Absurd, CONTEND National Statement on Women’s Day, 8 Mar 2009

by rolandotolentino

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Absurd

Statement in Commemoration of Women’s Day, 8 March 2009

Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND-National)

It is the height of absurdity. That it is now, at a time when we have a woman-president, that the Filipina is even more oppressed and disenfranchised. Someone like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should be able to empathize. Someone like her should know how difficult it has become – to live as a woman in this country. A president like her should be able to imagine the kind of hunger the Filipina has been subjected to, and the fears that eat at her heart everyday.

Instead, all we’ve gotten from GMA, with or without a crisis, is a more difficult life. And this is so not because she’s a woman but because she’s of her social class, her upbringing, her ideology. Absolutely nothing has gotten better for the Filipina since GMA’s presidency, nothing to remind us that we have a sister in the country’s highest office, nothing to tell us that we are cared for and loved by this president.

For where is the love really? In her inability to approve the Reproductive Health Bill, and tell her cohorts in the Lower and Upper Houses to make it into law, with no regard for the Catholic Church that is staunchly against it, revealing the kind of claws and teeth it has in this country. GMA in fact, has proven herself inutile in the face of the Church which, alongside her administration’s inability to cease talking about Charter Change, tells us that 2010 is her dream. In GMA’s mind, the division of Church and State is nothing but a fluke – one that that she has used, time and again, for her political ambitions.

Where is the love, in her refusal to question the Visiting Forces Agreement, at a time when we are reminded of its unconstitutionality, when it has proven to be the bane of the Filipina’s existence, as she is put in danger of being raped and sexually abused, not only because this is historically proven to happen, but because recent events show that she will not be given the justice she deserves. At a time when reports abound about how it endangers millions of Filipino lives, because the balikatan exercises are not innocent with eyewitnesses seeing American soldiers take part in the Philippine Army’s operations in places like Sulu. The war on terror, which was the reason for the ratification of the VFA, was an American president’s dream. And yet, the Filipina must suffer because her own president wanted to prove her allegiance to Uncle Sam.

That this war on terror has displaced countless Filipinas is a given. But that it has been used by the government to reveal its hatred of criticism and activism, is unfathomable. That, since GMA’s presidency there have been more than a million human rights violations (from threat to physical assault, to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings), should be a shame to her administration. And yet the response has been to espouse safety and security as the opposite of allowing 933 activists – 107 of them women – to become victims of violence in the hands of those who should be protecting them.

And yet, to be victim is not limited to this purported war on terror. There is no love in the fact that there has been a rise in cases of violence against women. In a country where there is one woman raped every eight ours, and one more victimized by sexual harassment and acts of lasciviousness every two hours and six minutes, one can’t help but wonder: where is GMA in these statistics?

Apparently nowhere, focused as she seems to be on the crisis at hand, she hasn’t had the time to worry about the abuses on the Filipina. Instead, GMA says, here are dole-outs and a stimulus plan – it won’t do much, but at least I’m doing something. Because in truth, 10.8 million Filipinos are jobless and underemployed, and no stimulus plan (particularly not GMA’s) will change this. In the export processing zones (EPZs), 80% of workers are women, and it is here that massive layoffs and reduced working hours are happening. Even the government worker isn’t safe. She must worry about the possibility of being one of 450,000 people to lose their jobs in the face of government’s streamlining of employees. And don’t GMA begin about how the big companies of this country are hiring workers in huge numbers. Truth is, the number of contractual hires far outnumber the number of regular workers, be they in local companies like SM and PLDT or the multinational outsourcing companies.

There is no love felt by the woman who might be able to keep her job, but only if she settles for the low pay she is accorded. Minimum wage has yet to even come close to the official daily cost of living, and the gap has grown to P530 pesos. How the Filipina can survive with P530 pesos less than what she needs to live decently is a marvel. But there’s nothing to celebrate here, because this really only gives the Filipina two options that are equally sad: she can either become an OFW and accept all its contingent oppressions and sadness, or she can cope by becoming a willing victim to loan sharks and daily noontime game shows that make her cry and sing and dance in order to get some cash. To take on informal employment is a given.

That many overseas Filipina workers are underpaid and underemployed, that there is a rising number of detention and death row cases, that they are now being retrenched and deported in greater number now than at any other time, seems secondary to GMA. That these OFWs will have nothing to go home to but hunger and a corrupt government, that they are not given the protection they deserve, at the same time that they are celebrated as the heroes of the nation, is just despicable. That those who stay have to deal with a Bayani Fernando who does nothing but to exercise his fascism in ridding the streets of our poor and disenfranchised and needy, is all on GMA’s tab.

As all of these are. Because there is absolutely no excuse for the sad state of the Filipina’s life, in the year 2009, at a time when she is made to imagine that she can do and have anything, at a time when the president is a woman. That the Filipina’s life is farthest from what GMA imagines is not a matter of gender, as it is a matter of a woman-president who refuses to see the real state of this nation, beyond her own administration’s propaganda. It is, more than anything, GMA imagining that she is a blessing, when she is nothing but the bane of the Filipina’s existence. And at no other time has it been more clear why, on March 8, Woman’s Day, the Filipina must call for the most powerful Filipina to step down.

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