DE-VILIFYING SEN. LEILA DE LIMA

Imagine this.

You were an academic achiever as a student, consistently finishing each school year at the top of your class. You took up Law and managed to graduate as the class salutatorian. You ranked 8th in the bar exam. You became a professor of Law. As one of the most prominent election lawyers in the country, you handled and won high-profile cases for candidates such as Koko Pimentel, Alan Peter Cayetano, Grace Padaca, and Ed Panlilio, among others.

When you were appointed Commission on Human Rights chief, you fearlessly investigated extra-judicial killings, abductions, and human rights violations perpetrated by security forces, like Jovito Palparan, and by government officials, like then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. As Justice Secretary, you were at the frontline in bringing those who were involved in the multibillion-peso PDAF scandal to justice. You filed cases that led to the arrest of prominent personalities such as former Pres. Gloria Arroyo and sitting Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla. You filed a 5-billion peso smuggling case against Phoenix Petroleum, a syndicated estafa case against Globe Asiatique, and a murder case against then Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes. You probed the Ampatuan Massacre, the Atimonan blood bath, and the alleged INC abductions. You were the first DOJ Sec. who dared to raid the New Bilibid Prison to dismantle the perks accorded to the high-profile inmates there. In doing so, you single-handedly disrupted the operation of their lucrative drug business that was apparently operational inside the supposed maximum-security facility of the said penitentiary. You were part of the government’s legal team that received the favorable ruling over the country’s case against China’s WPS maritime claims from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. As head of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, it was under your watch that the Philippines was removed from the US Human Trafficking Watchlist, which paved the way for our upgrade to Tier 1 status. As a newbie Senator, you were one of the most productive legislators with a total of 90 bills and 108 resolutions filed. You also fearlessly launched an inquiry into the spate of killings happening under the guise of a drug war.

But this administration had a special way of honoring people like you.

You became its favorite punching bag and target of character assassination and slut-shaming, and of its supporters’ scorn and ridicule. You have been vilified and demonized for being Pres. Duterte’s most vocal, most fearless, and staunchest critic. On February 24, 2017, you were arrested and jailed.

The case against you? Violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act for allegedly extorting money from the Bilibid inmates who traded and trafficked drugs inside the prison!

Not an ounce of illegal drug was found in your possession, not a trail of the purported drug money was established, and not a single witness of unquestionable reputation and motive was presented, yet for more than 17 months now, you’ve been languishing in solitary pre-trial detention.

The world is watching, though.

They have seen that, even behind bars, you continue to perform your legislative duties largely through the capable hands of your staff. Via your hand-written statements, the Dispatches from Crame, you continue to share your voice and speak truth to power. You remain steadfast in your commitment to freedom, justice and the rule of law. You stay vigilant and fearless in expressing your dissent and condemnation over the countless killings, the wanton violations of human rights, and the culture of impunity and travesty of our democratic institutions, religious faith, cultural and moral values, legal processes, and constitutional sovereignty.

They have witnessed that, instead of allowing this wicked regime to break and silence you and to weaken your spirit, you have used your incarceration to find your inner strength in asserting and fighting for what is right and just amid the formidable odds. And the grace with which you accepted this “detour” in your life’s journey just solidified their conviction that, indeed, all this is nothing more than a work of a deranged and vindictive president who uses all his power and influence and all the government machineries at his disposal to fabricate lies, fake news, and black propaganda about and against you, and feed them to his gullible supporters and paid army of trolls.

Since you were thrown into prison, and for your exceptional contribution to the advancement of human rights in the Philippines, you’ve been reaping international recognition left and right — and from prestigious award-giving bodies, no less. You are also being referred to as a Prisoner of Conscience.

In 2017, you received the following accolades: Time Magazine, World’s 100 Most Influential People; Amnesty International, One of the Most Notable Human Rights Defenders Under Threat; and Foreign Policy, 100 Leading Global Thinkers.

In 2018, you were conferred with the following distinctions: Fortune Magazine, World’s 50 Greatest Leaders; The Asian Correspondent, 5 Power Women of Southeast Asia; Amnesty International, Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender; Amnesty International, first ever Ignite Awards for Human Rights; The Diplomat, Woman to Watch in Southeast Asia; and just recently, Liberal International, Prize for Freedom.

The members of the international community recognize political persecution when they see one. How I wish I could say the same for our countrymen.

 

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Image from VICE News

PERSONAL ENCOUNTER WITH SEN. LEILA

When I went to the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame last July 15 to visit Sen. De Lima, I had virtually no idea what to expect. I was just asked if I’d be available on that day from 9 am until 12 noon. When I excitedly said “Yes!,” I was told that there would be six of us from the #BabaeAko Movement, that I should wear comfortable clothes because it could get very hot inside, and that it was okay to bring food. That was it. Oh, and a message that said, “Excited daw si Sen. Leila to meet you!

That made me so nervous I wanted to throw up.

Bearing a pot of flowers that I picked up from Dangwa on our way to Camp Crame, and a box of pastillas and two packs of chicharon I brought from Malolos, I was among the first to get to the appointed meeting place. After signing on the logbook, surrendering our mobile phones, having our bags checked, and being thoroughly frisked twice, we were ushered into a small room with around twenty monoblock chairs neatly arranged to face the small table at the front. There were three stand fans scattered around the room, and an abaniko atop each chair. Good thing it was drizzling outside so the temperature didn’t bother us as much.

In no time, the little room became packed with around thirty people. Some, like Sen. Leila’s family, spiritual advisers, and friends, were obviously “regulars,” while others like me were first-timers.

Someone carefully laid a white cloth over the table, and positioned my pot of flowers at the center, and a standing crucifix, a candle, and sacred vessels beside it. The room was transformed into a chapel.

When Sen. Leila waltzed into the room with a beaming smile, sparkling eyes, and arms outstretched in warm welcome, everyone’s attention inevitably turned to her. She was like an instant ray of sunshine on that gloomy day. Dressed in a comfy sleeveless blouse, a pair of leggings, and her trademark scarf, she was a perfect vision of excellent health, a mind at peace, and a joyful heart. I could not help but notice the glow in her cheeks, the lilt in her laughter, and the bounce in her every step. According to one of her spiritual advisers, Sen. Leila’s solitary detention has allowed her to reflect more intensely on herself, her soul, and her mission. That should explain her serene and pleasant demeanor.

She greeted each of us with a hug, a beso-beso, and brief yet friendly pleasantries. The holy mass was about to start.

Three priests — Fr. Robert Reyes, Fr. Albert Alejo, and Fr. Flavie Villanueva — officiated the mass. After the homily, all the first-timers and latecomers were, one by one, asked to stand at the front, face the crowd, and share something inspiring. I was the first to be called (ugh!), with about ten others who followed suit. The last to speak was Sen. Leila’s 34-year-old son, Israel, who gave a short but extremely sweet and innocent speech. Israel is one of Sen. Leila’s angels and sources of strength and inspiration (the other one is Brandon, her 11-year-old grandson. Like Israel, Brandon has autism, too.). Sen. Leila’s own reflection on the gospel immediately came after.

The mass lasted for two and a half hours.

While the group dispersed into smaller groups, there were people (Sen. Leila’s family and staff members, I assumed) who set up a buffet table at the back of the room. From a place of prayer and worship, the room is yet again transformed — this time, into a dining hall.

I was fortunate enough to be seated at the only dining table in the room. With me were a fellow activist from BabaeAko, Fr. Albert, a husband-and-wife tandem (who, I heard, would like to refer to themselves as the writing couple), and our gracious host, Sen. Leila.

It was during this interesting lunch-cum-discussion interaction (they did all the talking/speculating/bantering while I, all the listening/observing/absorbing) and the ensuing interviews I conducted with her and some of the people who know her best that I learned a great deal about the good Senator — pieces of information that ranged from amusing and entertaining to fascinating, enticing and intriguing.

TIDBITS ABOUT SEN. LEILA

Recalling her life outside of detention, I learned that she has always been a keen and voracious reader –the proverbial bookworm. Like you and me, she also loved to watch TV series and movies. To de-stress during weekends, she used to drive around (sans her bodyguards), go to the wet market, do her own shopping, buy her own groceries, and play host to her family that she invites for either Sunday lunch or dinner. She knows her way around the kitchen and can cook a mean Bicol express and laing. Her sotanghon guisado is also something that her family always looks forward to.

Sen. Leila loves to dance; she is particularly good at ballroom dancing. She plays volleyball, a sport that she was active in even way back in high school. She co-founded the Lambda Rho Sigma Sorority at the San Beda College of Law. And she has 13 dogs at home – labradors, jack russels, chihuahuas, and dachshunds. Her favorite, though, is Coco, a Japanese Spitz.

She regularly went to Manaoag to attend the Sunday mass. It was part of her panata, as was joining the 5-km Good Friday procession in her hometown in Bicol. It’s also her family’s tradition to celebrate Christmas by giving gifts to indigenous peoples in the province – a practice that was started by her late father.

Growing up, her father, former Comelec commissioner Vicente de Lima, was her confidante and guiding light, especially when it comes to making major decisions. He was the one who raised her to be studious, focused, and principled. However, it was her mother who “balanced her out” by exposing her to regular activities girls grew up with in their town. Just before her father died in 2012, he warned her against joining politics.

Now, she knows why.

Going into public office, let alone dipping her toes into the murky waters of politics, was actually never in the senator’s radar. When she was younger, she only dreamt of becoming a lawyer like her father. But, then, duty called. However, she never imagined herself being criminally charged and/or jailed, as “being dirty and corrupt is not in (her) DNA.”

After she had been judicially annulled with her former husband, Atty. Plaridel Bohol, she promised herself never to marry again. Asked what she looks for in a man, she said that it is neither the looks nor the intellect. It’s not his bank account, either. Attitude is what’s most important for her.

She is a workaholic by nature, which, she says, accounted for her shortcomings as a mother to her two sons. She thus considers herself immensely blessed for having understanding children who love her despite her flaws.

She is very protective of her ailing 84-year-old mother. In her want to shelter her from the painful truth, she and her three other siblings concocted the story that she is in the US for an extended study leave.

Sen. Leila’s daily routine nowadays starts at around 5:00 in the morning by praying and reading her daily Bible devotionals. Then, she does some exercises, cleans her room, and takes a bath (using timba and tabo). Between 8:00-8:30 a.m., she takes her breakfast while reading the newspapers. Then more reading, this time around, though, it’s of work-related papers and drafts from her staff. To let her eyes have their much-needed rest, she gets a 20-30 minute shut-eye. Then, back to her reading. She takes a late lunch before she goes back to her reading.  Between 3:00-5:00 p.m. (on weekdays), she receives visitors. (She calls her three spiritual advisers, her most frequent visitors, her very own Oscar Romeros.) After that, she is all alone in her quarters with only her pet stray cats to keep her company. Her evenings usually consist of more reading, dinner, prayers and Bible reading. She hits the proverbial sack at around 10 p.m.

After much reflection, Sen. Leila views her incarceration as both a blessing and a curse. According to her, there’s actually beauty in solitude. She says, she has become more prayerful, a little tamer, and less judgmental as a result of her incarceration. She has also become less of a perfectionist. Now that she is in jail, she sleeps more soundly at night but “loneliness comes like a thief in the night, from time to time, which causes tears to fall just before I close my eyes.”

 

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Image from gt.foreignpolicy.com

LESSONS LEARNED FROM SEN. LEILA

There are people whose lives could be a rich source of valuable lessons. Sen. Leila is definitely one of those.

According to her, nothing worth doing is ever easy. From her words and actions, she taught me to always stand by my convictions without fear or favor. If I am doing what I think is right, I should have neither regrets in life nor fear of death. She said that righteous anger and indignation is also a virtue.

The fighter in her has also taught me to always hope for the best yet be ready for the worst – to not show my enemies any weakness that could be used to kick me even when I’m already down on my knees. But I also learned that I should not allow anyone or any situation rob me of hope because, sometimes, that is all that is left to us.

I learned that I should forgive myself as nobody is perfect. Hatred, for her, is an energy-draining exercise; it is best to not let it consume yourself.

I learned that I should love my work but I should not let it be the center of my life. My relationship with my family, friends, and God should always be at the top of my priorities.

Finally, I learned from her that when there’s nothing or no one else to cling on to, there is God. Always.

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THE 44-YEAR-OLD KOLEHIYALA

Yup, that’s me. And this is my story.

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HOW IT ALL STARTED

I have never denied the fact that I totally suck at Math. When I was studying in UP during the early 90s, it had always been my waterloo. I took Math 11 (College Algebra) three times, Math 14 (Trigonometry) six times, and Math 101 (Statistics) three times. During my last sem, I got a conditional grade of 4.0 in Math 100 (Calculus) so I took a removal exam. That was back (way, way back!) in 1994. I was already working and pregnant with my first child when I learned that I failed the exam. However, things that were much more important than trying to pass my Calculus started to happen almost all at once.

First, we had baby #1. Then, I had to quit my job because my husband’s work required us to move to the province. Baby #2 came along, and baby #3 after just another year. A few short years later and it was time to send them all to school. Then, we had to move to another province.

Before I knew it, more than two decades had already passed me by.

When two of our children were about to graduate in the same university that brought me and my husband together many years ago, I decided to take a leap of faith and enroll Math 100. I’ve been thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if the three of us all graduate at the same time? A mother and her two children. Also, I wanted to surprise my parents. They had no idea that I didn’t graduate in 1994. I just fed them with the lie that, during that time, I didn’t want to march with a protruding belly.

 

IN PURSUIT OF A DIPLOMA

Going back to school had not been easy for me, though. It was, in fact, extremely difficult and challenging.

Every Tuesday and Thursday for a total of four months, I had to wake up at 3:00 AM to prepare my family’s breakfast and make the commute from Bulacan to UP Clark for my 2-hour class.

My classmates were too young, younger than my youngest child. They called me Tita, and would always talk to me with po and opo. Thankfully, my teacher was almost my age. However, she had the annoying habit of addressing me Ma’am. In shame, I wished the ground would open and swallow me up each time she would do that.

In my desire to pass Math 100, I had to rekindle so many long-forgotten relationships that I would rather bury in oblivion — with X and Y, with Sin and Cos, and with Limit, Derivative and Integral. As a long-time wife and mother, my brain has been wired to dealing with and solving domestic issues and conflicts, no longer to decoding the complicated relationships between equations and functions!

I also had to endure the humiliation of being tutored by my son. I knew that it was equally hard for him (he was often my shock absorber cum emotional punching bag especially when I would get frustrated due to a difficult lesson) but, as a parent, I had been used to doing the teaching to my children. It should not be the other way around.

During exams, I was always this one big, useless, confused, mumbling ball. Nobody at home would dare talk to me or ask anything from me. I was so focused on reviewing days and nights before the exam — only to have the various topics mixed up in my mind during the examination itself or to forget everything I’ve meticulously studied. For the first five minutes of my first long exam, I got completely immobilized by nerves. My brain refused to function, my heart was racing, I was breaking into a cold sweat, I was feeling dizzy and lightheaded, and I had difficulty breathing. When I eventually managed to will my hand to move, it was shaking uncontrollably. I thought I had to run to the clinic!

Unsurprisingly, I earned a singko for that exam.

Things didn’t get much better during the succeeding exams. I still suffered from panic attacks or would be prone to pre-exam “catastrophes” such as the flu, early arrival of the monthly period, and diarrhea.

During the final exam, I was among the “walking dead” or those students sporting eyebags the size of a golf ball, disheveled appearance, and glassy eyes.

I had a perfect attendance and I was always the first one to arrive in the classroom. I was attentive and I always did my homeworks. At one point, I even got the highest score in our exam (but that still failed to push my grade to a passing level.) My teacher knew that Math 100 was the only thing that was keeping me from my very elusive diploma. She knew how badly I needed to pass that subject.

In the end, though, she still gave me a grade of 4.0, with no option to take a removal exam.

I was devastated.

I was furious.

I was embarrassed.

I found comfort in my husband and children’s assurance that there was no shame in what happened. I did my best, and that was what’s most important, they said. In hindsight, I realized that if my teacher gave me an undeserved passing grade out of pity or sympathy, my high regard for UP would be shattered.

So, when the hubby and kids urged me to re-enroll Math 100 the following sem, I did just that. That time around, I chose to enroll in UP Diliman.

 

THE SECOND CHANCE

On the very first day of class, I wanted to quit.

I learned that, unlike in Clark, I had to go to Diliman four times a week for a one-hour class each day. Every Tuesday and Thursday, my class would start as early as 7:15 AM and my classroom was on the third floor! (On Wednesdays and Fridays, it was a little later at 8:45 AM. Class was on the fourth floor, though.) My teacher was really young, just a little older than my eldest child. And when I saw the course outline, I knew right away that the pace would be brutal, the coverages (particularly for the first two quarters) would be long, and no exemption from the final exam would be allowed.

My children could take as many as seven subjects in a sem, and I would expect them to bring home impeccable grades, while there I was, allowing myself to abandon my long-time dream of earning a diploma, to give up the fight even before it started, to be daunted by the obstacles that a single subject entailed.

And so, with my children as my inspiration, I went ahead and kept going.

After two sems, I acquired more white hair and reacquired migraine; nightmares and panic attacks became my constant companions before exams; I reconnected with caffeine; I lost at least 15 pounds of unwanted fats (this, I considered a positive development); the sight of square roots, absolute values or greater integer functions no longer frazzled me as much; and I have come to appreciate more the effort that my children have been putting into their studies. But, most importantly, I was able to accomplish my goal.

Together with my two children, I am going to graduate tomorrow!

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LALA, OUR CUM LAUDE!

We already had two sons when Lala, the youngest and the only girl in our brood, came along. I’m not sure if it’s the same with other parents, but there was something about the arrival of a daughter – our daughter — that instantly inspired a farrago of emotions in me.

I was, of course, ecstatic for being the recipient of such an amazing divine blessing, and excited to take on the challenge of raising someone who could be a little version of myself. However, I was also anxious knowing that the world she was about to open her eyes into was not an ideal place for what the society calls the “inferior and weaker sex.”

And that was when my protective instinct as a mother started to kick in.

I know that this sounds a lot like stereotyping (I didn’t feel the same way with my boys, after all), but I’ve always had this irrational notion that our daughter was as extremely delicate and fragile as my grandma’s fine China. In fact, when I first heard her cry and felt her warm body comfortably nestled in my arm, I had an instantaneous desire to pull her into a tight embrace and never let go. The urge to shield her, to protect and defend her, was so strong, so immediate and so unbridled, it was almost stifling in its intensity. I had to make a conscious effort to remind myself that no harm could possibly come to my precious one — especially since we were still at a hospital at that time and were closely surrounded by family and friends.

She was a crybaby as a toddler, so I expected her to be whiny and petulant. As the youngest in the family, I thought she would develop a sense of entitlement. Being the only girl among all the cousins in her father’s side, I was expecting that she would be vain, frivolous, and superficial, and would grow into a temperamental prima donna. Her brothers were already academic achievers even then, so I was already preparing myself if ever she would turn out to be an academic non-performer and a quitter.

Growing up, though, she proved to everyone that she was made of tougher stuff.  She did not only defy my expectations; she managed to surpass every one of them.

She would display fierce independence early on. I could still remember this one time when, as a 3-year-old toddler, she stubbornly refused the hand offered to her by her ninong while we were all climbing the unfamiliar stairs in the latter’s new house. We were worried because even a single misstep could be fatal. But, she kept going — slowly, painstakingly, resolutely. And when she reached the top of the stairs, she faced us and beamed with utter pride and an undeniable sense of accomplishment.

She had been like that ever since.

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As a schoolgirl, she was competitive yet accommodating to her classmates who would approach her for help. She was focused and driven, and she knew her priorities. Her perseverance and diligence were admirable. She would have her notebook/reviewer with her all the time in case there was a lull in her busy schedule. But when, finally, she was able to tick off every single item in her to-do list, she would relish the time she spends with her family, friends, and orgmates. For her “me time,” she loves to bury herself in her novels.

As a friend, she is amiable, forgiving and easy to please. She has a ready smile for everyone and is loyal, even to a fault. Don’t be fooled by her small frame, though, as to attempt to intimidate her. She could hold her own and could even be a merciless bully to someone twice her size when provoked.

She is so simple that she doesn’t see the need for any makeup, accessory, jewelry (even a wrist watch) or perfume. The only indulgences that can bring a spark to her girly eyes are clothes and shoes. But even with those, she is never impulsive. She knows the style and color that she wants, and she sticks with it.

She is self-assured and confident in her own skin, and is fair in all her dealings. She is morally upright — hating shortcuts, quick fixes, and palakasan system.

She is beautiful, both inside and out. She is compassionate and empathetic to the plight of others. Secretly, she has a dream to change the world for the better, or at the very least, to be part of that change.

She may not look it, but she is a voracious eater. She eats almost anything except those with mayonnaise and ketchup.

She is politically aware and socially conscious, and is a girl of principle and conviction. Whenever her schedule permits, she goes with us to talks, rallies, and other protest actions.

She is an amazing ball of contradictions — demure yet tough, soft-spoken yet assertive, and gentle yet fierce.

Now that she is growing into a young woman, we are discovering, much to our delight and surprise, that the two of us have much more in common than we previously thought. I used to think that all those talk about mothers and daughters growing into best friends is just romanticized. But, not anymore. Increasingly, we find ourselves giggling at the same girly stuff, swooning at the same gorgeous hunk, crying at the same scenes of some telenovela or movie, smiling conspirationally at some naughty idea, and getting enraged by the same societal injustices.

The moment she smiled at us for the very first time when she was a baby, she had us completely wound around her little finger. She was like a warm ray of sunshine on a chilly morning, a cool breeze on a humid afternoon, a glimpse of heaven here on earth, and a reminder that there is still hope, after all.

Today, she still continues to amaze us. As if all her academic achievements were not yet enough to make us eternally proud as parents – she was accelerated and conferred with the second highest honor during preschool, she was hailed the batch valedictorian in grade school, she passed the Pisay entrance test joining the company of 239 other academically-gifted high school students who bested 20,000 examinees all across the land, she managed to get into the University of the Philippines with a quota course of BS in Biology, she bagged a DOST academic scholarship, she earned a 99+ percentile rank when she took the National Medical Admission Test, and she was accepted to the medical school of her choice—, she has recently managed to surprise us with yet another accomplishment.

Our daughter is graduating Cum Laude!!!

DIGONGMYLABS, YOU’RE NOTHING BUT A WIMP!

With your tough-talking macho image, overplayed bravado and exaggerated tales of virility, you wanted to impress us. To intimidate us. To scare us.

But, Digongmylabs, we can see through you. We know that, behind that veneer, you’re nothing but a coward who is terrified of China. You can’t even bring Sen. Trillanes down, for crying out loud! All you can manage to pick on are those that you either perceive to be weaker than you are or too decent to fight you at your own game — the poor, the people of faith, the diplomats, the media, and the women.

DIGONGMYLABS’ MISOGYNY

Even before you were elected President, we already knew that you had this deep-seated hate for women. Yes, you would often say that you love women so much that you are seldom monogamous. You brag that you have two wives and other “spare tires,” even claiming that to be the norm for lawyers and politicians. But, you see, womanizing is one of the most fundamental signs that you have virtually no respect for women.

During the campaign, you gleefully claimed that when you were younger, you used to molest your housemaid in her sleep. You boasted that you did not give in to your girlfriend’s request for a car since you would only enjoy a “short time” with her. To defend womanizing, you said that it simply couldn’t be helped as “there are so many women and so short a time in this world.” You’ve also repeatedly displayed how you would make some of your female supporters sit on your lap and kiss them on the lips for everyone to see. (Just recently, you kissed a female OFW onstage during a meeting with the Filipino community in South Korea. On the lips!) Your most tasteless, most insensitive and cruelest joke came, however, when you said that the death of Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill was such a waste because she was so beautiful, you should have been first in the line of those who gang-raped her. That “joke” made you an international sensation, albeit infamously.

Your supporters are always too eager and too quick to defend you, though. According to them, they elected a president — neither a priest nor a saint. You’re really one lucky devil, Digongmylabs, as far as the blind loyalty of your minions is concerned.

During a press conference shortly after your inauguration, you catcalled Mariz Umali, a local female reporter. Immediately after that, your apologists came up with an unacceptable explanation that catcalling is actually a compliment and is part of one’s freedom of expression. That was why, during your next press conference, another fearless female reporter, Pia Ranada-Robles, felt the need to cite “Section 8 of the Women Development Code of Davao City which states that ““cursing, whistling or calling a woman in public with words having dirty connotations or implications which tend to ridicule, humiliate or embarrass the woman” is a form of sexual harassment.” That city ordinance was enacted by none other than you, Digongmylabs, in 1997 when you were still the Mayor of Davao.

During the anniversary of Supertyphoon Yolanda and in front of hundreds of the typhoon’s survivors, you admitted to ogling at VP Leni’s knees during your cabinet meetings. That wasn’t the only time that you made her the butt of your sexually charged jokes as you believed that making those jokes during speeches were necessary to make your audience laugh. Speaking of Typhoon Yolanda, do you remember what you said? You said that you wished only the ugly had died during that calamity and that the beautiful ones were spared.

Digongmylabs, that one right there came dangerously close to your Australian missionary rape joke as far as callousness was concerned.

The first victim of political persecution under your administration is Sen. De Lima. On national TV, before you had her thrown in jail due to trumped-up charges, you would relentlessly slut-shame her, even referring to her as an X-rated actress a number of times. You gossiped about a sex video that you alleged she had with her ex-lover, threatened to have that shown in public, and used that to ridicule her interminably. You even joked that you would show that video to Pope Francis when you heard that he sent Sen. De Lima a rosary in prison. You already got yourself into trouble once for previous rude remarks about the Pope and, yet, you were at it again. You just never learn, do you, Digongmylabs?

 

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Photo credit: Jover Laurio of Pinoy Ako Blog (PAB)

DIGONGMYLABS’ VINDICTIVE TENDENCIES

You’ve been notorious for making sexist, chauvinistic, misogynistic and even racist remarks and insults, and for acting vindictively against your female critics.

You called Agnes Callamard, a UN special rapporteur on human rights, “malnourished” and “skinny,” and referred to Fatou Bensouda, an International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, as “that black woman.”

When the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released its World Economic Outlook, you lashed out at Christine Lagarde, the IMF Managing Director, by saying that one could easily change the latter’s gloomy outlook on the Philippines by pulling her into a corner and kissing her.

Without presenting any substantiated evidence, you publicly accused Fil-Am philanthropist Loida Nicolas-Lewis of having a hand in the preliminary examination conducted by the ICC into your war on drugs. You added that she is capable of conspiring with the ICC to indict you for crimes against humanity because “she’s rich.” (The Davao City Council declared Lewis a “persona non grata” in Davao City based on that allegation alone.)

In a televised address, you publicly denounced Sr. Patricia Fox, the 71-year-old Australian missionary who caught your attention when she came to the Martial Law-placed Mindanao as part of a fact-finding mission. You had her arrested and ordered deported.

Enraged by the relentless and critical reporting done by the mainstream media on the killings that your brutal war on drugs both entailed and incited, you targeted, first, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, then ABS-CBN and, finally, Rappler. PDI owners eventually sold their controlling stocks to Ramon Ang, a close friend of yours and a campaign financier, while ABS-CBN continues to toe the line in the face of your threat to block the renewal of their franchise which is set to expire in 2020. Maria Ressa and the Rappler team, meanwhile, continued with their fearless reporting amid all government efforts to quell and silence them — you claimed (again, without any verifiable evidence) that Rappler is “fully owned” by Americans; you declared that it is a fake news outlet; its incorporation papers were revoked; its Malacanang Palace correspondent, Pia Ranada, was barred from the palace premises; and it is being investigated for tax evasion.

DIGONGMYLABS, A COWERING WIMP IN DISGUISE

Recently, you said that you could not count on women at all times; that they could not stand threats and intimidation; that they should be prim and proper; that the next Ombudsman and Chief Justice should not be a woman. With such a mentality, it is not hard to assume that you are terrified of women in power.

In the Philippines, there are five women whose power, independence and strength you either despise or fear. And since you don’t know how to handle or deal with them, much less to subjugate them, you resort to insult and threat. You want to control them. You want to silence them. You want to break them.

But you are learning, much to your chagrin and frustration, that you can never put a good woman down.

Even from detention, Sen. De Lima continues to painstakingly perform her duties as a member of the Senate and of the opposition bloc. She doesn’t pull any punches — her criticisms of your administration remain scathing — and her spirit is still indomitable.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, despite the administration’s attempt to put her in jail supposedly through the machination and connivance of VACC and the DOJ, remains relentless in her fearless fight for her various advocacies, among which are her courageous battles against any form of human rights violations, the declaration of Martial Law, and corruption in government.

VP Leni Robredo, even after you virtually forced her to resign from your cabinet after you issued an instruction (via text!) for her to desist from attending all future cabinet meetings, continues to fulfill her duties and responsibilities as our duly-elected Vice President. She has been vocal in condemning many of your pronouncements that she deems inimical to our country’s interests. As a consequence, she is now facing an imminent loss to Bongbong Marcos in the Vice-Presidential recount because “your” Supreme Court sitting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal denied her plea to follow the threshold set by the Comelec for shading of ballots, the very same shading threshold used for the 2016 national elections.

You said that you will file an impeachment case against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales for “selective justice” and conspiracy to oust you —this, after the Office of the Ombudsman had conducted investigations into your family’s alleged unexplained wealth which supposedly amounts to billions. At one point, you also challenged her to resign. Morales, however, remained unfazed as she reiterated that she won’t abandon her constitutional duties.

There are many instances that you and CJ Maria Lourdes Sereno have had public clashes, compelling you and your sycophants to do everything that you could to rid of her. You threatened her, you demanded her resignation, you had the House Justice committee hear the impeachment complaint filed against her by a pro-Duterte, pro-Marcos lawyer, you had your chief attorney, Solgen Calida, file a quo warranto petition to nullify the CJ’s appointment, and you had “your” Supreme Court act favorably on that petition.

These five strong, independent and powerful women are the faces and voices of all the Filipinas who, despite harassment, coercion and threats, continue to fight everything that you stand for — tyranny, fakery, murder, plunder, treason, incompetence, vindictiveness, indecency and misogyny. They will be the proverbial thorn in your side as long as you keep promoting words and actions that are crippling to the gender equality movement, damaging to women’s dignity, and threatening to the safety of women all over the world. They will serve as the constant reminder that you, Digongmylabs, are nothing but a big, spineless, pathetic, filthy-mouthed wimp.

WHEN OUR CHILD’S WORLD CRUMBLES

In the entire span of your life as a parent, you will undoubtedly face countless challenges. You will soon discover, however, that the toughest and most hurtful are those which cause your children immense pain and suffering.

I should know.

As a parent of three young adults, I have already witnessed innumerable times how my children would struggle and, each time, my heart is ripped into tiny pieces.

  • Emar losing his front tooth when he, as a toddler, tripped on the pavement.
  • MD as a baby with a heart murmur.
  • Lala getting her hand burnt when I was cooking while she was in my arm.
  • Emar experiencing his very first loss in an academic competition.
  • MD being bullied by his classmates due to his big voice. (He never talked in school for an entire year because of that. Irked, his adviser locked him up in a tiny, dark storage room.)
  • Lala being fed by her teacher with a piece of crumpled paper.
  • Emar caught up in the throes of his first romantic break-up.
  • MD relentlessly compared with his siblings, and always found lacking.
  • Lala finding herself struggling academically in high school after she graduated valedictorian in grade school.

Just recently, Emar, our firstborn had to contend with a disappointment so great that caused his world to crumble.

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Emar has always been an academic achiever. The impressive array of medals, certificates, scholarships and scholastic commendations and citations he has received and amassed since his preschool years can easily attest to his unquestionable love of learning, and to the discipline, hard work and perseverance that he continues to consistently demonstrate as a student.

It, therefore, pained us to witness how devastated he was when he learned last year that he could not graduate alongside his friends and batchmates from the UP Dep’t. of Chemical Engineering.

He was a candidate for Cum Laude, so when he and his group encountered a trouble in their Plant Visit subject, he opted to drop the said subject rather than earn a grade of 5.0 which could adversely and irrevocably affect his ‘Laude status. In UP, though, there are certain subjects that are strictly offered on a seasonal basis only. Sadly, the subject that he had to drop was one of those. (It was also a prerequisite to a subject that was a prerequisite to another subject.) So, he was left with no other option but to take his 12 remaining units in 3 successive sems (5, 4 and 3 units for each sem respectively).

We were, of course, disappointed and dejected. He was, after all, the first grandchild from both sides of the family and, thus, the first one expected to graduate in college. The entire clan, especially Tatay Bebot, his paternal grandfather, was excited to see him walk up the stage to receive his college diploma. (Sadly, Tatay Bebot would no longer get to see that day. He died of brain aneurysm last year.)

However, when we saw how miserable Emar had become because of what happened and how he would beat himself up for it, we put aside our own personal feelings to provide him with the support and assurance that he so badly needed at that time.

Thankfully, he was able to bounce back, albeit painfully, diffidently, slowly.

He used his ample time to pursue productive endeavors.

During his first underloaded sem, he became an active tutor in the three tutorial centers he was affiliated with. He mastered not only one-on-one but even class tutoring. Also, he found himself teaching not just students like himself, but also professionals reviewing for the Civil Service exam!

The next sem saw him busy completing his 300-hour internship with Petron Corporation. Assigned to its Research and Development department, he was always excited when he would learn new things and gain additional knowledge, and when he was able to actually apply the lessons he learned in the classroom into the actual processes he was allowed to be exposed to in the company lab.

He also learned how to drive, much to our chagrin and worry.

For his last sem, he planned to work while he studies. Unfortunately, his schedule didn’t permit that so he went back to tutoring, instead.

We all though that a one-year delay in his graduation was the worst ordeal that he has had to bear as a student. We thought wrong.

Yesterday, we learned that his appeal to be allowed to graduate with honors (despite underloaded sems) was denied. (Incidentally, it was also yesterday that we learned that Emar’s baby sister, Lala, who is also studying in UP, will graduate cum laude. That story would have to be for another blog post, though.) Emar has a General Weighted Average (GWA) of 1.587432, safely within the university requirement of 1.450001-1.75 for Cum Laude. Two of my children should be graduating with honors come this June but, since Emar’s reason for underloading is not considered valid under the Revised UP Code (health, employment and unavailability of subjects are the only justifiable reasons cited, a fact which we learned belatedly), only Lala will do so.

This entire experience will, undoubtedly, leave a scar on our son. The thought that people might be talking about him with either pity or ridicule (“Our high school valedictorian did not even finish college on time.”) could sometimes stop him in his tracks. The regret of not having his Tatay Bebot witness his graduation will always bring tears to his eyes. The pain of having disappointed us when he failed to graduate with honors will gnaw at him like an itch that doesn’t go away. But, this entire experience will also instill in him some hard-earned lessons on grit, humility, the values of time and family, and the uncertainty and fragility of life — valuable lessons that will, hopefully, stay with him when he is dealt with tougher challenges in the future.

Emar, anak, the path that led you to this particular moment had not been easy. It was strewn with trials, adversities, uncertainties, disappointments, difficult choices and hopes — fondest, cherished, dashed, renewed and, finally, unfulfilled. But like the true warrior that you are, you persisted. You strove. You overcame. You triumphed.

Congratulations, anak. You may not graduate a cum laude but we are still very proud of you. We are certain that you will accomplish greater things in life. Just remember never to lose heart. When you feel that the universe is conspiring against you, when trusted friends turn their backs on you, when adversities simultaneously assail you, when your best efforts are greeted with indifference, when you fall flat on your face again and again and again —just keep on going. Don’t give up. A miracle may just be around the corner, patiently waiting for you. And rest assured that when that happens, I, your daddy, your siblings, and the entire Baldonado and Aquino clans will all be by your side, cheering you on until all your dreams turn into reality.

 

IMPORTANT ADDENDUM:

Emar received a correspondence from the University Council exactly six days prior to the university graduation. The decision was reversed. My son is going to graduate Cum Laude!!!

 

 

WHAT, YOU’RE STILL SINGLE!?!

Christmas can be tough when you’re single. After all, it is the season of joy, generosity, and, of course, love. You probably just attended a party or a family reunion over the Christmas break, where you inevitably experienced some awkward moments with all the innocent yet incessant teasing, insensitive remarks, and downright offensive comments about your relationship status –or lack thereof.

“Another cold Christmas for you? That’s too bad.”

“You look attractive enough. I don’t understand why you can’t find a man to marry you.”

 “Don’t worry. I’m sure the perfect man is right around the corner.”

“Maybe you should lower your standards.”

“Your biological clock is ticking. Your career won’t keep you warm on cold nights, you know. Neither will it keep you company when you grow old and gray.”

 “Your father and I are already old. When are you going to give us grandchildren?”

All the single men and women I know are eerily familiar with these thinly veiled criticisms, and all too often, these never fail to annoy and exasperate them.

That, however, is not the case with Techie Buenaventura.

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Yes, Techie is no stranger to that entire affair. But, unlike when she was younger, she no longer allows herself get affected. With age and stature comes self-confidence, I suppose, and as a 43-year-old bank executive, she is assured of her place in the sun. Nothing much can ruffle her feathers.

Techie spends her workdays attending meetings and conferences, conducting client calls, and ensuring the smooth operation of the bank branches she handles. Her spare time, on the other hand, is devoted to bonding with her family, going out with friends, mountain climbing or wakeboarding with her more adventurous colleagues, or exploring new destinations with her travel buddies. Her Christian duties usually occupy her Sundays as she serves as a lector-commentator in their parish church. She also lends support to community-based missions and other worthy causes. In short, she is having the time of her life! Thus, she is completely immune to other people’s reactions of regret, disappointment, or pity that she gets when they learn that she is still single.

BeFunky Collage

Like Techie, many of today’s women (and men), especially millennials, decide to put off marriage or not get married at all for various reasons.

A great majority consider themselves too ambitious and career-driven to ever contemplate marriage. Some have already been married once in their lives but, due to different circumstances, now live in solitude. Others, who are in “complicated” relationships, cannot marry because of legal, religious or cultural considerations and impediments. An increasing number are in happy, long-term relationships yet rather opt to live with their partners without the benefit of either a marriage contract or the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. And, still, there is a handful who have never been in a serious, committed relationship since, well, time immemorial because they are either pining for their “one that got away” or still waiting for their “Mr. Right.”

The world used to adhere to the feudal view that the women’s rightful place is at home – that while men are busy working outside to support the family financially, women should spend their days (and nights!) painstakingly tending to their brood. The world, however, has changed tremendously over time – and with it, our collective belief of women’s role both in the family and in society.

I, for one, have come to realize that marriage is not the be-all-end-all for everyone. Women should have the freedom to choose their own path and the equal opportunities afforded to men to pursue their dreams. In fact, I have a lot of contemporaries, mostly friends and acquaintances from college, who have remained single to this day, and contentedly so. It is actually these single men and women who seem to have acquired total control of their lives.

They can pursue their dreams and further their careers with an enviable ferociousness and singlemindedness that married people like me, with our tons of extra baggage, cannot afford to do. Time is a commodity that they can avail and dispose of on a whim. They can socialize with friends, pay relatives frequent visits, explore new hobbies, travel to any place that strikes their fancy – all without the need to secure someone else’s approval or permission. They have gained adequate financial independence that allows them to spend on things that could make any girl’s heart sing. They have the freedom to go out with different guys and have noncommittal fun, guilt-free. They look a lot younger than people their age who are perennially burdened with issues about their flailing careers AND inadequate finances, less-than-perfect marriages, nonexistent time for themselves, strained relationship with their in-laws, and/or a whole slew of worries and concerns with regard to the kids. They don’t need to constantly compromise with someone whose set of needs, wants, beliefs or habits may be totally conflicting with their own. Also, with today’s dismal and staggering rate of marital separations all over the world, this growing bunch is spared from the potential of becoming just another statistic. And if they are observant enough, they could learn many lessons just by watching other people’s lives unfolding before them. Valuable, free, painless lessons.

These “men/women of the world” are invariably oozing with boundless confidence. They are used to wielding power, authority and influence. They are comfortable in their own skin. They have no qualms using whatever is at their disposal to get what they want and, believe me, they do know what they want. And they never fail to command rapt attention and admiration from the people around them.

So, the next time people ask why you’re still single, or treat you condescendingly, just because you decide not to settle down – just yet or permanently –, say “I’m fabulous and I haven’t found anyone equally as fabulous, that’s why!”

*For more Brilliant Responses For When Someone Asks You Why You’re Still Single, click https://www.elitedaily.com/life/culture/brilliant-responses-when-single/1340902

 

JUST A HOUSEWIFE?!?!

When people ask what my occupation is and I tell them that I am a housewife/homemaker/stay-at-home mom (SAHM), the first reaction I normally elicit is that of disbelief.

“Really?”
“Are you serious?”
“Weeeh, you’re just pulling my leg.”

And when I eventually manage to convince them that I am indeed a housewife, the next reaction would be a look of either disappointment, pity, or disinterest.

Without uttering a single word or making a single sound, they are able to convey their message quite loudly and clearly – “Oh. So you’re just a housewife. A plain housewife.”

Every time something like that happens, I always feel my teeth unconsciously grit – not just because these people seem to find immense pleasure in belittling others to make themselves feel bigger than they actually are, but because there was a time in my life when I would let myself get affected by their not-too-subtle insult.

Yes, years ago, when every minute of my existence was dedicated to raising my three little kids, such jabs could actually reduce me to an emotional wreck. I would be inclined to retreat to the nearest corner to sulk and wallow in self-pity.

What further aggravated my situation then was the feeling of isolation that used to grip me.

You see, it was during my children’s formative years that my husband was just starting his career in the cutthroat pharmaceutical industry. Understandably, he was consumed by a need to prove himself to his work colleagues and superiors with the ultimate goal of advancing his career. I knew that all his efforts and his passion for his work were for our family and our family’s future, but that knowledge did not diminish the feelings of wretchedness and insecurity that frequently assailed me and whose clutches I could not seem to escape.

Living in a city where I did not know a single soul and with nary a moment to spare to make someone’s acquaintance, I was prone to bottling all of my emotions and sentiments inside. And as I was too busy to indulge in old hobbies or to pursue new ones, I had no outlet to release my pent-up frustrations.

I became somewhat of a recluse.

As a consequence, I constantly felt alone, lonely, useless, unappreciated, embittered, resentful. I was stagnating mentally, languishing emotionally and deteriorating socially. When I would look at myself in the mirror, I could no longer see the independent, self-confident, active and empowered woman that I used to be. What I would see was a stranger who hated the hand she was dealt. A stranger who loathed everything about her situation. A stranger who despised even herself.

Eventually, I succumbed to depression.

I was in a really, really dark place then.

It was a long, slow and arduous journey to get out of that rut and to reclaim the old me. But once I decided that I had had enough, I worked hard to turn my life around.

I knew that nobody else could possibly do it for me –the change had to start from deep within me. I was just grateful that the people who genuinely loved and cared for me did not give up on me. They stayed with me and helped me get out of the hole I dug for myself.

Today, I hope and pray that no stay-at-home moms (or even dads, for that matter) are going through or have to go through something like that. Nobody deserves to feel like s#!t about himself/herself.

So, for all the SAHMs out there, here are some pieces of advice from someone who wished that she had received the same when she needed them the most.

 

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photo credit: happyandhealthymom.com

 

First, know your value. You may be economically dependent on your husband, but that should not relegate you to an inferior position within your home. You should be your husband’s equal partner in everything that involves your family — the ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment, and disposition of a property; the exercise of parental authority; the making of pertinent choices and decisions; the setting of goals; the determination of various rights, opportunities and responsibilities (including child care and household chores); etc. You have your voice. Use it.

Spouses who are equal partners “enjoy more stability in their marriage and experience less conflict, less dependency, and less resentment.”

 

Be proud. You may not be rewarded for having successfully climbed a career ladder, but your contribution to the community and humanity is immeasurable. You are raising, guiding and molding your children to achieve their highest potential so as to be wonderful, fearless, compassionate individuals and productive members of society. To accomplish such a tall task, you do not simply perform the duties of a mother. You morph yourself into an educator, an advisor, a referee, a juror, a juggler, a healer, a leader, a friend, a diplomat, an organizer, a cheerleader, a pep-talk provider, a magician – virtually anything that your children need you to be! Only someone special could pull that off!

Take pleasure, take pride, and celebrate those accomplishments.

 

Love yourself. You have to wake up very early in the mornings and have to stay up late at nights. You are on call 24/7. No vacations, no days off, no sick leaves, and no paycheck. To avoid burnout or to blow off some steam, you need to pamper yourself once in a while. Go to the nearest salon for a new ‘do and a much-needed mani/pedi. Have a relaxing massage. Go see a movie with friends or have chats with them over cups of coffee and your favorite pastries. Run to the mall and shop for bags, shoes and clothes. Head to the gym and do yoga or Zumba or boxing. Read. Bake. Take a trip.

You cannot genuinely love anyone if you are incapable of loving yourself.

 

Finally, do not let anyone pull you down! Remember, you are not just a housewife. Or just a homemaker. Or just a stay-at-home mom.

You are more than just those labels.

You are a warrior.

You are a survivor.

You are a domestic goddess!