‘In the time of the butterflies’ | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

‘In the time of the butterflies’

/ 04:05 AM December 06, 2021

The title refers to a historical novel by Dominican-American author, Julia Alvarez, considered one of the most accomplished Latina writers of her time. Published in 1994, the novel is based on the true story of three sisters and their journey in resisting Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican Republic dictator who seized control of that country through a military coup in 1930.

Known widely as “El Jefe” (The Chief) or “El Chivo” (The Goat), Trujillo sowed fear and hatred among his people, ruling through his ruthless police forces whose members were responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, including the massacre of 20,000 Haitians who lived near the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.


Together with their husbands, the Mirabal sisters Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa became active members of the growing underground resistance against Trujillo and his dictatorial regime.

On Nov. 25, 1960, the three Mirabal sisters traveled to visit their husbands who have been incarcerated by Trujillo’s henchmen. On their way back, assassins stopped their car, killed their driver, and forcibly took them out. They were beaten and strangled to death before their bodies were put back in the car. Their killers then pushed the car off a cliff, and made it look like an accident.


The Mirabal sisters were then known widely in their country as “mariposas” (butterflies), and this became the symbol of the struggle against the grip of the Trujillo dictatorship.

In 1999, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring Nov. 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to honor the memory of the murdered Mirabal sisters. But women in Latin America and the Caribbean had been commemorating the sisters’ martyrdom since Nov. 25, 1981.

In 1991, the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM) declared Nov. 25 to Dec. 10 as the 16 days of activism to end gender violence all over the world.

UNIFEM was merged as UN Women, together with other agencies in the United Nations that deal with gender and women’s concerns in 2011.

UN Women annually leads the commemoration of the 16 days of activism against gender violence that ends this coming Friday, Dec. 10, which is also the 73rd anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As this period of activism comes to a close this week, we reflect on the situation of women and girls in our midst, in this time of our history as we are on the verge of national and local elections.

Amid all the frenzy of candidates’ sorties to different parts of the country to promote their candidacies (even before the official campaign period starts in February 2022), we also become aware of the struggle of women and their girl children, as well as those of other gender identities, in the time of a dictator-like president. While he may not be as ruthless as Trujillo, President Duterte has also sown the culture of fear and silence through his many draconian policies, notably on dealing with the illegal drugs problem.


Like Trujillo’s double-faced strategies of self-proclaimed “progressivism” (like sending the first Dominican woman representative to the UN), President Duterte has also approved the Safe Spaces Act (more popularly known as the anti-bastos law). It is a landmark legislation acknowledging that women and those of other gender identities have rights to their “safe spaces,” that they should not be ridiculed and be cat-called, among other gender-fair provisions. Yet, Duterte is known as the number one violator of this law for his misogynistic remarks and sexist jokes, including his notorious statement “I should have been the first” on the rape of an Australian missionary.

The Dominican Republic’s mariposas had a noble goal. But in this country, butterflies symbolize politicians who change political parties at every whim, flaunting their high level of entitlement; that they can do anything they like, anytime. And one of them is no less than presidential daughter Sara. Indeed, she is her father’s daughter, despite her openly scornful attitude toward him.

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TAGS: Julia Alvarez, Kris-Crossing Mindanao, Mirabal sisters, Rafael Trujillo, Rufa Cagoco-Guiam
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