Author: Pia

Senate's Launch of our Film Showing on the State of Maternal and Child Health

8 March 2011

Senate of the Philippines

Film Showing on the State of Maternal and Child Health

Last March, in  celebration  of Women’s month, my office and the Senate, in cooperation with Mu Sigma Phi Fraternity of UP Manila College of Medicine, hosted a  film showing on women’s lives.


The films which include a documentary and short films are part of the recently concluded 2nd Quisumbing-Escandor Film Festival for Health (QEFF2). This film festival is a nationwide film-making competition by the Mu Sigma Phi Fraternity. This combines the visual power of cinema with the passion of the health advocates.

The first film “Sa direksyon ni Makoy: Da Final Cut”, Jury’s Pick for Best Short Film, tells the story of the six final days of a young boy who lives a lonely life because he has HIV. He knows he is going to die just like his mom who also had HIV.

Z Shorts - Sa Direksiyon ni Makoy (The Final Cut)

The second film “Badong Buntis” is a very short and funny but so real- a man experiences being pregnant and all the difficulties of being a woman.

The third film is “Ang Ina” which is Jury’s Pick for Best Documentary. Ang Ina is a documentary about the economic hardships of raising a family. It gives us the sad statistics about maternal and infant deaths.

Z Documentary - Ang Ina
The fourth film is the QEFF Grand Prize Winner “Limang Libo” about how the paths of a midwife and a scavenger with a pregnant wife are intertwined because of poverty.

Z Shorts - Limang Libo

The last film shown is “Tinalikdan” which follows the plight of two women forced by poverty to make difficult life decisions out of hope and despair.

Z Shorts - Tinalikdan

After the film showing, Dr. Anthony H. Cordero, Director of the Center for Gender and Women Studies- University of the Philippines- Manila, facilitated an open forum.


The film showing was warmly received by a diverse audience including non-governmental organizations, government agencies, students, senate employees and senator’s staff. Senator TG Guingona joined us as well. Also in attendance were members of the Mu Sigma Phi Fraternity of UP Manila College of Medicine led by Dr. Danilo DV. Alpapara Jr. Also gracing the event and giving a short introduction on their works were Mr. Donnie Sacueza of  Ang Ina, Ms.Aiza Jane Idanan of Limang Libo and Mr. Edgar Baltazar of Tinalikdan.


For related blog on our series of film showings.

Bike for Hope Palawan

27 to 29 January 2011

Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Bike for Hope Palawan

Every year we do a bike ride in a different province. This year it was Palawan. Governor Baham Mitra is an old friend and I wanted to visit his province and bring our programs and advocacies there.


We had our three day event planned months in advance. The bike ride is just the culminating event. We have seminars on various topics like Anti- Violence Against Women and Children, and Breastfeeding.

But just a few days before we left, we heard the terrible news that Dr. Gerry Ortega, also an old friend, had been brutally murdered. His wife Patty was my teammate in the University of the Philippines (UP) Volleyball Varsity Team. I have known Patty and Gerry for many years.

My first stop was at the church where Gerry’s remains were. Patty arrived shortly after I got there and I sat with her for sometime. Our coach from the UP team, Su Rojas, was also there. Fr. Robert Reyes, also a good friend, arrived and joined us.

After a while, I took my leave. I was back later that evening to speak at the mass for Gerry. Meanwhile, I had to go to the Provincial Capitol for the scheduled briefing about the state of Palawan’s health care and education. I am familiar with the country’s state of health care, but it is always an eye opener to get closer to the grass roots and see the situation on the ground.

The governor’s staff gave a very thorough presentation. The Province of Palawan is composed of many islands. In the case of Palawan, the population is geographically spread out. Compared to other provinces, it is more difficult to reach the far-flung areas. Many areas require hours of travel on rough roads. But still more can be accessed by pump boat. Dr. Gap Legaspi, my friend who is a neurosurgeon and the President of the Association of Filipino Neurosurgeons, joined us the next day. He tells us a story that illustrates the sad state of Philippine health care.  Recently,  a team of doctors operated on conjoined twins from Palawan. The mother was transported by tricycle and for hours was traveling on rough road with her baby’s elbow jutting out of her. It is a miracle that  the mother and babies survived.


As part of our objective to reduce our maternal mortality rate that is very high compared to other countries in our region, the Department of Health (DOH) has come up with a policy to treat every pregnancy as a high risk pregnancy, necessitating pre-natal care by a trained or professional health worker. If such policy could be followed all over the country, that would mean mothers at risk,  like the mother mentioned above would already be in a hospital or nearby health center or rural health unit before her due date so she could be monitored and she and her baby, in this case, babies, assured of a safe delivery.

Anyway, my work on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is another long story. See related blogs.

Of course, the presentation by the provincial government would not be complete without showing us their irresistible video about the natural beauty of Palawan. Although our time there was not enough to do the usual tourist activities, after watching that video, we decided to wake up at 4:30am the next morning so we could hit the road and do the land trip to get to the underground river and get back to Puerto Princesa in time for our other activities.

The Underground River, the  Mangroves and the Ecosystem

We made it out of bed and in the cars in time to get to the shore of Sabang to take a boat out to the underground river. Unfortunately, we got there at a bad time. The water was so choppy and the boatmen did not advice that we take the boats out. So, the only thing I have is the picture of the underground river, which I got from our photographer Rap Rios.

02raps pic of undergrnd river

The alternative was a bangka ride thru the mangroves. That turned out to be a wonderful experience. Our guide was an older woman known as “Lady Mangrove”. She blended with the mangroves so well, I cannot imagine taking a trip there and not having her with us. She so eloquently told us about the need to preserve the mangroves, how the ecosystem worked in harmony with everything around it. She pointed out various wildlife including snakes hanging from the trees right above us and multi-colored crablets scrambling around in the sand.



Back in Palawan, our seminars were ongoing. We got back in time for another eco-tour through the backroads and across the river. Part of our ride, took us to the Crocodile farm where I managed to find a live baby crocodile in my arms.



The next day was our Bike for Hope ride. We rode from Puerto Princesa to Aborlan. The roads were winding, with a mix of flats and rolling hills. When we got to the area where the mountains met the ocean, it was too hard to just bike through. I got off from my bike and went down to the beach area.

bfh palawan


Our ride ended at the residence of Dr. Gerry Ortega’s mother. Gerry’s remains were brought there the night before and I wanted to pay my last respects before leaving Palawan. Patty was there and so was Fr. Robert. He asked me to say a few words about Gerry and offer a prayer for him.


Our last stop before the airport was at the Ramon Mitra Sports Complex where our Pinay in Action/The Younghusbands Football Academy’s Train the Trainers Program was ongoing. This was the first of our year long plan to bring running and football all over the country to train the trainers.



As usual three days is not enough. We plan to be back. But in the meantime there is work to be done. I am committed to building a floating clinic and floating library/classroom to reach the far-flung areas in Palawan. I hope we can see this plan become a reality soon.

In the Senate Today: Drugs, Crime and Women

At the Senate budget hearing of the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), it was reported by PCW  Executive Director Emmeline Verzosa that the P20million budget insertion I made last year to support the implementation of the Magna Carta of Women (MCW) and the law on Anti-Violence Against Women and Children (AVAWC) was never released.


This is unfortunate because the PCW is sorely lacking in funds. One of the major tasks of the PCW is the oversight and monitoring of the implementation of the MCW and the Gender and Development (GAD) budget. Many government agencies and Local Government units are required to allocate 5% of their budget for GAD.  Government agencies and LGUs are still unaware of the MCW and how to use their GAD Budget. Thus, PCW’s training and technical assistance is much needed.

At the Senate budget hearing of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Director General Santiago of PDEA reported that close to 50% of inmates in our penitentiaries are there for drug-related crimes such as rape and homicide.


PDEA also enlightened us about their programs related to trafficking of women and women being used as “drug mules” or drug carriers. Many Filipinas are languishing in jail after having been arrested for drug trafficking. Despite the small budget  allocated for this program, much has been achieved.

Later in session, I brought this matter up while interpellating Senator Zubiri on his privilege speech on rape. I said that lack of respect for women is at the core of these rape cases.

It should be noted that gender equality is one of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). Our President Aquino has committed to work towards the achievements of the MDGs. Thus, our budget should reflect this.

During session today, I took the floor and appealed to my colleagues to support the budget of programs and agencies.


Lessons for DPWH from the Aqueduct of Segovia

Oct  1, Friday.

We are in Segovia, an old city which is an hour away from Madrid.

aque 1

It is known for its Aqueduct which was built by the Romans to bring water from the mountains to the City.

It is believed to have originated in the 1st century, during the Flavian dynasty. Despite its antiquity, it is considered one of the best public works in Spain.

Imagine that, centuries old! How many of our public roads  last throughout the rainy season? As a cyclist, I have biked on many roads and have seen and felt the difference between good roads and bad roads.

My daughter Nadine was feeling sleepy. To wake her up, I challenged her to a race up the steps to the aqueduct. She whipped my butt.

aque 2

When it doesn't Hurt to Cry

Two  Saturday ago,  we celebrated my son Gabriel’s life with our 8th 12 hour event in his memory.

g (2)

It was a fun filled day with activities happening simultaneously.


Before the official start, Maiqui and Drew already started their ironman with their 4k swim.

md (2)

md (1)

People started running and biking at 6 am… bike

and the kids tri was on it’s way at 7am.


The kids tri was special to me because my daughter Nadine did a tri in memory of her baby brother Gabriel.

nads (1)

nads (2)

We had the awarding for the kids tri then I did my bike ride.


psc bike

After lunch, our new beneficiaries, the barefoot running kids arrived.

We had a class on cartoon drawing for them care of fellow triathlete Wayne Dearing and his wife Stella and their company, Top Draw Animation, led by animator Nary Jamlig.


Our special guest Filipino champion boxer, ranked 4th in the world, pound for pound Nonito Donaire and his wife Taekwando champ Rachel joined the kids for the cartoon drawing lessons and later for the run.


Then we had our special surprise, new shoes for the kids c/o New Balance.





After that we had the arnis demo…

arnis (1)

our sunset run and relays for the kids.



Maiqui and Drew  crossed the finish line amidst the loud cheering of the kids who also sang happy birthday to Maiqui.

I cried at the finish line. So did Ani and Mailet. It was just such a beautiful scene. — to be among friends who cared enough to make a difference in the lives of other kids.


g (1)

A Quiet Day in the Senate: Family Code Amendments and A1H1 Vaccination

September 9, 2010

Thursdays are usually quiet in the Senate. It is not a session day, but there are hearings in the morning and the afternoon.

I had two things going on that day. One was the  hearing I chaired on the Committee on Women, Youth and Family Relations with respect to the amendment of various provisions of the Family Code.

Atty. Mel Sta. Maria,  a Professor in the Ateneo Law School,  shared his expertise on Family law.

My hearings are usually quiet. Especially when we dissect provisions of the law, it can get a bit  legalistic, perhaps boring for some.  But Family law, is a very interesting subject matter because it defines our rights as persons and  our relationships with each other – marriages, parent and child relations, siblings etc. It was one of my favorite subjects as a law student. So revisiting it now as a law maker, was something else.  I didn’t have the same nervousness and apprehensions I did as a student or someone taking the bar exam. It was actually  fun,  discussing the various provisions of the law, analyzing their flaws, going through the various views of legal luminaries,  and considering the possible amendments.

Some of the provision of the Family Code that we reviewed were:

– Art. 73. On the right of a spouse to exercise any legitimate profession.

– Art. 63. The name a married woman may use

– Art. 111. The right of a spouse to encumber their exclusive party.

– Art. 236. Liability of the parents for damages caused by their children between 18 and 21 who live with them.

-Art 26. Capacity of a Filipino to remarry if her foreign spouse obtains a divorce.

-Art 75. Establishing the property regime, when there is no marriage settlement or it is void.

We had a lively discussion on all of the above provisions. We suspended the hearing until further notice .

In the room across the hall,   we had another activity going on… the free vaccination against AH1NI for senate employees and selected groups, a joint project of my office and the Department of Health. immunization07.JPG

When Running Barefoot Is Their Only Choice

While I was doing my usual training along Daang Hari on a Saturday morning, waving at my triathlon friends who had just finished theirs, a group of kids caught my eye.

2nd after first

They were a rag tag team gathered under a shady tree.


First they did some stretching, then some serious push-ups and sit-ups, after which they started running. After their run warm-up, the older boy, not more than 15 years old, started timing them one by one.


Coach Noel and I were so impressed and so intrigued, we approached them and talked to them. It turned out that the leader of the group, a young boy  named Joery Dela Pena, had organized them and was training them for a track event.


Most of them ran barefoot or in rubber slippers.

I  realized that these kids were meant to be the new beneficiaries of Gabriel’s Symphony.



Every year, we celebrate my son Gabriel’s life with a 12 hour event where friends come to run, bike, swim, walk, do a triathlon for the benefit of disadvantaged children. My son Gabriel, never reached his 1st birthday, he had multiple disabilities. He was perceived to be blind and deaf. My hope is that because he lived, no matter how short, his life would make a difference in the lives of other disadvantaged children.


On Saturday, September 4, 2010, we will hold our 8th 12 hours in Memory of Gabriel. This year, we will include a program for these young runners. Through the generosity of our friends,  Wayne and Stella Dearing and their company Top Draw Animation, the kids will be given lessons in animation and will take home their sketch pads and art materials.  They will also be given basic Arnis lessons. We will also have running events lined up for them. Our sponsors, New Balance will be giving them shoes, Century Tuna, RFM and Gardenia – goodies to take home. Aside from these goodies, they will receive free vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B care of GlaxoSmithKline. After September 4, we hope to remain an active part in their young lives. We want to support their running, their education, give them a full life.


If you want to make a difference in the lives of these kids or any of the other kids we help who have cleft lips, are hearing or visually impaired, let us know by sending us an email at [email protected]. See you on Saturday.

last pic




The Philippine Flag in the light of the Hijacking Incident

After the recent hijacking incident involving a military official who hijacked a bus load of foreign nationals and some Filipinos, another public uproar emerged when his casket was draped with the Philippine flag. I had twitted that I was of the view that this was inappropriate.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted the  Chinese embassy’s statement:

“The person who deserves a national flag at the funeral should be someone of heroism, decency and integrity, not someone who inflicts atrocity on innocent lives. This is nothing but a smear on the dignity of the Philippine national flag.”

PDI further  quoted   Director Leocadio Santiago Jr., the chief of the National Capital Region Police Office  saying that they did not give the Mendoza family the flag, but that if the family draped his coffin with a flag, they  could not forbid it.

Section 2 of Republic Act No. 8491 otherwise known as the “Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines”  states that:

“Reverence and respect shall at all times be accorded the flag, the anthem, and other national symbols which embody the national ideals and traditions xxx”

Sec 24 of the said law further states:

“The flag may be used to cover the caskets of the honored dead of the military  xxx”

The respect that must be accorded  our Philippine flag,  which the law states “embodies our national ideals and traditions” is blatantly disregarded when the flag is draped over the casket of  a person who caused the loss of lives of innocent people. To do so would be a distortion of our ideals and values as a people.  Likewise, Captatin Mendoza, cannot be considered an honored dead of the military. Consequently, the Philippine flag should not have been draped over his casket.

My Grandma Alvenia Schramm, the Original IronGirl

Monday, August 16, 2010.

Our beautiful and spunky 91 year old grandmother Alvenia Bassett Schramm, passed away at 1:44 this morning soon after our family gathered around her and told her it was time for her to go home and be with our grandpa.   



We sent her off with hugs and kisses, thanking her for all she had given us and telling her how much we loved her. She died while I was holding her close to me.





 As her doctor said, she was the original irongirl. I grew up with a grandma who every single morning, did sit-ups, jumping jacks and swam, then baked bread, cookies and muffins for all.   


 She was the original working girl too, cleaning other people’s houses when she was only in high school. She became a licensed beautician, then a baker and cook, working in the high school canteen.

With her parents and brother

Up to her 91st birthday, two months ago, she knitted hundreds of hand towels and baby booties and caps, baked cookies and muffins to give away as gifts to people she met. When I was a child, my grandma used to go skating with me, take me to the pool and later go on long walks with me. My brothers and I had such a happy childhood with a grandma who always had goodies waiting for us after school and made us pancakes with smiling faces. 


 At 86, she came to live with us here in the Philippines. We had lunch dates regularly in Alabang Town Center. Leading up to and during the grueling campaign, she was my source of peace and joy.


She lived an inspired life. She walked in God’s path and has now gone home to be with her creator and beloved husband Carl. She was a beloved wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother.



My grandmother, grandfather, mom and Aunt Carol


We have been blessed having her and will miss her painfully.

An ordinary day in the Senate


After being away from the senate because of the campaign and break, I find myself doing what I have been doing for 6 years… running down the hall of the 5 th floor, past the elevator to the stairwell to the 2nd floor. That’s where the session hall is. It’s faster that way. Plus healthier.

I’m running because I have to be on time for the roll call. Just like school, if you are not there when your name is called, you are marked “not present.”

So I made it. I’m seated in the front because  I’m a nerd. I get distracted in the back. In the front with me is the minority floor leader, Sen.  Alan on my left and Sen Joker Arroyo on my right.


That makes up the minority. The three of us. The role of the minority bloc is crucial in every democracy. We provide the check and balance. We are the fiscalizers.



During session, I raised two issues in connection with the filing of senate bills: 1. The antiquated system of filing bills where the staff lines up all day and night para lang mauna magfile ng bill. Waste of time and energy. Plus waste of paper in this day of modern technology. Buti pa ang University of the Philippines. When I was a student, we used to line up at dawn to get the subjects we want. Now, it’s all computerized, and 2. A lot of bills are refiled by a number of senators without acknowledging the principal author of the bill, some of whom are no longer members of the current Congress who have worked on the bills for a number of years. I believe it is only fair to acknowledge the work that other senators have put in. I asked the Committee on Rules to study this.


My clean table in the session hall


Talking to the Majority Floor Leader


Being interviewed on the role of the minority 


In an interview before the start of session in my office