By Rowena F. Caronan

THE PHILIPPINE SENATE is 99 years old this year. Its roster enrolls the names of 237 senators, including only 20 or 8 percent who are women.

By all indications, to this day, the gender divide in the Philippine Senate remains wide and deep.

Seasoned male politicians, have always dominated the chamber. The first woman senator was elected in 1947, or a decade after Filipino women won suffrage in 1937.

From 1947 to 1965, only one woman completed the 24-member Senate. Geronima T. Pecson, the first woman senator, served from 1947 to 1953. Pacita Madrigal-Gonzales became the second woman senator in 1955. Maria Kalaw-Katigbak came in third in 1962.

In 1966, the number of women Senators quadrupled when Kalaw-Katigbak, Senators Eva Estrada-Kalaw, Magnolia W. Antonino, and Tecla San Andres-Ziga were elected. Subsequently, Senator Helena Z. Benitez was elected in December 1967. This number slid back to three in 1970, and barely improved in the next elections.

Over the last 30 years, on average only three women had served in the Senate.

Drag image to the left to see full table.

In the 2010 elections for the 16th Congress, however, voters sent six women to the Senate, the highest number ever obtained by women.

Senator Pilar Juliana ‘Pia’ S. Cayetano, and Miriam Defensor-Santiago are completing their terms until 2016. Senator Lorna Regina ‘Loren’ B. Legarda was re-elected, while Senators Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay, Grace Poe, and Cynthia A. Villar won seats in the 2013 senatorial elections.

Nancy Binay is the eldest daughter of Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, while Poe is the daughter of the late Fernando Poe Jr., the “King of Philippine Movies” who lost his bid for the presidency in 2004 to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

A PCIJ story in 2013, however, highlighted a bleak picture of women’s participation in the country’s electoral process. Feminist experts interviewed for the story stressed that a rising number of women in politics does not necessarily reflect progress in representation for women. They pointed to an emerging trend of women candidates running only as benchwarmers or substitutes for father, brother, or spouse who belong to political clans. In fact, this case seems to apply to many of the 17 elected senators.

Women in Senate-table-V3-2 Women in SenateFor starters, Pacita Madrigal-Gonzales was the daughter of Senator Vicente Madrigal. Vicente lost his re-election bid in 1953 and later supported his daughter’s candidacy in 1955.

Both Magnolia Antonino and Luisa Ejercito Estrada replaced their husbands whose political careers had just ended. In 1969, Magnolia ran in lieu of husband Senator Gaudencio Antonino, who died a day before his re-election bid. Luisa ran and won as senator after the ouster of her husband, then President Joseph Ejercito Estrada.

Similarly, Pia Cayetano inherited the Senate seat vacated by her father, and Cynthia Villar, by her husband. Pia became a senator in 2004, following the death of her father Sen. Renato Cayetano, in 2003.

Cynthia took the place of her husband Senator Manuel B. Villar Jr., whose second term ended in 2013.

Meanwhile, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, daughter of President Diosdado Macapagal, continued her father’s political career. The election of Nancy Binay, daughter of Vice President Jejomar Binay, to the Senate was considered a move to widen her family’s political influence beyond Makati City.– PCIJ, March 2015

Comment Form