Kin, rights advocates miss Shahani’s bravery
Family, friends and colleagues of the late Sen. Leticia Ramos-Shahani held a memorial on Friday at the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City, for the woman and human rights champion who succumbed to cancer in March, and who would have celebrated her 88th birthday on Sept. 30.
“I wonder what Senator Shahani would have to say about the dark times we live in. All I know is that her bravery is sorely missed,” said Sen. Risa Hontiveros in a message during the memorial, in which she hailed Shahani as an “Edsa People Power heroine” and as one of the first high-ranking government officials in 1985 to oppose and speak out against the abuses of the dictatorship of her own cousin, the late President Ferdinand Marcos.
Hontiveros now heads the committee on women and family relations which Shahani used to chair. She had worked with the late senator on “birthing” human development laws such as the Reproductive Health Law and the Mental Health Bill.
‘Cult of misogyny’
“Ma’am Letty, we need more people like you, because we live in a time when a cult of misogyny has been enabled in society and is encouraged and normalized at the highest levels of government … Because thousands have died for a murderous electoral promise … Because Congress needs to remember its duty to be a check and balance to the other branches of government,” Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros’ fellow opposition lawmaker Rep. Edcel Lagman, a human rights lawyer and an ally and colleague of Shahani, said: “She would have surely not minced words at a President who thinks it is funny to make rape jokes and catcall women journalists.” He recalled that Shahani advised President Duterte in 2016 of “diplomatic protocols.”
“We should take inspiration and motivation from her well-lived and well-fought life,” Lagman told the audience, composed of Shahani’s family, including former President Ramos, her three children and her colleagues in the reproductive health crusade such as the Forum for Family Planning and Development and the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation Inc., which arranged the memorial.
Shahani’s daughter Lila, secretary general of the Unesco National Commission of the Philippines, said her mother would had been pleased that the memorial was held at the UP Diliman where she once taught, upholding “honor and excellence with compassion—which my mother embodied.”
To messages concerning the “turmoil of the times, “I will say simply my mother was very concerned,” Lila said.
Lila has sought the full implementation of the RH Law, which Shahani had fought for more than a decade.
Yolanda Ong, trustee for the Forum for Family Planning and Development, and Shahani’s fellow The Outstanding Women in Nation’s Service (Towns) awardee, recalled how Shahani, even when already beset with cancer, would rally the Towns awardees “to be less risk averse,” for “more fiery women needed to fight misogyny and creeping authoritarianism.”
Make a stand
Ong said at some point, Shahani had even suggested for the women to take a banca (wooden boat) to the disputed Spratly Islands to make a stand for the Philippines against China.
“I don’t dare speculate what she would say or do were she alive now, but I assure you if she were standing here now, some of us wouldn’t be too comfortable under her scrutiny,” Ong mused.
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