In the past 24 hours two Filipino women have stepped into the limelight to embrace the recognition bestowed unto them. The world turns its gaze upon two women whose chosen career paths have been founded in service, truth and justice, devoting their time and talents to public service and upholding the truth and transparency of information. Curiously, both women have also been viciously targeted and vilified by the incumbent Philippine President, who has done everything in his power to silence their voices.
In the end, truth and justice will always prevail. The resilience and willingness to go against the flow and popular demand, as well as espousing the courage to stand up against those who are determined to destroy the vestiges of democracy and national integrity, have led both Leni Robredo and Maria Ressa to powerful positions to make a difference. What better legacy could you ask for?
Leni Robredo is the incumbent Vice President of the Philippines, and has the misfortune of working side-by-side a man who disrespects her position, gender and intelligence at every opportunity. Her rise to power and political career reminds me very much of another quiet but strong Filipina who stood by her husband and his political career, Corazon C. Aquino. Both women lost their husbands to tragedies and were subsequently thrust into the political and social limelight as symbols of democracy and the torch of liberalism during turbulent times in modern Philippine history. Whether Leni Robredo will succeed in the same manner as Corazon Aquino did in 1986 and become the country’s 17th president and third female president remains to be seen.
I may no longer be a Filipino citizen, but I continue to support Leni Robredo remains strong, even if only in spirit and the written word, not only because of her track record and dedication to public service, but for a very personal reason. When she announced her candidature for the 2022 elections yesterday and various landmark buildings around the Philippines lit up in pink in support of her campaign, my thoughts immediately went back to October 23, 2016, my mother’s inurnment. Upon arrival at the columbarium for the inurnment mass, much to our surprise a huge floral wreathe was standing beside my parents’ niche that was sent a few hours before by VP Robredo with an accompanying personal note. The columbarium staff was all aflutter because of the security issues the delivery of the wreathe had caused, but it was that small gesture of sympathy and compassion that made all the difference to us that day.
Maria Ressa is one of two journalists who won the 2021 Nobel Prize for Journalism as announced this morning. It was with great pride that I read the news, as it celebrates the freedom of the press, the acknowledgement of a female journalist, the honouring of a Filipino journalist, as well as a triumph of truth and justice. If you will recall, Maria Ressa, co-founder and CEO of Rappler, was accuse and convicted last year for cyberlibel as a result of being openly critical of the current Philippine President. I have followed Maria’s career ever since she was a fearless reporter back in the 1980s, co-producing and co-reporting with another notable female journalist Che Che Lazaro. Her ability to transcend borders, cultures and obstacles in pursuit of the truth has been both laudable and stellar, and her work spoke for itself as she featured both on CNN and later on Rappler.
Maria Ressa’s career is reflective of other journalists who were persecuted during the Marcos dictatorship, when the government did everything in its power to manipulate the truth and control the press. Her staunch commitment to principled journalism and fearless reporting has never wavered over the years, and it is with great pride that I salute a fellow Filipina and writer who is living proof that even in the darkest moments there will be those who will shine a light for you in order to continue your journey unshackled.
Laban! (Fight) has been the battle cry of the opposition in the Philippines dating back to Ninoy Aquino. Both Leni Robredo and Maria Ressa live and breathe courage and never back down from a battle, regardless of the personal consequences, thereby continue the legacy of fighting for democracy and campaigning against corruption with a dignity that is uniquely Filipino. Leni Robredo took a stand when announcing her candidacy and is running as an independent, despite all her year and loyalty to the Liberal Party. Calculated risk or political suicide? Neither. It is the Leni Way. Maria Ressa risked imprisonment because she would not contain the truth or manipulate it. We are a far cry from the meek and mild Filipinas we were expected to be in bygone days. This is an era of empowered and confident women who beat the odds on so many levels and show us that nothing is impossible when done with honesty, compassion and kindness.
Mabuhay ka, Pilipina!
(Long live, Filipina)