The price of being a whistleblower is an immeasurable sacrifice. Hidden in a secret location with limited contact with the outside world for an unknowable amount of time, optimal protection becomes its own kind of prison.
Former immigration officers Alex Chiong and Dale Ignacio’s readiness to expose the pastillas scam that endangers our borders allowed us to save many women and girls from prostitution and trafficking, and to expose even more corruption and syndicates along the way. They knew fully the ostracization they would have to endure.
I have been blessed to meet so many people who willingly endure such suffering in the hope that it serves the greater good. They inspire courage in me to remain steadfast on the rocky road of staying true to my values, no matter how harshly the political winds blow.
Choosing to be a part of a mere two-member Senate minority was an easy decision because I had been preparing for it most of my life. Every community I was a part of, every difficult journey I embarked on, taught me to suspect the daunting illusion of numbers games.
I was in my late 30s when I was suddenly widowed with four very young children. How could I do the job of two, of raising four, when I was just one? Despite my fear, I would not fail my children. In our time of greatest need, I was astounded by the community that assembled around us.
One cannot say that their values are their own if they have not been tested and forged by experience; if you have not been pulled in the opposite direction, and resisted.
Family, friends, and the progressive community I belong to helped me take on tasks at work and lent resources so I could support my kids. Even the cashier at my son’s high school celebrated with me when I finally paid the last installment of his tuition.
My children grew close, supporting each other. It was incredibly difficult, but now that they are young adults, I can say that we made it through, together. My lifetime achievement is that they are kind, compassionate, and strong-minded individuals.
Life eventually presented me with another crossroads—I was asked to run for senator. My party had neither sufficient money nor traditional machinery, but we would try: for the farmers, the workers, the women and children, and the LGBTQIA+ who needed and wanted us to. The first time I lost was hopeful; despite the odds, I was 13th out of 12. Kaya pa, we thought. When I lost the second time, it was bitter. So many volunteers sacrificed their time and resources all these years.
Did I have the audacity to run for the Senate a third time? Who was I to ask our party and volunteers to do it all over again? I told my party-mates that if I lost this run, I would take the hint from the universe. But if we could attempt one last time, we should, because it was important that we did absolutely all we could to bring the people’s agenda to the Senate’s halls. What better avenue, after all, to help make the world a kinder place, so that each is afforded basic needs necessary for dignity and happiness, than at the Senate that makes the rules of society? To make sure that all our children end up okay?
When the odds are discouraging and the temperature of pressure and debate is rising, the more one should stand their ground even if it is agonizing.
The rest is history; our victory has bloomed since then. My office increased maternity leave to 105 days, with a provision on paternity leave that helps redefine gender roles. I authored legislation that penalizes harassment in all its forms, in all spaces. We fervently worked on the Bangsamoro Organic Law. We increased the age of sexual consent from 12 years old to 16. We earned the trust of whistleblowers. From the pastillas scam to the Pharmally scandal, my office helped expose some of the greatest robberies of the Filipino people in recent years.
My fortitude has not been built on my own; deep communal discernment and empathy guide me. When doubts creep in, I remember the attitude of tireless persistence and faith that supported me in the earlier parts of my life; the communities assembling with me, trusting me to speak as I promised, to vote as I vowed when I took my oath, for the betterment of our country, despite the politics at play. I remember that the world we hope to achieve is through the difficult. There is no way around it.
Recently, Minority Leader Sen. Koko Pimentel and I took a stand against the passage of the Maharlika Investment Fund. Guided by experts, we learned that the fund would do more harm to our economy. Programs that need urgent funding will continue to languish. Food and transportation crises will worsen. The everyday Filipino takes the brunt of a badly rushed decision.
Easy math makes it seem that a singular vote does not matter, but our voice in the minority has always been to stimulate dialogue, to make people uncomfortable when they have become complacent with power, to provoke the imagination necessary for systematic change, to challenge the way things have always been done so that we can dare to do things the way our people deserve them to be done. Often, we do not reap the fruits right away. Perhaps it takes a few years, or even a few lifetimes. But the momentum has to be generated today.
More and more I learn that the most crucial part of staying true to one’s values is getting uncomfortable. When the odds are discouraging and the temperature of pressure and debate is rising, the more one should stand their ground even if it is agonizing. One cannot say that their values are their own if they have not been tested and forged by experience; if you have not been pulled in the opposite direction, and resisted.
Complacency corrupts. If we seek to represent and live out the values that define our truest selves, we must be willing to get uncomfortable. We must be willing to take the heat, and sometimes, even the isolation; because it is at the point of pain that change and healing begin.