Message at the #RespetoNaman Nationwide Campaign Against Gender-Based Violence
Quezon City Reception House, New Manila, Quezon City
Thank you very much. Kindly take your seats.
His Excellency Harald Fries, Ambassador of Sweden to the Philippines; Ms. Vicky Garchitorena, founder of SPARK Philippines; Ms. Mary Nicolas, also of SPARK Philippines; Ms. Cindy Bishop, founder of the #DontTellMeHowToDress Movement; Ms. Carla Sillbert of UN Women International; Ms. Charisse Jordan, UN Women Programme Officer; Ms. Kat Alano, founder of Empower; Ms. Dee Dee Marie Holiday, LGBT rights advocate; friends from the international community; fellow advocates; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen: Good [evening] and welcome to the Office of the Vice President!
First of all, let me extend my gratitude to SPARK Philippines, to Empower, to UN Women, and the Embassy of Sweden in Manila for organizing this event. Thank you for providing this platform for women to come together, speak out, and be heard.
They say that there is no better time to be a Filipina than today.
In the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, the Philippines was the only country that had successfully closed more than 40 percent of the gender gap in the political empowerment sub-index. This means that Filipinas have gained a prominent place in running the affairs of the state. The growing number of women public servants in all three branches of government is a testament to this. We have had two women presidents and two women vice presidents — including myself.
In the 17th Congress, there are six females in the Senate out of its 24 members, and 87 women out of the 292 members of the House of Representatives. The Philippines has also more women leading in economic and social spheres, ranking second in the world for having the highest share of female senior managers. Moreover, Filipinas are creating a name for themselves in the field of science, in the field of law, in the field of philanthropy, social work, education, media, music, theater, and the visual arts.
Indeed, the Filipina has gone a long way in her fight for equality and representation. And I am proud to say, that women’s empowerment and gender equality are two important commitments that bind the Philippines and Sweden.
However, while these figures paint a positive picture, there are still many challenges that loom in the horizon. Only half of our women have access to jobs, and 11.2 million Filipinas remain poor. According to the 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey, one out of five Filipino women aged 15 to 49 suffered from physical violence while six percent experienced sexual violence. Sadly, out of this number only 30 percent sought help.
On social media, women are still being subjected to vicious attacks. They are being maligned for the way they speak, how they dress, and even the bold choices they make. And although there have been many recent events that undermine their capabilities, we are happy to see that women today have found the strength to fight, not only for themselves, but for women who can’t.
For the longest time, women have suffered the brunt of patriarchy and chauvinistic tendencies in many traditional societies. But online campaigns such as #MeToo, #TimesUp, and recently – the #DontTellMeHowToDress movement, have completely turned the tables around.
And tonight, we are very lucky to have with us, the founder of the #DontTellMeHowToDress movement, Ms. Cindy Bishop, who flew all the way from Bangkok to support us in our campaign against gender-based violence here in the Philippines. So, Ms. Cindy, thank you very much. [applause] Your passion and determination to push for the protection of women’s rights have inspired us to come up with our own campaign called #RespetoNaman. In fact, we have an ongoing exhibit at the Power Plant Mall in Rockwell that aims to raise awareness on everyday forms of gender-based violence, and we would like to invite everyone of you to visit and support our cause.
Indeed, gone are the days when we would cower and turn away, for fear, rejection, and discrimination. These brave acts tell us that we will no longer stay silent. It is our way of saying that this culture of violence and abuse against women has to stop.
During these times of great change, I am reminded of my early days as a human rights lawyer when we battled these issues on the frontlines.
You see, before I entered politics, I worked for a legal-resource NGO called SALIGAN or Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal, for about ten years. We offered legal aid to indigent clients, such as the farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, and abused women and children. We would hike up mountains and cross rivers to reach far-flung barangays in the Bicol Region. We held paralegal trainings and translated complicated laws into the local language so that they can be better understood. It was a tiring and difficult life. So much was being demanded from us, but I always tell my staff that was where—that was the time when I found myself.
During those years, I can still remember how my husband and I would wake up in middle of the night to answer distressed calls from women asking to be rescued and seeking sanctuary. Since there were no halfway homes for women then, some of them would end up spending the night or several nights in our house, because they needed refuge from their abusive husbands or partners.
In the following days and weeks, we would sit down and work on their cause. We would cite relevant statutes, such as Republic Act 9262, or the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act, which was still a new law back then. Sadly, our efforts would oftentimes go to waste. These women would fail to show up in court, and many of them would choose to return to their abusive partners, because they cannot stand up on their own and support their children.
So if there is one thing that those in years in SALIGAN have taught me, it is this: real freedom and independence stems from economic empowerment.
Before, it took years for women to attain economic independence because almost nobody paid support to the aggrieved mother and their children. You may win the case, but you lose in the execution. Most cases took a very long time to be resolved by the court, resulting in children growing up in the direst of circumstances.
With the passage of the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act in 2004, men are now required to provide financial support even while the case is still ongoing. Moreover, if the children are still in school, the law requires that a big part of the father’s salary should be deducted automatically and be deposited in court for the benefit of the family. This does not only favor the wife, but also ensures that the children’s future is secure. Under this same law, the abused wife can be granted a protection order to ensure her safety while the case is still pending. The abusive husband may even be asked by the court to leave the house if this is needed to ensure his family’s protection.
We also did a lot of initiatives to help women in crisis. In Naga, which is my native city, we started an NGO called Bantay Familia, a community watch group that aims to prevent domestic abuse and protect victims and survivors of domestic violence.
This eventually led to the establishment of a Women’s Crisis Center. After the center was opened, we saw a spike in the number of rape cases and domestic abuse cases reported, as victims became more confident that someone will listen to them.
Throughout those years, my husband stood by my side, supporting me in any way he can, enabling me to push for my advocacy of empowering women. We were able to pass a Women Development Code, a Magna Carta for Women, and created the Naga City Council of Women—a tripartite body that served as the city’s gender focal point person, prepared gender and development plans and budget, and became the springboard and platform for all women’s empowerment initiatives. In 2013, I pursued my advocacy for women’s empowerment as Representative of the Third District of Camarines Sur. I filed bills that sought to amend existing laws that discriminated against gender.
For example, I co-authored a bill called Marital Infidelity Law, which seeks to repeal the crimes of concubinage and adultery, and in their stead, introduce marital infidelity as a crime that can be committed by any legally married person who has sexual relations with another woman outside of marriage. Unfortunately, it failed to pass because it did not have a counterpart bill in the Senate. However, I remain hopeful that some of my former colleagues in Congress will revisit and refile it.
Another law that needs to be updated is Republic Act 7877, otherwise known as the Philippine Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995. Because under this law, only sexual favors requested or required in work, education, or training-related environments are defined as sexual harassment and are punishable by law. There is certainly a need to expand its coverage. Because in reality, sometimes they are committed at work against individuals that do not fall within the employer-employee relationship. Many harassment cases are also committed inside the home, with family members as aggressors. What is more unfortunate is that I’ve handled some cases where mothers would defend their husbands accused of raping their daughters.
There is also Article 311 of the Civil Code of the Philippines, which states that while the father and mother jointly exercise parental authority over their children, the father’s decision prevails if there is a disagreement, unless there is a judicial order to the contrary. Sadly, many laws reveal a very limited appreciation of the importance of gender equality and a very poor understanding of women in crisis.
In this age of social media and rapid technological development, it is disheartening to know that many Filipinas, especially those living in the countryside, still hide in the shadows of fear, self-doubt, and depression. Many of them still find it difficult to bounce back and find support in their social circles.
That is why I think a gathering such as this comes at a very opportune time. More than legislation and other interventions, we need to create a safe haven for Filipinas—safe spaces where they can speak out, discover their potential, and get the immediate assistance they need.
So ladies and gentlemen, women’s empowerment in the 21st century is no longer just about representation and activism. Each one of us is called to go beyond lip service, and be more proactive in championing the cause of making our spaces not only safe for women, but conducive to their success. It requires us to be more inclusive in our plans and in our policies.
This is what inspires us in the work that we do, here at the Office of the Vice President. We have included women’s empowerment as one of the pillars of our antipoverty program, Angat Buhay, where we positioned ourselves as a bridge between communities needing help and organizations wanting to help. Through collaborations and partnerships, we try to respond to the most urgent of needs of the poor and marginalized in ways that can be sustainable and collaborative.
Last September, I was in Zamboanga City to launch the Angat Buhay Women’s Workshop for Aspiring Women Entrepreneurs. Under this workshop, we brought together 30 aspiring women entrepreneurs from the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Bukidnon, and Zamboanga del Norte— including the IDP dressmakers from the cities of Marawi and Lamitan, who were displaced by conflict. Through various modules, they learned how to improve their local products, and develop their marketing, planning, and business skills. The training focused on teaching the basic competencies needed by aspiring entrepreneurs through specialized interactive workshops.
Through the generosity of our Angat Buhay partners, SEAOIL Foundation and of course, SPARK Philippines, our participants also received a seed grant for their projects. In the following months, they will be mentored to create and execute business plans. They will also be visited regularly to assess the progress of their businesses. At the end of the program, they will come together to showcase their products and exchange valuable lessons with their peers.
We have also partnered with the University of the Philippines Center for Women and Gender Studies in a program called Angat Bayi, which seeks to improve the capacity of women political leaders. By providing a platform where women can actively take part in good governance and institutional reform, we hope to build more inclusive communities in many cities and municipalities around the country.
These are just some of the many exciting things we have been working on with our Angat Buhay partners. And we hope to replicate and bring these programs to many other places where our women are waiting for help to come.
This is just the beginning. And we hope you can join us in our future endeavors, as we expand our reach to include our LGBT brothers and sisters, and eliminate all forms of discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.
So ladies and gentlemen, during these extraordinary times, we are called to rise up as one and stand beside every Filipino. This is not the time to fear. This is not the time to be silent. This is the time to be invincible. As your duly elected Vice President, I am here to fight with you in the frontlines.
Let us work together in ending gender-based violence in this part of the world, and enabling both men and women to unlock their fullest potential.
So once again, thank you for being with us this evening. Mabuhay po kayong lahat! [applause]