On International Women’s Day, progressive groups said the Philippine government is battling the impacts of the COVID-19 as if it were only yesterday that the pandemic began.
By REIN TARINAY and JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Filipino progressives marched to Mendiola, a stone throw away from the presidential palace today, International Women’s Day, to decry the rampant joblessness, hunger, poverty, and human rights violations as the Philippine government continues to grapple with the impacts of the pandemic, a women’s group said.
“The Duterte government has failed miserably in protecting the people from the virus. All it has done is to implement a prolonged militarist lockdown that is already impacting heavily on the livelihood and economic security of the people, with women being the majority of those left unemployed, job insecure, and dealing with hunger and poverty,” said Joms Salvador, secretary general of women’s group Gabriela.
The Center for Women’s Resources earlier noted that the number of Filipino women considered as economically insecure has climbed by 3.5 million in 2020, or about 20 million in total, following the loss of jobs, absence of due social protection, and the continuing neoliberal policies that have long been detrimental to the poor even before the pandemic.
Under the scorching heat, women activists led today’s protest action at the foot of the historic Mendiola bridge. In a symbolic action, they destroyed President Duterte’s effigy, a 10-foot “Dutertutaka,” which they hit with their frying pans, bolos, and disinfectants.
“Ordinary Filipinos cannot keep up with the crisis we are in,” Salvador said during the protest action.
Social protection is wanting
Instead of providing due social protection amid the pandemic, Gabriela said the Duterte administration merely forced people to follow restrictions on mobility or ran the risk of getting killed.
“This is a government that reigns with violence and rights suppression than heed people’s legitimate demands for rights and welfare,” Salvador said.
During the protest actions, progressives brought with them calls for the P10,000 cash subsidy for displaced workers and P100 emergency wage relief to workers. Groups also called for accessible health care, including access to free and safe vaccines.
Joining in the protest action were displaced workers of a pizza chain in the Philippines, where they called for the reinstatement of 374 illegally terminated Shakey’s workers purportedly due to the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic must not be used to legitimize the massive retrenchment of workers who have served their Company for the longest time now,” said Christian Lloyd Magsoy, Defend Jobs Philippines spokesperson.
Filipino migrant workers are also not spared from retrenchments or sudden termination of contracts. Gabriela’s chapter in Hongkong said migrant domestic workers whose contracts were terminated end up without shelter or food and are “neglected by their very own government, discriminated against in the country hosting them, and more often abused by their employers.”
ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro said women who are pushing for changes are being targeted in the government counterinsurgency program. Women teachers, she added, are not spared from being subjected to harassment, and even victims of trumped-up cases.
Two women workers and peasant organizers were arrested and one woman peasant organizer were killed in a series of a government crackdown on activists in the Southern Tagalog during the so-called “Bloody Sunday” yesterday.
Read: ‘Bloody Sunday’ spells killings, mass arrests in Southern Tagalog
“We celebrate the women who strive for change for the good of every woman and man in our society. More so, we celebrate the international day of Women by continuing to fight for the rights of every woman, child, and man especially in these trying times when our own government targets and silences its critics and activists demanding just and lasting peace especially amid a global pandemic,” Castro said in a statement.
Policemen in fatigue uniform and elements of the Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) threatened to disperse the protesters, banging their shields with truncheons and positioning a fire truck in front of the protesters.
Salvador said they did not need the police to implement physical distancing, as several marshalls held placards reminding their colleagues to observe health protocols.