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Is the Philippines a matriarchal society pretending to be a macho nation?

On the surface, the Philippines may be mistaken for a male chauvinist macho country, but it is in essence a matriarchal society with many women actually holding sway over families, businesses and politics. Like the Emperor who later discovered he had no clothes, this jueteng republic with its swaggering macho facade actually hides matriarchal tendencies, with the emotionally more mature, entrepreneurial and persevering women sorting out the mess the men create.


In fact, being a henpecked husband may not be considered such a humiliating insult anymore, since it actually gives secret pleasure to some men who think they are so lucky to have wiser, more hardworking and more capable wives. From the matrons who consider their husbands immature and spoiled, vice-ridden brats to the female street vendors, OCWs, lavanderas and carinderia operators who endure the shenanigans of their unemployed husbands, many women are the ones who really keep their families together and this nation afloat.

Lady Technocrats, Women Entrepreneurs, Lady Taipans

Are women managers and women leaders in the Philippines less corrupt? It is very appropriate that our lady President appointed Emilia Boncodin as secretary of Budget and Management, for women in this jueteng republic have a longer history of more credible and honest financial management since the time of datus and rajahs. Two women used to lord it over the country’s two biggest accounting firms. Former SGV Group chairman Gloria Tan Climaco is the highly-educated finance whiz who has declined top government job offers by Presidents Ramos and Estrada, but has taken on gargantuan tasks in the administration of fellow woman Gloria Arroyo. Another female technocrat, Corazon de la Paz, also former big boss of major accounting giant Joaquin Cunanan firm, has likewise agreed to take on government service.


In big business, National Book Store founder Socorro C. Ramos – herself an icon in entrepreneurial brilliance – once told this writer that she admires the important role of her late sister-in-law Juana Cancio behind the success of her late elder brother Manuel Cancio’s Goodwill Bookstore chain. Even the Rustan’s retail chain is acknowledged as having been put up by the late matriarch Gliceria Tantoco, who passed away in 1994. Like the Empress Dowager of the Ching Dynasty who wielded real power behind the Dragon Throne, it was matriarch Mercedes Zobel McMicking who made the family of her nephew Jaime Zobel de Ayala gain control of the Ayala business empire by taking away power from her other nephew Enrique Zobel.


After a short stint of a son as heir apparent did not work out, it seems that Ambassador Alfonso Yuchengco has again given leadership of his business empire to his eldest child Helen Yuchengco Dee (whose husband is China Bank president Peter Dee). It was this daughter who represented her father in President Gloria Arroyo’s recent luncheon meeting with taipans John Gokongwei, Jr., Henry Sy, Andrew Gotianun and George S.K. Ty (who was also represented by an executive). Some of the more visible successors to these taipans are daughters such as SM Department Store and Banco de Oro chief executive Teresita Sy Coson (whose husband is Filipino Chinese lumber tycoon Louie Coson) and Josephine Gotianun Yap. In the Filinvest Group, the taipan’s wife Mercedes Tan Gotianun is known as the very capable business partner and former big boss of Family Bank (which was sold to BPI).


Reaping numerous awards and past controversies as a leader of the Philippine movie industry is producer Lily Monteverde, more popularly known by the matriarchal nickname "Mother Lily." Daughter Rochelle is now helping her. Considered the leader and the innovator in the glossy magazine business, Gokongwei’s Columbia-trained daughter Lisa Yu Gokongwei remarkably led her Summit publications to leadership in circulation, advertising revenues and marketing prowess. Abroad, many Filipino entrepreneurs are also women, such as Loida Nicholas Lewis and lingerie businesswoman Josie Cruz Natori of the US.

Gabriela Silang, Imelda, Cory, Imee, Kris, Loren, Sharon, Vilma

Despite Diego Silang igniting an Ilocano revolt against the Spanish colonizers, it was the inspirational leadership of his widow Gabriela Silang who fired up the imagination of the nation. Strongmen leaders Ferdinand Marcos and Manuel Quezon, with their edicts and political wiles, were feared by many, but they were meek or at least acquiescent before their imperious First Ladies Imelda and Doña Aurora. The late Senator Ninoy Aquino dreamt of the presidency, but it would be his reluctant widow who eventually occupied Malacañang. It is interesting to note that although Tarlac Congressman Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III and Ilocos Norte Governor Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos II carry the names of their illustrious fathers as political heirs, it is their sisters who are today more nationally famous – Congresswoman Imee Marcos and showbiz talk show host Kris Aquino.


How many of the "other women" in Philippine society have come out of the shadows and staked their claim on power? In the presidency of Fidel Ramos, his alleged former girlfriend Baby Arenas grabbed newspaper headlines, reportedly wielded uncommon political clout and even ran for a seat in Congress. In the era of President Estrada, three of the more well-known loves of his life allegedly competed with each other and had their own spheres of influence – First Lady Dr. Loi Ejercito, businesswoman and former actress Guia Gomez and another former actress Laarni Enriquez.


First Gentleman Mike Arroyo may be the lawyer in the family, but his wife President Gloria M. Arroyo has in the past publicly contradicted his actuations and it is reportedly her political decisions which prevail in strategy meetings. Philippine Leisure and Retirement Authority (PLRA) chairman Antonio Leviste endlessly spices up his public speeches with jokes on how people always introduce him in receptions as "the wife of Senator Loren Legarda." Neophyte senators Kiko Pangilinan and Ralph Recto have allowed the popularity of their spouses Sharon Cuneta and Lipa City Mayor Vilma Santos to help ensure their electoral victories. It has been said that even "Mr. Vilma Santos" was counted as Recto votes. Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr. may be a seasoned wheeler-dealer in the House of Representatives, but he concedes familial authority to his wife Gina Vera-Perez de Venecia, whom he describes as "the real Speaker of our house." Activist Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Bayani Fernando is tough, but his wife is the equally strong-willed mayor of Marikina.

Unsolicited Advice To Gma, Cory, Kris By Gordon’s "Other Woman"

During the recent 82nd grand birthday celebration of former Olongapo City Mayor Amelia Juico Gordon, her son Tourism Secretary Richard "Dick" Gordon was spearheading a Philippine Tourism Sales Mission to 10 cities in the US and Canada in 15 days. Helping him ensure an unforgettable celebration for his mother were his wife Mayor Kate Gordon, his sister Veronica Gordon Lorenzana of White Rock Resort Hotel and Subic Cultivation Resources Corp. and other guests. Amelia did not finish high school and married early, but she was the rugged entrepreneur behind the Admiral Group of Companies (restaurants, cinemas, hotels, piggery, bakery and others). Secretary Gordon said, "My mother built a fortune with her entrepreneurial drive, guts and resourcefulness. I remember that she used to carry a .25 caliber gun, when she would travel to Pangasinan to buy cows for our slaughterhouse. She is the driving force behind the political success of the Gordon family, she personifies the strength of the Filipina woman."


On several women of power, Amelia Juico Gordon told The Philippine STAR: "The advantage of women leaders is that we women have better self-control than most men. Unlike men who are often slaves to their vices – like drinking – we women tend to have better discipline. I have unsolicited advice for President Gloria Arroyo, which I would like to tell her if we get to meet, I hope she will not be offended. She should not wear long pants in public, especially during formal occasions. As president, Gloria is the mother of the nation, she should be respected completely, she should preserve the dignity and prestige of the presidency. I recommend she wear the kimona, or long gowns, because she looks well in these attires. That’s one reason magkasundo kami ni Imelda Marcos, she knows the importance of the public image of leaders, who must gain the respect of the people.


"President Gloria Arroyo is working very hard, and making personal sacrifices, but she should really focus first on peace and order, to cleanse our country of scalawags in uniform, of criminals and other bad elements who are destroying the image of the Philippines. The President should not get angry at her critics and rivals, do not mind them, go ahead with your good works. Anong mangyayari kung papatulan lahat ‘yan ni Gloria? Ang ilalaban mo sa mga iyan ay the power of prayers.


"I can’t really think of powerful women I admire most. I truly admire Mother Teresa and her life of moral power. Former First Lady Imelda Marcos may not be perfect, but I admire her for the many things she had done for the poor in our country. Princess Diana was very beautiful, and she was looked up to as a role model. Cory Aquino, as our first female president, has contributed to the status of Filipina woman. My unsolicited advice to her before when she was in power was that she should be an example of real humility. To be humble is an important virtue.


"Kris Aquino is in the limelight, she faces many personal problems because she is not close to God. It is sad that she has made mistakes in her moral judgments, but it is all the more unfortunate that she seems not ashamed of her mistakes. I recommend that she seek the help of God for wisdom. Give her a Bible as her guide to a better life. If my good friend and her late grandmother Doña Aurora Aquino were still alive, perhaps Kris’ confused life would not have been that way. I was with Doña Aurora in the Catholic Women’s League.


"The Philippines is a nation of talented, caring and strong-willed women."

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