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2. Filipino Women in the Male and Elite Dominated Political Landscape
Very few Filipino women have joined formal politics. 1 In the 1987, 1992 and 1995 elections, women won two (out of 23), four (out of 24), and three (out of 12) contested positions in the Senate, respectively. As for the Lower House of Congress, women won 19 (out of 202) district representative posts in 1987, 22 (out of 200) in 1992 and 20 (out of 190) in 1995. Today, women fill about 17 percent of Senate seats and close to 10 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. (Table 1)
Source: Commission on Elections
Cabinet posts in the executive branch of government are often assigned to men with the exception of the Department of Social Welfare and Development which is traditionally led by a woman. From the Marcos regime to the present administration, only four other departments have been headed by women: Ministry of Human Settlements (created during the Marcos regime and later abolished) with then First Lady Imelda Marcos at the helm; the Department of Education, Culture and Sports, and the National Economic and Development Authority during the Aquino regime, and the Department of Labor and Employment during the Ramos administration.
In the bureaucracy, there are slightly more women than men, with women accounting for 51.4% of the nearly 1.4 million government personnel. Top-level positions, however, are traditionally held by men. Women constitute only 26.5 percent of the total number of Career Executive Service (CES) incumbents in government in 1990 and 1994. (Table 2)
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*CES refers to the third level positions in the civil service: Undersecretary, Assistant Secretary, Bureau Director, Assistant Bureau Director, Regional/Assistant Director and all other positions of equivalent rank identified and classified by the Career Executive Service Board as belong to CES.
In the judiciary, women comprised no more than 13.9 percent of the total 1, 666 incumbent judges in Philippine courts in 1993 and almost 15 percent of the 1,646 judges in 1995. (Table 3)
Womens participation in local government units has been just as dismal. (Table 4).
At the province-level, women elected as local government chief executive and deputies comprise 9.2 percent of the provincial governors (7 out of 76), 6.6 percent of the provincial vice-governors (5 out of 76), and, 11.0 percent of the provincial (legislative) council or sanggunian members (79 out of 718).
Source: Department of Justice
In the cities, the proportions are: 3.3 percent of the city mayors (2 out of 60), 10 percent of the vice-mayors (6 out of 60), and 10.07 percent of the council members (68 out of 675) while in the municipalities they comprise 7.84 percent of the municipal mayors (121 out of 1,543), 8.62 percent of the vice-mayors (133 out of 1,543) and 11.48 percent of the municipal and council members 1,421 out of 12,375).
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Source: Department of Interior and Local Government
At the barangay level, the lowest and the most basic unit of government, women constitute 11.4 percent of the barangay captains and 19.6 percent of the barangay council members. (Table 5)
Source: Department of Interior and Local Government
Moreover, the few who have joined politics generally come from the middle and upper classes. Their entry into politics is often motivated and facilitated by male relatives and friends who have access to politics or who are in politics themselves. 2
A case in point is former president Corazon Aquino who comes from a wealthy landowning family in Central Luzon. She entered politics as the widow of Ninoy Aquino whose assassination in 1983 intensified the ire of the anti-dictatorship movement. She had no background in politics except for her association with her politician-husband and her politician-father (once a legislator).
A 1992 study conducted by Dr. Socorro L. Reyes of the Center for Legislative Development (CLD) revealed that fourteen (14) women members of Congress "believe their blood relationship with a male politician helped them win their electoral seat through the use of the latters political machinery, their knowledge of campaign tactics and strategies and the familys political name. Interviews further revealed that these womens entry into electoral politics was largely motivated by their desire to continue a "family tradition". 3
It must be noted, however, that women are not to blame for this situation. Elections in the Philippines is quite an expensive venture and politics practically an enterprise dominated by the particularistic interests of wealthy families. The name of the electoral game is money and kinship. Understandably, only the upper and middle class women are predisposed to joining politics.
Another interesting fact is that women are the ones who usually show up during the polls. Voter turnout in the Philippines has generally been higher among women than men. Data from the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) show that in six election years 1965, 1969, 1971, 1986, 1987, and 1992 average voter turnout was 79.2 percent for women and 78.6 percent for men. (Table 6)
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Source: Commission on Elections (COMELEC)
There is obviously a contradiction between womens strong participation in the polls and weak participation in formal governance. Although there is no definitive study about the matter, one probable factor could be the cultural norm that women should abide by their duties, whether private or public. The more important conclusion, however, is that Filipino women do not vote as a bloc even if they do vote in large numbers.
High voter turnout among women does not also reflect the usual sentiment of the Filipino electorate towards the exercise of suffrage: cynicism. Because electoral politics is characterized by "guns, goons and gold", the ordinary Filipino does not bother much with it except perhaps for the sake of immediate gains. Vote-selling/buying is rampant, and has even become the tradition, during electoral seasons. Candidates run without a clear platform of government. Without any basis for selection, the voters usually end up choosing the candidate who pays the most just to get their votes.
As a consequence, several abusive and incompetent individuals have been elected into public office. These individuals, once elected, feel no accountability towards a constituency that they had simply "bought". The power they hold then becomes a license for them to acquire more wealth and privileges.
Abuse of authority is often directed at women. There have been many cases of public officials turning out to be sexual harassers or rapists. The most recent of these cases were those of Mayor Antonio Sanchez of Calauan and Congressman Romeo Jalosjos of Zamboanga del Norte. Mayor Sanchez is facing life imprisonment for raping and murdering a young female university student while Congressman Jalosjos is undergoing trial for statutory rape after a twelve-year girl revealed that she was prostituted and raped by the Congressman several times.
Majority of public officials who end up abusing their power are not only male, they are also wealthy. Consequently, one cannot expect them to enact laws or implement programs that may be in conflict with their business interests. Despite the restoration of formal democracy, majority of the people are still poor and powerless. Today, 70% of Filipinos still live below the poverty threshold because of anti-poor and pro-elite state policies. Distressingly, women are among the poorest of the poor. Women workers, for instance, earned only 40% of mens earnings
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in 1998 and 47% in 1992. 4 It is also the women who mostly work abroad as domestic helpers and entertainers under severe threat of abuse (usually sexual) by their foreign employers. Womens share of deployed overseas contract workers (OCWs) increased from 54.9% in 1995 to 60% in 1994. 5
Being male and being wealthy, cheating during elections, abusing power once in public office these are all features of Philippine politics. It is not surprising, therefore, that the fight for womens participation in politics has always been and continues to be an uphill struggle.
© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Oktober 2001