Women to Digong: ‘Stop it!’
Two days from now, on March 8, the world observes International Women’s Day (IWD). In the Philippines, IWD has been expanded into the entire month of March, observed as Women’s Role in History Month.
But women living under the shadow of the Duterte regime find little to celebrate, living as all of us do with a constant barrage of taunts, insults, sexual innuendo and degrading language usually dismissed or excused away as “jokes” or “hyperbole.”
Well, women aren’t taking any more of it. On Friday, women’s groups from the entire spectrum of identity and ideology will gather around the La Madre Filipina (The Filipino Mother) statue in Luneta, united by a single cry: “Tama Na! Sulong Kababaihan!” (Stop It! Women Advance!).
The activity kicks off at 3 p.m. with a march and cultural program. No politicians have been invited to address the gathering; instead, women from all walks of life will gather to express our collective disgust at the way women have been treated, addressed and portrayed by the Duterte administration.
A few notes on the site of the protest activity. La Madre Filipina is one of four sculptural pieces by Ramon Martinez that used to sit atop pillars marking both ends of the prewar Jones Bridge. Only three of the statues survived the massive destruction in the wake of the “liberation” of Manila in World War II. Two statues, clad in bronze, can be found on the grounds of the Court of Appeals building, while the piece in Rizal Park (in the promenade across the boulevard from the Rizal Monument) has been whitewashed.
La Madre Filipina depicts a mother comforting her weeping son while her daughter looks up innocently at her. The other surviving pieces show La Madre “carrying a torch while tending to a playing child and older boy; the other shows her with two genuflecting youths bearing instruments.”
Though created before the war, La Madre Filipina has come to symbolize the suffering of Filipinos under Japanese occupation and during the bloody battle for Manila, where it is believed some 100,000 Filipino civilians lost their lives. Horrific stories survive of how Japanese forces, retreating from the combined units of American soldiers and Filipino guerrillas, set fire to entire streets and locales where civilians sought shelter, such as De La Salle University on Taft, the Philippine General Hospital, and churches south of Pasig.
On Friday, Filipino women gather round La Madre Filipina to denounce another war seemingly waged around their bodies, their reputations, their capabilities and their “role in history.”
Misogyny as a seemingly central expression of state policy has far more serious implications than just hurting women’s feelings or offending sensibilities. Just a look at the biggest targets of Duterte’s ire — enabled by complicit police, prosecutors, judges, the Supreme Court — reveals that the biggest targets have been women. The list opens with Sen. Leila de Lima, who has so far endured two years’ imprisonment without a trial; former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, who was ousted on dubious legal grounds; retired Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales; journalist Maria Ressa, now subject to a barrage of charges and threats of arrest; and Sen. Risa Hontiveros, whose advocacies have found fruition in new laws but who remains a target of sniping and sneering.
As we launch into a monthlong celebration of women, one must wonder how the women around the President, starting with his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, who acts like an “enforcer” for her father, and the once again powerful Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, plan to observe the occasion or pursue its goals.
One especially wonders how the women in the senatorial ticket of the administration’s party Hugpong ng Pagbabago and its ally PDP-Laban — Grace Poe, Cynthia Villar, Pia Cayetano and Imee Marcos — will position themselves vis-à-vis their patron’s condescension of women and their own loud avowals of championing the cause of women. Somehow I can’t imagine them counseling the President to keep his tongue in check and his dirty mouth firmly shut.
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