PRIVILEGE SPEECH. A call to rage against rape and vow to fight VAW. By Rep. Luzviminda C. Ilagan

Privilege Speech
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luzviminda C. Ilagan
24 November 2010

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a question of personal and collective privilege on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of All forms of Violence Against Women. I would like to call attention to the alarming increase in the incidence of violence against women, the pervasiveness of rape and sexual abuse and the responsibility that the government must assume in this terrible situation of women in our country.

It was barely two months ago on September 25, when a 21 year-old volunteer nurse, Florence, was found naked and unconscious, brutally beaten, left for dead,  in Barangay Timanan, South Upi in Maguindanao.

Seven suspects were arrested and subjected to DNA tests, all revealing negative results. Yet one suspect continues to evade arrest and DNA testing. South Upi Vice Mayor Jordan Ibrahim has adamantly refused to give samples of his DNA. Is he so powerful that he continues to remain free to this very day, challenging the arm of the law  tasked to bring justice to helpless victims?

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, Vice Mayor Jordan Ibrahim is not the only public official accused of rape in recent weeks. Rape charges have been filed against Mindoro Board Member Patrick dela Rosa in October while Mayor Jose Rodriguez of San Marcelino, Zambales was accused of raping a 12-year old in August of this year.

It is a source of shame that  the objects of these complaints are government officials who swore to serve and uphold the law.

The Philippine National Police Women and Children Protection Center reports a consistent increase in the number of rape cases being reported year after year. There have been 2,402 rape cases reported in 2007; 2,935 in 2008 and; 3,018 in 2009. In the first half of 2010, rape cases have already reached 1,724. Rape cases hog the headlines of tabloids day after day.

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, the cases that I have mentioned and these staggering statistics all indicate a weakness, nay, a dismal failure on the part of the Philippine government to address rape and violence against women head on.  On several counts, the government must be held responsible.

According to MIGRANTE International, at least 50% of the cases being brought to their attention year after year are cases of rape, sexual molestation, harassment and other forms of Violence Against Women committed against our female overseas workers.

Likewise, more and more women forced to take the graveyard shift in various economic zones as well as in BPOs and call centers are subjected to conditions that are unsafe and extremely vulnerable to rape and other forms of gender violence.

If these women had any other choice, I am certain Mr. Speaker, dear colleagues that they would rather take on jobs that will not unnecessarily expose them to conditions of vulnerability.

The present economic crisis and the growing poverty spawned by the Philippine government’s adherence to neo-liberal policies; the labor-export policy and the increasing government dependence on remittances and; the adamant refusal to implement a genuine agrarian reform program, have forced millions of Filipino women to take on jobs that make them extremely vulnerable to rape.

It is also a cause for concern Mr. Speaker that on top of the poverty that is increasing the Filipino women’s vulnerability to rape, the Philippine government is subjecting women to further vulnerability by its refusal to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement and allow the presence of US troops.

We were all witness to how the we fared in the Subic rape case in 2005. We all know how our justice system and our sovereignty was repeatedly violated amid questions of criminal procedures and custody. Five years hence, we are reviewing and not terminating this lopsided agreement.

Hindi na tayo natuto.

Mr. Speaker, the CEDAW is a landmark agreement that upholds principles of fundamental human rights for women.

The CEDAW calls on state parties to abolish discriminatory laws and craft legislation towards the elimination of all forms of discrimination. State parties are bound to take all forms of action towards the elimination of trafficking, exploitation, sexual abuse,
rape and all forms of discrimination and violence against women.

Just recently, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women called our attention in a decision adopted on July 16, 2010. This decision was in response to a communication submitted to the Optional Protocol on the CEDAW by Karen Vertido in November 2007.

According to he UN Committee, the Philippine court’s acquittal of the accused in a decision penned in 2005, was based on gender-based myths and the following stereotypes:

• That a rape victim must try to escape at every opportunity.  Rape is an issue of power, physical or psychological.  A rapist is usually physically stronger and when it is a gang of men out to have their way with a woman who is physically weaker, the chances of escape would be nil.

• To be raped by means of intimidation, the victim should be timid or easily cowered.   Because Karen Vertido was a successful executive of the Davao Chamber of Commerce, married at the time the rape was committed, she could not at all be considered timid or naïve.  This is a myth debunked by the fact that educational background, age or career position are factors that do not go into the equation of victimization.

• To be raped by means of threat, there must be a clear evidence of direct threat, which the judge says the complainant failed to establish.   My dear colleagues, rape victims are so traumatized that threats to be recalled become secondary to the renewed trauma of having to narrate their ordeal  so that doing so is like being raped all over again.

• That because the victim and the accused, who were at that time, both holding executive positions in a Chamber of Commerce, were more than “nodding acquaintances” the sexual act must then be consensual.  Mr. Speaker, studies show that a woman is seldom victimized by a complete stranger.  In many instances, the perpetrator is a neighbor,  a friend or a superior, and in cases of incest even a trusted relative or parent.

• That the victim should prove she physically resisted all throughout the act of rape, and if she had not, it is to be concluded that she had consented.

Clearly, Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, that we have in midst, legal minds clouded by gender biases that prove to be serious stumbling blocks to victims of gender based violence seeking justice.

Clearly, Mr. Speaker, we have laws that are inadequate, even antiquated and incapable of protecting women and children from violence and abuse.

Clearly, Mr. Speaker, in implementing policies that aggravate the Filipino women’s poverty we are increasing the Filipino women’s vulnerability to rape and violence against women and the Philippine government becomes an accessory to the crime of rape and violence against women.

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, there is an urgent need for us to look into and review our country’s compliance to the Convention to End all forms of Discrimination Against Women. There is a compelling need to revisit our laws and make the necessary amendments to the Anti-Rape Law and the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law among so many others.

There is an imperative to implement measures to help pave the way towards the eradication of the poverty that increases women and children’s vulnerability to violence against women.

Finally Mr. Speaker, it is our hope that the deafening silence of the Philippine government on the UN decision regarding the landmark case of Karen Vertido is not a continuing manifestation of its trivialization of violence against women.

It is Gabriela Women’s Party’s challenge that the wheels of justice grind faster to ensure that women will no longer fall prey to all forms of violence.

Tomorrow, November 25, marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is but fitting that we commemorate this day with a commitment to rage against rape and vow to fight VAW or Violence Against Women. (Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan of Davao City used to teach English at the Ateneo de Davao University. She has served as city councilor and has been representing Gabriela Party in the House of Representatives since 2007).