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On the occasion of the 16-day campaign to end gender-based violence

On December 17, 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW). It also marks the beginning of the 16 days campaign to end gender-based violence which ends on December 10, designated as the International Human Rights Day which highlights the link between violence against women and human rights and emphasizes that such violence is violation of human rights.

On December 17, 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW). It also marks the beginning of the 16 days campaign to end gender-based violence which ends on December 10, designated as the International Human Rights Day which highlights the link between violence against women and human rights and emphasizes that such violence is violation of human rights.

November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW). It also marks the beginning of the 16 days campaign to end gender-based violence which ends on December 10, designated as the International Human Rights Day which highlights the link between violence against women and human rights and emphasizes that such violence is violation of human rights.

The date came from the assassination of the 3 Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, on November 25, 1960 on orders of the dictator, Gen. Rafael Trujillo. After their assassination, the Mirabal sisters became known as the Unforgettable Butterflies. Their assassination catapulted them into becoming symbols of resistance. Now, the Butterflies became synonymous to women’s struggle for genuine freedom and social justice amidst tyrannical rule.

In the Philippines, the situation is no different from that which pushed the Butterflies to become symbols of resistance and hope. Filipino women, especially those in the margins, continue to experience violence in all its forms without proper redress despite the more than 37 laws and policies that protect, uphold and promote women’s rights and welfare. Government statistics show that one Filipina is raped every 72 minutes while one in four women experience domestic violence by their husband or partner.

Here in the Cordillera, the Women’s Desk of the Philippine National Police recorded 3,272 cases of violence against women (VAW) since President Rodrigo Roa Duterte was sworn into office in 2016 until June this year. The highest of these cases (2,115) are violations of the RA 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 while the second highest (779) are cases of rape.

Cases of state-perpetrated violence has also increased and intensified. The government, in its view of the Cordilleras as a resource base for exploitation at the expense of the welfare of the umili, has allowed the rapid entry of various development aggression projects in the region. At present, 276 mining claims covering 60% of the total land area of the Cordillera and 105 energy projects (6 geothermal and 99 hydropower) threaten the control and access of indigenous women and their communities over their land and natural resources. With this, Cordillera women have always displayed resistance against these projects since time immemorial. In fact, they have been at the forefront of these struggles.

Because of this, Cordillera women are subjected to state-sanctioned abuses. It has worsened when President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Executive Order No. 70, a directive to institutionalize the “whole-of-nation approach” and create a national task force to end local communist armed conflict, on December 4, 2018. Women human rights defenders are being slapped with trumped-up charges. One of whom is Rachel Mariano, who was detained in Ilocos Sur for almost a year and was acquitted by the Regional Trial Court Judge Mario Anacleto Bañez last September 4. Two months after, Judge Bañez was shot dead while on his way home in La Union.

Meanwhile, during orientations of the Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC) all over Cordillera, the military and police malign legitimate organizations, including Innabuyog as fronts of “communist terrorist groups”. Innabuyog leaders and members are being tagged as either supporters or members of the New Peoples’ Army.

As a result, more than 20 cases of human rights violations against women from January to November of this year was documented. The cases include red-tagging, threat, harassment and intimidation, surveillance, and fake surrender attempts.

In these trying times, we see the Butterflies in each woman who dares to fight for our land, resources, rights and dignity against all odds.

As we commemorate the 16-day campaign to end gender-based violence, we celebrate the lives of the Cordillera women who tirelessly toiled to alleviate the situation of all women in the region and in the country while we urge the Duterte regime to respect, uphold, and protect our human rights. We then call on our kakailians to unite with us and intensify our call for justice for all victims of state fascism and all forms of VAW in the Cordillera. Let the legacy of the Butterflies be our source of inspiration to continue standing up for what is just and right.

A Reflection on the Cordillera Women’s Human Rights Summit

The Cordillera Women`s Education Action Research Center and the All UP Academic Employees’ Union of the University of the Philippines-Baguio conducted the Regional Women’s Human Rights Summit in response to the relentless attacks against critics of the present administration, human rights defenders, including indigenous peoples and other marginalized sectors of the society.

The summit made me see the blatant disregard of our leaders of the basic concepts of human rights, an evidence that an unjust system is reigning in the country. This also provoked me in writing this poem as my reflection of the cruelty that our indigenous peoples are experiencing:

Undas na ulit,
May iba sa ating humihikbi sa gilid,
May iba sa ating masayang nakadalaw sa taong lumisan na, na sa kanilang puso ay malapit,
Mayroon din ‘yung humuhugot dahil ipinagpalit,
Subalit para sa ating mga katutubong pilit ninanakawan ay araw-araw na undas na napakapait,
Araw-araw ay ginigipit,
Pinapatay ng paulit-ulit,
Upang sa ganoon ay maipatayo ang mga imprastaktura na sa kanila ay bubura,
Maisagawa ang plano na kung saan ang kanilang  lupa ay magiging pataba ng kanilang pitaka,
At ang ating karapatan ay lalapastangin para sa tagumpay ng iba,
Sabi nila, matutong magsakripisyo para sa ikabubuti ng nakararami,
Ngunit sino ba ang totoong makikinabang sa sakripisyo na kanilang idinidiin?
Ang nakararami nga ba? O ang mga taong nakasuot ng maskara?

I saw the worsening human rights situation in the Cordillera and the rest of the Philippines. This situation fuels the solidarity among the women and LGBT who attended the summit. The event raised the necessity to act against human rights violations.

However, no matter how inspiring it is to witness the strong solidarity of the women in the Cordillera, their determination, and hear their breath-taking chants for change, I would still prefer not to witness this. I’d rather see them freely walking around their homeland without being threatened. Watch them wash their clothes with bright smiles on their faces in the free-flowing river. Watch the kids play all day without the trauma that children today are experiencing as a result of prolonged militarization of their communities. And reap the bounty that their ancestral lands have to offer.

I firmly believe that all of these can happen if our leaders and everyone else involved will respect the indigenous peoples` right to their ancestral domain and to self-determination. It has always been said that for our indigenous peoples, LAND IS LIFE. A phrase emphasized countless times, yet, those who wield power are willing to do everything to fill their insatiable greed even if it would spell death to indigenous peoples. These people can`t seem to understand the significance of the land they are trying to conquer those inhabiting it. The land is where indigenous peoples are rooted. It is where they were born and raised, and it will be that which will embrace them when they will die. It is the land owned by the future generation. That is why indigenous peoples struggle so much to protect their ancestral lands because they want to give the next generation a better world to live in.

Now, if sacrificing all of this is what our leaders call “change for the better,” obviously, the change they are referring to does not include indigenous peoples. They are treating indigenous peoples as sacrificial lambs not for the sake of the majority but for their own welfare and interest. Why build dams if we can let the river freely flow for everyone to use? Why attack development workers if you can team up with him or her in bringing better social services to the people? Why use violence to control the people if you can instead listen to their desperate cries for genuine peace and freedom? Why claim it is for the better if it is not inclusive of everyone, primarily indigenous peoples?

When money comes above everything else, above the interest of the majority of the toiling masses, no substantial change will come. Even with this, I am comforted with the knowledge that Cordillera women will never be cowed. With clenched fists, they will stand taller than ever, stronger as they empower, and bolder as they resist fascism.