CONTRARY to what corporate Makati feared as yet another anti-GMA rally, the thousands who marched in the streets of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas on March 8 were there primarily to celebrate International Women’s Day.
Women of different political groups and professions were present at the March. Major groups joined forces under the banner “Martsa ng Kababaihan”. Also gracing this event were non-allied groups like United Forces of the Middle Class, university students, and men who, probably like Former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, “joined the crusade for respect for women”.
Predictably, sentiments against “that woman in Malacañang” could not be kept out of the celebration. Themed “A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE STRUGGLE”, calls for the ouster of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could be heard throughout the stretch of Ayala Avenue, and later in the Ninoy Aquino Monument where the program was held at 5 p.m.
It was, however, not your typical anti-GMA rally.
A montage of red, pink and purple flags were hoisted by protesters wearing solid women’s colors, colourful hats and bandanas, and marching at the beat of the drums making the event look like a parade.
Banners carried creative protest lines like “Evil in the Palace” by Alab Katipunan, inspired by the famous Korean drama series “Jewel in the Palace”, with the bearers wearing masks of President Arroyo, House Speaker Jose de Venecia and former President Fidel V. Ramos. Absent were the usual political speeches that marked protest actions; and in its place were poems like Mila Aguilar’s “Babae ba si Satanas?” (Is Satan a Woman?), choral recitations, and songs, sprinkled with political innuendos.
Aside from being colourful and creative, with an estimated 10,000 attendees, this was also by far the biggest protest action since the rescinding of Proclamation 1017.
Perhaps what made the event similar to other rallies was the presence of over 100 anti-riot cops ready to disperse the crowd should there be signs of violence. At 7 p.m. the protesters quietly dispersed as the permit to rally expired at this time.
Following is the statement of unity prepared by the different women’s groups for the march:
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of ordinary women to participate in society on an equal footing with men. In ancient Greece, Lysistrata initiated a sexual strike against men in order to end war; during the French Revolution, Parisian women calling for “liberty, equality, fraternity” marched on Versailles to demand women’s suffrage. In 1909, the first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on 28 February. The Socialist Party of America designated March 8 in honor of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions.
In the Philippines, IWD has been a marking point for many women’s groups to look again at the courageous ‘herstory’ of our foremothers who joined the anti-colonialist struggles and for independence and women’s right to suffrage. In the 1970s at the height of the tyrannical rule of the Marcos regime, many women from all social classes joined hands to actively support the anti-dictatorship struggle. In 1983, when Ninoy Aquino was murdered by the elements of the dictatorship, thousands of women poured into the streets and bravely marched despite the ban on rallies and demonstrations by the Marcos government. That march marked the dramatic resistance of women and their allies against the dictatorship. That march started the open brave defiance against the dictatorship, and proved to be a milestone in the history of the Filipino people’s reclaiming of our democratic rights. That march was a beacon to the resistance movements against a dictatorship.
Today, March 8, 2006, women are once more defying another repressive government, that of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s. Despite the lifting of Proclamation 1017 which declared a State of National Emergency, the intimidation, harassment and curtailment of human rights continue: six legislators, among them, Representative Liza Masa, continue to be technically under arrest for supposed charges of rebellion and sedition, old charges that are clearly dug up to make an example of what GMA and her cohorts could do. The media continues to be threatened and charges have been filed against some media outfits. Activists and critics of the GMA administration are harassed, intimidated and even murdered. Human rights are grossly violated. GMA has time and again stated that she would not hesitate to reinstate the State of National Emergency if she thinks that the “national interest” is put to risk. Yet she herself has said that the alleged coup plots against her administration have been nipped in the bud, and that everything is under control.
Women are asking: whose national interest is being protected? Is the national interest that of the working class women, the peasant women, women from urban and rural poor communities? Is Gloria’s national interest the same interest of women and men who are desperate for decent employment, adequate income for the growing millions of poor households? Is Gloria’s interest that of the State and its citizens or is it that of her desperate attempts to stay in power despite the growing clamor for her to step down?
There can only be peace and genuine democracy when the GMA administration relinquishes its power that has been under question for many months now. The legitimacy of her governance has been shadowed by the scandals of the Garci tapes, the disenchantment of a restive military who witnessed the electoral fraud, the controversy surrounding the misuse of public funds for GMA to stay in power, the corruption of her administration, the gross violation of human rights against women and men whose freedom of speech and rights to assembly and association have been gagged by labeling them as “communists, “terrorists,” economic saboteurs. This is plain and simple harassment and intimidation. It is the response of a regime under siege.
Under GMA’s term, gender concerns such as equality and equity and basic issues to women such as reproductive health and rights have found no place. In her 10-point development priority, none of these are of GMA’s concerns. The National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, the institution that is supposed to ensure that gender concerns are addressed through gender responsive policies has one of the smallest budgets in the bureaucracy. Despite the 25th year of the celebration of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women or CEDAW, to which the Philippine Government is a signatory, the fundamental rights of women remain a pipedream to millions of women who are daughters, wives, mothers to millions of households.
Women are the reproducers of our nation, the reproducers of life itself!
We have every right to be heard and to demand what is just.
We demand that she as head of the nation be held accountable for the continuing impoverishment of women and their families.
We demand that the GMA administration be held accountable for the female face of migration and poverty.
We demand that the GMA administration be held responsible for the hundreds of violations against overseas women migrants by nationals of receiving countries of millions of OFWs whose bulk are women. Filipino women migrants continue to suffer the effects of migration to their families that include separation from their own children and loved ones, their vulnerability to various forms of violence while in overseas work.
We demand that the GMA administration be held accountable for the thousands of deaths of mothers and wives who die because of lack of reproductive health services because of her staunch right-wing ultra conservative anti-women and anti-choice stance on women’s reproductive rights.
Women have become more vulnerable to disasters, natural or man-made, as experienced by those in the Ultra tragedy and Southern Leyte mudslide.1 But GMA is tragedy herself as she imposes her anti-poor, anti-people mining and logging policies.
More than ever, we demand that GMA steps down, for the sake of our millions of women and their families whose quality of life has deteriorated over the years of her insensitive, anti-women, anti poor policies and programs.
We demand that GMA steps down for her gross violation of women’s human rights as enshrined in international conventions for which her administration should be held accountable.
We demand that a truly gender responsive development policies and programs be established that respect, protect and promote women’s human rights.
We call on our people to install a genuine pro-women, pro-people and pro-poor democratic institutions! In these trying times, a woman’s place is in the struggle for a gender sensitive gender fair and genuine peace, security and democracy not for a few but for the majority of our women and their families and communities.