Femme, Driven, Sovereign : Anna Mae, Marge, Donya, Sam & Migs - on their roles in charting the course of Philippine politics

February 21, 2023 – Redge

From Queen Elizabeth II to Catherine the Great, Angela Markel, Oprah Winfrey, and Aung San Suu Kyi— the story of the “lesser gender” is put to question each time a woman challenges patriarchal norms in male-dominated fields.

For the Philippines, the likes of Hidalyn Diaz, Pia Wurtzbach, and Dolly de Leon have done so in the fields of strength, beauty, and entertainment.

Alike's February issue features five young women-in-government. Each has chosen to serve in the cause of charting the country's destiny, as well as theirs' - proving that while the Philippines has always been known as the "Pearl of the Orient," it is its women who show true beauty and embody its purest strength.

All Photographs by Oly Ruiz

Engineering Marvels - Anna Mae Lamentillo

Very few people can find themselves making history. But if one looks at Anna Mae Lamentillo’s career— it certainly mirrors it.

Much as roads facilitated trade during the industrial revolution, and the invention of the internet heralded the dawn of the information age, Anna Mae’s shift as Chairperson of the Build Build Build Committee for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to her current role as Undersecretary for Public Affairs and Foreign Relations in the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT)— seems reflective of the state of the nation.

“Build, Build, Build was a much needed infrastructure intervention six years ago,” she says, fondly recalling how 6.5 million Filipinos were able to complete 29,264 kilometers of roads, 5,950 bridges, 150,149 classrooms, among many other projects, “I am ecstatic that President Bongbong Marcos sustained the momentum with ‘Build Better More.’”

With the DICT, Anna Mae has gone from surveying road networks to mapping digital super highways, bridging communities to connecting people, and speaking on behalf of the government to…well, that part remains the same.

“I’m in charge of DICT’s strategic communications and media, international relations, legislative affairs, public-private partnerships, and foreign-assisted projects,” Anna Mae expresses, “spearheading the Department’s efforts relative to ‘Build Better More,’ in coordination with other government agencies, to support the President’s vision of a truly digital Philippines.”

While a first-world, 100% digitally-connected country may seem like fantasy, Anne Mae, known as the “Night Owl,” hardly believes in fairy tales. “My mom told me not to believe in Cinderella. We were taught from a very young age that girls need not be saved — that they can be heroes, protagonists of their own stories. Girls are not inferior to men, not in this generation or the one before it.”

This perhaps, informs Anna Mae’s view that nothing is beyond reach…for someone willing to put in the work. She credits Senator Mark Villar and Senator Loren Legarda as two mentors who have deeply shaped her values and character. “Resilience, grit, and hardwork,” she states, “Senator Mark Villar would often tell me it’s more important to bounce back after setbacks.”

As one of the few women in government, she believes that dialogue is important for progress. “Youth and women participation is critical and necessary—if and when genuine reform is to be achieved,” Anna Mae says with regard to representation. She admits being “fortunate enough to work alongside men and women who I admire and respect, who gave me an opportunity to learn and serve the country —President Bongbong Marcos, President Rodrigo Duterte, Secretary Ivan John Uy, Senator Mark Villar, Senator Loren Legarda, Senator Cynthia Villar, Robina Gokongwei-Pe, Former Congresswoman Gina de Venecia, Atty. Gaby Concepcion and Deputy Majority Leader Sandro Marcos.”

Now on her eighth year in public service, the Night Owl is looking at another eight or more years helping bridge divides. “I am a big believer of public investment in infrastructure — both physical and digital — as an effective fiscal stimulus,” she says, citing the billions lost due to a lack of roads and bandwidth, “According to the Alliance for Affordable Internet — 32 countries (including the Philippines) have missed out on $1 trillion USD in GDP as a result of women’s exclusion from the digital world.”

She believes that in the shift to a “new normal,” no one must be left behind amid a highly digital environment. “We need to equip Filipinos with the tools and skills they need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution or the 4IR. We must bridge the digital divide, close the digital gender gap, and ensure sustainable digital inclusion,” says Anna Mae, a modern day Mulan, whose strength in serving the nation is anchored on a more personal commitment: “I am fearless for the people I love.”

The Promise of Youth - Sam Alfonso

It is said that the world opens up to the young, when tomorrow can be anything and all paths seem possible. For Samantha Louise Vargas-Alfonso, her road would bring her to congress— and in doing so, she would bring youth to the legislature.

“I was fortunate enough to be the youngest congresswoman of the 18th congress,” she recalls, “26 and fresh out of graduate school.” Quickly learning the ropes but eager for experience, the neophyte Paris-educated politician would quickly shift as an assistant secretary for the House of Representatives. She serves there to this day, championing the causes of her (arguably) closest demographic— the youth.

“(I am a firm believer) in the youth,” she states, “(the majority of Filipinos) are young adults in their 20s-30s. This is promising in ways that are beneficial for the economy.” She cites manpower, a population versed in newer technologies, and a citizenry able to adjust to trends both locally and globally. “As a graduate of international relations, I am also a proponent for collaboration,” says the former Migrant Forum in Asia (an NGO), partner. “Collaboration between and amongst states is key to developing better mechanisms (i.e. investments and know-how) for progress.

Yet despite Samantha Vargas’ fast track into socially-impactful positions, she still feels the hurdles women in power face. “There is locker room talk one has to decipher,” she shares, “and coordination between (particularly female) colleagues, could be better.”

To counter these challenges, she counts on values which are the hallmarks of youth— a willingness to learn (“every mistake is an opportunity for growth”), being a team player (“if we want to go fast, we can go alone, if we want to go further, we go together”), and forward thinking. “I try to go back to my purpose and ask myself: ‘What are my responsibilities?’ That always helps me find my way forward.”

Using compassion as a compass, she is currently involved in one of the nine projects of the 19th congress aiming to address crisis funding for families. Such laws are a sure win for underprivileged constituents.

And young Samantha Vargas has no time to lose.

Doing Justice to the Ladies In Focus - Atty. Margarita Gutierrez

As a female lawyer whose current concern is as Undersecretary for Plans, Public Affairs, and Communication of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Atty. Margarita Gutierrez can be considered one of the government’s Ilaw ng Tahanan (home’s light).

Or, to put a little light spin to it, and since she is involved in legal work, call her iLaw ng Tahanan, if you will

In an interview, she reveals, “Public Service was always something that I have wanted to pursue and, fortunately, I was given the opportunity to do just that, when our President, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., appointed me as Undersecretary of DILG.”

Atty . Marge, as friends call her, also serves as the official spokesperson of DILG.

Although she is just entering her 8th month in public service this March, the good lawyer, who incidentally stands almost 6 feet tall, is no stranger to public service.  She  grew up exposed to government work mainly due to her mother’s long and illustrious career in government.

“My mother actually inspired me to become a public servant,” Atty Marge says of her mother, former Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas Gutierrez, the first woman to occupy that post in the Philippines.  Before that, her mother also served as the first female Secretary of Justice.

“Her achievements, she proudly beamed, showed all of us that Filipino women can be great leaders and can take on difficult positions in the government.”

In the Philippines, however, many still unfortunately cling to the traditional thinking that women are inferior to men, and are better off staying in the background.

“This is an injustice to our ladies,” Atty Marge laments, “and it is the kind of thinking that is a disadvantage to public service. In the public sector where I find myself in now, “she says, “I have witnessed so many great women leaders who lead with compassion, intelligence, and strength.”

To this rank she mentions the likes of Vice President Sara Duterte, Secretary of Tourism Christina Frasco, Secretary of the Presidential Communications Office Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil, Senator Grace Poe and Senator Loren Legarda.

As to the values she has brought to her office, Atty Marge believes that leadership is best advanced in an environment of cooperation and team work.  Despite the mantra on being tough, and the need to impose firm sanctions on erring officemates, she says that cooperation is still the best way forward.

“I’m collaborative rather than punitive or dictatorial,” she says, “And I’m the kind of person who loves to work closely with my team because I believe that team effort builds trust and promotes efficiency."

The DILG Usec says that working both hard and smart together – instead of in competition with each other – leads to excellent results for the whole group. “I invest a lot in my team,” she quips, because as they say, you reap what you sow.”

At the top of her official docket right now is Republic Act No. 8551 or the Philippine National Police Reorganization Act.  This is priority work for the DILG through the National Police Commission, as the law “intends to reorganize the PNP so that it can flourish and truly become a highly efficient and competent police force,” says Atty. Marge, who adds that “we need to hold the PNP to the highest standards.”

In the long term, she hopes the bill will genuinely ensure the peace and safety of our communities, as well as bring prosperity to the same.  “Peace and safety are but two basic conditions for the growth of needed infrastructure and commerce,” she added. 

“I am very excited to see how President Marcos’ “Build, Better, More” program will generate jobs, increase the demand for goods and services, and eventually lead to our country’s economic growth,” she concludes.

Doyenne-in-Training - Mayor
Donya Tesoro

Mayor Donya Tesoro’s Mona Lisa-like smile is timeless, radiating gentle calm alongside quiet confidence. No wonder she’s known as the Millennial Mayor.

“I’m more considered an ate (big sister) by my constituents, rather than their Ina ng Bayan (matriarch), she shares.” As the chief executive of San Manuel, Tarlac, Donya’s housekeeping involves peace and order, health, education, and continuous industrial development for financial income. “Pretty much everything that concerns the betterment of the quality of people’s lives,” she says. And with a career in service spanning a decade, her results, or rather, her votes, speak for herself.

“I feel that my patience when making decisions, continuous support for workforce personnel, and careful yet relentless follow-through for projects, are the keys to my longevity,” muses Donya, whose trademark efficiency is perhaps drawn from her political idol— Asia’s Iron Butterfly. “I have always admired the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago,” she states, “Her strength as a woman gained the respect of her colleagues.”

Donya Tesoro knows all too well the challenges that women face in the work places of power. She mentions the lack of education, the over-emphasis on looks, and the intimidation of female candidates even during non-election seasons. “The right education is crucial. Inspiring girls at a young age to pursue greater heights through noble advocacies, empowers them to go after roles that do society better…hopefully in government!”

And indeed, she is hopeful.“We have a very beautiful country,” Donya espouses, “we could attract tourists with the right infrastructure and accessibility.” She believes that the Philippines’ best asset is its land and its people - and that the best way to maximize both is through refinement. “With the right education and right policies in place, our economy can be at par with other countries in any aspect.”

Still, as macroeconomic as Donya Tesoro’s perspectives are, at heart, she is more akin to Katherine Watson from the movie “Mona Lisa Smiles” - a gentle soul seeking to “inspire society to reach its true potential, one person at a time.”

Heir to Heroism
- Atty. Migs Nograles

From Katniss Everdeen to Hermione Granger to Elle Woods, women have been depicted as everything from warriors to wizards to witty lawyers. Atty. Migs Nograles believes this is the true beauty of a woman— “she can easily adapt to various environments, wear different hats, multitask and still look amazing at the end of the day.”

As true as this may ring, being a neophyte lawmaker is still no easy challenge. Luckily, Atty. Migs has staunch allies on her side. “I have been exposed to politics my entire life considering that my father was the former Speaker Boy Nograles,” she begins, “my brother, Karlo Nograles, was the former congressman and now Chairman of the Civil Service Commission and my other brother was the former representative of PBA Party list, Koko Nograles.”

Currently serving as the Representative of PBA Party List and sitting on 20 committees in the 19th Congress, Atty. Nograles feels that women representation in government has gotten better in general. “There has been a big shift from the traditional thinking that men are better politicians,” she states, “though there is still the patriarchy and an unconscious bias towards women.” She is keenly aware that women that are “too manly” are perceived as a threat; and if “too feminine,” are perceived as too ‘weak’ or simply as a placeholder for men they replace. “It takes a certain grace, strength, intelligence and fearlessness for a woman to live in a man’s world.” She quips, quoting song-inspiration Rihanna.

In Atty. Migs’ field, she looks up to Vice President Kamala Harris, and former first lady, Michelle Obama, and Rep. Alexandria Ocacio-Cortez as international icons who have “paved the way, (towards) encouraging women leaders.” Locally, she regards former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, and Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio as “women leaders who embody strength, intelligence, fearlessness and grace.” Closer to heart, Atty. Migs she looks up to her beloved mother and sister as her closest influences. “I wouldn’t be the person I am without their guidance as strong, beautiful women in my life.”

In her male-dominated line of work, Atty. Migs considers her ability to give out “tough love” as a key asset “in order to develop growth within my team and strive for them to be better individuals and workers.” Grit and persuasion are also key traits she relies on for people to “believe in the work that I do, encourage collaboration, and appeal to those with different points of views.” Indeed, the future-forward civil servant has even ventured into the often conflicted world of social media to hold forth her side.

Her popular Facebook and tiktok pages under “Atty Migs Nograles” features inspirational adages and light-hearted life updates alongside free legal advice, straight from one of the founders of Nograles Ilagan Cayco Aban & Dabi (NICAD) Law, based in Davao City.

Seeing the country’ massive growth potential, particularly in infrastructure, I.T,, tourism, foreign investment, and E-government, Atty. Nograles hopes to enact laws the serve for the betterment of her fellow countrymen— following in the noble footsteps of the heroines she considers her fore-bearers.

“It takes a certain grace, strength, intelligence and fearlessness for a woman to live in a man’s world,” says Atty. Nograles, “It’s not impossible to do and, as women living during this modern era, we have to work together, uplift each other, and push each other to survive and help the Filipino people.”


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The things that unite us are far stronger than the things that divide us.

And those stories are why we are alike.

Read more inspiring stories like 'A New Era of Leadership: Undersecretary Marge Gutierrez' and more here at alike