Women’s groups slam government’s role in increasing cases of violence against women

“As wars and development aggression ravage our world, rape as a tool of war and imperialist expansion is used as a tactic of submission against women who resist.” – International Women’s Alliance


MANILA — Through fora, symposia, film showings and other activities, women’s advocacy groups and research institutions discussed women’s issues all over the Philippines and celebrated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25. They joined the rest of the international community in commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which was designated by the United Nations in 1999.

“Any case of a woman or child being battered, raped, tortured or incarcerated anywhere in the world, no matter what her skin color, belief or race, should be denounced by the whole of humanity. As Filipino women stand up to fight violence against fellow Filipino women and children, including human rights violations and state repression, we should also stand up in solidarity with women across all continents who are victims of VAW (violence against women and children),” they said.

Various Gabriela chapters and allied organizations led activities in communities and schools to increase public awareness on issues of VAW and to call for support for the One Billion Rising campaign, an international campaign to end violence against women and children.

“We stand in solidarity with all the women of the world who face violence. We will continue fighting for the day when violence against women anywhere in this planet will no longer be tolerated. As our collective voices gather volume and the women’s movement increases in momentum, we seek justice for all victims of state violence under the Aquino government’s Oplan Bayanihan, and will work harder to end impunity in the Philippines and elsewhere,” Ilagan and de Jesus said.

Increasing number of Vaw cases

In Davao City, the women’s research institute Women Studies and Resource Center – Southern Mindanao Region said incidents of VAW continue to increase in the city despite it being the first in the country to pass a local women’s code, Women Development Code of Davao City (Ordinance No. 5004) in July 27, 1998. The group said the consistent rise in incidences of VAW cases presents a challenge to the city in its the efforts to achieve women’s empowerment and improve women’s status.

Data from the Women and Children Protection Desk (WCPD) Davao indicate that there has been a steady increase in VAWC (violence against women and children) cases reported since the passage of RA 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act in 2004. From 184 cases (2004), VAW cases in Davao filed rose to 422 (2005), 815 (2006), 1034 (2007), 1155 (2008), 1634 (2010), and 1450 (2011). This is an average increase of nearly 800 percent within an eight-year period.

The centre also noted that Region 11 or Southern Mindanao has the highest incidence of VAW cases, claiming a third or 34 percent of total national incidence.

In 2012, from January to October, 1391 domestic violence cases have been reported to the police in Davao City. This means 139 cases per month, five cases per day, or one case filed every five hours. Domestic violence remains the most prevalent form of gender violence among women. Sexual harassment is the second most reported form with 22 cases; while rape is third with 20 cases.

Leah Emily Miñoza, WSRC-SMR executive director, said the spike in VAWC cases for the last eight years points to an increasing awareness and assertiveness among women to file cases.

“At the same time, however, it is a grim reminder of how VAW continues and how true equality and empowerment for women are impeded by VAW,” she said.

The number of violence against children (VAC) cases filed has also alarmed the group. While reported rape among women has gone down, the rape of minors (under 12 years of age) or statutory rape has soared 3,300 percent in four years’ time, from one reported case in 2009 to 33 in 2012. In the meantime, eight cases of sexual harassment of children were reported every month.

“The passage of local and national laws has helped women and the general public break its silence about VAW but it has not eradicated the violence. The social and political causes of VAW remain. Systemic beliefs and perceptions about women as objects and occupying a lower position in society remain unchanged. Poverty exacerbates women’s vulnerability to violence,” Miñoza said. “Impunity and victim-blaming averts women’s struggle to access legal and judicial mechanisms to stop violence. A prominent case in Davao City would be that of Karen Vertido, who filed a case with the UN after failing to get justice for rape.”

Poverty feeds VAW

Women are also not spared from heinous human rights violence perpetrated by agents of the government.
According to the human rights group Karapatan, out of the 114 victims of extrajudicial killings under the Benigno Aquino III administration (July 2010 to September 30, 2012 data), 15 are women and girl-children, with the Capion massacre as the latest in the string of killings.

The group also cited the cases of Marilou Valle, an urban poor leader in Tondo who was killed by village watchmen in collusion with the police; Rodilyn Aguirre, an eight-year old Tumandok, who was killed by grenade fired from a nearby military detachment; and that of Asmayrah Usman and Gailly Miraato, Moro girl-children who were killed due to military operations in Mindanao.

Still in Davao City, the Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) said there is a direct connection between the rising number cases of violence against women in the region, worsening poverty and the intensifying military operations in communities.
GWP-SMR spokeswomen Mary An Sapar said social problems that cause VAW and all forms of gender violence have not been addressed. She said the increase in the number of VAW cases indicates unchanged feudal and patriarchal beliefs in society where women are still viewed and considered as objects or property.

“VAW cases affect women of all social classes, but it’s the women from the most impoverished sectors who are more vulnerable to violence,” she said.

Sapar also said rising levels of unemployment and the continuing implementation of anti-labor policies such as contractualization force many women off the employment ladder.

“Household budgets are drained and women are driven by poverty to make ends meet. They fall victim to unscrupulous pimps, sex traffickers, and illegal recruiters. Many women are forced into prostitution because of economic need,” she said.

Based on latest reports, around 4,000 women and children are currently involved in prostitution in Davao City alone. Some 54 cases of sex trafficking were also recorded from January to September 2012, of which nearly all were minors, 13 to 17 years of age.

GWP also launched the “Hayhayan sa Kababayen-an Batuk sa Kapintas ug Kalisud” in Freedom Park Davao City. They hung old shirts painted or printed with symbols representing the government’s “seven deadly sins against women.”

The “hayhayan” will reiterate that violence against women is a public crime and should be spoken out against instead of being kept private.

Militarization adds to gender violence

The continued presence of military forces in communities is also being blamed for the increasing number of VAW cases.

Gabriela-SMR said where there are military forces in large numbers, the number of human rights violations also increases, including VAW.

“Aside from having the most number of reported VAWC cases in the country, Southern Mindanao is also the most militarized region, with three divisions and 21 military battalions deployed in communities. We have been adamant about telling the military to leave Paquibato and other civilian communities. Violations against International Humanitarian Law continue to mount; these violations also make women and children vulnerable to abuses like rape, sexual abuse, harassment and even extrajudicial killing,” Sapar insisted.

Karapatan has noted that the Aquino government’s Oplan Bayanihan counter-insurgency program has resulted in many cases of rape against women, including minors. Cases documented by the Gabriela include the rape of a 16-year old by a Capt. Danilo Lalin in Mankayan; the gang rape of a 17 -year-old by three members of the 16th IB in Rizal identified as OFC Alexander O. Barzaga, PFC Ronnie Q. Castro and PVT Rocky H. Domingo; and the rape of a 13 year-old girl by her uncle who is a member of the paramilitary unit Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit.

“The longer the military stays in our communities, the more susceptible our women and children are to violence. We reiterate our call for soldiers to remove themselves from our communities,” Sapar said.

The women’s rights group Tanggol Bayi has also criticized Pres. Aquino’s “deafening but pregnant silence” on the killings and other rights violations against women human rights defenders.

The group cited the government’s “lackadaisical” approach to the issue of the standing warrant of arrest of ex-Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan for the abduction, rape and disappearance of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, after nearly a year since the warrant of arrest was issued based on the charges filed by the mother of the two women.

“The Aquino government, with empty macho braggadocio, claims it has more than enough laws to protect and promote women’s rights and it has signed all the international instruments regarding women. These laws and treaties are nothing but mere paper if the government does not give an ounce of recognition to the rights violations committed by its state security forces against women and it fails to give them justice,” said the group’s spokeswoman Cristina Palabay.

Slow wheels of the justice system

On Nov. 23, women protesters held a picket in front of the Department of Justice in Manila to slam the legal system’s failure to address VAW.

“The snail-paced course of justice in this country multiplies the trauma for victims and their families a hundredfold and contributes to the perpetuation of the culture of impunity,” Ilagan said. She shook her head over the slow resolution of high profile cases including the Maguindanao massacre, the Cadapan-Empeño abduction and the rape and extrajudicial killings of women and children involving armed government elements.

“Perpetrators are emboldened with the way our justice system works. It’s not surprising that the incidence of crime and violence victimizing women and children continue to rise, and that cases are becoming more brutal and more heinous,” said Ilagan noting the recent spate of rape-slay cases involving young women such as UP Los Banos student Victoria Reyes, University of Sto. Tomas graduate Cyrish Magalang, who was killed in Cavite, and television model and talent Julie Rodelas.

Ilagan argued that many victims are unable to shoulder the exorbitant legal costs in the country, and the process of pursing justice takes several years and even decades.”

“Many end up being disheartened, especially since most cases of violence including rape and trafficking take several years to resolve. We demand a judiciary that is more responsive in addressing the violence perpetrated against women and children,” she said.

Ilagan said the continued failure to resolve piles of cases filed in various courts and the continued implementation of Oplan Bayanihan that gives police and military elements the license to violate, abuse and rape, make the Aquino government an obvious accessory to the perpetuation of violence and the culture of impunity.

Support for women and children of Palestine

The International Women’s Alliance (IWA) also commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women by declaring its support for the Palestinian people in Gaza who continue to suffer relentless air strikes and other military attacks by Israel. Reports continue to come out that Israeli military forces have not stopped targeting civilian areas and social institutions despite global condemnation.

“The mothers, sisters, and daughters of Gaza are constantly subjected to punishment because they stand with their people in asserting their right to exist as Palestinians, with the same fundamental rights as all people. We at IWA condemn the Israeli state and demand that it end its plans of ground invasion and its continued occupation of the Palestinian territory. We equally condemn the United States, Canada and other governments for supporting the Israeli military campaign inflicted on the people of Gaza. The destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, and other social institutions under the guise of counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism is unacceptable, and can only result in the intensification of violence against the Palestinian civilian population, particularly the women and children,” the group said.

IWA chairwoman Liza Maza said women are often at the forefront of resistance efforts against military aggression and anti- people, so-called development projects.

“Women of indigenous communities, in remote rural areas, being pushed out by bulldozers, poisoned by mine tailings and criminalized or shot when they try to resist. As defenders of the land, women are often on the front lines of the resistance. Women’s organizations in our network have staged courageous opposition to large-scale foreign mining from Ecuador to Guatemala, Mexico to the Philippines.

In indigenous communities in Canada, they are at the barricades in Barrier Lake, in Akwasasne and in Northern Quebec trying to stop the takeover of their land and resources. They face criminalization, harassment, prison and even death,” she said.

IWA also said that where there is large-scale mining, there is militarization.

“And where there is militarization, there is a rise in gender-based violence against women from assault and rape to murder,” said the group’s secretary general Marie Boti.

“As wars and development aggression ravage our world, rape as a tool of war and imperialist expansion is used as a tactic of submission against women who resist. There exists a direct relationship between sexual gender-based violence, racism, and colonialism in which sexual assault becomes a tool of domination and displacement that we continue to see in communities facing occupation, communities fighting to defend their ancestral domains, and in communities that possess untapped natural resources,” she said.

Extrajudicial killing (EJK) is one of the most profound methods of silencing resistance or opposition. Despite international criticisms, governments and their armed forces along with paramilitary troops and the police commit EJKs in the Palestinian territories and in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Philippines, and in countries of Latin America and Africa.

The Philippines ranks at the top of the list of countries in Asia with the most number of EJK victims, which includes 156 women since 2001. In Pakistan, approximately 140 political activists, journalists and students had been killed in 2010 alone. Indigenous women of Guatemala and Mexico are also victims of EJK and enforced disappearance.

Finally, IWA said that it will join the One Billion Rising Campaign, to draw attention to the fact that “1 in 3 women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime” and as further stated on the V-day website www.onebillionrising.org/, “One billion women violated is an atrocity. One billion women dancing is a revolution”. (https://www.bulatlat.com)