Manila Councilor Krys Bacani drives women-empowered change

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Krys Bacani
Krys Bacani covers the March 2024 issue of Lifestyle.INQ wearing JOEY SAMSON and JW Anderson.

Women bring a unique form of leadership to the table—and Manila District 4 Councilor Krystle Bacani-Po is no exception


Underneath the neoclassical columns of Manila City Hall, a flurry of officials, employees, and constituents bustle with their own purposes and destinations. Walking briskly through the busy corridors, we arrive at the session hall. Even in the absence of people, the air feels charged with the weight of decisions by public servants.

Inside the session hall, framed black and white sketches of past mayors line the wall—all men dressed in barong polos. The room is furnished with heavy wooden tables, radiating a sense of power and control. While the law-making space has an atmosphere of masculine energy, Manila District 4 Councilor Krystle Bacani-Po carries in feminine strength as soon as she walks in.


At the center of the domed ceiling is a stained glass skylight shaped like the sun on the Philippine flag. She stands underneath with a warm smile. You can tell she possesses a stoic character that stays calm in high-pressure situations. As the Committee Chairperson on Women since 2016, Councilor Krys Bacani tells us there is always a long line of people waiting to talk to her at the city hall. On other days, she does site visits to her district, which helps her connect more closely with her constituents.

Councilor Krys Bacani has much to say on how the world can be a more equitable place—from creating safe spaces in support groups and women-only gyms to pushing for a world where women can thrive wherever they are. 

READ MORE: Finally, an anti-catcalling ordinance was passed in Manila

Just seven or so years ago, there was a time when women couldn’t walk past a group of road workers without feeling painfully self-conscious, or fearful of unwanted “compliments.” But in recent years, there has been a tangible difference when walking in public spaces. And that’s largely in part because of Councilor Krys Bacani’s legal initiative. 

Krys Bacani
Councilor Krys Bacani at the Manila City Hall.

More recently, Councilor Krys Bacani has been shaping legislation that can help mitigate gender bias in AI, recently giving a panel discussion last Mar. 8 with Spark Philippines, sharing a stage beside Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa.

Sometimes, Councilor Krys Bacani is asked upfront why she chooses to break the wife and mother clichés. While she faces prejudices, she proves that a woman’s place can be both at home and in the government. “We are just as good as our weakest link. We need to uplift other women who are prejudiced by their situation.” 

In an exclusive interview with LIFESTYLE.INQ, Councilor Krys Bacani recounts the significant progress made through her legislative work for women and all genders under her jurisdiction.


You authored Ordinance No. 7857 that penalizes “all forms of sexual harassment in public spaces such as catcalling, wolf-whistling, leering, groping, and many others.” Tell us more about its impact.

At the time, we were only seven women councilors out of 38. Having to defend a law for an issue that was already ingrained in our culture was a very aggressive discussion. I was doing this not to punish but to change the cultural behavior we’ve accepted and considered as the norm. To make women feel safe. There are women students in uniforms who avoid certain streets and walk the longer route just to avoid certain parts of Manila where they’re prone to being cat-called. If you answer back, you can be chased, hit, and hurt. It’s a physical hassle and if we don’t voice it, it will just be accepted and passed on. There have been complaints with the police and reports using the anti-catcalling law. So it’s effective in passing and we have had women use the law. 


Last 2023 you passed Ordinance 8933, the first-ever infrastructure project in Manila that addresses issues on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC). What are the plans for the center?

If initial plans are followed, the three-story halfway house will offer shelter and security for victims of gender-based violence seeking protection from their abusers. There will be free legal counseling, a nursing room for pregnant mothers, and medical and psychological services. There’s no violence against men because it’s inherent that the disproportion between victims of men and women with gender-based violence is worlds apart. Maybe 90 percent of the victims are women and 10 percent are men. If ever they can defend themselves, usually women cannot because of physical restraints. There are unique needs of women that have to be met and we’re trying to alleviate the domestic violence that’s happening to women.


How are you changing the implicit structures in our culture to elevate women and other genders?

Have you heard the term “gender mainstreaming”? It basically considers the needs of gender for every area of development—infrastructure, education, health. I just passed the Gender and Development Code two years ago under Mayor Isko Moreno, who was an advocate for women’s rights. It’s being more aware of the unique needs of 50 percent of the population. The code has been included in seminars and workshops, starting with a gender-responsive curriculum.

Also, the “Bawal ang Bastos” law in Manila is more than its punitive value. The relevant effect I’ve seen is the promotion of behavioral change amongst the people—to educate, to unlearn transgenerational discrimination and gender stereotypes, while raising awareness that it is not okay to harass women or anyone on the streets. We plan to conduct a series of forums and distribute materials on these laws. Signage must be visible in all establishments, schools, and other public places.

READ MORE: Working moms’ maternity leaves are now finally extended to 105 days

Krys Bacani
JOEY SAMSON piña barong. Malene Birger slacks.

Among other laws are the Magna Carta of Women, the local Council for protection of Women, Children and LGBTQ+ Members (LCAT-VAW), the Solo Parent law (this is so important because most solo parents are women), and—from a mere 60 days—a 105-day maternity leave. People should be aware of these, and use them, because that’s your right. 

We can spread legal awareness simply by continuing to talk about it. Social media is another powerful tool. In Manila, we are diligent in localizing our national laws by drafting a local version to help spread grassroots awareness.


You recently began advocating for regulations of AI in legislation. From job displacement favoring male candidates to preying on women in deepfakes, and the lack of female AI developers, AI has been a contributor to gender bias through its use of data, algorithms, stereotypes, and societal norms. Can you tell us about the programs you are proposing to help mitigate gender bias in AI algorithms?

As daunting as these challenges may seem, they are not insurmountable. With informed action and collaborative effort, we can harness AI’s potential for good. As a legislator, I have proposed first reading stringent regulations for AI development and deployment, ensuring transparency, accountability, and fairness. Examples of these are the AI Transparency Acts—laws requiring AI developers to disclose algorithms, data sources, and design processes for transparency. Also data protection and privacy, inclusive innovation incentives for companies that promote diversity, ethical AI certification standards, and education programs among underrepresented groups, particularly women. 

Empowering women through education and training is paramount. Initiatives like scholarships for women in STEM, mentorship programs, and lifelong learning platforms can bridge the gender divide in technology. By equipping women with the skills needed in an AI-driven world, we not only enhance their employability but also enrich the AI landscape with diverse perspectives. 

AI can be a powerful tool in identifying and addressing gender biases. Projects leveraging AI to analyze wage gaps, representation in media, and even to track progress in gender equality can illuminate areas for improvement and spur action.

We have to use AI as a tool to empower women and promote gender equality. To ensure that AI benefits everyone, women must be at the forefront of this technological revolution, not just as consumers but as creators, ethicists, and leaders.


We don’t pick the families we’re born into. How would you say your privilege informs your role as a public servant?

My uncle is Bishop Bacani and my dad was a former three-term congressman. That’s how I got exposed to the world of public service. As a kid, I was fascinated by the impact and the positive change you can do. I can’t not acknowledge that privilege, but I can definitely use it to make changes for good. My mom was a successful business owner. Thanks to my parents, I received a top-tier education. My dad being a three-termer definitely put one foot in the door for me in terms of winning my first election. So the innate privileges that came with being elected would be strong political connections and access to data. I ran young. I was only 26. 

As a person who has traveled quite a lot, I always try to bring home what I learned from other countries. Sweden is one country where they respect personal space. In Singapore, I found out the women’s charter is very strong. These are two places I would say are very progressive in terms of gender equality. If I learn new things that I think can help the city, like new innovations from abroad, I definitely tell my bosses.

In decision-making and leadership roles, I try to influence the political sphere towards breaking barriers for those not heard or seen. Because I’m a public servant, it’s easier for me to speak and people will listen, at least within my jurisdiction.

I want to make big changes for women. If more women are empowered, it’s going to be good for society as a whole. More money for the economy, more stability for homes. 


On a personal level, which feminist figures do you look up to?

The feminist figures I look up to locally are my mom Boots and my sister-in-law Nanette. My mom for thriving in a highly male-dominated construction industry while being a mother to me and my three sisters. Nanette, for being a game changer in sustainability and women empowerment through the “Aling Tindera” program, which incentivizes women-owned sari-sari stores to be part of a waste-to-cash program. Internationally, my favorite is Queen Raina of Jordan. She is a powerful voice in the Arab world where oppression of women is rampant.


Krys Bacani
JOEY SAMSON piña barong. BAGASAO skirt.

I look for the ladies’ room from the session hall. Walking a full corridor past the men’s bathroom, I remember how Councilor Krys Bacani had mentioned that in most buildings, the women’s bathroom is always located farther than the men’s—an inconvenience for women who tend to take longer freshening up, moreso if she is pregnant. These are the seemingly small matters that Councilor Krys Bacani wants to change.

Back in the session hall, it is clear that men continue to hold dominant positions in the political landscape. But there has been headway. In 2022, Manila elected its first female mayor, Honey Lacuna, in its 400-year history.  “This is not an easy job,” says Councilor Krys Bacani

Listening to the trauma of women up close can be triggering and while a formidable public servant, she centers herself like an “empowered feminine.” Showing the self-love of a true feminist, she shares her centering techniques—drinking water, reciting Transcendental Meditation mantras, surfing in Siargao, and braving mountain bike trails during long recesses.

Since becoming the City Councilor of Manila’s 4th District, Krys Bacani has come a long way. She moves with the times, too, as co-founder of Legalex, an app meant to make consultations with lawyers more accessible. During her term, all women-related laws have been passed under her direction. As a defender of women’s rights, Councilor Krys Bacani is a refreshing figure in the political landscape, with indications that her courage and passionate politics will lead to powerful change.


Photography by JT Fernandez, assisted by Anton Sarte

Creative Direction by Nimu Muallam-Mirano

Styled by Sophia Concordia, assisted by Colleen Cosme and Sean Castelo

Produced by Angela Manuel Go

Special thanks to Joey Samson and Seph Bagasáo. 

READ MORE: Vicki Belo bares her own brand of beautiful

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