Taking On Local Politics

by Emma Sta. Ana (3)

From the traditional roles of being plain housewives – passive homebodies and keeper of their husbands' earnings – the women of San Miguel advanced to be recognized by organizing themselves in 1977 as an association called the "KABABAIHANG BARANGAY" (women of the village or KBB) and actively pursued livelihood projects that later on envolved and became a model for a cooperative livelihood system.

The KBB is a people's organization. It has 675 clusters of 15 to 25 houses in 70 chapters all over the 49 barangays or villages of the town of San Miguel in the province of Bulacan.

The KBB clusters and chapters organizations spring from the private initiative of the women of the community. They hold free election of officers every two years; membership is broadly ranged (all women aged 22 and above); and members are considered active or inactive, depending on the individuals' level of participation in any of the KBB projects and activities. The organization is non-profit, non-sectarian and non-political, dedicated to the improvement of the social, economic, cultural and political status of Filipino women.

The KBB also provides the venue for group dynamics, values formation, capability building as well as opportunities for discovering latent skills that are useful for economic endeavors.

To date, they are engaged in the following projects and activities: swine dispersal, "No Hunger at the Backyard," hand knitting, garment and smoking, "Greening of San Miguel" (planting 1,000,000 fruit trees).

For many years, the women of San Miguel, particularly those who are active members and officers of the KBB, refused to take part, as a sector, in politics. Although their non-partisan stance was not anti-politics, it was misconstrued nevertheless as lack of political fervor.

The KBB tacitly agreed among themselves to adopt a non-political position, and therefore "a no go" for elective positions. They explained that the unwritten pact was not rejection of politics per se. Their position was "standard excuse" of those who wanted to steer clear of the "tainting" effect of politics.

KBB leaders said their position before was not being a political. The organization after all has served as training ground for women's politicization as each chapter looked after activities that provided means by which the members were able to put into order their participation in community affairs.

Two years ago, the women of San Miguel reviewed their activities that in the past decade had been mainly in the economic field and they realized that they have become a political force in their province. The KBB mulled over the idea of going into politics and finally decided to try the political waters this year. The women stated the following reasons for their decision to be in politics:

1. There are things women need that men cannot perceive.
2. Women are also good economic managers.
3. Women have rights equal to men.
4. Women's programs have not been given enough importance.
5. Women consist half of the population.

With the decision to set aside their non-political policy, the KBB did some soul searching on April 16, 19, 20 and 21 in a series of seminars on transformational politics conducted for them by the Center for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics (CAPWIP) based in Manila.

The seminar focused on four (4) key questions as follows:

1. What is politics?
2. Why is it necessary for women to be involved in politics?
3. What kind of politics do they want today?
4. What skills or platforms do they expect from or find necessary to be possessed by, both voters and the candidates in order to advance the new politics?

The women defined politics in their own words and these were compiled. The definitions bordered on the positive as well as negative connotations of the term based on the women's experience and exposure to political activities.

Having defined politics, the women proceeded with listing down the good things they wanted to be associated with politics. Example are:

1. Unity and cooperation
2. Politicians who are firm and resolute in their personal beliefs; fair and pro-people
3. Honest government officials
4. Nobody sells or buys votes.
5. A good politician must be a model to one's family.

The women also listed down the things they would like to be discarded, such as:

1. Political family dynasties
2. OPM – meaning the "oh, promise me" politicians
3. Expensive elections
4. Graft and corruption
5. Politicians who care only for their own good

Finally, the women of San Miguel were on the GO! Eighty seven (87) women candidates joined the 1994 Barangay elections. One leader asked: Is it enough for a candidate to be a woman that she will be voted into office by the women electorate?

The answer is NO! Possession of sufficient qualifications is basic. Some of the questions that an intelligent voter asks are:

1. What kind of a woman am I voting into office?
2. Is she qualified to attend to the welfare of our community?
3. Does she possess the qualities of a political leaders?
4. Can she lead well?

If the woman candidate passed the qualification standards by the intelligent voter, and not only because she is a woman, then she should be voted into office.

Most of the 87 women who ran for elective positions in the recently-concluded Barangay Election in San Miguel were candidates for the first time. Three of them or 6% vied the position of Barangay Captain, while 84 or 25% of the total 343 positions for Member of the Barangay Council (Kagawad), vied for the said post.

They filed their certificates of candidacy on their own volition, not based on a decision of the KBB as their organization. The Barangay Elections were non-partisan in character so there were no political parties involved.

Eight elective positions were at stake in each of the 49 barangays in San Miguel. The barangay officials elected were the Barangay Captain and seven kagawad or members of the Barangay Council.

Of the 84 women candidates for kagawad, 30 of them won or 35% of the total. Fifteen of them or 18% garnered high numbers of the votes cast and ranked on the top three of the seven positions.

All of the three women candidates for Barangay Captain lost their election bids. Of the 30 kagawad who won, 7 are re-electionists.

In a post-elections gathering of the KBB on May 21, 1994 where they honored the winners, the newly-elected women barangay officials shared their election experiences with their colleagues. They believed that their effective campaign strategies were:

1. House-to-house campaign
2. Reassure voters of your interest in the position
3. Don't take the voters for granted
4. Reconcile with your enemies in the name of public service
5. Pray hard to God for help
6. Don't rely on the influence of some religious organizations
7. Get the women's vote
8. Public relations and investing in people (through friendship)

What do the women feel after winning? Here is what they say:

This simple presentation of the women of San Miguel in local politicians is given to you in the belief that politics is desirable and that the participation of organized women's groups can contribute to politics. The contribution that women can give to politics and government for that matter is obvious, WOMEN HOLD UP HALF THE SKY.

What we did is, we trained the constituents or the voters. The training of the candidates is only a part of it. In our little town, in our experience of women in politics we won 30 seats out of the 84 seats in our local election. We have concluded that:


1. Ms. Emma Sta. Ana (now deceased) was  a retired school teacher from the province of Bulacan in the Philippines. An active community leader, she was the Coordinator of an association of village women called "Kababaihang Barangay" and was the President of its livelihood foundation. She was also the Chairperson of the first Provincial Commission for the Women of Bulacan. This paper was presented at the First Asia-Pacific Congress of Women in Politics, held 21-23 June 1994 in Manila, Philippines.


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Updated: February 18, 2008