Philippines is a dangerous place for women and women human rights defenders (WHRDs)

“The Philippines is a dangerous place for women and women human rights defenders. The situation has aggravated because the Duterte government is hell-bent on protecting the foremost violators of women’s rights – the military and the police. We have a government that coddles rapists and murderers, headed by a leader who spouts demeaning statements against women and actively orders his mercenaries to act with the same disrespect and lack of regard for women’s rights,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay during the commemoration of the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day on November 29, 2018.

Various organizations led by Karapatan, Gabriela and Tanggol Bayi held a protest and cultural action at Gate 1, Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on November 29 to call for an end to the continuing attacks against WHRDs. This includes the harassment, criminalization and killing of women defenders. As of September 2018, there are already 33 cases of WHRDs killed under the Duterte regime and 45 are imprisoned on the basis of trumped-up charges.

Gerifel Cerillo, coordinator of Tanggol Bayi, noted that “these attacks are far from isolated; they are fueled by a patriarchal and militarist society that flaunts the humiliation of women as a décor to toxic machismo and thus, an inevitable outcome of State terrorism. We have leaders and State security forces whose mandate is to serve and protect people’s rights, but have grown accustomed to subjugating women and abusing power to violate, demean, disregard, and kill – all without accountability.”

Cerillo reiterated that barbaric schemes such as sex-for-freedom or “palit-puri” perpetrated by policemen, who were also implementors of the government’s drug war, remain a constant and grim reminder of how gender-based violence stem from government policies. “This sham drug war and the government’s counterinsurgency campaign have provided explicit licenses to uniformed criminals to violate women’s rights. Resistance is punished and brutality is celebrated by the avowed fascists in government. The problem is systemic,” she added.

Karapatan and Tanggol Bayi also called for the passage of the Human Rights Defender’s Bill, which aims to create a conducive environment for human rights advocacy, giving special attention to gender-based forms of violence.
“As we commemorate the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, we remember our sisters who struggled alongside us. They fought fiercely and with profound courage, yet always with humility and compassion,” said Palabay. The Karapatan leader asked for a minute of silence to remember the 33 WHRDs killed, including Karapatan Visayas coordinator Elisa Badayos, peasant advocates Jean Plabial, Teresita Pesadilla, and Haide Flores, and Moro and women’s rights activist Mariam Acob. Palabay also called for the immediate release of women defenders who were criminalized for their advocacies, including Lumad volunteer teacher Jolita Tolino, youth activist Myles Albasin, development worker Rita Espinoza, and women rights defender Hedda Calderon.

“We reiterate our call to stop the attacks against women and WHRDs. We likewise reaffirm our resolute commitment to struggle against fascist and tyrannical regimes. The ugly situation on the ground cannot be concealed, and the putrid stench of machismo and sexism has permeated the air. This situation is urging us to unite and further strengthen our voices against misogyny and rising tyranny and dictatorship,” Cerillo added.  

“Women know that rights do not fall from trees. The history of the women’s movement is about our history of courage, grueling endeavors and outstanding commitment. We know that rights have to be unceasingly fought for – and so it shall be,” ended Palabay.