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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.

An open letter to the wife, family, and friends of Brandon Lee

Our warmest solidarity greetings to all those who gave their support (moral, material and financial) to the family of Brandon in these times of great tribulation.

Amid beeping life supports, bloodshot eyes from constant crying, endless questions from all over, the uncertainty of tomorrow, how long will you hang on? A month has passed, but an assurance of life has yet to come. You may be overwhelmed with a lot of emotions, but you choose to numb them to focus on the goal of holding on to the lifeline, one day at a time.

You may have asked yourself for the nth time, why? Why him? Why Brandon Lee when all he did was help farmers and indigenous peoples assert their rights. All he did was choose a life where he can pursue his passion for advocating the human rights of those in the margins. Brandon knew for a fact that asserting human rights in the Philippines is dangerous, but he still stood to uphold this because he believes it was the right thing to do.

A month ago, on August 6, Brandon was shot in his home in Ifugao and sustained several gunshot wounds. While being rushed to the hospital, he shouted several times, loudly saying that it was the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that was responsible for this barbaric act. And while Brandon was fighting for dear life, the AFP concocted lies and spread intrigues that his colleagues committed the attempt on his life. Preposterous! We know that you had to summon more courage to speak to the media and reiterate what Brandon said, that state forces were involved in this attempt on his life.

AFP has the strongest motive. Years before the incident, Brandon and his colleagues were already in danger from frequent threats of the AFP. Threats directed against indigenous people’s rights defenders that continue their advocacy for the rights of the people of Ifugao.

You might have been asking so many times why Brandon chose the work he does. Brandon, for sure, can answer these questions better than we could. But we want you to know that the communities he and his colleagues helped empower are now also able to become aware of their rights and stand up for them. These are but reflections of his passion and commitment to serve them.

We know your utmost concern at this point is to secure Brandon and to save his life. Yes, that is a reasonable and the most prudent decision at this time. His colleagues may have stepped back, but this does not mean that they have backed down from the fight. We can always retreat to hold on the lifeline and gain more strength to persevere in challenging the situation that pushes poor people further in the margins and kills those who fight back.

In the face of tyranny, fear is always a reality. Yes, the tyrant can sow fear among those who dare to challenge injustice. The attempt on the life of Brandon is to sow fear and to silence indigenous communities of Ifugao fighting against a corporate-led hydroelectric project and his colleagues in the Cordillera peoples’ mass movement. But we overcome our fear because we see the unending show of support and solidarity from around the country and abroad. We are not alone. It is in these times that we need to care for one another and collectively cut the threads of fear seeping into us.

Our perseverance and unending solidarity freed Rachel Mariano, an Ibaloi activist development worker who languished in jail for almost a year for trumped-up charges of murder and frustrated murder. The court ruled that the cases filed by the AFP are baseless so, she was acquitted of the allegations last September 4, 2019.

Rachel’s acquittal is an initial victory as other women human rights defenders in the Cordillera are still facing trumped-up cases, and other indigenous peoples’ human rights defenders are still in jail. We can replicate this victory should we all cast away our trepidations and collectively push forward. It is also in this way that we can achieve justice for Brandon and all other victims of state instigated attacks. It may sound cliché’, but, we believe that through our collective strength, persistent actions, amplified by advocates across the globe will give birth to a truly free, democratic, and just society that upholds indigenous peoples and women human rights.

To Bernice, Brandon’s spouse; to Jessie, his daughter; to Louise, his mother; and to Aaron, his brother, may you find strength and courage to hold on and continue caring for Brandon as we continue to seek justice for the atrocious act committed by the evil forces in our midst. We salute you for your firmness and determination. May it bring comfort knowing that elders, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons whose lives Brandon has touched and inspired will rise and rage not only to demand justice for him but to continue the noble cause he passionately pursued.

Kasiyana, we shall overcome!

The embodiment of a frenzied Misogynist

MISOGYNY is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women”. It is a word that aptly describes the persona of today’s president PRRD. President Duterte since his ascension to power never hid his hatred for women. Two years from the time he took over the presidency of this country, we are able to compile a number of his infamous statements, inexcusable behaviour and actions that undeniably characterizes him as a “bona fide” misogynist.

His first prey when he first sat as president was former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima when he made a tirade against her and had her arrested and incarcerated on alleged drug trafficking charges. De Lima has waged a crusade to expose President Rodrigo Duterte as the leader of death squads that have killed thousands of people in Davao.

Even prior to his presidency, however, in April 2016 when Duterte was still campaigning as a presidential candidate, he already threw a repulsive remark on the rape and murder of an Australian Missionary when he was still mayor of Davao, the place where the incident happened – “Son of a bitch, what a waste. I was thinking that they raped her and lined up. I was angry because she was raped, that’s one thing. But she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first, what a waste.”

In May, 2017 when he was already president, he again cracked a joke among state forces involved in an ongoing operation in the southern city of Marawi that they could rape up to three women “I will be imprisoned for you. If you rape three (women), I will say that I did it. But if you marry four, son of a whore you will be beaten up.”

In July 2017, Duterte made the foul remark in a speech to Filipino diplomats in Davao, as he defended his war on drugs. “You can mess with, maybe Miss Universe. Maybe I will even congratulate you for having the balls to rape somebody when you know you are going to die”

In January 4, 2018, justifying his act of kissing a Filipina during an official visit in South Korea, Duterte stated that it was not the first time he kissed a woman in public. “You know, I’ll tell you what. There are people here from Davao, during the campaign in my mayorship days, I kissed every woman there, lips to lips.” “Not only smack. Other women really wanted ‘romance.’” But as a reporter asked him what he thinks about the kissing incident he replied “What is your question about the kissing? Ah, we enjoyed it”.

In January 26, 2018 speaking before Indian and Filipino businessmen in India, to promote tourism in the Philippines, he expressed “The come on is that if you die a martyr, you go to heaven with 42 virgins waiting for you; if I could just make it a come on also for those who would like to go to my country. I ‘d like to have virgins here, not in heaven.”

In February 7, 2018 hosting some former rebels in Malacanang, he made another demeaning statement against female members of the NPA’s, “You crazy people. You join the NPA then bear children. I’ll have your vaginas shot…. Bring that. Tell the soldiers. ‘There’s a new order coming from mayor. We won’t kill you. We will just shoot your vagina, so that …’ If there is no vagina, it would be useless,”

In May 2018, Duterte declared that the next Ombudsman should not be a woman referring to Justice Conchita Carpio Morales. “I believe in the woman. The competence and capability but not in all aspects of life. Not you. No, no. It’s just right. It’s not appropriate.” He further said not wanting women to become soldiers, “I don’t want to have female soldiers and police in the countryside. Unlike men, at a young age we’ve been engaged in fistfights, brawls, gunfights, And we grew up with a mindset that is sometimes prone to violence. These women, they are prim and proper. Just one look to their mother and they’ll melt. Then you’ll let them become cops and have them engage in fighting. Oh no!”

With his views about the female sex, no wonder he cannot hide his condescending attitude towards strong women like Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, detained Senator Leila De Lima, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, UN Special Rapporteurs Agnes Callamard and Victoria-Tauli Corpuz, and International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, for they are not the subservient and passive women he expects them to be.

He even allowed the removal of a comfort woman statue, which is the symbol for the Asian women survivors forced to work in wartime brothels during the Japanese occupation in the Philippines and other Asian countries to pave the way for a drainage construction project. Duterte instructed the statue to be placed in a private property so as “not to insult Japan”, trivializing the issue of the desecration of Filipino women’s dignity victimized of sex slavery by Japanese forces”.

What makes the situation more than worrisome is how people whom he addressed his views were somewhat thrilled by his statements, eliciting laughter among them. Many perhaps see these matters as “normal”. Others make an excuse and rationalize them as something that “we must accept” because “it is his character”.

However, his perceptions and conduct towards women are despicable and unjust. And coming from the highest state official of the land, it makes these even more loathsome.

So what is iniquitous with these misogynist statements and behaviour by the President?

First, it is absolutely a direct affront to women degrading our personhood.

Second, it reinforces the discriminatory views and practices against women and boosts sexism that society will look at them as normal and natural.

Third, it makes women all the more vulnerable to abuses where even state forces are encouraged to violate women’s rights. It even strengthens the climate of impunity in our midst. Remember, the woman who was suspected of carrying drugs? She was made to undress to see whether she possesses them for they may be hidden in her private parts?

For the sake of our mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, and grandmothers, let us not allow this misogynistic acts and behaviour.

PRRD’s incorrigible macho-fascist character is unacceptable and must not be perpetuated

Women stand up, rise up against Misogyny!

Real Essence of IDEVAW, Upholding the Fight vs State Violence

The United Nations (U.N.) estimated that in 2012 over half of the murdered women were killed by their partners or family members, and that 120 million girls worldwide have been forced to have sex at some point in their lives.

In the Philippines, statistics on violence against women and children are also high. In 2013, the National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) reported that 1 in 5 Filipino women had experienced physical violence since aged 15; while 6% had experienced sexual violence. 1 out of 4 married women experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence perpetrated by husbands. The Philippine National Police (PNP) reported that rape ranked 3rd among all VAW cases from 2004-2012. In 2014, DSWD reported that they handled various cases of abuse among female children. Among the cases, there were 3,168 cases of abuse, 131 among them babies under 12 months, 1,157 girls were sexually abused, 448 involving cases of incest. Many more go unreported.

Such occurrences are serious violations and cannot be disregarded and condoned by anyone. Thus, it is but right that appropriate measures be done foremost to educate the public to address these phenomena.

It is disheartening though that the growing awareness of women and the public on the issue of Violence against women (VAW) has not put as much importance to state-perpetrated VAW, which is the core reason behind commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW).

IDEVAW originated in the 50’s to the 60’s with three altruistic and fearless women, the Mirabal sisters popularly known as the Las Mariposas (The Butterflies), who steadfastly fought a despotic regime that led to their cold-blooded execution on November 25, 1960 but rendered them as martyrs by the people of the Dominican Republic.

VAW in a general sense are said to be hidden crimes since many women choose not to talk about their personal experiences because of fear and the stigma that goes with these incidences. These crimes are all the more concealed because these are committed at home by intimate partners or by men known or close to them.

State perpetrated VAW bares a different angle since it is often political in nature. Victims are mainly women who are actively part of social movements and the perpetrators are people holding state power. Moreover, state machineries and state forces are used to protect the interests of the status quo. Further, the targets are labelled enemies of the state to justify the violence perpetrated against them. These are graver crimes because the perpetrators themselves are public “servants” and institutions that are designated to provide support and protection to women. The experience of the Mirabal sisters under the Trujillo regime was a clear case in point.

But we need not go far. Our realities in the Philippines have parallelisms that can be drawn from the experiences in the Dominican Republic. We have heard about the realities of women who went against the Marcos dictatorship during the imposition of Martial Law in the 70’s of being incarcerated, tortured, raped, disappeared and even summarily executed.

Today, authoritarianism looms in the country as President Duterte threatens to set up a revolutionary government which many believe to be a prelude to another Martial Rule. But even without the formal declaration of Martial Law, several cases of extra-judicial killings and of political persecutions are becoming the order of the day.

Presently, in the Cordillera region, several women human rights defenders are under attack because of their political beliefs and their active involvement in the movement for social change. Like the Las Mariposas, they suffer political persecution for standing for what is just. They bear threats for being promoters of women rights and indigenous people’s rights especially in marginalized communities. They endure false charges since they support communities in safeguarding their lands and resources against the exploitation by the state and by private corporations. They undergo harassments and intimidations because they are defenders of human rights working against the militarization of villages and safeguarding the civil and political rights of the people.

Will we wait until these women human rights defenders end up like the Mariposas who suffered gravely then brutally slain under a tyrannical regime? Are we going to allow the perpetration of VAW in all their forms to reign in our midst?

In celebrating international day to end violence against women, let the spirit of the butterflies live amongst us. Let them be our symbol for seeking justice for VAW victims. Let the Las Mariposas be our inspiration in advancing the cause of ending VAW in all its forms. We again call for women’s unity and vigilance and to uphold the real essence of commemorating IDEVAW.