It was the 12th of December, a Wednesday night.
I remember because it was the first time that I got sent to Twitter Jail. If you haven’t been there, it’s hell for people who are used to tweeting a lot, and I needed to tweet then because the very controversial Reproductive Health Bill (RH Bill) was being voted on in the House of Representatives. Basically, if you tweet too much, Twitter flags you as a spammer and locks down your account for an hour.
For those who aren’t Filipinos, and for Filipinos who have no idea what goes on in the country (for shame), the Reproductive Health Bill, or RA #10354, was a hotly contested issue ever since it was first introduced since a lot of people view it as anti-life, especially religious fundamentalists. And with the Philippines being a predominantly Catholic nation, it was hard to separate the Church from the State.
Since the bill has already become a law–implementation started third week of January, if I’m not mistaken, for most parts of the new law; the other parts that needed detailed Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) had to wait a bit longer–there is no need to discuss this at length but just for information’s sake, here’s a link to Senator Pia Cayetano’s blog on the law’s highlights.
Going back to the 12th of December, it was a really long night for a lot of people who, like me, were waiting with bated breath, excited to know what the House was going to do about the RH Bill. There was a lot of tension because the Church was threatening to excommunicate lawmakers who vote for the RH Bill (yes, we are that screwed up as a country) and there were a lot of priests, nuns, and people carrying statuettes of saints and the Virgin Mary present during the session.
It was also one of the rare times when the Filipino people get to see just what goes on inside the halls of Congress, since sessions aren’t usually televised. But because of the clamor for information regarding the bill, the whole process was under intense media scrutiny. And, well, what we got to see was not at all impressive. It was kind of horrifying, really.
People voted for these congressmen. They were put into power by the populace that they are supposed to serve. Yet, when they were asked to explain their votes for the bill, their answers ranged from the ludicrous to the downright absurd.
I’m sorry but I won’t be able to breathe easy until we take this one by one. I know this is supposed to be about Congresswoman Aglipay but bear with me here.
- Lucy Torres-Gomez, actress turned public servant, believes that this bill supports abortion. This is understandable since this is one of the main arguments against the bill. However, if you read Sen. Cayetano’s blog post that I linked to earlier, you would understand that it isn’t. And “we were all embryos before”? Really?
- Bagasina’s statement is actually more accepted than you think. Friends who are reading this from outside the Philippines, feel free to laugh when I say that there are a lot of Filipinos here who believe that nature gets pissed at us for making laws that is against Church dogma. I’ve also been to mass a few times where the priest says this to his flock.
- Apparently, Garcia believes that sex education will make people more promiscuous, again another widely-accepted belief here in the country. These lawmakers actually subscribe to the idea that if you give someone a condom and teach them how to use it, they will no longer be able to keep it in their pants. That’s just insulting.
- This woman actually made me spit out what I was drinking when I heard her talk. I just couldn’t believe it. She considers our people a commodity. Instead of trying to create jobs for people here, she’d rather let our population balloon so we can send more people abroad and rely on them for remittances. Embarrassing, to say the least.
- We’re gonna take this together because they say relatively the same thing–
- The State must not meddle with the Church. Do you see the irony there? WE ARE A SECULAR STATE, how hard is that to understand? Secular, meaning the Church and the State are separate. Sure, we shouldn’t meddle with the Church, but why is the Church meddling with the State? And why do lawmakers care what the Church thinks? Shouldn’t they prioritize what the people they represent think?
- …dude. You’re a grown man.
- This dude is actually really funny if you heard him talk. He started his speech with, “We believe this bill is an evil bill!” then he goes on to say that the communist insurgents are behind this bill. I have no idea what he was saying, but it was funny.
- and 10. *sigh* We put this people into office. Why?
Note: Just to be clear, this country is only predominantly Catholic, which means that there are people of other faiths here too. Who speaks for them?
It was a really disappointing vote because even though the bill was getting more votes in the affirmative, a lot of the people I actually counted on let me down. Yes, I am talking about the representatives from the Bicol region. What happened?
Despite the general disappointment though, there were rays of sunshine here and there. The most striking and the most memorable was when this little purple-clad lady (purple was the color of the RH Bill advocates) walked up to the dais and gave one of the most stirring speeches I have ever heard. Here’s a link to the transcript of her speech, but the line that struck me (as well as a lot of other Filipinos) was: “I just want to make it very clear Mr. Speaker, that I am not against life—I am against ignorance!”
Within seconds of that speech, the Internet was on fire. My Twitter Jail sentence was over around this time but my Twitter kept crashing since tweets from all over the world were coming in about how awesome that woman was and how her speech made their adrenaline pump like they just wanted to run out to the streets and sing songs for the bill.
After a bit of creative research–yes, creative research; not stalking, just research–and with some help from my partners in crime (I’m talking about you, Neelesh), we found out that her name was Emmeline Aglipay, and she’s the representative for DIWA partylist. She’s also one of the (if not the) youngest people in the House, which made her all the more awesome.
After a bit more research, we also found her Twitter account and found out that she doesn’t get easily creeped out by random people talking to her online.
So my friend Neelesh and I congratulated her on being a great representative of the people and started relying on her for updates re the different bills that were in legislative purgatory at the time, like the Sin Tax Bill and the Kasambahay Bill, among other things.
Until one day, out of nowhere, Neelesh messages me on Facebook and suggests that we ask the nice congresswoman out to coffee so we can pick her brain a bit regarding the issues that we’re passionate about. Being hard-core political science and international relations students, this is the kind of thing we liked doing.
I said yes because come on, what chance was there that she’d actually say yes? I’ve dealt with members of Congress before back when I was a journalist in the province. These guys are hard to talk to, even when you have a media permit and you know someone from their office–so how are two random guys from the Twittersphere going to fare?
So imagine our disbelief when she actually said yes.
But because we had no real plans when we jumped into all this, we didn’t know what to do after she said yes. Fortunately, her staff intervened. I have to say, Cong. Aglipay’s staff are some of the most helpful people you can ever hope to meet. Sid Salazar, her chief of staff, coordinated with Neelesh and I regarding the details of the meet even though he was sick, and her executive assistant Bea Tan took over when the actual date was closing in.
With Cong. Aglipay’s help, as well as that of her team, the whole thing evolved from a random spur-of-the-moment thing to a casual dinner with student leaders from DLSU, and a whole host of other people. I can’t talk about what happened during the dinner since it’s strictly off the record (sorry guys), but suffice it to say that Cong. Aglipay is as fun to talk to in person as she is on social networks, maybe even more so.
I learned several things during that dinner, and some of them are listed here:
- We all have stereotypes of what politicians look like. Em Aglipay managed to break every one of them. She’s pretty and young. She’s really smart, and can go from laid back to very animated in a second. She plays basketball and is very passionate about her love for the Celtics (wait, it was the Celtics right? Not the Lakers? Neelesh?) She has an excellent puppy/pa-awa face. She reads sci-fi novels that I haven’t even heard of, and I consider myself pretty well-versed in sci-fi. She loves food. She’s really easy to talk to–not at all intimidating. And you will love her from the moment you see her.
- Student leaders are actually very active today, compared to my time when no one cared about what goes on outside the campus. The people I met from DLSU were really passionate kids–the kind of people that I’d love to see in office in the future.
- A long table will not facilitate a good group conversation. The noise will always gravitate towards the person of interest, so if she’s not sitting in the middle, one side will be left out.
- Too much cheese will make you woozy.
- The carbonara at Rocky’s (Rockwell Club) is really good. The oatmeal is too, apparently. And their pineapple juice is not that sour, which is great for people with delicate stomachs.
- When in doubt, pizza.
Look, I know that this isn’t the usual light and entertaining blog post that you typically find here but this was an awesome night. I learned a lot of things. But because you are all awesome and you deserve to be entertained, a friend of mine did send me these pictures when she found out that I met Cong. Aglipay.
Yes, that’s the Congresswoman for Spark Magazine’s The Power Issue.
And that’s all I have for today. Cheerio!