Features

Risa Hontiveros: Empowering Women and Moms

  • 0

Risa Hontiveros shares how her life as a single mom influences the bills she drafts as a senator.

How does one manage two full-time jobs of being a single mother and a senator? While actively making time to destress with some books, movies, and yoga, Senator Risa Hontiveros makes motherhood and lawmaking work hand in hand. She shares, “I’ve always said that I am both a full-time mother and a full-time senator. One responsibility is as demanding as the other. But I think in my case, it’s actually more of my being a parent influencing my being a senator.”

Life During the Pandemic Beyond the Senate

Senator Risa Hontiveros admits, “The pandemic has been very challenging for my family. We are extra careful at home and follow the prescribed health protocols to the letter since my youngest, Sinta, is immunocompromised. In fact, the biggest scare that I experienced was when she woke me up very early in the morning to ask me to take her to the emergency room. Her asthma medicine wasn’t working. At that time, COVID-19 cases surged and hospitals were nearly overloaded. At the ER, we heard that she had to be confined and waited several hours to get her a room. The whole ordeal was draining and knowing that many others have experienced worse really breaks my heart.”

The near-imploding of the Philippine healthcare system gave front-liners and families alike a harsh challenge. But as a single mother, Risa made sure that the challenge would not go unanswered. She shares, “That’s why I’ve been pushing laws to improve the country’s health care system and expand the health benefits that Filipinos are entitled to. Health care services should be accessible to everyone.”

Finding the Strength as a Single Parent

The loss of her husband in 2005 empowered Risa Hontiveros to take on the responsibilities of being both a mom and dad. She admitted, “Sinta was just three years old then. The first few years as a solo parent were particularly challenging for me. How did I do it? I just kept going. My kids relied on me so I just had to power through everything no matter what. My family and friends also helped when they could.”

Being the sole breadwinner during her first few years as a single mom kept her on edge. She says, “There were moments when I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to beat the deadline for my son’s tuition, which I paid in monthly installments. Each time the deadline for payment approached was so suspenseful. I sometimes had to borrow money from my children’s godparents so I could pay on time.”

But those suspenseful moments of looming payments would soon be replaced with little moments of victory. She recounts, “One of the highlights of my solo parenthood was the relief I felt at my son’s high school when I paid for his tuition the very last time. I had gone to the accounting office every month for four years and transacted with the same cashier who practically became my friend.  Once I paid my 40th installment, the cashier exclaimed, “Ma’am! Nakaraos na tayo! (Ma’am! We made it!)” I really appreciated that she said, “tayo” (us) and not “kayo” (you). It made me think that she was on my side the whole time, cheering me and my son on to keep moving forward.”

As a single parent, backing down wasn’t within Risa’s choices. Her kids needed her. “I often joked that 24 hours in one day isn’t enough for solo parents. If there was a way to add more hours in a day, you can bet solo parents will be among those who sign up for it. But I’ve had more than enough practice at sleeping less, sleeping later, and waking up earlier. I had to make it work. Being a single parent means double the responsibilities and doing it all by yourself. But this made me the strong lawmaker I am today.”

Senator Risa Hontiveros as a Lawmaker

Each crisis Senator Risa Hontiveros faced as a single mother empowered her more to fulfill her advocacy. She shares, “Out of more than 20 laws I’ve worked hard to pass, The Expanded Maternity Leave Law, The Universal Healthcare Act, and The Philippine Mental Health Law are the closest to my heart. These laws are in line with my “Healthy Buhay at Hanapbuhay” advocacy. They stress the need to prioritize mechanisms and support systems for Filipinos’ healthcare and livelihood. Along with the Expanded Solo Parents Welfare Act, which is now awaiting the President’s signature. We are hoping it happens this March. This law reflects my personal experience as a solo parent.”

But fighting for her advocacy meant going head-to-head with existing prejudices, especially ones against women. She says, “Women today still have to deal with blatant sexism and misogyny. Being a senator doesn’t protect me from this nasty practice. After all, we are in a country where the Republic Act No. 11313: Safe Spaces Act (Bawal Bastos Law) is necessary to ensure that people are protected from gender-based sexual harassment in streets, public spaces, online, workplaces, as well as educational and training institutions.”

Motherhood as Her Core of Being a Senator

One of the few things motherhood has given Senator Risa Hontiveros is the art of defusing tensions and balancing rivalries. She relates, “Those of us with two or more children know what it’s like to end up in the dead-center between people who think that the only way to win an argument is to talk louder. That’s why it seems like a quintessential mom skill: knowing how to defuse tensions and balance sibling rivalries. I think that this has served me well at the Senate.”

The working mom is aware of the shame and guilt working parents face when they have to let their careers go. She advises, “I am in awe of the work-from-home moms and dads with young kids. Children will demand your attention and you really can’t say no to them when they say they need you. Don’t feel guilty whenever you decide to prioritize parenthood over work. After all, you can’t repeat the significant moments of their life anymore when the kids have grown up. If your child expresses something important to them to you, you have a responsibility to support them through it, no matter what.”

This interview was done last February 2022

More single mom stories or stories about empowered women? Check these out:

Single Mom Woes: Taking The High Road
Jodi Sta. Maria: An Empowered Mother On and Off-Screen
Empowering the Chinoy Women in Mano Po Legacy: The Family Fortune