By AIRA MARIE SIGUENZA and SHARLYN VIVO
MANILA — Arlene Brosas, who currently sits as a lawmaker for Gabriela Women’s Party, can still remember how she had so little money that she would walk to attend her classes on the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines. She did not immediately become an activist. But she soon walked the talk as her eyes slowly opened to the realities of fighting for the rights of women and children.
“The university has taught me how to be independent and to be confident of my principles. And I have stayed true to it even when after I left the university and started integrating with the masses,” Brosas told Bulatlat in an online interview.
Brosas is the current first nominee of the Gabriela Women’s Party, which has been championing the rights and welfare of women and the poor in the past two decades in the House of Representatives. Here they have pushed for pro-women legislation, including laws on extended paid maternity leave, anti-violence against women and children law, and the Safe Spaces Act. They have also proposed measures on reproductive health care, divorce, and those that seek to provide economic relief for poor Filipino women.
Pushing for this agenda of change, however, has not been easy.
Gabriela Women’s Party, along with its community organizers on the ground, is among the organizations routinely red-tagged by the Philippine government for its critical stance on policies that are deemed to be contrary to the rights and welfare of ordinary folk.
“This is what our time calls for us: that women should stand up and fight, not just for our rights and the rights of the children, but for the welfare of our whole nation,” Brosas said.
An advocate, public servant
In search of opportunities, Brosas’ family left their hometown in Samar. But her father, a police officer, later died, forcing her elder siblings out of school and later to work in order to help their mother make ends meet.
Third in a brood of five, Brosas did her share by studying well. She finished her elementary and high school at the UP Integrated School and later entered the University of the Philippines under a scholarship program while juggling her work as a research assistant.
Activism for Brosas, however, entered in her life only after graduation, as a member of Tumbang Preso, a progressive multimedia group. This while teaching in UP Baguio, and later in UP Manila, where she taught Philippine Literature, Humanities, and Science, Technology, and Society.
She was also a member of Ugat Lahi, a cultural workers group behind countless effigies in big protest actions. Brosas helped create effigies for the protest actions under the administrations of former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. She also wrote poems on love and politics.
In 2017, Brosas served as the executive director of Akap sa Bata ng mga Guro Kalinga, Inc., a faith-based group that partnered with local and international children’s groups such as Unicef and Save the Children. This institution focused on children’s work and provided early childhood care. At the same time, she was also the spokesperson of an anti-child pornography alliance that lobbied for the passing of Republic Act 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009.
“We need a genuine change in our society. We want a future for our next generation that centers on peace and justice, decent socio-economic conditions, and liberty of culture, among others. These are what we are fighting for as women,” said Brosas.
Brosas first sat as a lawmaker when Gabriela Women’s Party was re-elected in 2014. Here, she said, she became even more exposed to the issues affecting the people, particularly as she was guided by former lawmakers of the Gabriela Women’s Party.
“Women’s liberty from the systematic oppression and gender-based violence is tied with championing the struggle of the broader masses,” she said.
In the past months, Brosas, the first nominee of Gabriela Women’s Party, and nominees doctor Jean Lindo and consumers rights advocate Lucy Francisco have been on the lead to share the platforms and visions of Gabriela Women’s Party.
These include spending a day in a community facing demolition threats in Cebu and distributing their leaflets in the mountainous part of Quiot in Cebu where urban poor families were relocated. Here, they consulted mothers on the conditions they are facing. They also seek engagement with local government units to partner with them on programs for women and children.
“Our experiences push us to fight because we need to change the system that we are part of,” said Brosas.
Despite her busy schedule, Brosas still finds time to bond with her family and watch a few episodes of K-Dramas. Currently, she is hooked on C-Drama (chinese television drama), Love and Redemption.
A win to push for women’s welfare amid a pandemic
For Brosas, Gabriela Women’s Party’s win in the upcoming elections is also a win to ensure the rights and welfare of Filipino women amid the worsening political and economic crisis.
More than two years into the pandemic, the Center for Women’s Resource in 2021 said women are facing food security problems and are living under the world’s cost of living of $1.90 (97 pesos) a day. Independent thinktank Ibon Foundation, on the other hand, said unemployed women grew to 1.6 million from the 702,000 to 877,000 range.
Brosas said it is important to bring women’s voice once again in the 19th Congress, particularly in bringing comprehensive demands for the marginalized.
“The voice of the masses must resound in the streets to parliament. We need to empower the women and mass movement together. We exceed what we did and continue our walk to a progressive society,” said Brosas. (JJE, RTS, RVO)