At first glance, Risa Hontiveros may come off as intimidating because of her strong mestiza features.
PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) and other members of the press had a chance to interview her last Monday, April 29 at the Imperial Palace Suites in Quezon City.
When told that some people remark that she is too pretty to be a senator, Risa says, “Salamat naman sa ganung napak-affirming na mga salita.
“Kung may nagsasabi sa kin niyan na kabaro ko, I always say, tayong lahat na mga babae...All women, we’re all beautiful.
"And that’s one thing we appreciate about other people who appreciate us.
“Kapag nakikita na nila yung iba’t ibang klaseng beauty namin, lalo na inner beauty.
“Uhm, I think yung pagmumukha ninuman doesn’t entitle or limit anyone, regarding sa kung anong puwedeng gawin o hindi puwedeng gawin.
“Kasi naman, yung anyo natin, importante man siya pero panlabas.
With all the opportunities before her, and coming from a well-off family, what inspired her to run for public service?
“Yung inspiration, ang pinaghuhugutan naman talaga, which really gives us direction in life and the power to do the things that we love, it really comes from inside.
“Kaya kung noon, nung una akong naging aktibista nung I was a teenager, in high school, yung ibang mga kasama ko naninibago na, 'What’s a mestiza middle-class girl doing here?'
“So, after a while, limitado ang salita. It’s easy to talk pero ang naging patunay na lang, kung ano yung mga naging shared experiences namin all these decades until now. So yung gawa na lang.”
When you meet her for the first time, it’s also hard to believe that Risa is an activist with her soft and sweet manner of speaking.
She explains, “Pasensya na lang sa boses ko, Ilongga ako kaya…Alam niyo naman yung mga Ilonggo, kahit galit na or halos makapapatay na e ganito pa rin ang boses.
“But still, each one of us naman, our voice is really what enables us to express ourselves, to speak out and to get in touch with each other.
“So again, yung boses, hindi siya limitasyon. Isa siyang napaka-makapangyarihang bagay.
“In the same way that your words, the spoken, the printed word are also very, very powerful.
FILIPINO MOTHERS. After Risa’s husband Francisco Baraquel Jr. died of a severe asthma attack in 2004, she had to raise their four kids alone.
In observance of Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 5, how would she describe Filipina mothers?
“I suppose naman, women all over the world na mga nanay din, o kaya kahit hindi physically mga nanay pero nag-mementor sa mga young people, in a way are similar also.
“But yun, speaking from a biased point of view, para sa 'kin, ang Pinoy na nanay, yun na nga po, talagang ibibigay lahat, ibibigay lahat.
“So I’m not saying anymore na we’re the only mothers like this. Pero tayo talagang we really do it…to the point of sacrificing ourselves, denying ourselves, talagang it’s through our children.
“I think it’s through our children and then pag ganitong middle generation tayo, we’re raising our kids tapos inaalagaan din natin yung mga magulang natin na senior citizens, it’s through our kids na we really learn how to serve other people, how to put other people first.
“Ang nakakatuwa sa 'tin, yung lengguwahe natin, it’s so motherly, it’s so womanly. Some of our most powerful images: Inang Bayan, Inang Kalikasan.
“So yung ano pa rin, yung pagiging ina is so integrative for us.”
Who are the women she admires most?
“Bukod kay Mommy ko, who was instrumental also kung bakit ako naging aktibista, na sumuporta sa 'kin that year na nasa Repertory Philippines ako, bukod sa kanya, mga kapwa ko solo moms talaga.
“Minsan nag-uusap kami, ‘Pa'no ba natin ginagawa to? Aalagaan yung mga bata, yung bahay, magtatrabaho sa labas ng bahay, may advocacy pa, political work.’
“Ang joke na lang namin, ‘sleepless.’ Sleep later, wake up earlier. Talagang gawin lahat nung importante sa 'tin.
“Anyway, naisip ko, pag malaki na yung anak ko, I can sleep any time I like, as long as I like.
“Pero ang importante, by that time, they will know that while they were growing up, I was there. I was present. I did not miss their important stuff.”
LESSONS FROM ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN. From going around the country, what have they observed and what are the lessons they have learned?
Risa relates, “Parang one thing that struck me the most into a reality, talagang marami pa ring pinaghihirapan yung ating mga kababayan. That can’t be disputed.
“Kasi, sabagay, ang tagal-tagal na rin ng mga problema natin, ang lalim ng ugat.
“So, it will really take our dedication, our faithfulness na even beyond this campaign, beyond this election, beyong the administration of our beloved President Noy, na the rest of our lives, kailangan talaga natin ayusin ito.
“But the other side na talagang nakita ko sa kampanyang ito, sobrang for the first time in a long time, ang lakas at ang taas ng pag-asa ng mga tao.
“That’s why we have these seemingly contradictory statistics na, imagine a full thirds of our families are still in extreme poverty.
“Yet, ang expectations ng mga tao, well the majority feels, things will be better for me and my family same time next year.
“Ibang klase 'yon. Ibig sabihin e talagang iniinda pa rin talaga natin yung mga problema pero we are so full of hope, na mataas ang expectations.
“Of course, that places a heavy burden on our leaders pero yung pag-asa ng tao, that’s the richest resource any leader could have.
“Kaya grabe yung sense of hope, unmistakable, sa kabila ng paghihirap na hindi natin puwede o dapat i-whitewash.
“So grabe, grabe yung mga karanasan namin this whole campaign, so far.
“And that we bring it to the homestretch on election day, that’s what it means talaga, the chance to solve the problems at yung pag-asa ng mamamayan ang nagbibigay talaga ng tulak diyan.”