Study says women and children bear brunt of growing militarism

The study discusses different forms of militarism, the reasons behind it and its effects in women.

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat

MANILA – President Duterte’s tendency to take the militaristic approach to various problems does not sit well with women, as they lament the ill effects of the culture of militarism, now being continued by the current administration.

Under the shadow of Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao, the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) presented its study on the impact of militarism on women, with the release of the book, “Women in Southeast Asia: Resisting Militarism, Asserting Sovereignty.”

The study consolidated testimonies of women gathered by various fact-finding and humanitarian missions in highly-militarized areas. CWR released the book in a forum held at Sikat Events Place in Quezon City on July 14. The study was presented in a Women’s Asia-Pacific conference last May.

Militarism – the dominant power of the military in state policies and administration – has been synonymous with martial law, under which Filipinos suffered for 20 years under the Marcos dictatorship.

But CWR executive director Mary Joan Guan said martial law did not really end when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted by the Filipino people in 1986. Although there was no open declaration, she said, succeeding administrations continued this militaristic approach and used it as a tool to curb resistance instead of addressing the roots of armed conflict. She said successors used this tool to remain in power, which resulted to increasing human rights violations with each changing administration.

Evacuees in Compostela Valley. (Photo by Kilab Multimedia)
Evacuees in Compostela Valley. (Photo by Kilab Multimedia)

“It remains because a culture of militarism seeps into the framework of governance. As militarism prevails, violence and violations continue and eventually result to a humanitarian crisis like Marawi City,” said Guan.
The study discusses different forms of militarism, the reasons behind it and its effects in women.

Militarism in resource rich areas

The CWR study gathered stories of peasant women in Cotabato, Davao del Norte, Samar, Leyte, Negros, Bondoc Peninsula in Quezon and Pampanga. CWR research coordinator Cham Perez said these are areas rich in natural resources – the main reason behind the heavy military presence is generally, to protect foreign and local investors’ interests in the area.

Pantaron Mountain Range, one of the remaining and largest forests in the Philippines, which is also home to the Lumad, was among the areas that are militarized. It straddles across the provinces of Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Misamis Oriental, Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur.

Big plantations such as Dole-Philippines are also operating in Bukidnon, said Perez. Military operations and presence are intensified in these areas, which result to harassment and shutting down of Lumad schools, such as the Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, Inc.

Not only the children of Lumad were affected, but also their livelihood as soldiers accuse them of being members of the New People’s Army once they are caught working in the forest.

Militarism is also used as a tool to suppress legitimate calls and demands of the people. Perez cited the barricade in Kidapawan city by North Cotabato farmers suffering from drought. She said farmers went to the provincial capitol in Kidapawan to call for government assistance, yet they were met with violence. Two men were killed in the shooting, which also left dozens wounded. Elderly and pregnant women were among those arrested and detained, said Perez.

In Murcia, Negros Occidental, sugar farm workers who occupied and cultivated lands during the tiempo muerto or dead season were threatened and harassed by landlords’ private armies as well as by local police. Perez also cited the intensified military operation in Bondoc Peninsula terrorizing farmers.

Tigwahonon evacuees at the Bukidnon provincial capitol (Photo courtesy of Healing the Hurt project)
Tigwahonon evacuees at the Bukidnon provincial capitol (Photo courtesy of Healing the Hurt project)

“Militarism serve as a tool to muffle protests from the toiling poor especially peasants and workers. Whenever they asserted their rights, they are considered rebels who should be eliminated,” the CWR’s statement read. It added that farmers, indigenous peoples and workers are mostly victims of arrest, disappearances and politically motivated extrajudicial killings.

Effects of militarism on women and children

Militarism affects women and children severely, said Reyes, as it causes economic insecurity. Many women experience economic crisis, as they could not continue with their livelihood due to restrictions imposed by soldiers on their communities. When they are forced to evacuate, they find no available livelihood while in evacuation centers.

Militarism also has a big impact on women’s physical, mental and sexual health. They are most likely to contract urinary tract infection due to lack of sanitary facilities and toilets in evacuation centers. Lives of pregnant women are also at stake in evacuation centers due to difficulty in accessing appropriate care in delivering babies. They also noted the difficulty of women and girls during their menstrual periods.

As militarization affect their lives, performing house chores has become a burden due to their difficult situation. A Manobo woman from Surigao del Sur said, “Mothers find it difficult to live in evacuation centers. We do not have a place to cook; our place is small. Our chores are more strenuous with no water; we could not wash our clothes or even cook. It is really tough, no one can understand how grueling it is for mothers.”

Perez also said cases of sexual abuses by soldiers are also rampant with military encampment in communities.

The government, meanwhile, has chosen to allocate more budget to military spending than social services. The CWR noted the increasing budget of the Department of National Defense. “Military programs divert the much-needed funds that can be used to provide social services and develop the country’s agriculture industry.”

United to fight for rights

Sharing her experience, Lumad leader Eufemia Cullamat said women greatly suffer in times of war. She said from 1985 to 1992, they repeatedly left their community and took refuge in the forest in Lianga, Surigao del Sur because of bombing by government troops. While walking, she said, pregnant women had no choice but to deliver the baby on the road. She recalled it vividly that they would stop for a while whenever a pregnant woman had to give birth.

Lumad leader Eufemia Cullamat during the presentation of CWR's study. (Bulatlat photo)
Lumad leader Eufemia Cullamat during the presentation of CWR’s study. (Bulatlat photo)

“Then they covered their babies with cloth. Rest for a while and then walk again,” she said.

Their evacuation after the Lianga massacre last Sept. 1, 2015 also came back to her mind when the bombing in Marawi City began last May after martial law was declared in Mindanao. Looking back, she said, it was difficult and painful to live in the evacuation center.

“Where will we get our food?” she said. It was never a problem in their resource-rich communities.

They returned to their community on Sept. 3, 2016, but once again evacuated last July as military are once again back in their area.

It is difficult, she said, because they could not live peacefully due to unabated military operations that carried on for more than a decade. But they are not losing hope. She said their ancestral land is their life.

“It is like our mother who takes care of us,” she said.

While in evacuation, Cullamat and the rest of the leaders talk to their community members. “We told them we cannot do anything but to protect our rights. We have to remain strong and united,” she said during the program.

Perez said Filipino women were never left behind in the fight against state repression and exploitation, and many were always on the forefront. Many suffer from state repression, such as of them were also illegally arrested and detained such as Miradel Torres, a Gabriela member who is still languishing in jail for false charges.

Community-based organizations also continue to grow, such as Gabriela, Samahan ng Maralitang Kababaihan, Amihan and Kilusan ng Manggagawang Kababaihan. They take to the streets to amplify their calls and demands, ranging from genuine land reform to social services for the people. Perez also said there are also other women who opted to join the liberation movements or revolutionary groups.

“Whatever the course the Filipino women, take, they are one in going against the culture of militarism and they are steadfast in fighting against it,” she added. (http://bulatlat.com)

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