Last March 16, 2015 I was invited to attend a women’s month celebration at the Philippine Senate by Senator Pia Cayetano. Her staff told me that I had been chosen to be among 15 women who would be celebrated for our achievements in different fields. I knew there would be a Women’s Month exhibit entitled “Empowered Women: Raising the Bar,” highlighting women who’ve made valuable contributions in different areas of society. But I didn’t really know that there would be an entire ceremony that would formalize and legalize our “honours.”
I was allowed to bring three guests, so I brought both my parents and my eldest daughter, Sophia. My parents are here for a few more weeks and I thought it would be a treat for them to see something they only get to see in ANC televised hearings. I brought my daughter so she could meet the other honourees. It’s important for young girls to have different and good role models. Since my husband had seen many events at the Senate as a journalist, I figured he could miss this one.
After the ribbon-cutting moment with Senator Pia Cayetano and Senator Cynthia Villar, we were escorted to the Senate Hall. I was seated right in the middle of the VIP gallery across the table and stage of the Senate President. Beside me were fellow awardees prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, social entrepreneurs Anna and Camille Meloto, first Filipina to climb Mount Everest Noelle Wenceslao, 4-time world champion in bowling Bong Coo, and soprano Rachelle Gerodias.
Senator Pia Cayetano read her “Senate Resolution No. 1237, which honours fifteen women for their invaluable contributions. These women are achievers in their respective fields. They inspire the whole nation, especially young girls to excel despite adversities, despite obstacles.” Source: Pia Cayetano. I heard words like “trailblazers”, “drivers of change”, and “bringing honour to the country.” I was stunned.
I am so thrilled that my parents and my daughter got to see me get honoured by the Philippine Senate. I came to the Philippines in the mid-90’s, not to be in media, but I took on an assignment as project manager of an urban planning program in the Visayas, funded by the government of Canada. Even back then, I was aware of the need to participate in nation building. Before I joined Philippine media, I went to Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, and volunteered on medical missions. And as I got “side-tracked” to the worlds of broadcasting, blogging, and entrepreneurship, I had always found ways to try to make a difference, mostly by telling stories. Moving here cost me a lot – my family, my education, my career in international development and urban planning. I wanted my move here to make sense. I know it does because I met my husband and had our family here. But I wanted my work to make sense. I eventually found my voice when UNICEF appointed me as Special Advocate for Children in 2010. It sort of formalized what I had been doing – advocating for marginalized mothers and infants, for the awareness of heritage conservation, for the need for urban parks and other environmental causes. But I haven’t really done anything concrete, nothing tangible. I still want to be able to do more. Like I always say, no one needs a fancy title just to make a difference. We can all do.
I pray for humility. But this is a really big deal for me. So thank you for allowing me to share my story. I dont know if I really deserve this honour. But at that moment when I stood up and Sen Pia read my name and my contributions, the only thing I could think of was “Thank you God for leading me down this path. It wasn’t always making sense. It still doesn’t sometimes. But I am just following your path.” When I calmed down, I kept whispering to Camille, Lisa and Rachelle, “Wow, this is so awesome. Our how amazing that our parents are here to witness this.” Then I turned to Noelle, “Our names are in a Senate Resolution!” Then Noelle says, “Can you believe it? We are so legit!” Chuckles.
On the Senate floor before formal session began. From L-R, Noelle Wenceslao, Lisa Macuja-Elizade, Anna Meloto, Senate President Franklin Drilon, Camille Meloto, Senator Pia Cayetano, Bong Coo, me, and Senator Bongbong Marcos.
My moment. I don’t know why I have a pseudo-duck face. I was really nervous and in disbelief. Plus one of my senator friends tried to make me laugh. (Oh, by the way, I am totally aware it was a bad hair day. I arrived with my hair pulled back in a tight pony tail. After my first photos, my mother tells me that the pony tail made me look old. She suggested I take it down. So I did. And this is what happened. Disaster! Haha.)
In her privilege speech, Sen Pia Cayetano read, “In this light, I rise to sponsor P.S. Resolution No. 1237 which seeks to honor fifteen women for their invaluable contributions. These women are achievers in their respective fields. They inspire the whole nation, especially young girls to excel despite adversities, despite obstacles.” This is for my daughters.
Sophia telling Senator Cayetano that she was part of the school group that went to the Senate months ago to talk to her about the Torre de Manila issue. Sophia wrote her opinion editorial on Torre de Manila (destroying the view of the Rizal Monument) in her school’s newspaper.
Thank you Senator Pia Cayetano for recognizing the role of women in nation-building (and for the cake from Slice). Thank you to the Senate of the Philippines for the honour. You made my parents so proud.