By the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines
On the occasion of International Women’s Day
8 March 2014
Women have always been integral in the Philippine people’s centuries-long struggle against foreign domination and for social emancipation. They have been ever present in the people’s fight against the control of the country’s economy and resources by a tiny fraction of Philippine society. With the majority of women being part of the classes whose conditions and livelihood are for the most part dictated by the foreign and local elite, women have historically played active, even leading roles, in the struggle for genuine freedom and democracy in the Philippines. But in addition to the exploitation and oppression that women share with their brothers in the Philippines, they are subjected to further oppression.
This International Women’s Day, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) salutes and commemorates the brave efforts made by women in the struggle and calls for solidarity with them in their continuing struggle against the violations of their human rights.
The devastating Typhoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda) which recently swept through the poorest regions of the country has exposed the lack of political will and ability of the Benigno S. Aquino III administration to deliver relief, implement effective and efficient measures to rebuild the lives of the affected peoples and communities, put in place policies and programs to reduce the vulnerability of communities to calamities, and protect the victims in desperate need.
Among the most vulnerable of the victims have been women and girls. There are reports of rape incidents in Tacloban City, Leyte, in the aftermath of the typhoon. The slow pace of rehabilitation and failure to create jobs and livelihood in affected areas have pushed women to prostitute themselves in exchange for food. Girls have been trafficked to other parts of the Philippines for sex work.
The criminal negligence exhibited by the Administration not only confirms President BS Aquino’s incompetence when it comes to protecting the well-being of the Philippine people, it also exposes the current system’s bankruptcy in bringing about genuine development to its people. Where disaster has tread, the landless peasants are now also homeless, the poor now even poorer.
Just under a year before Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, Typhoon Bopha (local name: Pablo) battered the southernmost island of Mindanao. Victims of Typhoon Bopha experienced the same neglect as victims of Typhoon Haiyan. This prompted Cristina Jose, a city councilor and head of Barug Katawhan, an organization of Bopha survivors, to act. Cristina exposed the food blockade and militarization of relief operations conducted by the 67th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. In response to the slow delivery of food relief by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DWSD) to the desperately hungry Bopha victims, she initiated the action of the victims in accessing the sacks of rice and relief goods hoarded in the DSWD warehouse.
Shamefully, these actions of the victims simply demanding food and justice were met with state violence. Cristina Jose and those who participated in the action at the DSWD were harassed by the 67th Infantry Battalion of Philippine Army. On 4 March 2013, just days before International Women’s Day, Cristina was on her way to Davao City to report the harassment experienced by Bopha survivors when she was brutally gunned down by suspected security forces. To this day, no one has been prosecuted or convicted for the murder of Cristina Jose.
Vicious attacks like this one have become all too common in the Philippines. Although involvement in these attacks has been denied by the Philippine Army and security forces, the motive behind the attack, the method of the attack, and the impunity with which these political assassinations are committed all point to government forces. Well over one thousand extrajudicial killings committed since 2001 were driven by the counterinsurgency policies of the current Administration and those before it.
Counterinsurgency policies like Pres. Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan have caused women to suffer as victims of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, forced evacuation, and as political prisoners. Oplan Bayanihan labels as “enemies of the state” those who criticize corrupt, unjust, and inhumane government programs and policies. In reality, Oplan Bayanihan amounts to a war on the poor, targeting workers, peasants, church people, indigenous peoples, journalists, and others who organize for the attainment of the people’s legitimate rights.Under the BS Aquino administration alone, Karapatan has documented 18 women victims of extrajudicial killing, three cases of rape of girls, and 33 women political prisoners who were also victims of illegal arrests and fabricated charges.
Instead of addressing the roots of widespread poverty, the Administration has consistently worsened the situation of women and the poor by pursuing policies that only advance the economic interests of the ruling elite and foreign corporations. On the other hand, when some representatives and supporters of People Surge, an alliance of typhoon Haiyan survivors demanded for financial support consisting of 40,000 pesos (US$ 900.00) per family to kick off their livelihood last January, they were flatly refused by Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman.
Meanwhile, on 20 February 2014, “Rehabilitation Czar” General Panfilo Lacson alarmingly branded the protesting Haiyan victims as “communist pawns”. Cristina has also been tagged by the 67th IB-PA commander Lt. Col. Krishnamurti Mortela as “councilor of the (communist-led) New People’s Army” before she was murdered.
The ICHRP will continue to uphold the Philippine struggles and issues that women are involved in. We demand the perpetrators of Cristina Jose’s murder be prosecuted and jailed. We demand that the Aquino government fast track rehabilitation efforts in the areas affected by Typhoons Haiyan and Bopha. We will continue to use all means at our disposal to monitor and hold the Administration accountable for these.
ICHRP will continue to uphold the Filipino people’s collective right to fully participate in and enjoy economic, social, cultural, and political development. We give our unending support to the women and men in the Philippines who have tirelessly battled the roots of underdevelopment, transform the existing system to establish a society based on justice and lasting peace. ICHRP remembers their sacrifice on days like International Women’s Day and will continue to call on the international community to engage in solidarity for this continuing struggle.
Canon Barry Naylor (UK)
Chairperson, ICHRP Global Council
Office: +44 (0) 116 261 5371
Mobile: +44 (0) 775 785 3621
Peter Murphy (Australia)
General Secretary, ICHRP Global Council
Mobile: +61 418312301
Bern Jagunos (Canada)
Deputy Secretary ICHRP Global Council
Katrina Abarcar (USA)
Member, ICHRP Global Council