Even worse, said Gabriela, is the alarming increase in rape cases involving state security forces.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Rape and other forms of violence against women are not a problem of women alone – it’s a problem that the entire Philippine society should address, specifically the government of Benigno Aquino III.
The Gabriela alliance of women’s organizations recently released startling data regarding the increasing number of cases of violence against women (VAW) in the country. The data, the group explained, was by no means comprehensive because it only pertains to information and reports that its national office in Quezon City has monitored. All the same, the facts and figures are already shocking and should be cause for outrage.
From January 2010 to September 2012, Gabriela’s national office was directly approached with 1,670 complaints of cases of VAW. In 2010, there were 740 cases; 459 in 2011; and 471 in the first nine months of 2012. The VAW cases were classified as domestic violence (physical abuse, abandonment, refusal to grant child custody, infidelity and violations against RA 9262); rape (date rape, stranger rape, gang rape, rape with murder, and child sexual abuse); sexual harassment; prostitution/sex trafficking/pornography; child sexual abuse/molestation; e-VAW; and other forms of VAW such as discrimination in the workplace.
While domestic violence cases numbered the highest at 1,105 since 2010, the number of cases of rape was also alarming at 160 during the same period.
According to Gabriela, compared to its 2011 statistics, the number of VAW cases has increased in 2012: the current year has not yet ended, but the number of VAW cases in 2012 has already surpassed the previous year’s.
It also said that the number of domestic violence and rape cases have increased. In the last nine months, Gabriela was approached by victims, relatives of victims or by representatives of various government institutions including the Philippine National Police and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) an average of 38 times a month, resulting in 380 cases.
In the meantime, in nine percent of all cases or in 42 of them, the perpetrators were “men in uniform,” meaning men in positions of authority such as those in the police, the military, the clergy, and in political office. In the 471 cases that Gabriela handled from January to September 2012, some 58 were cases of rape, eight of which involved men in uniform or persons of authority as perpetrators. Of the 58 rape cases, 28 cases involved minors as victims.
The social problems leading to VAW
Gabriela deputy-secretary general Obeth Montes blames the worsening phenomenon of VAW in the Philippines to three main reasons: poverty; the culture of impunity; and the failure of the government and its legal institutions to dispense justice to victims of violence. Montes is the group’s director for its Women’s Health and Services Committee that provides counselling and paralegal assistance to victims of violence.
“Most of the victims in the domestic violence cases we handle come from the lower-income classes, the urban and rural poor. The women are wives or partners, and their husbands or partners are often unemployed. The men take their anger, frustration out on the women when they can’t earn enough for the family. Men beat their wives or partners out of ignorance, out of frustration and out of utter disrepect for the women’s rights and humanity,” she said.
Montes said if there was a single positive thing that could be seen in the phenomenon of reported VAW cases, it was the fact that more and more women were taking the courage to speak out.
“This is very important: for women even young girls to denounce the violence they suffer. Many victims who have not had the benefit of counselling or being assisted by support groups take to blaming themselves. Some of them believe that they deserve what happened to them because of some personal failure or weakness. Many victims of VAW including rape are afraid to come out and report the men who violated their rights because they are afraid of reprisals,” she said.
According to Montes, in her work as a counsellor for Gabriela that has spanned more than a decade, she has met many victims who, if they had not received counselling, would have probably gone deep into depression and possibly suicide. She said that it’s important for rape and VAW victims to be heard, and for them to be given counselling.
“There are those who lose their sanity because they cannot come to terms with what they suffered. Rape is a serious, despicable crime not only against a woman’s physical body, but against her very spirit, her entirety as a person. Victims need constant counselling and therapy so they can see that what they suffered was in no way their fault, and that they can recover,” she said.
Gabriela’s counselling for VAW and rape victims include one-on-one sessions as well as group therapy with other victims. Victims are also encouraged to participate in Gabriela activities that aim to bolster their self-esteem and help them see their traumatic experience within a context: “They should be allowed to realize that while their rapists or violators are men, it’s not all men who are their enemy. We discuss with them social issues concerning the economy, the government structure, matters of corruption in society and the depravity of many aspects of mainstream culture where women are objectified and treated as commodities to be bought and sold, used and abused,” Montes said.
“They gain strength from discussions on why the country is poor and why VAW happens. We also enjoin them to participate in rallies and demonstrations on women’s issues – these activities are venues where women-victims can bond with other women, collectively denounce the root causes of women’s oppression and encourage them to take action against these social ills. Gabriela also makes it a point to support the victims when they decide to file legal charges against the perpetrators – this is also a good way to encourage the victims on the path to regaining their self-confidence,” she said.
Rape, VAW are political problems
Montes went on that while VAW is a serious social problem that should be addressed, given the trend that Gabriela is seeing, VAW is also a political problem. This, she said,makes VAW an even more compelling issue because it is laid at the feet of the government.
“While it’s true that in many cases of VAW including rape the perpetrators are ordinary men; but in the last two years, rapes and VAW are being committed by men in uniform: members of the PNP, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and their paramilitary units,” she said.
The Gabriela leader said the Aquino government’s counter-insurgency campaign Oplan Bayanihan has allowed the massive deployment of soldiers in communities all over the country. Soldiers set up camp in the heart of communities – next to schools and churches, or even within campuses themselves and inside public buildings.
“Soldiers and even commanding officers have been reported to woo young lasses in the barrios. They entice the youth to join drinking sessions or impromptu parties. It’s all part of the military’s campaign to supposedly win the hearts and minds of the people, but what often happens is devastating for civilians,” she said.
In October 16, 2011, three members of the 16th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army OFC Alexander O. Barzaga, PFC Ronnie Q. Castro and PVT Rocky H. Domingo raped a 17-year-old girl in Rizal. The soldiers invited the victim and two other minors to join the 16th IBPA’s anniversary in their camp. “Mutya” was consequently raped.
The three soldiers were, on March 30, 2011 following an order by Regional Trial Court Branch 78 of Morong, Rizal, imprisoned on charges of qualified rape without bail. The victim, however, has since become mentally ill, and her family, who pressed charges against the military men, are at the receiving end of harassment tactics from the soldiers’ relatives. The relatives of the accused are said to be attempting to bribe the victim and her family and pressure them into withdrawing the case.
In February 17, 2012, a 16-year old girl was raped by a military officer in Mankayan, Benguet. The victim went missing for three days before she came home weak and unable to speak. According to Inna-buyog-Gabriela, the victim suffered deep trauma. She failed to take her final school exams and was unable to graduate with her high school class.
The perpetrator was identified as Capt. Danilo Lalin, an officer of Highland 86 of the Philippine Army 50th IB. According to reports, Lalin asked the mionor to be his text mate before asking to meet her. Then the military official forced the girl to take contraceptive pills before raping her several times.
A staff of Gabriela in Southern Tagalog has reported that a CAFGU recruit in Lobo, Batangas raped his 13-year old niece and got her pregnant last year. Gabriela’s Rjei Manalo said the sisters of the victim had attested how she had been the victim of molestation since she was eight, but the family feared to report the perpetrator because the Cafgu might use his connections to harass or even harm all of them.
“It’s true that we’ve monitored 160 cases of rape in the last two years and hundreds of other forms of VAW outside of domestic violence. We are certain that all these cases are just the tip of the iceberg.
Specifically concerning the VAW cases involving men in uniform, we believe that they can number thousands more, especially in areas where there are high concentrations of military forces,” Montes said.
Montes argued that human rights group have so far been unable to create a sub-category for human rights violations against civilians: HRVs against women specifically.
“Men in uniform such as the police and the military when they are deployed in communities where there are mining operations for instance take to harassing women. These men use their weapons and uniforms to threaten women they pretend to woo into accepting them as suitors. Then, of course, there are also the cases wherein out of desperation women in internal refugee camps guarded by the military are forced to sell themselves for money to soldiers,” she said.
Stop VAW, stop militarization, Oplan Bayanihan
Gabriela’s secretary-general Joms Salvador for her part said that one way to stop VAW and the rise in VAW cases is to educate the public.
“Both young men and women – and adults, for that matter – should be taught on matters of respect between the sexes. Rape and other forms of VAW on many levels are rooted in ignorance and indifference to the rights of individuals, specially women. Society and social institutions like the media and the educational system play a big part in strengthening misconceptions and twisted ideas about women and women’s rights and their role in society. There is a very long way to go towards correcting these weaknesses and getting rid of these twisted ideas, and women themselves should take an active role in this,” she said.
Salvador said Gabriela and its regional chapters often conduct gender-sensitivity and women’s rights seminars in schools for high school and college students. She said that she personally saw the importance of these seminars back in 2007 when she helped handle the case of a 16-year old student who was raped by five or six of her schoolmates, one of whom recorded the rape on a videocamera. The video was circulated in the campus and eventually found its way to Quiapo, sold in DVD copies.
The case, Salvador said, upset her for days on end, but made her even more determined to help in the campaign against VAW.
“There is nothing more appalling than rape cases that involve the youth, and we want to put an end to the rape of teenagers at the hands of their own peers and classmates. Rape can escalate to greater violence like murder and homicide, and if we can reach out to more young people – young men – to make them see that rape and VAW are not things to be taken lightly, then perhaps we can put an end to it or at least bring down the number of incidents,” she said.
In various communities in Manila, Quezon City, Iloilo, Davao and other provinces, Gabriela has also established women’s rights desks that help residents and barangay officials monitor and address issues of VAW.
Gabriela has also secured the help of award-winning theater actress and activist Monique Wilson who continues to help facilitate the gathering of VAW victims and their families as part of the Philippine activities within the global campaign “One Billion Rising. ” The international campaign primarily aims to raise public awareness and action to end violence against women and girls. It will culminate in an internationally-coordinated activity on February 14, 2013.
Finally, the Gabriela leader said the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Pres. Aquino should take action and order the dismissal of state forces charged with perpetrating grave sexual abuses against women and minors.
Salvador deplored the continuing attacks against human rights and scored the pronouncements recently made by PA Chief Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista that the military is seriously addressing human rights problems after the reign of terror sowed by fugitive retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan.
“There is no denying that the military remains guilty of massive HRVs, including abuses against women and girls. Rape is already a grave crime, and this is amplified and worsened because the State machinery, supposed protector of human rights, has its own members directly involved as perpetrators. Gabriela demands that the Aquino government and the AFP to stop the lies and command their new breed of butchers in the make and mould of Palparan as well as the rapists within their ranks to stop their attacks. Punishing all perpetrators of sexual abuse from the ranks of military and police personnel is one step forward to end impunity in human rights violations,” Salvador said.
Gabriela will lead a nationally-coordinated series of activities including fora and rallies on November 23, marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) which falls on November 25. Women rights activists have marked 25 November as a day against violence since 1981, commemorating the brutal killing of the three Mirabal sisters in 1960. The Mirabal sisters Patria, Maria and Antonia were political activists in the Dominican Republic who were beaten to death on orders of the Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo.
According to the United Nations Committee on Women, violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. Based on country data available as of 2011, up to 70 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime — the majority by husbands, intimate partners or someone they know.