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PIA Press Release
2007/04/30

Feature: Women’s suffrage in RP, 70 years after

Tacloban City (April 30) -- The women of the Philippines must not let this day pass without a prayer of thanksgiving and jubilation. Seventy years ago today, on April 30, 1937, the women of the Philippines were granted the right to vote and to be voted upon.

The significance of the occasion is highlighted with the fact that because of the granting of women’s rights of suffrage in 1937, the country has a woman, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as its President today.

Today, the women of the Philippines should take a real serious assessment on how relevant the women’s right of suffrage is especially as this year is an election year. Is the women’s vote’s significant enough to let the candidates take a second look at the women sector especially the disadvantaged and those in the hinterlands?

For the young women and for those who do not know it, the 1935 Constitutional Convention denied women the right to vote and limited the right of suffrage to male citizens allegedly because “there was no popular demand for the right of suffrage by Filipino women themselves” and that the granting of the right of suffrage to women will only disrupt family unity as the women will plunge into the swamp of politics.

To make the long story short, the final version of the Constitution of 1935 stipulated that the right of suffrage would be extended to women, only if 300,000 women voted in its favor during a national plebiscite.

Commonwealth Act No. 34 was passed setting the plebiscite on April 30, 1937. For the first time female voters registered on April 10 and 17, 1937.

On April 30, 1937, women from all over the country numbering to 447,725 voted yes and in the 1939 elections, the women and men voters of the Philippines, voted the first woman Senator of the country in the person of the late Senator Geronima Pecson.

What followed was a colorful history of women’s venture into the various levels of electoral victories highlighted by the emerging of two women presidents in the person of former President Corazon Aquino and current President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Inching ahead, is how many observers describe the women’s vote in the country. In the 2001 elections for example, the women sector lost its representation with the failure of any women party to reach the 2% threshold of the party-list elections.

The “women working for women” cannot be seen in the result of the elections. As the study conducted by the Ateneo School of Government and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung concluded, “there still exists no sectoral vote. Groups representing sectors cannot rely on their sectoral constituencies to win them seats.”

The absence of a women’s vote is really a wonder considering that there are more women registered voters than men and considering that there is always a higher female voters’ turnout than the male counterpart.

The consolation is that there an incremental increase of women in the various fields of public service. Moreover, women’s expressions of involvement in civil society could be through organizing along gender-specific issues and formation of all-women groups within broad coalitions as power-enhancing mechanisms. Women’s agenda are also integrated in party platforms and even in legislative hearing and consultation. In short, all these are efforts to uplift the status of the Filipina.

As the women of the Philippines remember the granting of the women’s right of suffrage 70 years ago, it is good to pay tribute to the more than 44,000 Filipinas who voted Yes to amend the Constitution and to give women the right to vote.

Recognition is more than ever due to the women leaders of the feminist and women’s groups circa 1900 who banded together and really worked hard so that the women of today will enjoy equally with men, the right of suffrage.

And what better way for the women of today, to show gratitude for the right of suffrage the women are enjoying now than renewing their advocacy and support for clean, honest and orderly May 14 elections. (PIA 8) [top]

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