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Every woman is a victim

No, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, you cannot, as the saying goes, put the toothpaste back in the tube. You may issue an apology and say that you had no intention of disrespecting women and “those who have been victims of this horrible crime [of rape],” and rue that “sometimes my mouth can get the better of me.”

But guess what, your uncouth and cruel remarks about regretting that you did not have first dibs at ravishing Jacqueline Hamill have been said, recorded, and passed on from cell phone to cell phone, and from computer screen to computer screen, and endlessly commented upon and argued over. They are out there in the ether and in the arena of public opinion, and they have found their target.

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And what target is that? It is every woman or girl who has been the victim of violence, sexual harassment, rape and exploitation. In fact, it is every woman and girl even if she has not been a victim. Because the fear of rape is the fear of every girl and woman, it is a threat that hangs over our heads, ever-present, residing in the deepest recesses of our minds.

When you make light of the issue, or allow your rabid followers to erupt in laughter when you mention it, or refuse to take back your careless remarks, saying people will just have to “take me or leave me,” you are raking up painful memories and peeling away the scabs that survivors had tried to use to cover up their anguish. You are making light of, making fun of, the threat that plagues every female, for whom fear of rape is ingrained in our consciousness almost from our earliest days.

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You are telling us: Your feelings don’t matter. It doesn’t bother me if I may offend some or all of you. Live with it. Grow up.

Well, to that I say: Grow up yourself, Mr. Mayor. How can you expect and aspire to be the Father of the Nation when your behavior and your words seem designed to inflict hurt and recreate trauma?

* * *

At a press conference held yesterday at Miriam College, organized by a wide range of women and women’s groups outraged by Duterte’s series of offensive remarks about women, it emerged that memories of sexual exploitation lie just below the surface of every survivor’s consciousness.

“Trish,” who proudly described herself as a survivor rather than as a victim of childhood sexual abuse, decried the pervasive “rape culture” in place in this country and culture. And given the raucous reception given by crowds of Duterte followers to his every derogatory remark about women, Trish couldn’t help but wonder if we have not lost “our moral compass as a nation.”

The last speaker at the press con was a student leader named Angelica, who declared that “we do not deserve this kind of president” and pleaded to the electorate “to finally learn our lesson.”

“Everybody wants change,” she said, “but nobody wants to change.”

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And then she came out with a bombshell: “I was myself molested as a child,” she revealed, and when the entire brouhaha over the mayor’s remarks erupted, “all the memories” of the trauma she experienced returned.

“I am scared and I am hurt,” she declared. “I feel like my dignity has been trampled upon, and will be trampled upon” should the mayor win the presidential election.

* * *

The possibility of a Duterte victory at the polls doesn’t faze Sr. Mary John Mananzan, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica, and founder of women’s groups Gabriela and Pilipina. Vowing to spread the campaign to uphold women’s rights and spread the word about the need for gender consciousness, especially among our leaders, Sister Mary John said she is determined to continue the work even in the face of a Duterte presidency.

“Kahit araw-araw ako sa Edsa (Even if I must go to Edsa every day),” she said, referring of course to that iconic site of our most beloved memories of protests.

Dr. June Pagaduan Lopez, a psychiatrist, expressed the opinion that Duterte is a “sociopath,” a person who follows no rules and will do or say anything to gain advantage for himself. The thing about sociopaths, she added, is that “they can be very charming,” and can build fantasy worlds and convince others that everything they are doing is for everybody else’s good.

The momentum that Duterte has managed to build up, the speakers at the press con said, may be due to the “disgruntled vote.” He is winning the support of Filipinos for whom the democratic experiment of the last few decades has brought nothing but frustration, or impatience with the processes and slowness of democracy.

* * *

In less than a month, we will be trooping to the polls and making decisions about the future of the country—in the next six years in the short term, and even longer.

At this point, we don’t know who will emerge as president or vice president, or who will occupy any of the hundreds of positions at stake. But there are issues on the table that lie beyond politics or just the vote. One of these is women’s rights, and we must decide in the few days left to us voters what we need to do to ensure that the decades of struggle to secure women’s rights, and to have the necessary laws enacted to protect and assure those rights, are put into practice.

Women’s rights are human rights, we declare. And in the days remaining, we have to listen to our consciences and decide who among those asking for our votes will respect our rights as women and as citizens, and vote accordingly.

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TAGS: Elections 2016, Rape joke, Rodrigo Duterte, sexual abuse
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