KASAMA Vol. 11 No. 2 / April-May-June 1997 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

"Dagger In Her Mind"

Filipino Women in 1996 by Agnes Morada Ilagan

There is a spectre haunting Philippine society. The spectre of Filipino women: their images as survivors and as revolutionaries struggling against their images as victims.

With the marked increase in the brutality of crimes against women in 1996 was the remarkable intensity in the struggle of Filipino women for survival and to take issue against a patriarchal structure.

One image that comes to mind is Karen Vertido. Karen Vertido’s rape case became celebrated not only because it involved rich and influential families. It became a celebrated case because it revealed that the wheels of justice are inimical to the plight of Filipino women as they are controlled by lustful men in power.

Karen’s case was dismissed allegedly for lack of probable cause. Instead of castigating the perpetrator, Karen was made guilty. Prosecutors maintained the long–held male view that Karen could have resisted because she is a well-educated, articulate, "decent," and married woman. As if women who are well-educated, articulate, decent, and married cannot be raped.

Another image is that of SIBOL, a women’s group pushing for the passage of the Anti-Rape Bill. SIBOL won in the Senate when rape became a public crime against person. Likewise, when the Senate version provided for penalizing marital rape. SIBOL’s active lobbying in Congress can also be considered a victory since the public was able to see the true colors of congressmen. [See page 8 for an update on the anti-rape bill’s progress …Eds.]

Male members of the Lower House have consistently opposed passage of the bill as revised by the Senate. Most of them even used Islam to justify so-called inconsistencies with the House of Representatives version. They even threatened to cut the budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) when the agency took up the cause of an 11 year–old female victim–survivor against their colleague, Rep. Romeo Jalosjos.

Gov. Fariñas is not unlike that of Jalosjos. Fariñas’ victim, his wife, Maria Theresa Carlson, revealed that men in power can be as violent inside their families as within the confines of their public office. While Carlson continues to be in bondage to Fariñas, her brave coming-out last October put domestic violence as a public issue.

Kalakasan spoke out on Carlson’s case. "She is a product of a community and a government that not only tolerates but also nurtures a breed of men who are emotionally depraved but politically powerful; a breed of men who see themselves as beyond the law; a breed of men who treat other human beings like fodder for their insatiable macho egos."

A breed of men like the policemen-husbands who allegedly mauled to death their wives, Veronica Marcos and Lina Labong. Their cases and Carlson’s add to the 6,069 battered women cases noted in a study by the Institute of Social Studies and Social Action.

This structure operated and maintained by the Ramos government is one cause for the outbreak of violence committed against Filipino women. And for the continuing image of women as lesser beings, mere object of lust and beatings.

Studies by the DSWD revealed that some 616 girls were victims of incest in 1995. The agency added that 70 percent of these cases involved were repeated abuse.

In Baguio, most of these abused children have one or both parents working abroad. These girls are left in the care of their male relatives who molest them. A particular image that comes to mind is that of Vikki, a girl from Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, who ended up working in one of the city’s beerhouses. She said that 15 other girls she works with are also victims of incest.

Sexual and physical violence is but one of the numerous violations of women’s rights.

A Korean shoe factory in the Bataan Export Processing Zone (BEPZ) dismissed 32 women workers because they were pregnant. Management alleged that these women workers misled the company because they forged their civil status. According to the workers’ lawyer, this is a lame excuse. The bottom line is the company’s refusal to provide maternity benefits to workers.

The family has become unsafe for women. Likewise production lines. One would hope to find justice and compassion at least from the Roman Catholic Church. But no.

The Roman Catholic Church upholds the notion that women do not have the right to be ordained as priests. It also continuously upholds the use of women as reproductive machines rather than recognize and respect Filipino women’s reproductive rights.

If Philippine society is as malevolent for women, so are other societies women migrants escape to.

Kanlungan has recorded more than 25 cases of mysterious and violent deaths of women migrant workers in 1996. This is conservative considering that OWWA pegs three Filipino migrant workers come home dead everyday. The Bureau of Quarantine at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport reports that 40 OCW remains are repatriated every week. Considering that fifty percent of these are women, we can deduce that one woman migrant worker is among those returning back to the country in a coffin.

The image of dead women migrant workers haunted the Philippine government in 1996. Names and faces became a spectre to officials profiting from migrant labor but abdicating responsibility in providing for their welfare and protection.

Reprinted from: T.N.T. No.15, Oct/Dec 1996, the newsletter of Kanlungan Center Foundation Inc, 77K 10th Street, Kamias, Quezon City, Philippines

The title of this article is from the poem, "Dagger in My Mind," written by feminist-poet Khalileh Forooz. She wrote the poem in protest against the closure of schools for girls and the punishment of some 225 women for violating dress code in Afghanistan.