“So while we are debunking red-tagging and all the baseless allegations being hurled against progressive lawmakers, we were able to come up with a pandemic response bill, the pandemic paid leave bill, and even a bill on solo parents.” — Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – “This is the [traditional political] system and we are rocking it.”
This is how former Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) lawmaker Liza Maza encapsulated the work of the women’s partylist in Congress in a previous interview with Bulatlat, and why the Philippine government is hell bent on suppressing their voices.
For the past two decades, the partylist has been consistently pushing for pro-women legislation, including the law on extended paid maternity leave, anti-violence against women and children law, Safe Spaces Act, among others. GWP also filed bills on reproductive health care, divorce, and those that seek to provide economic relief for poor Filipino women.
Its sterling record in championing the rights and welfare of the poor has earned the ire of pro-elite past and present administrations. Recently, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict filed before the Commission on Elections a petition seeking to cancel the registration of GWP. The NTF-ELCAC is claiming that the women’s party is “attacking the Philippine government through its highly provocative and libelous pronouncements such as “berdugo” (executioner), tyrant, and rapist,” and that it is funding the armed revolutionary movement.
What has the GWP been doing for the last two decades? Bulatlat revisits the party’s advocacies and struggles through the years.
Gabriela Women’s Party was founded in 2000, at the height of the people’s struggle against then-president Joseph Estrada.
At that time, Gabriela, a national grassroots-based group of Filipino women and one of the founding organizations of the Gabriela Women’s Party, mobilized more than 10,000 women to march against Estrada. Maza remembered how then-Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a member of the anti-Marcos dictatorship group Women for the Ouster of Marcos and Boycott and of Gabriela, marched with them and spoke during the rally.
“Parlade is so wrong when he said that Gabriela members become communists. One became a president,” Maza said in jest.
Finding her voice
In the first elections that the progressives participated in the partylist system, Gabriela Women’s Party ran under the banner of Bayan Muna. When they joined the partylist system, Maza said they were not only fighting for equal gender rights but for all issues affecting women.
Among the first resolutions Maza filed before the House of Representatives is the use of gender-fair language, as she noticed how she was frequently addressed as “congressman” in her early days as a lawmaker.
“If you are invisible, how will others hear you? How do you make your presence felt? Language is very important,” she added.
In 2004, GWP finally ran in the partylist elections and began looking into laws they found to be disadvantageous to women. They also championed bills on gender-based violence, earning the support of many traditional women’s groups in the Philippines.
Representatives of the Gabriela Women’s Party were unequivocal that they are in Congress to fight for the interests of the marginalized– women rural poor, women farmers, women workers, women indigenous peoples, to name a few.
Such a definite stance sets GWP lawmakers apart from other women political leaders, debunking the false narrative that by solely being a woman means she would champion causes that are pro-women. Maza said that even under the second woman president – Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – they did not stop from criticizing policies and exposing corruption issues.
“Unfortunately, they also bring with them their class interest, the interests of their families too. At the end of the day, whose interests are they serving?” Maza asked during the previous Bulatlatan episode.
On the ground
Such voices of dissent and of genuine change are also found in many communities where Gabriela Women’s Party has chapters.
For the past seven years, Elizabeth Maynigo has served as a community organizer of Gabriela Women’s Party in Marikina City, where she led many information drives on the bills, resolutions, and laws that the partylist pursued and fought for. They held women’s rights orientation for their community.
They also listened to the pleas of the communities. Maynigo said that for the longest time, their neighborhood illegally tapped electricity, putting their community at risk to fire and other accidents. Through their collective effort, an electric company now provides service to their neighborhood.
With the pandemic, Maynigo said in jest that many Marikina mothers are now starting to learn ML – a reference to the popular mobile game Mobile Legends – but this time referring to their children’s module learning. Homeschooling children during the lockdown has made it very difficult for Marikina’s poor. Maynigo said that many families do not have access to cellphones for their homeschooling, let alone decent laptops.
“Mothers used to worry about their children’s fare to school. Now they are worried about mobile load for the internet,” she quipped.
Through their active and consistent organizing work, Gabriela Women’s Party chapter in Marikina soon became a help center, not only in their immediate community but also from neighboring villages. Maynigo said they would be approached by those who are facing threats of demolition, or by victims of domestic violence who need to be rescued.
They report these experiences to their Council of Leaders, which eventually finds its way to the partylist leadership to draw lessons from, to know how women on the ground are faring, and their proposed solutions to the problems.
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas, in an interview with Bulatlat, said the real experts for progressive partylists are the people on the ground.
“This is why you do not just see us in the Congress. You also see us marching in the streets and launching missions to know the truth,” she said, adding that resolutions and bills they have authored and co-authored are all born out of consultations.
“Our strength comes from the ground,” Brosas added.
Working amid red-tagging
Under the Duterte administration, red-tagging against Gabriela Women’s Party and the rest of the progressive partylists under the Makabayan Coalition has intensified. While there were doors that closed, Maynigo and Brosas both said that more individuals are standing up for them. Brosas added that their membership even increased.
“It inspires us all the more when there are people expressing interest in becoming members as we combat the dangers of red-tagging,” added Brosas, who also sits as assistant minority floor leader in the country’s lower house.
Progressive partylists, in fact, continued with their work – attending committee deliberations, consulting with their stakeholders, and submitting resolutions and bills that respond to the plight of ordinary Filipinos.
Maza, on the other hand, said their effective work in advocacy, organizing of women, and lawmaking are earning the ire of government authorities who want to keep corruption issues and military abuses in secret. Among the first attempts to remove progressive partylists in the House of Representatives was the case of the Batasan 6, where false witnesses were produced to testify against them.
She recalled that there was even a witness who claimed that Maza was a member of the central committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Maza said that she was only 13 years old in the particular year cited by the alleged witness.
Brosas said that the dangers of red-tagging come with threats of being subjected to graver rights abuses – like the many activists who were arrested over planted evidence, or worse disappeared and killed. To do all these, the government is funding its counterinsurgency body with millions of public funds.
“So while we are debunking red-tagging and all the baseless allegations being hurled against progressive lawmakers, we were able to come up with a pandemic response bill, the pandemic paid leave bill, and even a bill on solo parents,” Brosas said.
Brosas said that what sets progressive lawmakers apart from the rest is how they remain simple. She added, “we all came from the masses, it is only right that we serve them with persistence until we see that change come to life.”