For the senator, being a parent and a politician go hand in hand.
Senator Risa Hontiveros is a solo mom, and proud of it. Not that you didn’t know this already, given how rooted her work is in her identity as a woman, an activist, and a mother (she’s the chair of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, and who can forget when she slammed her col- league, Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto, for discriminating against solo parents?)
It’s after 1 p.m. on a Saturday, and she has just come from a roundtable discussion on the Safe Spaces Bill, which hopes to penalize gender-based harassment in public spaces. She talks about her dinnertime conversations with her children with the same fervor as when she recalls her journey towards activism. And that, I guess, is Senator Risa’s secret.
“It’s the most intimate work of our lives,” she explains in a tone that reminds me a little of my own mother, when I ask her why she chooses not to compartmentalize or delegate her many responsibilities. Imagine never being absent from a Senate session (save for once, when her bunso was hospitalized), having to deal with impeachment threats from other colleagues, and being an active member of your kid’s parents association? All this she maintains with- out shedding her feminine image. A living example of the truth that women don’t have to sacrifice their femininity to be strong.
Here’s a bit of our conversation with Senator Risa, discussing how motherhood and family life are integral to her public service, and offering advice on how to get into activism.
YOUNG STAR: Given that most of your children are university age or working, what’s dinnertime conversation usually like? Are they also outspoken?
SENATOR RISA HONTIVEROS: They’re all very aware, opinionated, nag-eengage sila kahit sa social media. Pero wala sa kanila aktibista katulad ako. ‘Yung hindi formally aktibista. But very opinionated. We share a lot of our politics. Wala rin sa kanila magiging politiko, kasi kung meron, aalis ako. Because we’re anti- dynasty in AKBAYAN so I’m not gonna establish one.
How does the balance of being a senator and a mom usually go for you? Is it a matter of taking off your senator hat and putting on your mom hat?
I’m always wearing my mom hat. ‘Yung gawain ko as a mom, lalo na solo mom ako, wala na ibang pwede gumawa. I really have tried all these years to be present for my kids. Happenings or turning points. Ang feeling naming mga magulang, yung malingat ka lang, biglang, “Oh, I’ve missed something,” or they’ve grown up more. I know that my kids will need me in different ways at different stages of their lives — never the same way as before. I think that when they’re all fully grown, they will remember that their papa, my husband, and I have, these past 10 years, tried to be present. And I guess that memory will make a difference for them.
How has motherhood informed your public service given that you’re also the head of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality?
Tayo, we were born women, so matatangi tayo. We also want to pass on particular lessons to our daughters and to ourselves. ‘Yung legislative work namin ngayon on women’s rights and welfare flows also from being a woman. ‘Yung trabaho namin sa children also flows from experiences as a parent, like thinking about paano kaya namin pwede i-update ang Family Code? It’s really reflective of and responsive to Filipino families today. Families of all shapes, hindi lang nuclear. It also flows from experiences of family life and being related to and friends of other people who are themselves family members of different-shaped families.
A lot of our readers are technically middle-class, and given the current political climate, many are outspoken. Some are too scared to speak out about social issues because they feel that they’re not equipped, or they’re not in the right position because they come from a place of privilege. Do you have any advice for people who want to do something but are too scared of getting criticized?
We need for the generations to talk, to get to know each other better again, understand, appreciate. Okay lang matakot, kasi nakakatakot talaga yung sitwasyon, pero wag ka maduduwag. I know people are very brave in forming and holding on to their opinions and arguing about them. Since you’re already aware and you have opinions, keep on finding out the truth, the facts. Form and analyze your opinions and positions about them. Commit to whatever are your passions in life, including those passions that have to do with changing our situation for the better because it’s really bad and it’s really dangerous (nowadays).
We can’t control our class origin, but we can control where we go from here. Hindi niyo kasalanan kung pinanganak kayong middle class o burgis. But what do you do about it? If they know that they’re in a position of privilege, kahit yung mga hari at reyna noong unang panahon, there was this concept of noblesse oblige. Because of your nobility, you have an obligation. Sana tanawin niyo.