BAGUIO CITY, Philippines -- Senator Pia Cayetano had prepared herself for a light discussion about life, love and marriage when she met with 32 female officers and cadets of the Philippine Military Academy.
But when she was told that the Armed Forces of the Philippines now prohibits female cadets from getting married until they have served for three years, Cayetano, a separated mother of two, ended up engaging the cadets in a conversation about parenting and women?s rights.
Cayetano was here Thursday to launch the summer capital?s 3rd Kababaihan Festival, which kicked off the local celebration of International Women?s Day.
She met the cadets and female officers at a restaurant here as part of her Women?s Day advocacy when light banter led to the AFP policy.
Army Second Lieutenant Tara Velasco-Caydon, the second PMA female cadet to graduate at the top of her class, brought up the matter when the senator encouraged the cadets to speak up about their romantic lives.
Cayetano said she was agitated to learn that the policy only covered female cadets. She counseled them to review the impact of this restriction.
"It will soon be your job to make the rules," she told the cadets. "Female cadets have been in PMA for 14 years so the rules are still being made."
"I am not advocating [early] marriages, but this should apply to both men and women [cadets]," she said.
Caydon, who graduated top of the PMA "Mandarangan (Mandirigmang May Karangalan)" Class of 2003, said she learned about the policy when she returned to Baguio in November 2007 to teach at the academy.
"I was not affected by that policy anymore. I got married in 2005 to [a member of PMA Class of 2004], and I have a child," she said.
The restriction against marriage had often been mulled, but was not been written down until 2007.
As early as 1997, the AFP had been discussing the ramifications of developing female combat officers, according to PMA officials.
Captain Arlene Orejana-Trillanes, wife of jailed Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, was one of their case studies, an official said.
She was one of the original seven female cadets who graduated in 1997, and was one of the first to marry.
In a 1999 interview, Trillanes, who was ranked then as a second lieutenant, had said that parenthood partly affected her career.
Instead of pursuing combat duties that accelerate promotion, she signed up for the PMA Corps of Professors to give her time to take care of her children.
Caydon said her mother now takes care of her child because she and her husband have been assigned to different posts.
"I was deployed briefly in the South while my husband was assigned to Kalinga. I had to ask for reassignment to Isabela to be closer to him. Now that I am in PMA, I brought my child and my mother here," she said.
But unlike Trillanes, Caydon said she had no plans to settle at PMA. "My contract ends in April, and I have to think if I want to renew it. I want to explore [other assignments]," she said.
Cayetano said she understood the rules as a way to sustain the careers of PMA?s female graduates.
"I still believe that women take care of families and homes -- I wanted to be a mother, [and] I am a pretty good multi-tasker. It was clear in my mind that my children are my priorities [when I started out as a lawyer]," she told them.
But she said the world has changed to suit career-oriented Filipino women.
She said the military should adjust to the women because "it is not our fault we were born with ovaries." She said the restriction was "not a fair rule."
But marriage, she said, could be postponed. "Mahirap magpalaki ng pamilya -- Matitigas ang ulo ng mga lalaki (It?s hard to raise a family -- Men are so pig-headed)," she said.