LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Filipinos and their guests were “impressed” with the Independence Day address of PHL Senator Risa Hontiveros, guest speaker during the 121st Anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence hosted by Kalayaan Incorporated (KI) on June 1, at the Marriott Los Angeles Airport.
“The sacrifices and courageous struggles of our ancestors from over 350 years of foreign domination make us proud to be Filipinos,” Dr. Edison Cabacungan told PNews. “Senator Risa Hontiveros’ speech was truly outstanding! Her established record as a community organizer, newscaster and legislator is most noteworthy. Her balanced approach to helping families with increased paid leave of absence for women who have given birth, improved universal health care for all people, and her accomplishments as a legislator in improving the social and economic well-being of all Filipino people are just what the country needs. I think the Senator would become a dynamic President of the Philippines. I hope she runs for the office during the next Presidential election.”
Dr. Cabacungan is a retired professor from the California State Polytechnic University Pomona. Both he and his wife Nenita have doctorates in education.
The senator has graciously shared her Independence Day address with PNews.
(After greeting the KI president and officers and ConGen Cruz)
What a great honor it is for me to address you all today at the gala of Kalayaan Incorporated. Nabasa ko ang inyong philosophy: community empowerment in promoting quality of life, and the promotion of Filipino culture and heritage through leadership training, team building and community outreach. As a former community organizer and theater actor, this resonates deeply with me. Truly, communities are what we need to tap to bring forth the change we want to see. And these communities can be in any part of the world – from the inner streets of Manila, to sleepy fourth class municipalities in Panay island (where I am from), to Filipino migrant communities in Europe, to socio-civic Fil-Am organizations here in America like Kalayaan Inc. When Filipinos come together, wherever in the world there might be, not only is there lumpia, pancit and adobo, there is kinship, there is bayanihan, there is a sense of community, history and country.
Ang theme ko daw ngayon ay 121 years of independence, considering that on June 12 we are celebrating Philippine Independence Day. When one is tasked to talk about Independence Day, perhaps the most obvious direction is to talk about history. To go back centuries ago, June 12, 1898 to be exact, and commemorate how we won our freedom with blood, with lives lost, with courage and sacrifice, and most of all with love for a country of our own. But I do not want to look backward, mga kababayan. I want to look forward. And I want to talk about how we continue to craft the destiny of our beloved country, create a better future for Filipino families, uphold values of democracy, human rights and social change.
There are many ways that the destiny of a country is crafted. As an incumbent legislator in the Philippine Senate, my contribution perhaps is in the making of laws. Our most important legislative victories over the past three years have put us at par with global standards, and paved the way for better health outcomes for women and families. I know that as migrant Filipinos all of you are eager to hear about updates from our motherland, and I’d like to spend a little time and share some of these victories with you.
One of our most important wins is the Expanded Maternity Leave Law, which increases the number of paid maternity leave days for Filipina women from the previous 60, to 105, with solo mothers getting up to 120 days’ leave. Fathers and alternate caregivers too can benefit, because the mother can allocate up to seven days from her maternity leave to her husband or to any alternate caregiver. This is significant because before this measure, which we call EML back home, the Philippines had the fewest number of maternity leave days in the entire ASEAN region. Singapore tops the region with 112 days, while Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand all have 90-day maternity leaves. I have heard that here in California, qualified female workers can get up to 4 months pregnancy disability leave, and both father and mother can avail of 12 weeks Family and Bonding Time Leave. Now, more mothers have time to breastfeed their children. There is more time to recover from the rigors of pregnancy, and families can bond and collectively participate in the raising their children.
Another health related victory is the Mental Health law, which is the country’s first true national policy on mental health. Through it, mental health programs will now be established at the community level, curriculums will include age appropriate mental health education, and a dedicated budget for mental health programs will be allotted. The challenges to better mental health don’t just lie in treatment, but in the deeper, more cultural divide that prevents those who struggle with mental health issues to come forward and seek help. There is, unfortunately, poor help-seeking behavior in the Philippines when it comes to mental health, though we bring the message that help is finally here, and those who suffer in silence aren’t alone anymore.
A third triumph we secured in the 17th Congress is the strengthened Anti-Hospital Deposit Act, which was also successfully passed into law. It increases the penalties of hospitals and medical practitioners who require any form of deposit for treating emergency cases. This squarely addresses cases we have personally witnessed of hospitals blatantly asking for deposits before treating their patients.
These are just some of our victories in the last three years. All in all my team and I at the office, together with the efforts of my party Akbayan, have been able to pass 14 laws in the past three years. I have been able to do this while playing a fiscalizer role in the Senate – calling out the Executive when necessary, speaking out against corruption and conflict of interest as I see it, protecting our sovereignty and our national interests from Chinese encroachment, as for example in the West Philippine sea. As the United States has consistently demonstrated to us, and as it is demonstrating to us now with the fascinating developments over the Mueller report, a democracy, to be vibrant and strong, needs checks and balances. A Pelosi, and an AOC in Congress are needed to counter a Trump in the White House. In the same vein, independent, and strong-minded legislators are needed to counter a Duterte in Malacañang, and to keep any potential abuse of power in check.
But we cannot rely on policies and legislation alone to shepherd this country towards our collective aspirations. Centuries ago, when independence from Spain was but an audacious, seditious idea, pockets of communities were already organizing themselves and dreaming of change. In Malolos, Bulacan, in 1888, a group of 20 women discussed how they would press for educational reforms. In 1892, at Calle Azcaraga, Tondo, Manila, a secret group of men converged, and the Katipunan was formed. Legislators enact formal policy; communities and groups plant the seeds of change.
That is why for me, it is important for us to have occasions like this – occasions where we come together, have a conversation, talk about the things that matter to us and the things that we want for our country. While we may have differing opinions on where our country is going and the current state of governance, we are all bound by our love for the Philippines and our common desire to make lives better for Filipinos. I am hoping that for you, this means protecting women from misogynistic attacks, preserving our territories and natural resources from external incursions, protecting innocent people from the excesses of police and the military, ensuring the freedom of the press as well as saying no to fake news.
We have been free for 121 years, and we will be free for centuries more. Hopefully, this freedom also means freedom from poverty, freedom from inequality, freedom from patronage and dirty politics, freedom from…… China and Chinese interests.
Maraming salamat! Maligayang araw ng Kalayaan! Mabuhay po tayong lahat!