Sunday, September 30, 2007
Inheriting a Patriarchal Legacy
The executive and legislative branches of Philippine government have been or are led by females. That the Philippines is widely considered patriarchal and paternalistic in trait and that male rivals have been around to challenge the women’s rise to a political post make this fact doubly intriguing. The ascension of these female leaders is related to their membership of renowned families. These daughters, wives, or widows of former politicians and oppositionists share inherited political leadership. Regardless of the largely patriarchal and paternalistic state that the Philippines is, many women of dynastic origins get elected to public office. Dynasties are not unusual in grassroots-level Philippine politics, but female succession to power previously held by their fathers or husbands is unusual.
Governing the Self and Others
This study will use Michel Foucault’s concept of governmentality to explain the prevalence of female leaders in the grassroots-level Philippine politics. Foucault used the notion of governmentality as a “guideline” for the analysis he provided through the historical reconstructions encompassing the era beginning from Ancient Greece up to modern neo-liberalism. The definitive connection of governing and modes of thought determines that it is not probable to study the technologies of power without the examination of the political rationality suggested by these. Also, Foucault uses the idea of government in a wide-ranging means pointing steadily to the ancient meaning of the name and foreshadows the close ties between forms of power and processes of subjectification. Whereas the word government nowadays means something entirely political, Foucault was able to underscore that the problem of the government in a wider context was well up to the 1900s. It was a term tackled in political texts as well as philosophical, religious, medical and academic tracts. Besides the management by the state or the administration, “government” has a definition that extends to the problems of self-control, guidance for the family and children, management of the household, directing the soul, among others. For this, Foucault views government as conduct or, more specifically, as the “conduct of conduct” that signifies a term that includes “governing the self” to “governing others.”
From this notion of Foucauldian governmentality emerges the idea that women, who are traditionally assigned to the household as its manager, can likewise find themselves managing a larger household of sort that is the barangay, the municipality, the city or even the state. They are no longer confined to their territory in the kitchen or the bedroom. The current president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and the female president before her, Corazon Aquino, are examples of such women who can govern the way Foucault defines it.
Weak Feminine Foothold in Philippine Politics
While the Philippines seems to be ahead of its neighboring nations by already having two female presidents, major problems are still hindering women from possessing a firmer grasp of political positions. As it is, Philippine politics is traditionally male-dominated. Whereas there is a perceptible rise in the number of women elected in leadership positions, assumption to institutional government does not always transform into the anticipated degree of political influence. The problem of resources also bedevils women’s access to resources to decision-making positions since both sexes do not relish the equal access to resources that produce power. The absence of economic power also deprives women of their rights and privileges.
Females Running Late
The highest political office in the land is obtained mostly by males. From the time the country declared itself independent from foreign colonizers way back at the turn of the 20th Century up to the present, the female leaderships of the nation came to be only after massive people power revolutions ousted the presidents they succeeded. It was only last 2004 that a female was democratically elected to the highest office in the land, and even that election has been challenged of having been rigged.
Even the micro-level politics is dominated by males. From the barangay elections to the gubernatorial polls, males have always figured as winners. Only a few females figure in the election derby, let alone win. As a result, male-to-male successions generally prevail in the grassroots-level Philippine politics. This feudal parallelism became sharper when political dynasties became the name of the game since the introduction of Western-type elections in the Philippine landscape.
Besides reflecting patriarchal composition, Philippine politics is replete with dynasties. Until recently, Isabela province has its Dys while Nueva Ecija has its Josons; Makati has its Binays and Valenzuela has its Gatchalians. The Philippine Senate has a mother-son tandem as well as sister-brother duo. At least two-thirds of the members of Congress compose political dynasties. Despite constitutional prohibitions, Philippine political dynasties abound from the highest down to the grassroots level. After the meltdown of Marcos dictatorship, there were tries to control political dynasties by limiting the number of family members who could run for office. Nonetheless, the efforts failed in the legislature.
The Female as Leader
In general, the phenomenon of political dynasties is not rare. What is not rare is women being the recipient of their family’s political legacy. It is not only a lack of men that qualifies women as candidates for succession within the family, but also these women’s capacity to symbolize a non-partisan alternative to corrupt male leadership.
Depoliticized Under the Patriarchal Ideology
The unusualness of female leaders has been explained by traditional stereotypes about women's nonpolitical role in the family. The ideology of patriarchy has had a decisive influence on the fate of women in most cultures across the world. Male dominance has been made legitimate in law and custom. Politics has been presumed to be a natural environment for men while for women, if only to have a space or place of their own, the natural environment was presumed to be private, not the public. Different cultures or religions might allude to this category of roles on the dirtiness or roughness of politics, the toughness needed, or, by contrast, the nobility of public service, the need of males with a sense of the big picture as opposed to females whose horizons and loyalties were limited to the family and clan. Hence, the private family role forced on most women formed part of the standard for making them ineligible for political roles.
Political dynasties are male-dominated, but female succession is becoming an inherent feature within these dynasties. The role of women in engendering democratic transitions through active participation in social movements has long been acknowledged. However, female leaders of democratic transitions have been extremely unusual. They confront sexist barriers in moving from grass roots opposition to leadership posts in opposition parties. This explains why female leaders are rarely emergent as banner leaders in Philippine political parties. This also partly explains the failure of women’s party-lists to penetrate the congress in recent election years.
The Revolution of the Second Sex
However, the importance of women leaders is evident if democratic revolutions are focused on. These are characteristically peaceful and urban-based movements, defined as spontaneous popular uprisings—which topple dictators and begin a transition process that eventually results in the consolidation of democracy, EDSA 1 and 2, for examples. Women have been at the forefront of mass movements that have overthrown unyielding dictatorships and resulted in democratization. Given the absence of female leaders in negotiated transitions, it appears paradoxical that women should be "over-represented" as leaders of democratic revolutions in the Philippines, for instance.
Nonetheless, patriarchy did not deter women from heading anti-dictatorship struggles. Rather, gender stereotyping proved to be politically advantageous. As women, the politicians in question were perceived to be weak, making them appear less threatening to ambitious opposition rivals. They were the mothers or sisters of a suffering nation, as was former First Lady Imelda Marcos was wont to project. They promised to clean the filthy public realm with private, familial virtue reminiscent of homes. Their apparent non-partisanship, self-sacrifice and even inexperience emphasized the moral character of the struggle against dictatorship. Patriarchal traditions have helped rather than hindered female leaders of democratic revolutions.
Going Against the Gendered Grain of Politics
Micro-level political dynasties alter sexual norms in Philippine society. Women of dynastic origins challenge male domination in micro-level Philippine politics by getting elected to public office. The election of women of dynastic origins to grassroots level public office is taken along the lines of gender stereotypes. Why are there so many women leaders in micro-level Philippine politics? In part, it is because male relatives were unable, unwilling, or unsuited to take over the leadership of a family-based political faction. But women were not chosen simply because of an absence of a suitable male relative. They appeared less threatening to potential rivals, who thus could support their leadership without sacrificing their own ambitions. Although they enjoyed a dynastic aura, it was expected that real control of the party, movement, or faction would be retained by men. Women leaders assume only symbolic/representative leadership. Female leadership was perceived as largely a symbol, like an empress or queen perhaps but without the political influence to boot. Their ability to unite the faction through their integrative character was considered more important than their actual political skills. Women leaders perform only traditional female role models.
The Politicized Other Half
Another reason for the rise of women leaders is that traditional stereotypes about their gender were not a hindrance, but proved to be to their political advantage. In feminist literatures, the rarity of female leadership is commonly explained by the cultural construction of the role of women which is traditionally based in the family. But such a patriarchal ideology did not hinder women from achieving leading political positions. Women leaders were often perceived as apolitical. They were best suited to lead a moral struggle against male tyrants. As the wives, widows, or daughters of male martyrs, these women rose to political power over the male’s dead body. Murdered, imprisoned, or discredited male politicians became political martyrs at least for their supporters; their often ambivalent political backgrounds were conveniently overlooked as their cause was taken up by their female successors. Corazon Aquino fits this mold as well as others the likes of Susan Roces, although her husband Fernando Poe Jr., the nearest rival of Arroyo last 2004 National Election, died naturally as well as Sonia Roco, whose husband Raul Roco was popularly perceived to be more presidential than most candidates in the election years he ran.
Governing Better Beyond the Home
At the same time the experience and abilities of these women was left unquestioned. Once in power, however, the competence of women leaders often became a question of great political importance, the answer to which was often given by men. Women leaders portrayed themselves as fresh, uncorrupted alternatives to the male-dominated political club. Their gender made this claim more plausible. It enabled them to achieve the apparently paradoxical: while they were the heirs to a political dynasty—which in few cases was renowned for its commitment to good governance or its upholding of lofty political morals—they appeared to be politically virtuous with a sincere commitment to reform. Because they claimed to offer a moral alternative, any indication of missteps once in office led to rapid disillusionment in the population. Such is the case of beleaguered current Philippine President.
Foucauldian Governmental Feminism at Work
Gender dynamics manifests itself in the grassroots level of Philippine politics. Data show that the recent elections for legislative positions produce, at its peak, 17% of senators and representatives are women. At the local level, as many as 20% of provincial governors are women and 15% of city and municipal mayors are women. Statistics from elections held in 1992, 1995, 1998 and 2001 show an ascending proportion of women among elected local chief executives. In 1992, 6.6% of governors were women; in 1995, 10.7%;in 1998, 16%; and in 2001, 19%. Women city mayors comprise 2.9% only in 1992. This climbed slightly in 1995 with 5.9%; 9% in 1998 and 13.54 in 2001. Women town mayors in 1992 are at 7.6%; 8.14 in 1995; 14.4% in 1998 and 13.8% in 2001.
The increasing trend of women’s participation in local politics as governors and mayors may discredit the notion that there has not been much increase in women’s participation in elections. There have been, but the dramatic increase surged only in 1998.
Better Late than Never
Meanwhile, the 2007 elections result is part of a steady ascent in female representation in political life since the fall of the Marcos tyranny. According to an ABS-CBN report last May, the percentage of women in the 10th Congress (elected in 1992) was 11%; in the 11th (elected in 1996) it was 12%; and in the 12th (elected in 2001) it was 18%. No data are available for the 13th Congress, elected in 2004. These high figures by Asian standards are at least partly explained by dynastic politics—8 of the 53 women elected in 2007 (15%) are wives of incumbent congressmen who have just served their third and final terms. Still, that is becoming a less important factor—it is estimated that in the 12th House fully 45% of the female legislators were replacements of relatives previously in the House.
Becoming More Leader-like
More important than the dynastic element is the high status of women in wider Philippine society. Still from the report from ABS-CBN, women are better educated than men, with a combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment ratio of 106%. This is actually true to emergent female leaders in grassroots politics, with women mayors, representatives and governors having college or graduate degrees and strong financial mechanism to go with their electoral campaign. In business, women are particularly visible, with 58.1% of administrators and managers being female. Returning to politics, whichever side had won in the 2004 Presidential election, the Philippines would have had a female president, since if the opposition had won, Loren Legarda would have acceded to the presidency on FPJ’s death in December 2004. Assuming that the beleaguered President sees out her current term, by 2010 the Philippines will have had a female president for 15.5 of the 24 years since EDSA, 65%.
Slow but Sure Ascent to Power
The study proves more holistic studies that women politicians come from political families. However, the data express that they have had achievements as government administrators or professionals and business women before entering politics, or have served as local councilors or village heads (barangay chairs) before running for office. Once in office, they create projects which may not be immediately labeled as gender-oriented, such as agriculture or public works, with the more gendered social services (health and education). Nonetheless, some of them are aware of responding to issues important to mothers and children, and some have even started women’s and/or children’s programs. Many of them consider their being mothers as a big influence on the priority they give their projects.
Percentage of Women in Government, Congress, and Judiciary
Women government personnel by levels of position (CSC, 1999; * NCRFW, 2002)
Cabinet (Head of Department)
Women in government elective posts (COMELEC, 2001;**House of Representatives, 2003)
Incumbent women judges in Philippine courts (Supreme Court, 2001)
Female Brand of Politics
The role of dynastic women in the micro-level Philippine politics seems to be significant with their introduction of new politics. Nevertheless, it must be noted that their gaining of a foothold in electoral posts can be seen in the women’s movement as one of the successes of gender discourse. Yet the slow legislative lobbying and half-baked policy reforms in general make the discourse somewhat inadequate in terms of final results. While the greater involvement of women in politics—regardless of their dynastic origins, has been promoted, there must be formidable support for women advocacies. Only by then will the struggle of the women’s movement for more genuine gender equality and mainstreaming materialize tangible outcomes.
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Friedman, Marilyn. Anatomy, Gender, Politics. New York: Oxford, 2003.
Helga, Mylene. Participation of Women in Philippine Politics and Society: A Situationer. Makati: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 2003.
Johnson-Odim, Cheryl. “Who’s to Navigate and Who’s to Steer? A Consideration of the Role of the Theory in Feminist Struggle.” In Feminist Locations: Global and Local, Theory and Practice. Dekoven, Marianne, ed. New Jersey : Rutgers , 2001.
Juhasz, Suzanne, et al. The Women and Language Debate. New Jersey : Rutgers , 1994.
Kuhn, Annette. “Real Women.” In Feminist Critique and Social Change: Sex, Class and Race in Literature and Culture. Newton, Judith and Deborah Rosenfelt, eds. New York: Methuen, 1985.
Rogers, Mary. Contemporary Feminist Theory: A Text/Reader. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
Tapales, Proserpina. “Women in Contemporary Philippine Local Politics.” A Lecture delivered at the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies, 2005.
 Foucault, Michel. “Governmentality.” In “Society Must Be Defended:” Lectures at the College de France, 1975-1976. New York: Picador, 1997, pp. 201-222.
 Arendt, Hannah. “Introduction into Politics.” In The Promise of Politics. Germany: Schocken, 2005. p.93.
 Friedman, Marilyn. Anatomy, Gender, Politics. New York: Oxford, 2003, p.168.
 Bunch, Charlotte. “Women’s Human Rights: The Challenges of Global Feminism and Diversity.” In Feminist Locations: Global and Local, Theory and Practice. Dekoven, Marianne, ed. New Jersey: Rutgers , 2001, p.97.
 Juhasz, Suzanne, et al. The Women and Language Debate. New Jersey : Rutgers , 1994,p.115.
 Chomsky, Noam and Foucault, Michel. The Chomsky-Foucault Debate on Human Nature. New York: The New Press, 2006, p.23.
 Kuhn, Annette. “Real Women.” In Feminist Critique and Social Change: Sex, Class and Race in Literature and Culture. Newton, Judith and Deborah Rosenfelt, eds. New York: Methuen, 1985, p.203.
 Berrett, Michelle. “Ideology and the Cultural Production of Gender.” In Feminist Critique and Social Change: Sex, Class and Race in Literature and Culture. Newton, Judith and Deborah Rosenfelt, eds. New York ; Methuen , 1985, p.43.
 Johnson-Odim, Cheryl. “Who’s to Navigate and Who’s to Steer? A Consideration of the Role of the Theory in Feminist Struggle.” In Feminist Locations: Global and Local, Theory and Practice. Dekoven, Marianne, ed. New Jersey : Rutgers , 2001, p.82.
 Rogers, Mary. Contemporary Feminist Theory: A Text/Reader. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
 Tapales, Proserpina. “Women in Contemporary Philippine Local Politics.” A Lecture delivered at the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies, 2005.
 Helga, Mylene. Participation of Women in Philippine Politics and Society: A Situationer. Makati: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 2003, p.3.