Pia Cayetano: I take up women's issues directly with President

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 4) — House Deputy Speaker Pia Cayetano defended herself on Tuesday for supposed silence on women's issues — at least, when it comes to the President.

Cayetano said she brings up her concerns in person when she meets President Rodrigo Duterte and her brother, Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano, who ran for his Vice President.

"My brother is the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. The President is my president. So if I have concerns, I take it up directly — in the same way that you have concerns with your company, you take it up directly," Cayetano told CNN Philippines' The Source.

"If you ask a lot of the secretaries who are his close companions, they know and they remember how I work with the President," she added.

The Taguig Representative and former senator has made a name as a women's advocate, pushing for measures such as expanded maternity leave and divorce. But some have pointed out that she keeps mum when Duterte makes controversial remarks, such as rape jokes.

The President drew flak for jokingly attributing rape to "pretty women." In June, he sparked outrage for kissing a married woman on the lips during a meeting with the Filipino community in South Korea. He also previously made a rape joke about an Australian missionary, threatened to shoot female rebels in their privates, and remarked on Vice President Leni Robredo's legs.

Cayetano also said that she was not as visible as she was when she was a senator, and she is still working for women behind the scenes.

When asked if she was quiet, Cayetano responded, "Nothing happened... I work in the House of Representatives. There are [about] 300 of us. It's not like in the Senate, [where] there's 24 of you that at any given time, you're going to be interviewed by reporters."

"We pass so many bills, a lot of which are pending in the Senate. But the House made effort on it," she added.

The remarks come as the House of Representatives is poised to expand maternity leave to 100 days. The bill, authored by Cayetano, is expected to be deliberated in a bicameral committee, which will reconcile a Senate counterpart measure that covers 120 days of paid leave.

Cayetano has also pushed for divorce, a controversial proposal in the dominantly Catholic Philippines. However, Duterte has expressed his opposition to the policy.

Cayetano admitted that she has not had a chance to discuss the issue with the President yet, but she explained Duterte was concerned divorce could leave women vulnerable if men want to leave a marriage.

"But the reality is — and I haven't had a chance to chat with him about it — a lot of women would want to just live in peace," said Cayetano. "Feeling ko, in the President's good intention to protect women, hindi pa niya siguro nakita yung part na iyon."

[Translation: I think, in the President's good intention to protect women, he hasn't seen that part (of the issue) yet.]

The divorce bill is pending at the Senate, where it faces an uncertain fate. The upper house is led by Senate President Tito Sotto, who is known to vote conservatively.

"[It's] a sensitive bill, we know very well that as election nears, politicians tend to shy away from more controversial issues," she added. "So that's why it becomes difficult to foresee that the Senate will pass it."

Cayetano is gearing up for a senatorial return in 2019. Surveys have pegged her as a frontruner in the race.