Senator Risa Hontiveros: A Hero for Filipinas Everywhere by Katrina Cheong

Out of the 24 senators of the Philippines, how many can the Filipino people truly look up to or idolize? For me, Senator Risa Hontiveros is of the few senators who can genuinely be considered as a hero. Through her heartfelt remarks and implementations of advocacy-based platforms, she has not only proved herself to be a woman for others, but also embodies the essence of what it is to be a truly empowered woman.

Although I was definitely honored to have been given the opportunity to interview such an esteemed woman, I initially had my apprehensions. As this was the first time I was being given the chance to meet such a high ranking government official, I did not know what to expect. However, I soon realized that I had nothing to worry about, because Senator Risa Hontiveros welcomed us with open arms, and set aside time to see us despite her hectic schedule. By treating us with hospitality and warmth throughout our visit, she genuinely displayed her tendency to be a motherly person towards everyone she meets.

We commenced the interview by first enquiring about her general background and history with Philippine politics. Calling herself an “activist for life”, Hontiveros started to get engaged in activism even during her high school and college years. Even at such a young age, she was already aware of her own potential as a woman, to contribute to society.

She entered into politics when Akbayan, the democratic socialist political party that she was part of, asked her to serve as its congressional nominee. After serving as a congresswoman for 6 years, she ran for position in the senate, in the hopes that it would provide her with a larger platform and a longer term. She ran for senator twice, in 2010 and 2013, but failed both times. However, being the determined person that she is, Hontiveros ran for senate again in 2016, and won. Through this, she exhibited confidence in her own ability to effect positive change in society, as well as the courage to take risks as a woman in a male-dominated field.

Upon asked about her advocacies, Senator Hontiveros stated that her passion for women empowerment and gender equality is the essence of her entire platform, for the simple reason that it is a matter extremely close to her heart. She emphasized that she was born a woman, she has three daughters, and has numerous peers and colleagues who are women. She has personally experienced and seen firsthand the challenges that women in this society go through; for this reason, she purposely fought for the chance to be in charge of the committee dedicated to women, children, family relations, and gender equality. Because of this, I believe that she is living proof that being passionate about what you do does translate into more meaningful and impactful results. Thus, after proving herself as an empowered woman and winning a seat on the senate, she then proceeded to utilize her position in order to further empower other women.

With a campaign promise that puts its primary emphasis on health and women, Senator Risa Hontiveros has proposed bills such as the expansion of maternity leave, anti-discrimination, and mental health. Expressing that she is full of aspirations regarding policies to propose, Hotiveros said that one of the challenges that her committee faces is the process of translating these bills into laws. Bills for universal healthcare, women’s rights, and gender equality, had to undergo a lengthy procedure of being approved, because these are not the main priority of the government. For instance, the Anti-discrimination, which has been deliberated on for a year, is only currently in the process of being passed. Despite this, she still continued to persevere, because the aforementioned issues are causes that she truly feels strongly about.

Although Hontiveros stated that she is subjected to the same load of work as every other senator, an extra obstacle is posed by her being in opposition of the current administration. Every once in a while, she is asked questions about extrajudicial killings, women’s rights, or catcalling. Even though there are a lot of people who may openly disagree with her, she is never hesitant to publicly express her opinions on these topics. By doing this, she shows that she does not let herself be swayed by the majority, no matter how dominant or influential these opposing forces might be.

While admitting that dealing with an insensitive and misogynistic president can be frustrating, Hontiveros says that it takes great patience and perseverance. By persistently speaking out against President Duterte, she is exercising her right to freedom of speech as a woman, and empowering women all over the country by inspiring them to speak their minds as well. As a self-assured woman, Hontiveros does not allow any external factors to hinder her from standing up for what she believes is right.

Overall, our interview with Senator Risa Hontiveros was both enlightening and inspiring. Not only did I have the opportunity to learn firsthand about her background, advocacies, and projects, but I also has the chance to look deeper into her answers, in order to discern what makes her such an empowered woman and politician.

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[From L to R: Senator Risa Hontiveros, Grade 12 students from Keys School Manila Rocio Mercado, Nikolas Alcazaren, and Katrina Cheong]

In my opinion, she sets an ideal example to women all over the Philippines. She conveys the message to Filipinos that women are very capable of attaining utmost success in any field. She prompts women to realize that they should be confident in their own abilities, and should not be fearful of taking risks, or taking action towards making a contribution in society. As a strong and independent woman, she is also not afraid to take a stand and fight for the rights of women, children, and Filipinos in general. She is one politician who has truly devoted her life to serving and empowering others. After listening to her speak, I can positively say that she is now one of the Filipino women that I look up to. She has inspired me to be more confident in my own capabilities, stand up for my own rights as a woman, and make an effort to empower those around me. As I go through my life, I wish to one day become just as dedicated, bold, and empowered, as Senator Risa Hontiveros is.

16 Day Activism against Gender-based Violence

In partnership with the Austrian Embassy in Manila, SPARK observed the 16 Day Activism against Gender-based Violence through various activities which highlighted the structural inequalities that perpetuate VAW.

The campaign was launched on 25th of November during the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Senator Grace Poe was the guest speaker during the screening of Girl Rising and Women’s Rights Forum where she encouraged people, both men and women, to speak up and speak against gender-based violence. Austrian Ambassador Bita Rasoulian, SPARK Trustee Ronna Reyes Sieh were also in attendance. The forum was held at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati.

After the screening, the regional Girl Rising mbassadors Katrina Bayog (Iloilo), Shamah Bulangis (Dumaguete), and Anwedda Navarra (Iligan) shared the work they contribute to the girls’ empowerment advocacy. Ms. Kate Alyzon Ramil, gender expert, who also shared her thoughts on VAW in the Philippines.


According to the United Nations, violence against women (VAW) is the most persistent and the most extreme form of discrimination. Achieving gender equality aids in preventing conflict and alleviating the number of cases of VAW. SPARK and Austrian Embassy in Manila aligned the theme on this year’s observance with the United Nations theme, Orange the World, Leave No One Behind: End violence against women and girls.

Throughout the 16 Day campaign, empowered women and gender advocates such as Senator Risa Hontiveros, Rags2Riches co-founder Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, UP Babaylan’s Vince Liban, and other women pledged to eliminate gender-based violence through mainstreaming gender equality.

Annually, December 10 serves as the International Human Rights Day, which also acts as the culminating event for the 16 Day campaign initially launched by UNiTE, United Nations Secretary General’s Campaign, which addresses gender-based violence. This year’s International Human Rights Day theme, “Let’s stand up for equality, justice and human dignity” addresses the importance of achieving equality, justice, and freedom to prevent violence and preserve peace.

SPARK and Austrian Embassy in Manila partnered with the city of Taguig and Progressive Ladies League of the Philippines for the culminating activity of the 16 Day campaign. Mayor Lani Cayetano and 500 women from Taguig showed their support by participating in the “Break The Chain” Dance Against VAW, pioneered by One Billion Rising, a movement that demands to end all forms of exploitation on girls and women through solidarity.

As a result of the thrilling success that the partnership brought, SPARK and Austrian Embassy in Manila will continue its partnership for Women’s Month in March 2018 to celebrate the significant success of women in social, economic, cultural, and political spheres in achieving gender parity. It will also serve as platform for women to focus on the collective efforts and ownership to address gender issues and take action to eventually achieve gender equality in all facets of the society.

SOGIE at the Heart of Pag-IBIG Fund’s Gender and Development Agenda

SPARK Program Manager, Hamilcar Chanjueco Jr., was invited as the guest speaker during the State of the Fund Address (SOFA) of Pag-IBIG Fund. Being a staunch advocate of LGBT Rights and Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression (SOGIE) Education in the Philippines, Ham shared a narrative of his journey while touching on the subjects of SOGIE and the Anti-Discrimination Bill which was recently passed in the House of Representatives.


In his speech, Ham highlighted the discrimination that members of the gay community experience in a day-to-day basis: discrimination in employment, lack of access to government services, and bullying. He also added the fact that the exclusion of LGBTs in economic and socio-cultural activities has impacts to the development of the country.

“That we can also be directors, managers, movers of the economy. That we are able to engage in sports, politics and business. That we are humans too and we deserve your respect and love.”

He emphasized that the fight of women and LGBTs are not so different. According to him, history says that both sectors fought side by side to achieve equality in all spheres. He ended his speech in encouraging the officials of Pag-IBIG Fund to include the promotion of equality in the workplace and zero tolerance to gender-based violence as part of their priority agenda.


The Home Development Mutual Fund (abbreviated as HDMF), more popularly known as the Pag-IBIG Fund, is a government-owned and controlled corporation responsible for the administration of the national savings program and affordable shelter financing for Filipinos employed by local and foreign-based employers as well as voluntary and self-employed members.

The SOFA is a quarterly gathering of HDMF top officials to discuss about the milestones and updates of the fund. It has been a tradition that a certain topic is highlighted every SOFA. SOGIE has been the chosen topic for this quarter’s SOFA as suggested by its Gender Focal Point System led by its Gender and Development (GAD) Chair Mr. Florentino E. España, Jr.



Gearing towards a gender-responsive government institution, Pag-IBIG Fund’s efforts on gender mainstreaming has expounded to the inclusion of LGBTs in their programs and services.

SPARK a Partner of the Office of the Vice President for Women’s Empowerment


The Office of the Vice President organized a knowledge exchange workshop for 50 grassroots women entrepreneurs. SPARK! attended the Solidarity Night which served as an avenue for the women entrepreneurs to build partnerships with individuals and businesses on product development, financial services and market linkages.


SPARK! is proud to be a partner of the Office of the Vice President’s Angat Buhay program and other partnerships that concretely uplift the lives of Filipino women.


SPARK launches REMAI through Likhang Pilipina; in-line with the celebration of Small and Micro Enterprise (SME) Month


In line with the celebration of Small and Micro Enterprise (SME) Month, Rizal Exporters and Manufactures Association, Inc. (or REMAI) launched “Galing Rizal, Henyong Rizaleño Trade Show” a collective project of social enterprises from Rizal.

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This project is in collaboration with Department of Trade and Industry Rizal, AliMall, Araneta Center, J. Amado Araneta Foundation, Likhang Pilipina; a women marketplace, by and with the SPARK! Philippines.

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Make sure to visit them from July 1-31, at the Likhang Pilipina Booth, located at the Bay3, Level 2 of AliMall, The Araneta Center.

SPARK Project Officer, Hamilcar Chanjueco Jr., certified by Philippine Commission on Women as member of the National Gender and Development Resource Pool (GR Pool)

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Ninety-six of the growing number of Gender and Development (GAD) Resource Pool members was certified by the Philippine Commission on Women last June 28-30, 2017 at the Hive Hotel and Convention Center in Quezon City.

One of those recognized GR Pool members is Hamilcar Chanjueco Jr., SPARK Project Officer.

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With the theme “The GAD Resource Pool as CHANGE Agents: Moving from Tokenism and Compliance to Gender-Responsiveness,” the Assembly consisted sessions that helped develop the commitment of the members to their advocacy and enhance the knowledge of the members as a community of advocates and output-driven role models of Gender Equality.

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The GR Pool is one of the components of the National GAD Resource Program (NGRP), which is the over-all technical assistance blueprint of the PCW and is dedicated towards the provision of strategic, appropriate and effective technical assistance to NGAs and LGUs. As certified GR Pool member, Ham will be tapped by PCW in providing GAD technical assistance and will serve as sectoral experts in the crafting and updating of tools and customized training packages for different clients.

SPARK joins the Equality Makes Sense forum hosted by the Embassy of Sweden and co-hosted by Ateneo de Manila University


SPARK joins the Equality Makes Sense forum hosted by the Embassy of Sweden and co-hosted by Ateneo de Manila University which was held last June 30, 2017.


Equality Makes Sense is a forum on Empowering Women which brought together women influencers from various fields to talk about topics related to the ‘Three Rs’—Rights, Representation and Resources for women—and to present an integrated gender equality perspective that relays a simple message: Equality makes sense.

#SwedeninManila #FeministForeignPolicy #EqualityMakesSense