(Speech delivered by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman at the Memorial for Sen. Leticia Ramos-Shahani at the UP NISMED on 29 September 2017)
It is at this disquieting juncture of our nation’s history that people of principle like Sen. Leticia Ramos-Shahani are sorely missed.
The Philippines has recently been conferred the dubious distinction of being at the bottom of the Global Impunity Index by the University of the Americas Puebla and the Center of Studies on Impunity and Justice. Although the data used were from 2012 to 2014, the Duterte administration debunked the ranking with a guilty conscience. The ongoing extrajudicial killings and human rights violations aggravate and confirm the Philippines’ ranking.
The term EJK has now been promoted to a verb – as in “he was EJKed by policemen in a dark alley” – because of the rising number of the almost-daily summary executions of suspected criminals.
The sitting president has casually admitted to not only lying to defame a critic but has proudly declared that he himself has killed drug suspects and routinely encourages policemen to plant evidence against suspects.
Life is now so cheap that our children have become collateral damage to a bloody and senseless war on drugs even as it is now the norm for public officials themselves to peddle fake news and lambast and belittle the once highly prized and respected concept of human rights.
It is during these times when a voice as strong, clear, steadfast, and reasonable as that of Leticia Ramos-Shahani is crucial and indispensable in our fight against this nightmare of an administration.
We should all take our cue from Letty and derive inspiration and motivation from her well-lived and well-fought life.
The late Leticia Ramos-Shahani was a respected and pioneering diplomat; able and progressive legislator; loving widowed mother for most of her life; committed public servant; human rights crusader; champion of women’s rights; and indefatigable reproductive health advocate.
When Letty was with the United Nations, she was Chair of the UN Commission on The Status of Women; Secretary General of both the Third UN World Conference on Women and Seventh Congress on Crime Prevention and Treatment of Offenders and served as UN Assistant Secretary General for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs.
As a seasoned diplomat, in October 2016, a few months before Letty passed away, she advised President Duterte not “to make enemies” in an effort to “make new friends” in reference to the President’s apparent rejection of the United States in the process of forging alliances with China and Russia. She also advised Duterte on the importance of diplomatic protocol when one does not chew gum in meeting with a Head of State or wear jeans in State ceremonies.
With respect to women’s rights and development, it should also be underscored that she was the first co-author of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which addresses discrimination in areas such as education, employment, marriage and family relations, health care, politics, finance and law.
CEDAW highlights the powerful principle that the human rights of women are universal across all cultures, nations, and religions, and worthy of being guaranteed through international human rights standards. We should be proud that a Filipina was one of the prime movers of this enlightened and highly beneficial UN convention.
Sen. Ramos-Shahani has often been quoted as saying that she was “an accidental politician” but she was a deliberate and methodical legislator who authored some of the most significant and ground-breaking laws with respect to women’s rights – the Anti-Discrimination Law (RA 6725), the Anti-Rape Law (RA 8353) which declassified the crime of rape from a private crime or a crime against chastity to a crime against persons, and the Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act (RA 8505).
She was also the brains behind what is now the State’s policy of allocating at least 5% of an agency’s budget to women’s rights and gender equality, more popularly known as the Gender and Development or GAD budget policy.
All these legislative achievements are not surprising considering that Sen. Ramos-Shahani was herself the daughter of a suffragette and educator, Angela Valdez-Ramos.
With her track record of defending women’s rights, keen intelligence, candor and levelheadedness, she would have surely minced no words at a President who thinks it is funny to make rape jokes and catcall women journalists.
Letty wore many hats during her long and admirable life but unlike the proverbial Jack of all trades but master of none, she was amazingly and equally proficient in all her chosen professions and vocations – be it as an avid student of literature, respected professor, long-time diplomat, top-ranking UN executive, cause-oriented politician and lawmaker, militant activist of women’s rights and vocal reproductive health advocate.
Letty was an almost omnipresent participant and guest speaker in various fora on women’s rights and reproductive health even during the time she was already debilitated by her ailment. I have a vivid memory of Letty sitting quietly with the audience during the oral arguments on the Reproductive Health Law in the Supreme Court.
Together with the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), she also spearheaded the cogent Leticia Ramos-Shahani Round Table Discussion Series on issues relating to reproductive health and advocacy training.
We need more unwavering and exceptional voices like Letty’s; more bright, clear-thinking minds like hers; and more dedicated and committed hearts like that of Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani - a woman far ahead of her time who stood tall and proud among men, many of whom she surpassed with her intellect and intrepidness and were outshined by her passion and compassion.
Today, on what would have been a day shy of Letty’s 88th birthday, we honor a woman who was noble, upright, pioneering, conscientious, and hardworking. She was truly one of a kind. She lived a full life, fought the good fight and we will continue to be inspired by her accomplishments for the longest time to come.