MANILA

Bunye: Celebrating women

Speaking Out

TODAY, March 8, marks International Women's Day and the whole of March is observed as International Women's Month. This momentous occasion is a fitting opportunity to celebrate women's achievements, to raise greater awareness and to lobby for accelerated women's equality.

In the Philippines, much has been achieved in terms of gender equality. We have elected two woman presidents, President Corazon C. Aquino and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The latter is also the first and only woman to be elected as Speaker of the House. Leni Robredo is the second woman to become Vice President of the Philippines. Two -- Maria Lourdes Sereno and Teresita de Castro -- have served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have a roster of outstanding woman legislators, like Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, Riza Hontiveros, Imee Marcos, Stella Quimbo and Vilma Santos-Recto, who was also an outstanding former city mayor and provincial governor. Joy Belmonte, Abby Binay and Sarah Duterte are the mayors of the most progressive cities in the Philippines while Gwen Garcia is the governor of a leading province.

Ambassador non-pareil Delia Albert became the very first female foreign secretary. Leonor Briones is currently head of DepEd. Former justice secretary Agnes Devanadera, currently chairs the powerful Energy Regulatory Commission.

Tessie Sy Coson, Josephine Gotianun-Yap and Flor Tarriela are at the top of their respective corporate ladders. Lea Salonga became our very first international superstar. Dr. Sergia Gutierrez Esguerra was the first oral teacher of the deaf in the Philippines. Alex Eala, a budding tennis star, has already caught the attention of tennis great Rafael Nadal. Many, many more have excelled in their chosen professions, in the academe, in the arts and in showbiz.

One individual also ranks high -- in my personal list -- among women who have made a significant impact. My mother, Sofia R. Bunye, was a rising movie actress (screen name: Gloria Imperial) when she married my father. She was the elder sister of Mila del Sol, who later became the movie darling between 1939 and 1955. After my mother quit the acting profession, she studied to become a teacher.

She became a school teacher in the same elementary school and later in the same high school where I studied. Being the wife of the director of Prisons, and First Lady in the Prison Reservation, some would probably expect that she would pull her weight around. But no, she performed her duties like anybody else. She was in school at least 30 minutes before the bell rang, often walking a kilometer and a half, unless it was raining. She even stayed late to attend to some students who were lagging behind in their schoolwork. At night, she would still be doing her lesson plan.

At home, she was a loving disciplinarian. For any of her misbehaving children, her weapon of choice was either the tsinelas(aka "Ate Nelas") or the sinturon (aka "KuyaTuron"). But after each corporeal punishment, she would always hug us and assure us: "Kaya ko kayo pinapalo, kasi mahal ko kayo."

From her, I learned dedication to duty. Teaching, to her, was not just a job. It was a calling. She believed in the importance of what she was doing. She enjoyed teaching. She became a very good, if not a great, teacher.

From her, I also learned that to be good in what you are doing, you must love what you are doing. I also learned from her fairness in dealing with others.

She was a woman of faith. I remember her gathering us, her children, for our daily prayers before we went to bed. As a member of the Catholic Women's League NBP Chapter, she actively solicited funds for the construction of a new church inside the NBP reservation.

One of her former students, Romeo P. Virtusio, who later became a writer and a successful public relations practitioner, wrote in his book "Bilibid -- growing up beneath prison walls":

"Mrs. Sofia R. Bunye had been an actress, a very beautiful one, before she got married to Dr. Alfredo M. Bunye, Sr. who later became Director of Prisons. In the 50s, Mrs. Bunye began teaching in our high school, where she became very popular -- beauty and brains, yes, but also because she was kind and ko-boy (cowboy, down-to-earth) despite the fact that her husband was the highest official in the place.

"Mrs. Bunye was particularly earnest in reminding us about the sacrifices our parents were going through to send us to school and so she would keep saying, study hard and make something of yourselves."

That was Sofia R. Bunye, my mother, my teacher, a most outstanding woman, who has made a significant impact on me and our community.

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