PHILIPPINES: No End in Sight to Violence, Poverty and Deprivation Afflicting Filipino Women

Thursday, December 23, 2010
South Eastern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding
Human Rights

It has been said that the conditions of women and children reflect the state of affairs of that country. Thus, when President Benigno Aquino III declared in his inaugural address last June 30 that his administration would take a righteous path, that path should lead to the betterment of the conditions of women and children.

The Philippines ranked number nine in the recent Gender Gap Index published by the World Economic Forum (WEF). However, Lana Linaban, secretary general of Gabriela, said the country's ranking among the top 10 countries where women are “empowered” is not reflective of the true state of Filipino women. She said that while the WEF's finding that more Filipino women are visible in the field of politics and more women have high educational attainment is true, the WEF failed to dig deeper into the situation of women. She said even women from the upper classes of society become victims of violence against women.

The Global Gender Gap Index that was developed in 2006 used Gender Gap subindexes such as economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.

While more women are in the forefront of politics and the struggle to uphold women's rights, still, there are many women whose rights are being violated, be it in their own communities, houses, and workplaces. Even the government violates the rights of women.

Violence Against Women

It is ironic that despite the passage of laws that protect the rights and welfare of women, cases of violence against women are still prevalent. The number of victims is rising, and the types and levels of violence are worsening.

The gang rape of 21-year old volunteer nurse Florence in South Upi, Maguindanao is a reflection of the level of brutality that women experience in the country. Florence was abducted and raped by a group of men last September 25. The next day, Sept. 26, Florence was found naked and unconscious in a cornfield.

Florence sustained a severe head injury; the right side of her body is paralyzed. She also experienced memory loss. Worse, she is suffering from a deep psychological trauma. Reports said she has difficulties sleeping at night and has often been seen crying.

Before Florence, there is Jessica, 25 years old, who was forcibly taken at random along Quezon Avenue and raped by three men. Gabriela also recorded cases of rape victimizing minors. Two girls, 14 and 17 years old, were raped at a resort in Negros Occidental. A 13-year old girl was also reported to have been repeatedly raped by a group of men, seven of whom were high school students.

According to the data of the National Statistics Office, in the Philippines, at least one out of five women aged 15 to 49 have been violently violated since age five. The Philippine National Police-Women and Children Protection Center (PNP-WCPC) recorded 9,485 cases of violence against women and children in 2009. Of these, 960 were cases of sexual harassment, an increase from the 907 cases in 2008. There were 3,081 reported cases of rape in 2009 while in the first half of 2010 alone there were already 1,724 cases.

There are existing laws that protect women such as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 or Republic Act (RA) 7877 [2]; Anti-Rape Law or RA 8353 [3] that classified rape as a crime against persons; and Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 or RA 9208. A Magna Carta of Women was also passed in August 2009. The Magna Carta of Women “is a comprehensive women's human rights law that seeks to eliminate discrimination against women by recognizing, protecting, fulfilling and promoting the rights of Filipino women, especially those in the marginalized sectors.”

Despite Existing Laws, Violence against Women Continue

In a privilege speech delivered by Gabriela Women's Party (GWP) Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan at the House of Representatives last Nov. 24, she mentioned that at least 50 percent of the cases reported to Migrante International by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) involved rape, sexual molestation, harassment and other forms of violence victimizing women OFWs.

Ilagan also said more and more women forced to take the graveyard shift in various economic zones, as well as in Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) and call centers in the country are subjected to conditions that are unsafe and extremely vulnerable to rape and other forms of gender violence.

Worse, the road to justice for women victims is fraught with obstacles and difficulties. Just recently, the case filed by actress Katrina Halili against Hayden Kho for violation of Republic Act 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act was dismissed by Judge Rodolfo Bonifacio of the Pasig Regional Trial Court Branch 159 . In 2009, Halili filed a case against Kho for videotaping their sexual act without her knowledge and uploading it on the internet. In his 10-page decision, Judge Rodolfo Bonifacio said the prosecution failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove that Halili was unaware that they were being videotaped while having sex.

The dismissal of the civil and criminal suit filed by Halili reflects the court's lack of awareness on the intricacies of violence against women (VAW), said Gabriela in a statement. Jovita Montes, director of Gabriela Health and Services Department added that, “By dismissing the case against Kho, the court is sending the message that it is easy to get away with abusing women. The decision is disturbing especially in the light of the increasing incidences of VAW in the country, including the uploading on the internet of videos or photos of women engaged in private acts.”

How could the government ensure the protection of women? Despite several laws that were passed, the number of victims is still rising. The GWP believes that the dire situation of women in society is reflective of the pervasive thinking that women are mere objects that can be abused for men's and society's gratification. This situation of women, Gabriela and GWP said, reflects an existing unequal power relations between men and women and the inequities in the prevailing socio-economic structure in many countries such as the Philippines.

The Struggle for a Comprehensive Reproductive Health Bill

Another issue affecting Filipino women is the sore lack of reproductive health services. Gabriela and GWP find it unfortunate that the debate over the proposed reproductive health bill centers around the issue of population control, with the Aquino government and the Catholic Church currently in lock horns over the issue.

With Gabriela Women's Party's (GWP) own Comprehensive Reproductive Health Bill or HB 3378 , family planning is merely one aspect. Most provisions are dedicated to providing comprehensive reproductive health services and education to women. “HB 3387 focuses on making reproductive health care services accessible to the poor as well as granting privileges to women workers to ensure their reproductive health,” the GWP said in a statement.

According to the 2008 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) State of the World Population Report on the Philippines, at least 230 Filipino women die for every 100,000 live births, compared to only six in Japan, 14 in South Korea and in Singapore. The top four causes of maternal deaths, also according to the UNFPA, are; severe bleeding (mostly bleeding postpartum), infections (mostly soon after deliveries), hypertensive disorders in pregnancy (eclampsia) and obstructed labor. Poor health during pregnancy and lack of adequate care also cause the death of many poor women according to Gabriela.

According to GWP, out of the 19.4 million Filipino women of childbearing age in 2006, 8.9 percent or 1.73 million women did not have access to antenatal care from skilled birth attendants.

Clarita Padilla, a lawyer and the executive director of Engender Rights said only 44 percent of births occur in health facilities and only 62 percent of births are assisted by a health professional. Data from the Center for Women's Resources showed that only 25 percent of poor pregnant women have access to professional attention from a doctor, nurse, midwife and other health professionals during delivery.

CCTP, PPPs, and Deprivation of Basic Social Services

In Aquino's first State of the Nation Address (Sona), he declared that a major thrust of his administration is to enter into public-private partnerships (PPPs). This, according to Gabriela, is no different from the thrust of privatizing the provision of basic services and utilities, which has been implemented by past administrations, including that of Cory Aquino, the current president's mother. And the privatization of basic services and utilities has added to the burden of poor women who now have to contend with spikes in the rates of electricity, water, and prices of oil products, health care, education, among others. This has worsened the poverty situation in the country. Ibon Foundation said the PPPs would also worsen the country's debt problem.

To address poverty, the Aquino administration unveiled its Conditional Cash Transfer Program (CCTP), which is merely a continuation of the same program implemented by the previous Arroyo administration.

In September the the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved a loan for the government's conditional cash transfer program. Through the Conditional Cash Transfer Program, a maximum amount of P1,400.00 ($32.55) per month would be distributed to a select group of poor families. According to Lana Linaban, secretary general of Gabriela, “CCTP like all other measures that do not resolve the root cause of poverty, is a palliative solution that gives only brief, temporary relief.”

Likewise, the money that would be utilized for the CCTP to supposedly alleviate poverty would only put the country into much deeper crisis, said Ibon Foundation. The money to be distributed to poor families is also loaned from financial institutions. Gabriela agreed saying that, “The money that would be spent on the CCTP would add to the national debt and would also incur interest. Meanwhile, the debilitating conditions that paralyze the poor remain: landlessness, absence of gainful employment, lack of basic social services.”

The impact of the government's thrusts of engaging in PPPs and implementing the CCTP could be seen in the recently-approved 2011 national budget. The budget allocation for basic social services such as health decreased from P398.9 billion ($9.065 billion) in 2010 to P361.1 billion ($8.2 billion) in 2011. The budget for housing would have a minimal increase. The budget for education was increased by P31.1 billion ($704.5 million) to P271.1 billion ($6.161 billion), but the budget for State Colleges and Universities was slashed by P1.1 billion ($24.5 million). Aside from the budget for Defense, only the budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development would have a substantial increase, mainly because of the CCTP.

These policies and misappropriation of budget on social services, said Gabriela, would be an added burden to women who are mothers of students whose only hope of finishing a degree hinges on being able to study in a state university; the mothers who thought that the CCTP would help her but later on would put her family in a much deeper crisis; and the mothers who would be deprived of the already lacking health services.