my teaching, my family, my friends, my apartment, the dishes, all that stuff—just to be able to disconnect for a little bit.

CD:  One of the reviewers of your book wrote, “Hard enough to make sense of life when you’re rooted to one place, one culture; how much more impossible it must be for those of us who straddle one place and another.” Do you find that’s true?

LT:  I would think it’s more complex when there’s more to juggle. That’s not to say that people who are only rooted in one culture, one place, don’t have an equally difficult time, which I would think has its own set of challenges. I do think, when you’re having to manage or negotiate one set of beliefs that are inherent to another place with the yet-to-be-defined sense of values from the new place, it’s complex. I don’t want to say one struggle is more fraught than the other. I won’t compare the two. They’re different.

CD:  In the final story, “L’Amour, CA,” the family’s firstborn is named Isa, or “number one” in Tagalog. After she runs away, the narrator says this:

“I put my head on my knees, close my eyes. Somewhere, Isa is fine without us; here, we are fine without Isa. And this is the truth I don’t want to know: that the ones who leave and the ones who get left keep living their lives, whatever the distance between. But not me. When I was outside in the night, I watched my family; I knew they were fine. When she thought she was alone, I watched Isa; I listened to her pray. For the rest of my life, I would be like this. It’s the difference, I think, between all of them and me; even when I was gone, I was here.”

I have the feeling, although you show both sides as painful, that you see going out into the world as being basically positive. Is that the case?

LT:  I don’t think it’s ever all positive or all negative. In these eight stories, I tend to think it’s admirable to strike out on one’s own with the willingness to see it through—although it may have bad results. It’s gutsy. I hope that’s how some people might see it. I wouldn’t say it’s all positive or negative. People are always going to gain things, and they’re always going to lose things along the way. I do tend to admire people who leave, but it’s important that my admiration for that kind of bravery not blind me to the consequences.

CD:  Is there something else you’d like to add about the book?

LT:  Just that I appreciate your interest in it and I hope that people who read this interview or visit your site will pick it up.

CD: So do I. It’s a real treat.




Portrait of a Filipina Feminist, Part 2

by on Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

Reproductive rights will enable Filipinos to avoid having more children than they can house, feed and send to school.

Sylvia Estrada Claudio is Director of the Center for Women’s Studies at the University of the Philippines and co-founder of Likhaan, a non-governmental organization which provides direct services to women in marginalized communities, particularly reproductive healt. In Part 1, Silvia discusses her early political activism as a medical doctor and a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Part 2 deals with her feminism and her support for the Reproductive Health Bill, the RH Bill.

Sylvia’s story

When I blundered back into academe I was in my early thirties. It took me nine years to get my PhD because I wandered off. One semester of not being involved in social issues drove me crazy, and it didn’t improve my scholarship. On the other hand, I really learned to appreciate the discipline and scholarship of the university, which was a welcome relief from the anti-intellectualism I’d seen in the movement. Then I met a movement comrade who said, “I’m setting up the GABRIELA Commission on Women’s Health and Reproductive Rights. Want to help?” I said, “Fine. I’ll be a member of the commission. I won’t to get sucked back into the Party, but I’ll help you.” [According to Wikipedia, GABRIELA is an acronymfor General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality, Leadership, and Action. It was named in honor of Gloria Silang, who led a revolt against Spain in the second half of the eighteenth century.]

I began reading about feminism and particularly that area having to do with sexuality, what was then called “reproductive rights.” This was 1988-89. I realized that many of my former comrades were never going to accept feminism, no matter how well-argued, even from a Marxist perspective.

I also helped set up the Philippines’ first women’s rape and crisis center. We didn’t have much in the way of resources, so we debated at first whether it was going to be for only rape victims or only women raped by the military or it would include women suffering from other forms of violence. I was still coming from the perspective of human rights work but only for comrades in the movement—although previously I hadn’t been content with serving only the combatants on our side. Human rights should be for everyone. The decision was made very correctly that, even though there were only a few of us, the center should be for both rape victims and battered women. None of us really understood how to help the victims of rape and sexual harassment. I think that was true of the feminist movement the world over. My psychological training and medical training didn’t help a bit. We had to find a way by reading up on the experiences of other people. I did a discourse analysis of rape stories in tabloids to understand how the culture was treating rape so we could help the women who were coming to our center.

Eventually I was told that if I didn’t finish my dissertation I wouldn’t get my PhD. I was ready to give up, but then my mother died. I think I turned grief into work because she died in July and I got my degree in October. It took two or three months of working on the dissertation and then the defense. I think my professors were all saying, “Let’s push her to get it done.” It came down to a referendum throughout the college faculty, with them all arguing that I was finished, I’d only been a day late, I should be allowed to graduate.

The discourse analysis on rape I’d done for the center became part of my dissertation, along with analysis of pro forma love letters. There was a little 20-peso book of love letters, originally published in 1945 but still available in the 80s. I don’t know whether people actually copied out the letters and sent them or whether they just read the letters for their romantic value. My dissertation was written in Filipino because the degree was in Philippine psychology, but I translated it into English and updated it. It was published in 2004 as Rape, Love and Sexuality: The Construction of Women in Discourse.

Then I heard, “Now that you have a PhD, you have to teach.” The women from the Women and  Development Program of the College of Social Work and Community Development actively recruited me. I was insecure because I’d never taught a day in my life, but they said, “You’ve been teaching peasants and workers. You’ll do just fine.” I found that I really did enjoy teaching.

Eventually, along with others the movement, like Dr. Junice Melgar, I left GABRIELA and founded Likhaan, an NGO which is one of the major supporters on the social movement side of reproductive health. We began eleven or twelve years ago when a bill was filed that was really about reproductive health, rather than family planning and population management. We helped write the RH Bill, working with a political Party called Akbayan, which I eventually joined. Likhaan’s core program continues to be organizing women around health issues. During the early nineties, times when the US foundations had lots of money to give, we used to give comprehensive health services. Then the economic bubble burst, less developmental aid was available, and the Philippines—having become less of a basket case—received less aid. Now Likhaan can only afford to concentrate on reproductive health. We’ve been supplementing the government health care centers in the major urban poor communities that we work with. We continue the community-based health programs that we worked with during the Marcos dictatorship, making sure that there are health services for women. We have a new understanding that even in health care women tend to get neglected, especially with regard to reproductive and sexual health.

In doing its job Likhaan kept coming across all sorts of human rights violations and barriers, for example, a ten-year ban in Manila on all contraceptives and family planning. [See] Our health workers were refused help and cooperation. We got reports of women being stigmatized for seeking post-abortion care, even in the major hospitals. It was sometimes difficult to find funding. It was very difficult for our clinics to even get contraceptive supplies from government, just because some stupid little bureaucrat in some governmental agency was “pro-life” and didn’t want to give them to us. We’d do something, and then it would just get overturned.

Our view of our work wasn’t that we would replace the government but that as an NGO we would be small and flexible. If we made mistakes, we wouldn’t waste a lot of money, kill a lot of people or diminish the political capital of some progressive politician. We could correct our mistakes very quickly. We were hoping to use our experience to be able to contribute to policy issues for bigger programs. We couldn’t do that when people at various levels of government and various departments opposed reproductive health. We kept banging our heads against the wall. We would say, “Look at this wonderful system we found for tracking contraceptive supplies. Maybe you can do this.” If the people we in the Department of Health were sympathetic, they would try it. Or they would say, “You’ve taught us how to fund a small clinic in an out-of-the-way place. We’ve managed to put it into our system.” But if the next Secretary of the Department of Health was against reproductive health, our efforts would just go to hell.

The last thing we wanted to do was legislative activism. It takes so much time and effort. But the decision was made, and twelve years ago we were very much a part of writing the grandmother of the bill that has finally came out.  At first we couldn’t even get it out of the health committee. It was such a big struggle that we were really happy when it finally came out of committee sometime in 2004 or 2005. Then it had to go to the appropriations committee, which is usually a pro forma process. I don’t know of any other bills in the history of Filipino legislation that actually got knocked out of the appropriations committee. So we learned. For many years we’d fail repeatedly, but we’d say, “That’s the democratic process. Let’s keep going.”

However, to my mind you could see how the argument was being won in the eyes of the public. If you look at past surveys, you see increasing numbers of people, then large majorities of people who know the issues: do you want contraception, should government provide contraception, are you against family planning, do you know the Church’s position? People actually say, “I know the bill. I want this bill to be passed.” It’s a great victory—although we were having victories all along. Except for the passage of female suffrage in 1937, I don’t know of any other piece of social legislation which required widespread public support. I wish all social legislation in the country could receive this kind of well-informed public attention, with people listening to the debate and weighing in on the issues. Then we would really be a progressive country and a democratic one.

The Reproductive Health Bill was the second biggest political victory in my life, after the downfall of the Marcos regime. They took about the same amount of time. When we started I had no idea that it would become a battle against the Catholic Church, the most powerful social institution in the Philippines.

I think the Church has lost a lot of power over the last twelve years. It lost its capacity to prevent the bill from passing, to get the legislators and the president and the institutions of government to do its bidding. It lost the capacity to bring people over to its point of view. At some point in the struggle—six years ago maybe—we noticed that the tactics had shifted from talking to people to pressuring the institutions of government. Telling the president and the legislators that there would be punishment coming from their end [threatening the president of the country and professors of Ateneo University with excommunication if they spoke out in favor of the RH Bill]. If you will recall, the government of former President Arroyo was often in crisis. One of the reasons she stayed in power was that the Church’s stand on her was either neutral or supportive. We tracked how she traded off reproductive rights for her own political stability. Her administration was considered as corrupt as the Marcos regime, if not more so. Then later we found out she’d given cars and all sorts of things to some of the bishops. In her speeches she always said, “I will never approve a bill allowing abortion. I am not for reproductive health.” [None of the RH bills have called for the legalization of abortion.] Then the bishops would come to her aid.

This was in contrast to their behavior with the previous presidents. Cardinal Sin and the bishops finally sided against Marcos and were perceived as helping to bring down the dictatorship. They also made statements condemning Estrada, who was a womanizer and a drunk and not very Catholic in the sense of kowtowing to them. They did not call for rallies against Arroyo.

I was raised agnostic. My father was very scientific, and my mother was a strict Bertrand Russell fan. At the age of nine, when I asked about the existence of god, she handed me a book on the major religions. “Here you go, honey. You can read this.” So I don’t feel the sense of betrayal and hurt that my Catholic friends feel, although as a feminist I agree with the perception that the bishops are ideological conservatives with an old, completely unenlightened view of sexuality. My husband, who’s very Catholic, is very angry. He tracks and compiles all these stupid statements from the bishops. That sense of betrayal is possibly more dangerous for the Church than their loss in the battle over the RH Bill. I have friends who are still Catholic and who formed a group called “Catholics for RH.” I tell them that maybe this is an opportunity have a church they really like.

On the evening the bill passed I kept saying, “What’s next?” My office-mates said, “There’s nothing next. It’s done.” I said, “That’s not possible. I’ve been living with this for twelve years.”

GABRIELA filed a divorce bill last year. [Divorce is illegal, and foreign divorces aren’t recognized. Annulments are very expensive.] We should cooperate on that issue, but in terms of the social movement for sexual health and reproductive rights, I think the NGO and maybe even this office—which has put its mandate, its political will and all our researches around reproductive health—will have to step back and look at what will be really helpful for women. We still have the Supreme Court challenge to the RH Law. We need to defend against that, and then we have to help write the implementing rules and regulations. The Department of Health needs help in order to adequately implement the program we fought for. We will be looking to make sure the implementation is done. The mortality rates are not going down just because the law was passed. We need to see those emergency contraceptive care centers put up in villages and municipalities, and that’s a lot of doing, a lot of nagging, a lot of pushing for the budget to be put where the legislature’s mouth is.

The law which passed is not perfect. As a compromise to some of the anti-RH people language was added prioritizing the poor as the recipients of family planning services. I believe this in fact makes it seem more like a population control program, which the anti-RH people always accused the bill of being. Then there’s this equal protection of the unborn, which is all over the place in the bill. So implementing rules and regulations will be crucial, but we think the bill still does a lot. For one thing, no politician can place an outright ban on reproductive rights.

This has become a social movement with so many faces, very different from a leftwing party leading the masses. There’s no one great reproductive health heroine. If you challenge the most powerful social institution in the country, you have to be a social movement. So that’s another “next,” writing about it from our own perspectives.

Toward the end we were joined by young people called the Filipino Freethinkers, who engaged in the RH issue because they saw the Church trampling all over secular and scientific values. They were a late addition to the movement, but crucial. There have been other agnostic-atheist societies in the Philippines, but Freethinkers has become one of the more successful ones because they chose to engage in reproductive health. Their contribution was critical because someone needed to challenge the Church on other grounds, and they did. [See and]

For the RH bill, the second vote was the most crucial one. We won by nine votes. At one point it came down to a two-vote difference. After we’d won the vote—this was about two in the morning—we marched out of the plenary hall to the women who’d been picketing and rallying. Someone said, “You know, when the votes came down to two, people here started crying.” The backbone of our support was the women from poor communities who filled the session halls. Now if you ask them about legislative clauses, they know. For example, at our Christmas party we played a game, and people were joking about whether someone should have gotten a point or not. A woman from a poor community, a woman who doesn’t even have an elementary school education, said. “Well, we can always resolve this by having nominal voting.” We all laughed. These women know the legislative process because they were there.

For this victory it was really important for the poor women to see that they could influence their institutions, that they could make things happen. The recent research on poverty shows that when women feel they can make institutions accountable, even at the local level, when they feel their actions can have an impact on their lives, they are less likely to rate themselves “very poor.” They’re more optimistic about the future. In fact, they’re more likely to engage in activities that mitigate their poverty and do better for their communities and their families.

It’s really important, even for poverty alleviation, that those of us who were engaged in the struggle write about it from a feminist perspective. As you can well imagine some of the writing will not be feminist, but something else altogether—some politician’s memoir. The Church will probably write it in an entirely different way. [See Silvia’s article “Spiritually Pro-RH” at  and “RH Law: The Long and Rough Road” <]

A poster at the Bacolod Cathedral names candidates and parties to vote for (anti-RH and “buhay” or life) and against (pro-RH and “patay” or death) . Father Tabora adds commentary.

The war continues: A response to the “voter’s conscience” poster on the cathedral.

Pro-RH Facebook page.

Public consultations set on RH law implementing rules – See more at:

Meanwhile, in the United States:  A doctor in the “natural birth control” biz is pushing his legislator to make affordable birth control unavailable to women.

It’s all about controlling the means of reproduction. Lenin was right.


A reader writes:

I enjoyed the posts about Sylvia… There are too few minds like hers in this world,  Thank you.