By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Amid a survey stating that President Duterte’s rating has soared to “excellent,” progressives marched in the streets of Manila to protest the poor living conditions of Filipino women as they marked the yearly commemoration of the International Working Women’s Day.
“Contrary to the survey, many women no longer want Duterte, along with his neoliberal policies and macho-fascist attacks, that resulted in poverty, hunger, death, and destruction of communities,” said Joms Salvador, secretary general of Gabriela.
Led by Gabriela, the country’s biggest women group, a program was first held at the Liwasang Bonifacio before thousands of women and human rights defenders marched towards the foot of the Mendiola bridge.
Similar protests were held in various cities in the Philippines such as in Rizal, Bicol, Bacolod City, Iloilo City, Roxas City, Davao City, General Santos City, to name a few.
Salvador urged the government to instead ask how the 16 million Filipino workers considered “economically insecure” are faring.
“The survey does not reflect the actual conditions of contractual workers who are receiving pittance that can hardly support their families’ needs. It also does not reflect the anguish of Filipino families who lost their loved ones due to killings, arrests, and harassments under the Duterte administration,” Salvador said.
In a statement, independent thinktank Ibon Foundation highlighted the worsening condition of Filipino women workers under the present administration – with women receiving measly wages as a result of government neoliberal policies that the group deemed as anti-worker.
Ibon Foundation said that the number of employed women, for one, fell from 16 million in 2016 to 15.7 million in 2018, per the latest available government data. Those employed, however, endure dire working conditions with at least one every four women workers working over 48 hours per week, which Ibon Foundation said to be beyond international labor standards of eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.
Meanwhile, the average real daily basic pay of Filipino women workers has hardly increased from P382 in 2016 to P389 in 2018.
Ibon Foundation, too, noted the continuing wide salary gap between men and women, with 12-percent and 7.8 percent gap in the agriculture and manufacturing industry, respectively.
In an earlier forum, the Center for Women’s Resources said at least 16 million Filipino women are considered “economically insecure.”
Women in the agriculture sector are not spared, said the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.
In separate statements, various peasant and consumer groups have assailed the impacts of the passing of the rice liberalization law on the lives and livelihoods of Filipino farmers.
“Women farmers are the face and living proof of rural poverty. As long as landlessness persists, women farmers will not be freed from the shackles of poverty enslaving them,” said KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos.
Violence against women persists
Gabriela said that violence against women has not only persisted under the Duterte administration but also worsened.
“One case of violence is too many, 10 minute-interval per abuse is reprehensible. Violence against women occurs with impunity because of a fascist and misogynist president who repeatedly displays ingrained prejudice against women,” said Salvador.
Citing the study of the CWR, Salvador noted that the reported cases of violence against women have escalated from 382 cases in 2015 to 713 in 2016 or by about 60 percent. Under President Duterte’s first year in office, the reported rape cases has also increased by 53 percent compared to its 6,480 annual average in the past decade.
Salvador said it is not helping when no less than the president himself, both in words and deeds, “sustain the wrong notion that women are the lesser and weaker sex who can be objectified and commodified.”
In a separate statement, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas said that in a span of one year, President Duterte made sexist remarks in his public pronouncements, including his statements on “Boracay girls,” “smelly girlfriend,” and that he has forgotten about his problems when he thought of the beautiful Batangas women during the aftermath of the Taal Volcano eruption.
Gabriela’s in-house psychologist and head of its services desk Obeth Montes said women experiencing violence have contacted them via e-mail, social media, and even paid them visits in their office to seek help. The women’s group has been providing services to victims of violence.
“When women victims of violence realize that they are not alone in the fight, they feel stronger and could even be effective para-counselors themselves,” Montes said.
Hollow threats vs. US on VFA
In an earlier statement, Salvador noted the “hollow threat” and “humbug rant” that President Duterte has issued following his termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, per news reports indicating that there is a new negotiation between the US and Philippine governments on its military relations.
Gabriela has long been critical of VFA and other lopsided military relations as countless Filipino women have been “used as part of the military’s rest and recreation, have become victims of abuse.”
Such agreements, too, they said, put into question the country’s sovereignty.
“It was never a sincere declaration of termination. The 319 Balikatan joint RP-US military exercises, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), and the 69-year Mutual Defense Treaty remain,” said Salvador.
No less than the Philippine ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez was quoted as saying that the two governments are now “polishing” the VFA.
Salvador said that apart from military relations, the VFA is an assurance to the US government that its economic interests, too, are in place in the Philippines. She said that while President Duterte is perceived in the US as a “bully,” he will continue to follow neoliberal policies that “open our country to foreign plunder.”