Padaca was one of nine women who were invited to be guest
speakers at the governor’s Third Annual International
Women’s Leadership Conference held in August at the Sheraton
Waikiki for women of all ages and backgrounds, from Hawai‘i
and around the world.
Padaca’s petite stature and limited mobility on crutches
give no indication of her inner strength. With sheer willpower,
community support, and a grass-root’s campaign, Padaca
toppled a corrupt, 30-year-old male dynasty and became governor
of the northern province of Isabela, in the Cagayan Valley
region in Luzon. This primarily agricultural province is the
second largest in the Philippines and the largest on the island
The incumbent had financial resources and the backing of big
businesses, two things she didn’t have.
My chances of winning were almost nil,” Padaca recalled. “(The
dynasty) dismissed me as a nuisance… until it was time
to count the votes.”
At the close of the elections, Padaca recounted, the incumbent’s
supporters tampered with the votes to make sure he won. The
results reported he had won by fewer than 20 votes.
I just could not turn my back on the people who voted for me,” Padaca
She went to court and asked for a recount or new election.
When the results of the new election surfaced, Padaca learned
she had won governorship by more than 44,000 votes.
I may be crippled, but my spirit is not,” Padaca said. “My
physical disability may be the easiest handicap after all.
There are people who are handicapped by fear, laziness, and
Women leaders from Hawai‘i, Japan, Iraq, the Philippines,
and the mainland, like Padaca, told inspirational stories of
their struggles and triumphs in their professional and personal
lives. The conference, with the theme Women With No Limits,
also featured exclusive video presentations by First Lady Laura
Bush, Oprah Winfrey, and Dr. Johnetta Cole, president of Bennett
In her opening address, Hawai‘i Governor Linda Lingle
said that she started the forum in 2004 so that the women of
Hawai‘i could talk about the challenges they face professionally
and domestically. In her four years as governor, she said,
she has met many inspirational women leaders from across the
world, and she wanted to invite them to Hawai‘i so they
could personally share their stories with island women.
This conference is all about inspiring and motivating Hawai‘i’s
women,” said Lingle. “I wanted the women across
the state not to hear… [but] to actually see them in
person, up close.”
Zainab Al-Suwaij, co-founder of the Iraqi Women’s Higher
Council, also spoke at the conference. Born in Basra, Iraq,
Al-Suwaij participated in the failed 1991 Intifadah uprising
against Saddam Hussein.
Al-Suwaij described the horrors she saw and how she had been
threatened, silenced, and oppressed under Hussein’s dictatorship.
It was unthinkable for a group of women, like this, to gather,” she
said, comparing the women’s conference in Hawai‘i
to living in Iraq. “At an early age, you learn not to
talk or challenge the government.”
Al-Suwaij is currently serving as the executive director of
the American Islamic Congress and has met with President Bush
and spoken at the Republican National Convention. She has also
participated in numerous peace-building projects, including
the Revitalization of Iraqi Schools and Stabilization of Education
Program and literacy programs for Iraqi women.
I feel I represent a bridge between Iraq and America,” Al-Suwaij
An advocate of education, she said that there are more than
18 universities in Iraq.
I really enjoyed Zainab Al-Suwaij,” said Maile Kawakami,
a political science graduate of Houghton College in New York. “I
think she has a very different perspective of the war in Iraq.
Usually, you only hear the American side.”
Kawakami said that the conference came at an important time
in her life.“It’s really good for me to hear these
types of things, since I’m a recent graduate,” Kawakami
High school students from three all-girl high schools—Sacred
Hearts Academy, St. Francis, and La Pietra—attended the
conference. Sixteen-year-old Marnie Kazarian, from Sacred Hearts
Academy, whose father teaches at HPU, also enjoyed Al-Suwaij’s
speech. “Being part Armenian, I saw that some of the
same issues exist for me,” Kazarian said. “This
conference has made me think about what I can do as a woman,
and how I can help other women.”