PH Senator Risa Hontiveros takes on a ‘role of a lifetime’

Sen. Risa Hontiveros Photo from Facebook/@hontiverosrisa

by Dennis Heruela

IN her teenage years, Risa Hontiveros captured the fancy and following of the Filipino audience as a budding theatre performer, and later as a broadcast journalist. “That was before I got happily hijacked by activism,” she quipped.

In many ways, her foray into public service is but a performance, one that demands not only for her to show up and deliver the lines but also to translate everything into action and results that would truly benefit the Filipino people for generations to come.

“After formal politics, I’ll go back to theater and music. Whether nanay or lola roles, I’m open. I just want to go back to theatre.” She says it with that signature twinkle in her eyes and vibrance that exude star quality.  But for now, she is tackling the biggest role of her life and from the eyes of those truly seeing her, being Risa Hontiveros – a Filipino senator carries with it a complex pursuit and a very busy one as well.

Being one of the 2 opposition senators in the current senate, she understands how tough it could be to face adversarial attacks especially foul and malicious ones. But Sen. Hontiveros is not to be derailed.

“I always remind myself to stay true to the path I chose in life. I go back to what inspires me, think of the people who love me and those who I love. I love being a Filipino, the unique arts and culture we have, and I have my faith to hold on to,” she says.

These may indeed have come very handy as she dutifully actualizes her mission in the senate. As she pushes for the Senate Bill 2443 or the proposed “Dissolution of Marriage Act,” challenges from all directions are expected. The “why” of advocating for a divorce option for the Filipino family is something she is clear about: “If the marriage reaches a situation where it isn’t supposed to be and in fact became the opposite of what marriage is like as it has ceased to become a relationship of love, commitment, and care and instead stories of domestic violence, neglect, absence, and repeated adultery have taken place. Why should individuals and families in those situations be denied of a second chance in freedom, life, and love?”

Senator Hontiveros recognizes the role the church – especially the Catholic Church – may play in the conversation. And while supporters of the bill assert that divorce is a public issue and not a religious one, she wants the conversation to be open and inclusive. “We continuously engage the Catholic hierarchy in the discussions and lately, I have been feeling that the pushback has been less, and the position has changed for the better compared to years ago.”

In her recent visit in Los Angeles for a series of meetings with various Filipino American communities, Sen. Hontiveros solidified in her mind what Filipino Americans can do to help Filipinos back in their homeland.

“You can take the Filipino out of the Philippines, but you can’t take the Philippines out of the Filipino,” she happily declared. “Lately there has been a renewed interest in acquiring dual citizenship. This could result to benefits that include OFW absentee voting. This means participation in choosing the leaders. The Philippine Consulate has set up a program and information campaign that will help dual citizens register and vote in the forthcoming midterm elections next year and general elections in 2028.”

Another interest expressed in the meetings would be “medical portability” where retirees can move back to the Philippines but can still enjoy the same pension and healthcare benefits they receive here. “We already have a template on Medical Portability, the framework to make it a law has been drafted,” she revealed.

She extolled the importance of making parallel efforts when it comes to organizing –whether politically or collaborating on solutions to issues that current Filipinos have felt strongly about: poverty, unemployment, inflation, and corruption which she named as those on top of the list.

“Regardless of political affiliation, every Filipino recognizes the pain of the issues and problems that affect our country. Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to see that even if we disagree politically, we can choose to find solutions to problems we all experience. We need to think of better ways to mobilize our resources and utilize traditional and social media in a way that informs and empower us to form communities and create genuine unity,” she stated.

Senator Hontiveros explained how economic reform and protecting ourselves from the effects of inflation are a concern for Filipinos all over the world. “In the Philippines, economic development should be the priority. While agriculture and manufacturing need to be developed, the necessary infrastructures, such as electrification should be in place. The BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) industry has been a top contributor to the Philippine economy and needs to be strengthened further through Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).”

Amid her visions to implement economic agenda for the country, Sen. Hontiveros sees the overarching importance of better governance. “I oppose scandalous poverty and inequality. I oppose manipulation – using disunity and enmity for political ends. We need to reach out to the Filipinos who lost faith in democracy and help them rediscover it. Perhaps the people don’t see how they can participate in the democratic process and how they can protect it. We need a restart.”

Listening to Sen. Hontiveros talk about how the Philippines could soar to greater heights is an inspiring experience. It leaves one in awe at how a leader like her appear to be seemingly undaunted when she pursues causes and issues of national interest (read: sometimes risky). She knows in her heart what the people she serves would benefit from. Whether it’s tirelessly pushing for the SOGIE Bill (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression Bill) to become a law or being in the forefront of investigating POGOs (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators) and look into alleged human trafficking and online scams being proliferated, you can count on her to move forward with character and courage. After all, behind that dulcet voice and calm demeanor is a woman and a leader who’s powerful enough to say: “Natatakot din ako. Pero okay lang matakot basta huwag lang tayong maduduwag (I also get afraid. But it’s okay to feel afraid as long we don’t become cowards).” n

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