Women 'pork' experts and the men in their lives

MANILA, Philippines – They are three of the most visible women in the Philippine news nowadays, no thanks to the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam that has enraged the nation.  

These women hold the task of keeping public officials in check – one audits the funds, another holds politicians accountable, while the other prosecutes the corrupt. 

Commission on Audit Chairman Grace Pulido Tan, Social Watch convenor and former national treasurer Leonor Briones, and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales graced the Women for Integrity in Governance Forum organized by the United Nations Development Program Wednesday, October 9. UNDP associate administrator Rebecca Grynspan also served as a speaker. 

In a country where gender equality is a work in progress – the labor force participation rate for women is at 49.7%, compared to 78.9% for males – how do these women deal with the men in their lives amid the intense pressure to do their jobs? 

Non-traditional husbands

If there's a saying that behind a successful man is a woman, the reverse is true to these 3 women. 

Tan considers herself lucky that her husband does not subscribe to the traditional way of thinking. The COA chair is married to lawyer Bayani Tan, an expert in securities and corporation law. 

"I think that I've been lucky because my husband is not the typical macho type of person. He has been very, very encouraging of me. From the time we met in college, he was always pushing me to do something," she said.  

Despite earlier calls for her resignation, Tan had remained committed to leading the agency that managed to produce a comprehensive report on the misuse of lawmakers' discretionary funds. But there was a point in her life when she wanted to stop – if not for her husband. 

Tan said: "When I was turning 40, I think, I was going to some kind of mid-life crisis. My 5th child was turning 3 years old and I suddenly realized, after this, 'no more babies, no more babies.' I've always been a member of the working class so I wanted to stop working and enjoy [my son]. I told my husband if I could stop working, that I just wanted to be a housewife, bake cookies, things like that. My husband said, 'Will you please really, really think about what you're talking about?'

She added: "There are husbands at that time who ask their wives to just stay at home, but my husband was baliktad (opposite). He said: 'You don't need to stop. The kids are doing well.' It helps a lot with a job like mine." 

Briones also considers herself "fortunate and blessed" for having a husband who recognizes gender equality. Her Ilocano-Pampango husband traces his roots from the progressive movement, the same as Briones.  

"But I also came from a generation where we were taught to blush, look down, and not reveal our brains too much," Briones said. "In the progressive movement, education, class, that's not taken into consideration at all and so it was only after our marriage that he discovered what I am." 

Briones, a former national treasurer, was so far from being the typical mother figure that her son once became confused when he encountered a textbook detailing what its author believed a traditional mom was supposed to do – cook, clean the house, wash the clothes, and the like. 

"My son said, 'What kind of a mama are you? I've never seen you doing any of these things.' And I said, I'm a super mama and that settled it," Briones said. 

Ombudsman Morales – who, as the forum host veteran journalist Malou Mangahas noted, is not used to answering questions about her personal life – could only provide hints on how she is behind closed doors. 

"What you see in public, you guess what you see in private," she said. "If you look at me as a tiger in public, I can be as coy as a kitten in private – because I am a Gemini and you know what a Gemini stands for."

Music after work

Aside from having supportive husbands, these women have another thing in common: they all find time to relax through music. 

The Ombudsman's only time off is on Sundays. Due to the perils of her job, Morales says she chooses not to join her family in lunches outside anymore – even on Sundays – to give her security detail some time to rest. 

Sundays for Morales mean staying at home, organizing her things and, at times, playing the piano. 

"I sometimes play the piano. I own a grand piano," she said. "But my husband sometimes complains, 'You only play when you want to play Ilocano songs.' I love my Ilocano heritage." Morales was born in Paoay, Ilocos Norte.

Briones, a first soprano for the Manila Concert Choir, also spends her free time in the company of music – and literature. 

"When things go really, really bad, I listen to opera," she said. "I also go to bookstores, but since at this time I'm only a retired professor, I can only afford the ukay-ukay (second-hand books). The highest I will pay for a book is P300 for hardbound editions."

Tan tries to get as much sleep as she can – and more. 

"I sing, I dance. This is a difficult job. There's a lot perhaps to be furious about, but at the end of the day, I just want to do my job the best way I can," Tan said. 

Tan only has one year and 3 months to go before her term ends on Feb 2, 2015. She says she is "just so looking forward" to retiring. 

Tan, Briones, and Morales spend their days trying to curb corruption in the midst of a nation increasingly impatient on reforms. But at the end of the day, like the rest of us, they all go home. – Rappler.com