By Mechu Aquino Sarmiento
THE FUTURE may be female, but it isn’t here yet. However, since women generally outlive men — even the natokhang (summarily executed) are overwhelmingly male — the future will definitely have more feminine features. More women are realizing that all politics is not just personal but local too, and they are flexing their collective muscle. A recent manifestation was the widespread outcry over the interpretation of a Caloocan City ordinance on what constituted decent attire. The mayor himself had to declare that he was all for amending or scrapping this controversial piece of city legislation, which was deemed to discriminate against every woman’s right to wear short shorts in public. A senate bill is set to have the whole country follow Quezon City’s lead in penalizing cat-calling and wolf-whistling. Women continue to fight for every inch of safe space. Eternal vigilance is the price they must pay to keep the bastos (rude and crude) at bay.
For women who want to be more than keyboard warriors, there was “She Decides, She Votes,” a two day electoral campaign bootcamp. It was non-partisan, but in accordance with the so-called “Humankind Act,” whose purpose was “to educate Filipino voters to actively participate in the defense of democracy against would-be tyrants.” Several of the speakers were part of the Martial Law Chronicles Project (martiallawchroniclesproject.com). The volunteer, forward-looking Filipino association Catholics for Reproductive Health led by Bic-Bic Chua, was also very much at the forefront.
She Decides is actually a global political movement to advance the fundamental right of girls and women everywhere to enjoy their bodies, to make their own choices, to have access to comprehensive sexuality education and the full range of quality care that unite all parts of her sexual and reproductive life and health. The nearly two-decades long battle for the Reproductive Health Act bears witness to the state’s presence in every woman’s bedroom. It is never “just politics.”
Given the political climate of the day, the 50 or so participants were asked to momentarily refrain from posting photos and status updates on social media with details of the event until it was a done deal. Significantly, around 15% of the workshoppers were male, mostly avowedly gay or proudly transwomen. One woke young man, 14-year-old Luis, in Grade 9 at the Ramon Magsaysay High School, declared that he was there because he sincerely wished that equal opportunities for women went beyond mere lip service and tokenism. “There are still incidents, although admittedly isolated, of bullying and cat-calling even in our school,” he related. He and four 8th grade girls (the oldest was 13), all school government officers, and budding youth leaders, are too young to vote this May, but they believed it was not too early to prepare and to get organized.
Emilia, the acting president of The Campus Integrity Crusaders, as their school organization was called, had faith that children like them could work for change. Giving up one weekend to learn how to convince their voting age peers and their elders to do the same was a small price to pay. They were all game to leave their comfort zone and step into the learning zone.
Arlene Santos of the Institute for Politics and Governance gave an overview of the elements and complexities of political campaigning on a shoestring budget. Apart from building up one’s base of tried and true family and friends, it was strategic to target the undecided who could still be swayed and the uninformed who were willing to listen. Ms. Santos matter-of-factly mentioned the importance of identifying the bag men and the money distribution centers, a nod to the late Cardinal Sin’s compassionate pronouncement that it was all right to “take the money, because you are poor; but please vote according to your conscience.”
With the elections barely a month from now, volunteers were advised not to waste time on the hard-liners. As for the band-wagon effect, the power of one person was recently proven again by the win of Vice-President Leni Robredo whose supporters literally went door-to-door. Despair and apathy are the enemies of change.
Towards the end of having a more politically mature electorate who will vote based on pressing national issues — not on personalities or celebrity — and in keeping with a noble vision and worthy values for the Philippines, there was a literal walk-through the highlights of Philippine history. A photo exhibit with explanatory notes were posted all along the hallway outside the workshop venue. After all, most of the attendees had not even been born during the Marcos Martial Law dictatorship. The millennial majority were in grade-school throughout the GMA Administration and the nadir of the “Hello, Garci” and ZTE debacles. There was much to unlearn.
A wide-eyed 12-year-old revealed she had been taught that the first EDSA People Power Revolution was to overthrow the Aquino’s for corruption. Cory and Ninoy were responsible for our country’s current economic morass. It was a shock to hear such alternative facts from someone living in the Upside-Down*. A woman who had been this child’s age during the Marcos Martial Law Dictatorship gently set her straight, and the girl sweetly thanked her.
Aimee Santos-Lyons of the Association for Women’s Rights and Development (AWID) taught the participants how to do one-on-one campaigning, which was all about kamustahan and making a connection. Simply handing out fliers and campaign materials was not enough. You have to communicate your values, ask about their problems, explain what the solutions might be, and get their commitment to genuine political change.
For those who prefer to express themselves on social media, the respected digital marketer Lawrence Gerochi Villegas spoke on creative engagement and making content social and shareable. One’s own brand was essential in effectively communicating, and in understanding the voter’s decision-making journey. For the vloggers, veteran advocacy filmmaker Elnora Ebillo gave a quick run-down on how to shoot one’s own Cine Minuto phone video.
Towards the end, there was a looking back. Susan Quimpo, who wrote of how her two brothers had both been killed by state forces during the Marcos Martial Law (Subversive Lives: A Family Memoir of the Marcos Years), unflinchingly recalled the heinous tortures, the many outrages and struggles of that period of our recent history. She observed that the corpse of her eldest brother had never been found while the dictator Ferdinand Marcos now lay in a hero’s grave. The young audience did not look at their screens, but kept their eyes on her as she spoke. But as the poet Audre Lorde wrote, their silence would not protect them. Perhaps they now understood that it is their turn to stand in the gap.
* Referring to Netflix’s Stranger Things.