The Risa that I know

Edmund Silvestre, New York Correspondent (The Philippine Star) - May 1, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines – How someone like Risa Hontiveros who has a solid track record in public service, an untainted reputation and a wholesome persona, would fail to get elected in the last two Philippine senatorial elections is something hard to understand.

During the last two senatorial polls, I quietly campaigned for Risa among family and friends in the US and the Philippines.

With her impressive background as a long-time cause-oriented activist, public servant, broadcaster and mother, Risa was supposed to be an ideal political candidate. She and her supporters had done everything they could to win. But for some reason, Lady Luck was not on her side.

Rooting for Risa is something personal to me. I got the chance to know her for a few months when we worked together in the early ’90s at IBC 13 News and Public Affairs (under our beloved news manager Bob del Rosario and his deputy Mel Rabadam) in Diliman, Quezon City. I was a Senate reporter and segment producer and Risa was a news anchor (along with TG Kintanar) for the late evening newscast Headline Trese.

Risa was already a respected public figure when she briefly joined IBC 13 News (she would later move to GMA News). A cum laude graduate of AB Social Sciences at Ateneo de Manila, she was only in her mid-20s when she became secretary-general of the Coalition for Peace that promoted peace action at the grassroots level and addressed violence and displacements during encounters between government troops and rebel forces. At the same time, she was a member of the government panel for peace talks with the National Democratic Front.

Risa is a former Akbayan Party-List representative who fought corruption under the Arroyo administration and worked to promote the interests of women and agricultural sectors. Among other things as a congresswoman, she authored the Cheaper Medicines Law and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) Law. She’s also a major figure behind the controversial Reproductive Health Law (RH Law), which she co-authored. She also served as director of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

I would always remember Risa as beauty and brains. Her mestiza features, height, popularity and quiet demeanor could easily intimidate people who didn’t know her. She would arrive in the newsroom with a wide smile and would sit down in one corner to review the scripts for the evening newscast. She would ask questions, such as proper pronunciation of names, and point out discrepancies in the scripts.

It’s been over two decades now and I could hardly remember details of the fun times we had with Risa in the newsroom. But as what the great poet Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And I can certainly say that Risa made me feel good as a person.

One single incident that somehow stayed in my memory was when, minutes prior to a newscast, one of Risa’s earrings (those dangling native earrings usually worn by aktibistas) was broken and she sought my help to have it fixed pronto. I managed to reattach it with a paper clip before she rushed to the studio upstairs. “Ang ganda ng hikaw mo hindi halata sa TV na nakakabit lang sa paperclip,” I teased her after that newscast which she reciprocated with a chuckle and a sincere “thank you.”

After I moved to the United States in 1992, I never saw Risa again. It would take another 18 years before our paths would cross again.

My friend Abner Mercado of ABS-CBN News was showing me around the sprawling premises of the Kapamilya network in Quezon City when I bumped into Risa in the corridor. Not sure if she still remembered me, I reintroduced myself right away and she immediately gave me a hug assuring me she had not forgotten me as we began laughing. I didn’t exactly know what we were laughing about, but I had a feeling it was about her broken earring.

That was the last time I would see her or hear from her.    

Unlike many leaders who tend to forget the very people they vowed to serve and help once they’re elected, I predict that Risa will be a cut above the rest. She will be a servant of the masses and not the other way around.

For the third time, I’m texting all my loved ones and friends all over the Philippines and abroad. You know what for.


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