In the morning of March 8, Gabriela will hold a protest action at the Pandacan Oil Deport and in the afternoon at around 2 p.m., the women’s group will hold a program at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo to be capped by a torch parade from Plaza Miranda to Mendiola in the evening.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — In the face of the weekly and unabated price increases of oil and other basic commodities, progressive women from Gabriela call on the Filipino people to unite on March 8, the International Women’s Day, to press the government to control prices.
“We will continue to criticize government policies that make the lives of Filipino women and their families poor. Since International Women’s Day was first commemorated, the oppression and exploitation of women have never stopped. The issues they are confronting might have changed over the years but the struggle never ceased,” Joms Salvador, deputy secretary general of Gabriela, said.
The International Women’s Day is being commemorated worldwide since 1911. In the Philippines, women’s participation in the struggle to free the country from oppressors, such as that of Gabriela Silang and Gregoria de Jesus, is already evident in its rich history. But it was only during martial law under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos that International Women’s Day was formally commemorated. Every year since, Gabriela has been holding a big protest action to commemorate International Women’s Day.
In a statement, Gabriela said women carry the burden of making sure that their meager family income would be able to cover the family’s daily needs. “The women mainly forego their share of the food wso that her husband and children could eat. This is why it is in the interest of the women to protest and fight against the increasing prices of oil and staple goods that has brought further burden to Filipino families.”
A recent SWS survey reveals an increase in families experiencing involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months. The survey was conducted from December 3 to 7 , 2011. The number of families who experienced hunger in December, at 22.5 percent or an estimated 4.5 million families, is higher than the 21.5 percent or 4.1 million families who experienced involuntary hunger last September 2011.
Moderate hunger, or those who experienced hunger “only once” or a “a few times” in the last three months fell from 18.0 percent or 3.6 million families in September 2011 to 17.7 percent or 3.57 million families in December 2011. Severe hunger, on the other hand, or those who experienced hunger “often” or “always” rose from 3.5 percent or 713 million families to 4.7 percent or 955 million families.
Oil and gas explorations for sale
Hunger, according to Gabriela, is being worsened by the political and economic conditions that the Filipino people are facing, Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus said families continue to suffer from the soaring prices of oil.
“Speculation in oil in the foreign derivatives market, and not a shortage in supply resulting from the Middle East crisis, is the main culprit behind the unabated increases. On the other hand, our government hides behind the Oil Deregulation Law and claims its hands are tied where control over price of oil is concerned,” de Jesus said.
Instead of addressing the demands of Filiino women, the Aquino administration “continues to kowtow to the interest of foreign oil monopolies. It is now preparing to open up the Philippine’s oil resources to the rape and plunder of foreign oil companies, 38 of which have signed up, so far, to bid for the exploration of 15 oil and gas blocks in the Philippines.”
“What is interesting is that we have attracted new big players in the oil industry,” Energy Undersecretary Jose M. Layug, Jr. said in a report.
On top of the gas and oil exploration projects, the Department of Energy also announced that 42 firms have already expressed interest to bid for 30 coal exploration contracts. The said projects, as cited in a Business World report, will include towns and cities that have earlier passed a ban against open-pit mining.
Layug added that all of the companies, which submitted bids for the coal exploration projects, are local firms because of the “60-40” Filipino equity rule but there are foreign firms that want to partner with local companies.
“Women have to stand up to this betrayal of our sovereignty and the continuing plunder of our resources,” de Jesus said, “Gabriela Women’s Party will do its part in amplifying the voices of poor women in Congress by filing in the House of Representative a resolution to investigate the awarding of drilling bids to oil companies in order to protect the interest of Filipinos, especially the poor who have not even felt a drop of benefit from local drillings such as in Malampaya.”
De Jesus stressed that the country did not benefit much from Malampaya offshore gas-to-power project in northwest Palawan because 90 percent of its profits is being cornered by Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron Texaco.
“The selling of our natural resources is ill-timed considering the harsh economic conditions that we are in. It is time to develop and nationalize our oil industry,” Salvador said. She added that the United States has a big stake in the 15 contracts for gas and oil explorations since most, if not all, are transnational and multinational corporations.
The $145 million military aid that the United States has recently pledged to the Philippines, according to Gabriela national chairperson Liza Maza, is 17 percent higher compared to last year. “This is not just an aid but a bribe for favorable conditions for the U.S. companies to win the bid for the 15 contracts.”
Salvador said it is not a mere coincidence that the U.S.-led Balikatan joint exercises this year would be held in Palawan. “It is supposed to be a a naval exercise to prepare the Philippine military just in case China will flex its muscles” over the disputed islands in the South China sea.
Increasing prices of commodities
The unabated price hikes of petroleum products, according to Gabriela, would eventually lead to increases in prices of basic goods.
From October 2010 to October 2011, the Center for Women’s Resources have documented price increases, especially among food condiments. According to their price monitoring, prices of condiments such as vinegar, fish sauce and soy sauce have increased. Fish sauce, for one, have increased from P.30 to P30, or 15.64 to 27.27 percent. “This greatly affects poor families, especially those who are in the urban poor communities,” the statement of CWR read, “Sometimes they use it as a viand just to get a ‘complete’ meal.”
Prices of other staple food and commodities have also increased. The price of canned sardines increased by P.10 to P1.15 or roughly from 8.8 to 9.91 percent. Prices of processed milk, such as condensed, evaporated and powdered milk have increased by P2.05 to P3.40, or 4.56 percent to 6.53 percent, P1.75 to P2, or 5.15 percent to 6.15 percent, and P.05 to P6, or by .07 percent to 13.56 percent, respectively.
“The prices of goods increased all the more with the expanded value added tax, which adds 12 percent on top of the product’s price,” the CWR added, “Scrapping the e-VAT is a concrete way to unload the burden of the people amid the price increases.”
The CWR criticized the low poverty threshold of the 2009 Poverty Survey of the National Statistical Coordinating Board, which states that a family of five who earns a monthly income of $165 is not considered poor and a person only needs $1.07 a day in order to survive.
“What can you buy with this meager budget?” CWR asked citing the increasing prices of oil and staple commodities.
“Based on our computation, using the least cost and locally available products, it would cost about $4.65 to purchase the sample food menu, from breakfast to dinner, of the NSCB. It is way higher than their estimated $3.77,” CWR said in a statement, “It does not include utilities one need sin order to cook such as LPG, kerosene, and even firewood.”
Violence against women
In its statement, Gabriela said, poverty goes hand in hand with violence against women. They have documented 456 cases of violence against women in 2011. It includes domestic violence, rape, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sex trafficking, prostitution, among others.
Gabriela said it is alarming that they have received two cases of rape, both perpetuated by the military, in a span of less than a month. During their picket in front of Camp Aguinaldo, the group said, the two cases are just among the several other cases of sexual abuses committed by state security forces that they have received.
In 2011, Lana Linaban, secretary general of Gabriela, said, that group has monitored and received 14 cases of abuses on women and children perpetuated by members of the Philippine National Police and nine by soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Activities for March 8
Gabriela would be leading a series of protest actions as March 8 draws nearer. On March 6, the progressive women’s organization trooped to the office of the Department of Energy in Taguig City to protest its “treachery to the mother country.”
The group also held a protest action in front of the United States Embassy along Roxas Boulevard, Manila to criticize its economic, political and military intervention in the country. In the morning of March 8, Gabriela will hold a protest action at the Pandacan Oil Deport and in the afternoon at around 2 p.m., the women’s group will hold a program at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo to be capped by a torch parade from Plaza Miranda to Mendiola in the evening. Its regional and provincial chapters will also lead women’s actions in major cities in the country.
“In the final analysis, it is the collective action of our citizens that is decisive in this fight to rollback the price of oil,” de Jesus said, “We envision women to contribute their voices and strength to this collective action as we commemorate International Women’s Day on March 8.”