Normally, having a woman in such a powerful position should be cause for celebration. After all, women are sorely underrepresented in the Philippine Congress. There are only six women in the 24-strong Senate, while in the House, women make up under a third of of all congressmen.
Has the glass ceiling really been shattered?
When it comes to the Philippine Congress, it’s really not so much about gender equality than it is naked opportunism. Because instead of electing someone with progressive ideas who might effect real, lasting, and positive change in society, strengthening our democratic institutions in the process, we are given someone who, more than anything else, is politically expedient, someone whose own political career reflects all the cravenness, moral elasticity, and corrosion of our political system, someone far more interested in preserving the status quo rather than genuine reform.
The fact that she used to be president of the Republic of the Philippines is hardly cause for celebration. Her own presidency, ridden with scandal and mired in corruption, was particularly brazen; the breadth of its ambition and greed and lust for power, was astounding. However, to give credit where credit is due, she did instigate economic reforms. But it’s not easy to shake off the feeling that we remain stuck in a circus whose jesters and puppeteers and show animals never change. Sartre’s version of hell, carnival version.
In a sense, one could actually argue that the Philippines is a gender-equal society: Women have proven to be just as adept as men when it comes to corruption and plunder. I recall a speech given in 2015 at an APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) international forum by the Supreme Court Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, pre-ouster, of course, in which she extolled the advantages of having greater representation of women in the judiciary. Her appointment to Chief Justice at the time was hailed as ground-breaking by some, seeing that she was the first female judge at the helm of the Supreme Court. She clearly felt that women should have access to the same career opportunities as men, and that women were just as capable as men, if not more, in positions of leadership, and that there was room in the business world for the more intuitive, community-based, and family-type approach women tend to specialize in.
As for women in the judiciary, she pointed out that gender would not really be an issue in a corruption-free judiciary, however, it could be an advantage “in judiciaries that are still trying to bring its standard of performance to the highest level of a corruption-free regime.” Hence, bringing more women into positions of leadership could make “the struggle to clean the ranks of the judiciary” more “winnable.”
Survey perceptions and anecdotal evidence, she said, seemed to support the theory that female judges were less prone to corruption than male judges. While she admitted that more studies were needed to back up this theory, “women judges shun the nightlife. They usually proceed to attend to family or community responsibilities after work, whether it is to attend to children, parents, or church activities. And in such a setting, it is difficult to strike a deal, so to speak.”
While her premise is indeed simplistic, it also draws on tired stereotypes which ultimately imprison women into roles dictated by their gender. She did point out qualities usually associated with females that should be seen as strengths in the workplace instead of liabilities, such as the ability to multi-task, a sense of balance, an instinct for inclusive, consensus-based leadership, to name a few.
Citing her own experience as Chief Justice, she said:
“While they described the male way of thinking as linear and sequential, I can have a perspective that is wider and can take cognizance of several things running at the same time and solving crisis one after the other, and fighting fires that break out in every which spot. I think it is because of my exposure to my day-to-day exigencies. And the fact that I had to maintain a career even though I had two children to raise on my own. And then I thought that for the Rule of Law, whereas formal rules and formal structures seem to be more comfortable for males, I thought that I had a better intuitive ability to perceive the unspoken sense of employees and constituents. I could detect with my nose and with my sixth eye that something is wrong and something is bothering a person. And then I go about in a roundabout way without hurting feelings of trying to find out what the problem is all about.”
Whatever you might think of CJ Sereno, these qualities do not seem to have swayed her peers much, as some of them supported her ouster. Part of the charges against her, ironically, included corruption.
Which just goes to show that corruption knows no gender, neither does evil. Women are just as adept at men, if not better, at a whole slew of despicable behavior, from subterfuge to deceit, from petty theft to wholesale corruption, from criminal negligence to institutionalized cruelty. And lest we forget, female complicity with the vileness of men (and sometimes women). When she was president, the new Speaker of the House had many willing accomplices, women among them. One of the key players in the Bangladesh and RCBC $81 million money laundering scandal that rocked the world was a woman, RCBC bank manager Maia Deguito. Women here have been the most vociferous opponents of the RH Bill, seeking to deny other women access to reproductive health care. And racist women make up the majority of the people in the US calling the cops on black people going about their daily business.
Does any decent and intelligent female seriously aspire to be like Sarah Huckabee-Sanders? Or Melania and Ivanka Trump? Or, dare I say it, the new Speaker of the House?
It makes no difference whether you’re a man or a woman. Power corrupts, if you allow it to.
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.
Art by Marian Hukom
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