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Gardening in the time of a pandemic: Baguio’s urban vegetable lifeline

The health crisis and imposition of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) due to the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) unmasked not only the shortcomings in the Philippines’ health system but also exposed the urgency of addressing issues in food security.

The ECQ’s implementation displaced most low-income families from their livelihood and have no means to buy food, even those who were able to set aside a little and have minimal income face difficulty in procuring food supply. This already difficult plight is worsened by the rising costs of vegetables and other commodities, and the government’s limited and meager economic aid at this time.

As people continue to find ways to keep food on their tables, urban gardening initiatives have started to gain more traction. The national and local government have even started to revive old projects to strengthen individual efforts to grow vegetables in urban areas.

The Department of Agriculture came out with the Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat (ALPAS COVID-19), or the “Plant, Plant, Plant” program to provide “adequate, accessible and affordable food for every Filipino family.” ALPAS COVID-19 is the centerpiece project of the department “to ensure sustained food production and availability, food accessibility and affordability amidst the threats of COVID-19.” The DA asked for a PhP 31 billion supplemental fund for the project, which includes the revitalization of the urban agriculture and gulayan (vegetable garden) project.

In Baguio City, the City Veterinary and Agriculture Office (CVAO) also distributed vegetable seeds to individuals and barangays. The project, which commenced on March 24, aims to provide a ready supply of vegetables for households and barangays with open spaces or pots in the coming months. The office hopes to strengthen its urban backyard gardening program, which officials tried to institutionalize in 2017.

Meanwhile, in Purok 24 Barangay Irisan, Baguio City, members of Samahan ng Maralitang Kababaihang Nagkakaisa (Samakana) are reaping the benefits of their waste management and food security project that started in 2008.

Lifeline under lockdown

Using recycled plastic containers as pots, Agnes Gampol filled her backyard with vegetables, herbs, medicinal plants, and flowers. At the moment, she has onion leeks, chives, chili, beans, and rosemary, among others. She has roses and alstroemeria. She even planted strawberries.

“The flowers are food for the eyes,” she said.

Agnes knits bonnets for a living. Her husband is a carpenter. The ECQ’s implementation in this pandemic affected their livelihood.

Her family is among the 45,000 low-income households in Baguio City that is now banking on government assistance to get through the pandemic. Without income and with the limited economic relief provided, her urban garden has become one of their lifelines.

She said having a backyard garden helps in ensuring food supply, which became more evident with the current situation.

According to her, the idea of developing a backyard garden came after they attended training on waste management through vermiculture (vermi) in 2013. Vermiculture is the process of decomposting organic materials using earthworms.

“After the training, I just tried vermi worms for fun and to see if it works. I started with four worms, and they multiplied fast, I have been giving away worms since then,” she recalled.

Agnes said her neighborhood was able to reach zero biodegradable waste at one time by raising vermi worms.

“This is still true in my household; my children are now conscious, they segregate the biodegradable,” she said.

Expanding the production

Besides having individual container gardens and backyard plots, members of Samakana also tilled vacant lots to increase their production. In Agnes’ community, she teamed up with some of her neighbors to cultivate an adjacent vacant lot.

Bernardita Espada, 54, is the primary overseer of the collective garden. Agnes and other members of their organization assist her. However, Bernardita, whom they call Manang Bining, takes the lead in maintaining and developing the garden.

“She was already planting some portions of the idle lot, so we asked her if we could join her and develop a wider portion for the neighborhood,” Agnes said.

The owner of the vacant lot allowed them to cultivate while it is idle. They use vermicast and compost to fertilize their crops and sunflower as a natural pesticide. The sunflower also serves as a fence to keep off dogs, cats, and chicken. Sunflower stalks grow into plants just as the vegetable seeds sprout.

Manang Bining explained that she only planted sayote, pineapple, and ginger this first quarter of 2020. According to her, the weather was not suitable for other vegetables.

“It has been frigid and dry since January, and we do not have a water source here in our neighborhood,” she added.

She recalled that in the past years, they were able to grow corn, beans, petchay, and sweet potatoes, among others. They rotate the crops depending on the weather. Around this time of the year, they usually plant petchay and beans. They can harvest the crops by June before the heavy rains come.

“But sayote is all year round because it is the most resilient among vegetables,” she said.

Apart from the seven households that cultivate the plots, the collective garden also provides for other community members. Some of their harvests even reach the public market.

Manang Bining also sells vegetables to her neighbors at a very affordable price. She said there were times that harvest was good; she sold some to the adjacent puroks. According to her, she can harvest as much as 25 bundles of sayote shoots a day during rainy days. The harvest drops to 10 bundles during summer. Her yield is enough to supply some market vendors. A bundle of sayote shoots weighs about a kilo and sells for P20-25 each. According to her, harvest this year is just enough for their consumption. Like Agnes, she said the backyard garden that they collectively till helps ease the limited income and food supply caused by the lockdown.

Harnessing indigenous knowledge

Long-time urban poor leader and Tontongan ti Umili chairperson Geraldine Cacho recalled that the project is among the programs of the Cordillera Women’s Education Action and Research Center (CWEARC). She is one of Agnes’ organic gardening buddies.

Aware of the daily challenge that women in urban poor communities face, the institution partnered with Samakana to address waste management and food security concerns.

The project’s overall purpose was “to enhance indigenous knowledge to support the economic survival of indigenous women in the urban setting.” The proponent integrated the concepts of ayyew (avoiding wastage) and ubbo (cooperation) as indigenous practices with organic farming and protection of the environment.

She said it started as a way to manage biodegradable waste at the household level. When their vermi fertilizer production began to gather momentum, they then started the food security and household nutrition component.

“Vermicast and vermicompost are the by-products of vermiculture; we used these to develop our organic backyard and common gardens,” she said.

According to her, other urban poor women in other areas have developed similar gardens after having vermiculture training. A similar collective garden was set up in Purok 14 also in Irisan; and also in barangays Ambiong, Gibraltar, and San Luis.

Not part of the development plan

Geraldine said that the COVID-19 crisis and ECQ highlighted the importance of urban gardening. She said that the CVAO and the DA initiatives to distribute seeds are welcome. However, she noted that the seed dispersal program in an urban setting could only succeed by assisting existing urban gardeners and intensive education campaigns.

She pointed out that local governments of highly urbanized areas, like Baguio, tend to ignore the significance of growing crops at the household and community level.

“Programs to ensure food security, especially in the urban setting, is often left out when officials plan for development. In Baguio, when we started the program, the city did not give much attention. Officials did not even entertain our call for the bottom-up approach on waste management,” she said.

According to her, the effort of Baguio in 2017 to identify agricultural barangays and promote urban gardening was a positive development. However, “the program focused mainly on promoting urban and organic gardening through competition.”

“Officials who took charge of the program failed to look at it as a strategic economic program for the thousands of low-income families in the city. Also, they did took it as an integral part of achieving zero organic waste,” she added.

Geraldine shared that among the challenges they are facing is water supply – the lack of it during summer and too much during the rainy season. Also, she said the limited space available for planting requires urban gardeners to find other ways to plant their crops, some of which requires added expenses.

“The city must assist us on these matters if it is planning to make its seed dispersal and urban gardening project. They (officials) can do more than just providing seeds like providing training on organic fertilizer. The city can also assist groups to negotiate with owners of idle lands to allow them to cultivate and develop a common garden,” she said.

“We hope that the city will look at the need to develop and assist individuals and groups practicing urban vegetable gardening in the city beyond the COVID-19 crisis,” she added.#


Annie’s Journey

“Annie” is a twenty-year-old Kankana-ey born and raised in Mankayan, Benguet. She comes from a family of seven, wherein she has her parents and her four younger siblings. Her parents are trying their best to make do with the meager wages that they earn from informal jobs. Despite their efforts, the pay they receive is not enough for their growing family.

She migrated to Baguio and took a Bachelor’s Degree in Education at a university, hopeful of finding a job after her study.

In her second year, Annie decided to forgo her studies and work as a call center agent. Her desire to help her family cope up with their ever-increasing financial needs forced her to make the decision. Also, her mother’s sacrifice, who is currently working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong, inspired her to act.

Annie’s mother went there before but had to come back home due to the abusive labor practices of her former employer. The increasing prices of essential commodities and lack of job opportunities here in our country led her to leave her family again.

Meanwhile, Annie’s younger sister, who should be in junior high school, also had to set aside her studies to help her older sister and mother. The three of them are doing their best for the survival of their family.

Annie may not have been able to finish her college degree, but she hopes and prays that her younger siblings will be able to finish theirs. She would sacrifice her studies for the sake of her younger siblings.

Annie’s story and that of millions of Filipinos in the margins of society is a reflection of the current economic crisis in the country. Family members, especially the women and older siblings, are forced to sacrifice their personal dreams to help their family survive. They have to make hard decisions to cope up with the rising prices of basic goods and lack of job opportunities.

This situation is a result of an unjust system. The vast resources of our nation are concentrated among a few individuals. Meanwhile, the more significant part of the population struggle to have a piece from the meager portion left to them.

It has become routine for older children to let go of their studies and for parents to leave their families to look for “greener” pastures. However, this should not be. This is why we need to change the way our country’s resources are allocated by involving ourselves in the creation of just laws. Education, healthcare, and local job opportunities must top the list of the national budget. The government should also craft laws that are not oppressive and abusive.

This is one of the many advocacies of the Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center (CWEARC) and Innabuyog in the Cordillera. Women, from the different sectors of the society, must work together to remind the government that it was created to serve the people. This state mandate is clearly stated in the Philippine Constitution. Officials should cease from becoming puppets of the rich and the powerful. The government should not oppress the already marginalized sectors of society, which includes the laborers, landless farmers and the indigenous peoples.

However, when people’s organizations, where women are a part of, come together and try to help people like Annie, they are tagged as enemies of the State. Instead of working together with these groups, the State uses its power to suppress these organizations. These are proof that the government works for the wealthy. It is not a government for and by the Filipino people.

Let us make Annie’s story an inspiration to be more active in the social and political affairs of our country. Her story is one of the many problems that Filipinos have been facing. If we continue to be blind to these, these issues will persist and escalate. It must be during these times that we work hand in hand to bring about change. Children must finish their studies for it is their right and, parents should not be forced to leave their children just to make ends meet!

A call to action to the young indigenous women of the Cordillera

If you are like the vast majority, you probably haven’t heard of the ‘ball-squeezing’ and ‘breast-baring’ women who defended our ancestral lands from threats of unmerciful destruction. For that, you are not to blame because believe it or not, we have a state that is trying to revise our history of resistance.

When remnants of our colonial past became a tool for those who have grown to feed off the capitalist world system, our ancestral lands became sources of profit for the few. Giant corporations partnered with the state to legitimize their plans for “development” in our ancestral lands – thus the birth of ‘development aggression’ or the imposition of destructive projects in our territories.

Article III of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the Philippines is a signatory of, states that indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination – a right to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. However, in the experience of indigenous peoples around the world, development meant displacement from their ancestral lands, cultural bastardization, and human rights violations.

This is not far from our experience here in the Cordillera region.

When the Marcos regime implemented its deceptive economic agenda in the ’70s through the 80s, the Cordillera region became a target for exploitation. Thus, the government opened the region to numerous “development” projects that would have displaced us, indigenous peoples, from our lands.

In Mainit, Bontoc, Mountain Province, the Benguet Corporation Inc., a large-scale mining company was set to displace the indigenous communities in the area and wipe-out their source of water and livelihood – the mountains and the rice terraces. Enraged, the Mainit women led by Mother Petra Macliing organized themselves for a common cause – to stop the mining projects from encroaching in our mountains. Together they linked arms and ‘squeezed the balls’ of the mining engineers as an act of protest. When things started to escalate, the women disrobed and bared their breasts, daring the engineers to harm “the womb from where they came from.” After driving them away, the women raided the miners’ camp. They then returned the mining equipment to the company’s main office at the town center.

In Kalinga, the World Bank-funded Chico River Basin Development Project sought to build a series of dams along the Chico River, threatening to submerge our homes and sacred burial grounds. In response, the indigenous women, together with other sectors, made their opposition known. They led various protest actions to stop the project and were met with military suppression, which also resulted in the murder of Kalinga pangat, Macliing Dulag. Despite death threats and political repression, we defended our waters.

Moreover, in Abra, a 200,000-hectare logging and paper-pulp concession were awarded to the Cellophil Resources Corporation (CRC). The owner, Herminio Disini, was a Marcos crony infamous for his involvement in the corruption-ridden Bataan Nuclear Power Plant deal. The logging operations of CRC evicted indigenous farmers in lowland Abra from their rice fields and homes. It would have resulted in the total denudation of the forests in the province and the drying up of headwaters of major river systems in the Cordillera and Ilocos.

Aware of the destruction the project will bring, people from all walks of life all over Abra unite to demand that CRC respect their rights to their ancestral lands and resources. Not long after, CRC was forced to shut down because of sustained opposition from the Tinguians.

Today, the same threats are looming over our mountains when we see a repeat of these experiences. President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic policy, ‘Build, Build, Build,’ opened the Chico River once again to a multi-billion irrigation project funded by Chinese investors. Moreover, Nickel Asia, a multinational corporation, and its local subsidiary, Cordillera Exploration Company Inc. (CEXCI), have a mining application covering 15 municipalities in the region. Various large and mini-hydro projects are also forced upon our communities.

All these ‘development’ projects were made possible through manipulated, or fraudulent free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) processes, clearly disregarding our right to self-determination. And despite disinformation about development aggression, our people are not letting their guards down.

Progressive and grass-roots based organizations in the region are already up and standing against development aggression. However, the opposition is not sitting well with the state that has unleashed intensified attacks against our women’s land defenders.

Many of our mothers and sisters now face harassment, political persecution, and other forms of human rights violations. What is more alarming is the vulnerability of women in rural communities to state-perpetrated violence where state forces are deployed and encamped.

There are endless issues faced by our women in the region, many of which we do not personally experience. But do we have to become the victims to realize how grave the situation is? We should not let the state subject us to their economic policies designed to disconnect us from our land. Our assimilation into a colonial culture that would bastardize our identity in the name of ‘development’ should not be allowed.

It is noticeable that we have a growing engagement of the youth in today’s climate crisis. However, issues of climate change in the country seemed to be understood in a superficial context. We must widen our perspective concerning environmental issues and connect them with land issues faced by our people.

As young indigenous women, we should be the reflection of Mother Petra Macliing, of the Bontoc women; and of the Kalinga women today. We must resist collectively to prevent the destruction of our only home and heritage.

In an authoritarian regime where systemic violation of our land rights and women’s rights are worsening, there is a grave need for us to learn from our history of resistance. When it comes to issues affecting our ancestral lands, it must be us, the indigenous youth, who should hold an unyielding desire to defend it. Let us become the real activists and agents of genuine change our peoples and country need.

Mental Health – a Societal Concern Essential to Women’s Well-being

October has been declared as World Mental Health Awareness Month by the World Health Organization (WHO). Awareness is really a key element in addressing this societal concern most especially that Mental Health is rarely discussed and studied and there is still considerable stigma and taboos on matters surrounding mental illnesses.

Reports indicate that 17 to 20 percent of Filipino adults experience mental health disorders, while 10 to 15 percent of Filipino children, within the age group of 5 to 15 suffer the same. NSO accounts mental health illnesses as the third most common forms of morbidity for Filipinos.

According Philippine Health Information System on Mental Health (PHIS-MH), schizophrenia is the top mental health problem in the Philippines, affecting 42 percent (mostly males) of the group studied. Also included in their list of disorders common to Filipinos are depression, anxiety disorder, schizoaffective disorder, acute and transient disorder, and stimulant-related issues.

In the Philippines, various stakeholders have already started to aggressively raise awareness of the public regarding the issue which is a most welcome development. However for most of these interest groups, mental health awareness usually merely focus on identification of certain MH disorders, on signs and symptoms on what to watch out for and the management or treatment of such illnesses. What are left out are similarly important issues that impact on the mental state of individuals but are relegated to the side lights or oftentimes even completely disregarded. These are the social determinants to mental health.

A sound socio-economic milieu is vital to maintaining a sound mental health. In a society where social inequity is widespread, we also find particular sectors at high risk of suffering from physical and mental health challenges.

The WHO captures the crux on the social determinants of the mental health. It aptly stated that “Certain population subgroups are at higher risk of mental disorders because of greater exposure and vulnerability to unfavourable social, economic, and environmental circumstances, interrelated with gender”.

There is recognition that gender is also of vital concern in mental health because of women’s marginalized status in society. But considering that majority of women belong to the lower class levels in the social ladder make them even more vulnerable in acquiring MH disorders.

In our society where almost 18 million Filipino families are already destitute, surviving on incomes below the family living wage of Php30,000 per month (IBON Research group) , where unemployment and underemployment rates are high (there is a considerable 11.5 million who are without work or still looking for more work because of the poor quality of jobs) where inflation rate has been fast increasing, and now at its highest at 6.7 while majority of workers live on pitiful wages, we can surely find majority of Filipinos trying to maintain their mental well-being a major challenge having to face issues of their family’s survival.

We have heard about the case of Kristel Tejada who took her life by consuming a silver-cleaning fluid in March 2013 . She was unable to pay her tuition at UP Manila of Php10,000 because of the “no late payment” policy of the state university. The family had faced financial difficulties after her father was laid off from work at a factory that closed down early on. A few years prior to the Tejada case, Mariannet Amper, a 12 year old girl from Davao also committed suicide out of despair for her family’s impoverished life. In the Philippines, WHO estimated the number of suicides in 2012 at 2,558 mostly among the youth (550 female, 2009 male).

We can also surely find other distressed sectors among the urban and rural poor, where they constantly face the threats of demolition or of being driven out of their lands because corporations are converting them into subdivisions or commercial estates. Or of indigenous peoples, whose territories are being militarized because mining companies’ interest are being protected by investment security forces designated by the government wanting to exploit the rich mineral resources of their communities. In militarized communities, children expressed not being able to sleep well and of experiencing nightmares and bed-wetting, which are apparent signs of trauma.

Then there are those being pursued by the state and it’s security forces because of their political beliefs and for asserting their rights. For those suffering from political persecution and vilification, and where threats to one’s life are constant realities, stress and trauma are too common. Such are the cases of the 5 women human rights defenders belonging to cause-oriented NGO’s from the Cordillera facing trumped up charges or those in the terrorist proscription list. One of them, Rachel Mariano is now languishing in jail for a crime she was falsely accused of. This matter triggered her Hyperthyroidism aggravating the trauma she suffers on the ordeal she had to face together with her family. Depression, sleep problems, fast heartbeat, heat intolerance, weight loss and crying spells are just some of the symptoms she endures.

Additionally, poor women’s burdens are made worse because of their subordinate status in society. Societal norms and standards make them vulnerable to abuse. Women have to contend with society’s expectations on how women should behave and act in ways that are “proper”. Otherwise, society dictates that they deserve the violence inflicted on them. Violence against women is common in our society where sexualisation and commodification of women’s bodies are widely accepted but ironically puts women in a much disadvantaged position. There are also certain mental health disorders that are more common to women such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Women’s distorted ideas about their bodies are due to social beliefs on images and roles demanded of women in society. Women’s standards of beauty are that of models and beauty queens who must be fair, tall, thin and who must have bodies with “perfect” vital statistics. It is then no wonder why many women are conflicted contributing to their low self-image and worth.

All of the above social determinants of mental health are factors that make one more at risk to mental health disorders. The higher the social inequities, the higher vulnerability particular groups in society face.

Addressing our mental health concerns therefore entails not only tackling the issues of individuals facing mental health issues. It must in fact address the root causes of social inequalities that make marginalized segments in our society more vulnerable in suffering mental health disorders. A comprehensive program in tackling the issue is therefore of paramount importance. It cannot be denied that the prevalence of mental Illness in our country is a mere reflection of the social ills plaguing our society.

Understanding discrimination and violence vs women

Violence Against Women (VAW) in its different forms are gender-based abuses that target women in particular because of how they are viewed in society. It is one of the most palpable manifestations of women’s unequal status in relation to men in our society. Although VAW is usually perpetrated by males, it must be clear that VAW happens not because of the ridiculous belief that men are naturally violent and aggressive. The problem has its origin in our history, when the subjugation of women emerged in our society. It is systemic and deeply entrenched in the socio-cultural and political systems where both men and women accept the inequalities as realities of life.

Status of women in Pre-colonial Philippine

Pre-colonial Philippine records point to the fact that women enjoyed a high status in society prior to colonization except in areas in Mindanao where feudal-patriarchal values are already much ingrained. But in a major part of the Philippine archipelago, women played important roles that put them in a high social position. There were women priestesses (Manjajawaks, Babaylans and Catalonans) who held important rituals in communities as well as occupy political positions where they were warriors or village heads. Division of labour was based upon sex and age, but everyone played complementary and reciprocal roles which were spontaneous and natural. Each one performed tasks that complete the whole social cycle crucial for the survival of the communities. Sexual division of labor did not yet mean oppression of one by the other. Housework and agricultural production done collectively by women was as much valued as the hunting performed by males. Care for children was a collective responsibility. In traditional Ifugao society til recent past, community-sanctions against VAW were in place and these were community and not private affairs.

Spanish colonialist degraded women’s status

The feudal-patriarchal culture has been largely introduced by the Spanish colonialists in what has come to be established later as the Philippine nation. During this period, the ideal Filipina was Maria Clara – the meek, subservient, docile, weak, passive, defenseless, and vulnerable woman portrayed in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere who doesn’t have a mind of her own and relies on men for protection and decisions. The Spaniards institutionalized the oppression of women through laws and religious teachings. Women cannot own properties nor attend school. Their roles were relegated into the sidelights to the home, serving her husband and taking care of his children that were not as valued anymore. Even as they continued to work in the fields as peasants, their role in production became invisible and unrecognized because the colonizers and landlords only accepted the work performed by the head of the households who were males. Spanish Friars demonized the Babaylans as the “monstrous feminine.” (evil enchantresses endowed with black magic powers). Babaylan women were slaughtered, their bodies mutilated and fed to the crocodiles.

American colonialist brought the commodification of women

When the Americans came to colonize the Philippines in the 1900’s, they introduced the public school education system. However, they instituted the bourgeois-decadent culture where the “liberated” woman became the ideal. The Filipina began aspiring to become the white American woman whose reason for being was to become beautiful and appealing to men. They were portrayed as such for them to be saleable and profitable in the market. American companies started to promote commercial products in the Philippines, where women were used in advertisements portrayed as sex objects, who were beautiful even without brains just like in beauty pageants, and where their bodies became commodities with a price – the more titillating, the better for the saleability of the product. Then came the US military bases in Olongapo and Clark, pursuant to the 1947 Military Bases Agreement. Women around the areas where the American bases operated were peddled like meat. Prostitution then became widespread where women were used for the entertainment, satisfaction and as stress-relievers of the American servicemen.

Creation of the double-face image of the Filipina

This historical process resulted in the creation of the image of the double faced Filipina — on one side, the meek, weak and subservient woman personified by Maria Clara and on the other side the prostitute and temptress embodied by Magdalena. On one hand, is the women sheltered inside the home whose role is to serve the husband and bring about children who would later become his heirs and on the other hand the “liberated” woman illustrated as a sex symbol whose body can be used to sell products or bought with a hefty price more so if she can stimulate and excite the imagination of the male onlookers. These portrayals of women have been inculcated in the minds of every Filipino, deeply entrenched and passed on through several generations.

Perpetuation of unequal status through social institutions

The different social institutions such as the family, church, mass media, schools, laws and state machineries became the means for these to be accepted as norms. In mainstream society, even when children are yet unborn, they are already assigned gender roles. Parents select clothes which they think are appropriate for their kids’ gender. Pink is for girls, signifying femininity and blue for boys to indicate masculinity. When children are born and raised, they are introduced to toys for boys (truck, gun) and toys for girls (dolls, housewares), aggressive games for boys and nurturing play for girls because these are later to become their roles/tasks as men and women. And when they go to school and enter the university, there are assigned courses for boys – (analytical -Engineering) and girls (nurturing – Nurses, Teachers). The gender role stereotyping reinforces the belief that boys are different from girls and that masculinity and femininity must be standards that boys and girls must comply with otherwise they are looked upon as acting inappropriately. Men who act feminine are judged as “binabae or bakla” and women who act as men are “tomboys” which also put them in vulnerable situations because they are expected to compete with men. Even men who choose to do traditional roles of wives are belittled as “under the saya”.

And these are the images that have led the status of Filipino women to become secondary to men, discriminated against and vulnerable to gender violence. Their image as sex symbols and as women whose main role in society is to serve man’s needs and wants have been shown to increase people’s acceptance of gender role stereotyping where violence against women has also become accepted as something natural.

VAW as hidden crimes:

But the occurrence of VAW is invisible because they are actuality hidden crimes. Many victims choose not to talk about their personal experiences because of fear and the stigma that goes with these offenses and myths that blame the victim for the crime committed against her rather than these being seen as the perpetrator’s accountability. These crimes are further concealed because these are usually committed at home by intimate partners or by men close to them where women are threatened or made to feel guilty and even discouraged by family members from reporting to authorities or filing cases against their perpetrators because of the shame they might face. Thus these crimes remain invisible and unreported. Women victims of domestic violence also would rather stay in the abusive relationship believing that is best for their children, or it is rather shameful to have a broken marriage or even because she doesn’t have much of a choice since she is financially dependent on the husband.

Prevalence of VAW in the Philippines

Presently, even with the different declarations and passage of laws that should protect women from VAW, a lot is still wanting.

In 2012, the United nations reported over half of murdered women were perpetrated by partners or family members, and 120 million girls worldwide have been forced to have sex at some point in their lives.

In the Philippines, statistics on incidences of VAW are still high. In 2016, the Philippine National Police-Women and Children Protection Desks (PNP-WCPD) reported for that year alone, there were 9,916 cases of rape that were handled, a significant number (7,350) were committed against children. Moreover, the reported cases on violations of RA 9262 during the same year or the Anti Violence against Women and their children Act (Anti-VAWC) reached an appalling figure of 35,093. Acts of lasciviousness were experienced by 5,015 females, 60% among them were perpetrated against children.

Such occurrences are serious violations and cannot be disregarded and condoned by anyone. Thus, it is but right that appropriate measures be instituted in order to address these serious phenomena.

Addressing VAW

Sadly, inspite of the fact that Philippines being a signatory to various UN declarations advancing women’s rights; where several laws have been passed to address the various forms of VAW (Anti-rape Law, Anti Sexual harassment Act, Anti VAWC Law) and the enactment of the Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710), said to be a landmark law that would supposedly address women’s multiple issues, these efforts have not really substantially resolved the unequal status of women vis-a-vis men in the Philippines. A lot is still wanting.

In a report of World Economic Forum on Global Gender Gap, the Philippines ranks seventh in the world and number one in Asia of being gender inclusive, assumed to be addressing considerably the gender gap, However, this does not actually translate to women’s improved status and conditions. In the same report, it states that government has not fully bridged the gender gap in both economic participation and political empowerment. While the report says that there were substantial changes for the better on the status of women in managerial positions, women now outnumbering males and wages received now higher for women, they comprise a negligible number and do not reflect the overall change in women’s status since majority among women in our society belong to marginalized classes, the peasants and workers.

Addressing women’s status therefore cannot be merely done through signing of declarations and enacting regulations and rules. Of course, these are big leaps that women have achieved as they fought for these to change women’s status in society. We cannot account them however to be the decisive factors. Even if we have the best laws if there is no political will to implement them, much more those in power don’t actually have the sincerity in addressing women’s concerns, especially among the poor and most marginalized segments in Philippine society, these become just empty accomplishments and have no meaning for majority of our women. And if gender equality is achieved only among the rich, we cannot speak of it as significant to the greater number of Filipino women who are poor. Economic and political gains for a few women cannot reflect advancements on the majority of the population of women who are poor and deprived. The general conditions of the impoverished must then be substantially changed for these to be relevant for majority of our women.

Likewise, the resolution of VAW is more than just instituting regulations and rules. For even if we imprison each and every perpetrator, the problem will not be substantially addressed for as long as mind-set of the people remain unchanged on how women are looked upon. VAW will definitely persist for so long as women remain oppressed in society and the context why these phenomena occur remains unchanged.

Decisive resolution

The discrimination against women and gender based violence thus can only be resolved when the context by which inequality persists is comprehensively and decisively resolved. This means getting to the bottom of the fundamental issues that women as well as men face. First and foremost their concerns on impoverishment, landlessness, lack of livelihood and jobs must be addressed. For if these issues are not tackled, even if women and men become equal, then we have only settled one aspect of the issue but not the issue on the inequality between classes which is also crucial for majority of women in Philippine society. What relevance is there for them if they become equal but both will still live in poverty and in oppression?

Women must then arouse, organize, be vigilant and take action together with men not only to address gender inequality but much more work for fundamental changes on the socio-economic and political situation in our country that address impoverishment and marginalization of the people to deliver significant changes on the conditions of women. It will only be when these have been accomplished can we say that women have achieved full equality in society. #nordis.net

Aguja, H.J. 2013. The Filipino Woman: A Gendered History. The Mindanao Forum. Vol. 26 No.1 https://ejournals.ph/article.php?id=7122
Perez, E. N.2013. Philippine Women’s Role and Gender Equality.
Saldua, A.D.I.R. 2012. The Role of Women from Pre-Hispanic to Spanish Era. Tonks. UP Open University. https://tonkshistory.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/the-role-of-women-from-pre-hispanic-to-spanish-era/
Torralba-Titgemeyer, L.S. La Mujer Indigena – The Native Woman, A description of the Filipino Woman during Pre-Spanish Time,
World Economic Forum, Gender Gap Report 2016
World Economic Forum, Gender Gap Report 2017
PNP-WCPD 2016 Report on Incidences of VAW
VAW Report UN 2012

Retracing the True Beginnings of IDEVAW

November 25 marks a very important date for women the world over. Waves of critical events transpired on this particular date bringing to the fore violence against women as a legitimate societal concern in turn engendering awareness towards this issue.

On December 17, 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated this date as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW). Since then, UN member states begun celebrating this date defining strategies “to end violence against women, empower women, and achieve gender equality”.

However, it is not really to UN’s credit nor to governments celebrating this day around the world why the issue of VAW started to be given fundamental importance. Way before UN countries formally recognized this historic event, commemorations had long been taking place organized by women activists who had grasped the real meaning behind this date.

IDEVAW started as a venue for paying tribute to three courageous women who were clubbed, strangled and beaten to death by security forces of then Dominican Republic’s president Gen. Rafael Trujillo on November 25, 1960 after they came from prison to visit their husbands who were themselves
imprisoned by the dictator.

Patria Mercedes, Maria Argentina Minerva and Antonia Maria Teresa, more popularly known as the Mirabal sisters were born to a family of middle class farmers in a rural community in the Dominican Republic. At a period when it wasn’t ordinary for women to finish schooling, they were able to earn themselves their college degrees. For this, they became the honor of their hometown. Their education however was not just confined inside the classroom. They were able to raise their awareness on the social realities of their country as well.

Minerva, the youngest among the three, took up law but she was denied her license to practice for she outrightly rejected the romantic advances of Trujillo. Trujillo reportedly threatened her stating: “What if I send my subjects to conquer you?” To this, the brave Minerva responded, “And what if I conquer your subjects?”

Also, while others would give utmost priority to their families, the sisters took on a wider calling. Patria, the eldest among the three sisters articulated their sentiment about this matter- “We cannot allow our children to grow up in this corrupt and tyrannical regime. We have to fight against it, and I am willing to give up everything, even my life if necessary.”

The three sisters established the group known as the “Movement of the Fourteenth of June,” named after the date of the massacre earlier witnessed by one of the siblings. It was a clandestine popular resistance movement which fought the dictatorial rule of Trujillo. They went by the name “Las Mariposas” or The Butterflies, their pseudonym in the underground which later became the symbol of resistance in their country.

On several occasions, Trujillo gave orders for the harassment, arrest and imprisonment of the Las Mariposas. But they did not waiver, ready to sacrifice even their lives for the cause. Teresa contended, “Perhaps what we have most near is death, but that idea does not frighten me. We shall continue to fight for that which is just.”

And it was their uncompromising position against the dictatorship that led to their cruel demise. But their violent death did not break the resistance. Instead, it ignited further spurring many more to join the movement. Consequently, it led to the end of the Trujillo dictatorship 6 months after the hideous death of these noble women.

In this important occasion of honoring the “Las Mariposas”, it is essential to go back to the real essence of celebrating International Day to End Violence Against Women. IDEVAW when it was first celebrated as an event which commemorated these valiant women who led a resistance movement against a corrupt and tyrannical government. It was an occasion which underscored state perpetrated violence against women as a grave crime. The celebration of their lives yielded the campaign to resist violence committed against women, in the context of the advancement of women’s rights and for social transformation.

For the past decades, UN and many among UN member-states, including the Philippines started to recognize VAW as a matter of concern leading to formulations of policies towards tackling this issue. Domestic and sexual violence, and other forms of VAW perpetrated against women at home, in schools, in the workplace and in the streets begun to be legally recognized as crimes against women. It must however be stressed that these achievements were not just handed over to women on a silver platter. VAW became acknowledged as a legitimate concern because of women’s painstaking struggles. These are gains of the women’s movement in the campaign to end VAW.#