Trigger Warning: This piece contains material about domestic and sexual violence (assault).
Written by: Mariel Andrea Sabandal
Edited by: Abigail Goh
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it a darker time for women and girls in the Philippines. The administration reinvents ways to silence, manipulate and undermine the voices of those who stand for human rights, especially women’s rights. This does not come as a surprise, but rather as disbelief of just how far they will go. President Duterte’s strongman, macho take on leadership has been evident ever since taking office in 2016. From ordering his commanders to shoot women rebels “in the vagina,” to comparing having a second wife to having a “spare tire,” or to the numerous sex and rape jokes made on television - it is clear what the message is. It is a man’s world and women are just living in it.
The roots of misogyny run deep in Philippine society, and President Duterte clearly exploits this. Presidential Spokesperson, Harry Roque has also on multiple occasions defended the President’s remarks, often downplaying it as efforts to “lighten the mood,” and has asked the public not to take the President’s comments too seriously. The President himself has also said that he has high respect for women.
Having said that, women who have voiced out their concerns against the administration have suffered injustices and prosecutions mounted from baseless claims and what should be inadmissible evidence. Senator De Lima - a critic of the drug war, Maria Ressa - CEO of Rappler (online news website), and Amanda Echanis - an organiser of a women’s group, are only some of the few women who were punished for exercising their rights. Red-tagging - which is the blacklisting of an individual who shares criticism against the government, has become more common in the Philippines as well. Activists and protesters are being red-tagged for supporting and speaking up on women’s issues. This administration has taken more aggressive ways to remove women or anyone for that matter whose beliefs do not align with theirs. This also sends the warning to the rest that they should remain silent if they do not want to suffer the same fate.
Though, this has not stopped the spirits of those who wish to make a change. #BabaeAko or in English, #IAmAWoman, is a group formed that serves to fight back against the misogyny and sexism propelled by the Duterte administration in the Philippines. It comprises women from all backgrounds and professions, publicly calling out the President. #BabaeAko was recognized as part of TIME Magazine’s 25 most influential people on the internet in 2018 as well.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it a darker time for women and girls in the Philippines. Advocates for women’s rights have been active on the public stage, garnering wide coverage; sparking conversations on a multitude of platforms. Although these are steps in the right direction, the individual mindset has the tendency to think that is a battle to be fought only on a grander stage. But something that is so deeply ingrained in society must begin at home. The number of domestic violence cases against women has risen since the onset of the pandemic, and with the Philippines having the longest-running quarantine worldwide, so many women have yet to come forward. To make matters worse, the stress and anxiety the pandemic has brought combined with having a President that seems to condone such behaviour only aggravates the situation.
Truthfully, Philippine society is far from achieving a reality where women’s rights are viewed as human rights because it is always placed on the back burner and never pursued as aggressively as other political agendas.
Despite these obstacles, this has not dampened the efforts of those who want to see a more progressive society, and have become agents of change for a better, fairer Philippines.