A Climate of Abuse

by Juan L. Mercado

“Rape”, we’re told, “is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused. ” Philippine National Police “blottered” 3,549 rape cases last year. That’s four times the 2007 figure. Does this report mean more predators slink in those shadows?

Not really. Those bolting numbers “may be attributable to improved reporting”, says the 2009 US State Department report on human rights. We’re catching glimpses, only now, of heinous crimes long papered over.

PNP trained 1,636 human rights officers last year.. About nine percent of PNP officers today are women. Some staff new “Women & Children’s Units” in various stations.( Women account for 57 percent of public officials, corporate executives, managers, and supervisors, a January labor force survey found)

Traumatized victims, however, shrink from the stigma. Their families are cowed by politically-wired rapists. And many mistrust the cops.

Most police officers are decent. But “the 115,000-member PNP has deep-rooted institutional deficiencies,” the US report says. “(It) suffers from a widely held and accurate public perception that corruption remains a problem. PNP’s Internal Affairs Service remained largely ineffective.” .

Victims cower at the prospect of trials that may stretch five, six years. “Personal ties and sometimes bribery result in impunity for some wealthy or influential offenders,” the report adds. (This) contributes to widespread skepticism.

Rep. Romeo Jalosjos is the classic example. Furious citizens fought long before Jalosjos could be docked for raping an 11-year old girl. He got two life sentences. In April 2007, this expelled Zamboanga del Norte’ solon finally coughed up P800,000 in court ordered damages. By then, the victim was almost 20.

Despite protests, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo commuted the still influential- Jalosjos’ double life sentence. In 2012, he may qualify for pardon. That’s when he turns 70.

This shoots political crap with pardon powers. We saw that too in the pardon of ex-president Joseph Estrada convicted for plunder. Do these cynical power plays entrench further “ a culture of abuse”?

“Sexual violence against women is a scandal for every society,” noted 37 Filipino social scientists, theologians, academicians and heads of agencies that care for survivor victims “(This is) more so for one that calls itself Christian.”

The October meeting, in Tagaytay, drew in scientists from UP, De la Salle, Singapore National University to United Church of Christ and Loyola School of Theology. “Research insights suggest certain socio- cultural factors, in Philippine society, rooted deeper than perhaps previously thought, create a climate of abuse,” they stressed.

These factors include machismo, degrading women into objects of domination, proclivity to blame victims, fear-driven silence, knowledge gaps on human rights. Patriarchial and hierarchical features of Filipino society interlock with these factors.

Indeed, “violence against women remains a serious problem.” There were 706 cases of wife battering and physical injuries “blottered” in 2008. “This number likely under-reported significantly the level of violence against women”.

The country also remains a “source, transit point, and destination for men, women, and children trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labor.

Filipina sex slaves are funneled to Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, plus countries in the Middle East and Western Europe. “A growing percentage of internal trafficking victims were from Mindanao, fleeing poverty and violence.”

But what if protectors morph into abusers with badges? “There were reports of rape and sexual abuse of women in protective custody,” the State Department pointed out. Victims were the defenseless: “women from marginalized groups, such as suspected prostitutes, drug users.” Others were indigents arrested for minor crimes like peddling.

Female employees in ( Special Economic Zones) were “particularly at risk”. The Philippines has 41 privately owned SEZs Government operates one each in Cavite, Bataan, Mactan (Cebu) and Baguio.

Most SEZ workers are economic migrants. They lack independent unions to assist them. Those sexually harassed keep mum, fearing their contracts wouldn’t be renewed.”

Problems are “exacerbated by failure, if not reluctance, of even our most cherished institutions to help the victim and prosecute the perpetrator,” the Tagaytay meeting noted. These are churches, schools, law agencies and courts.

Seeking help and not knowing where to go, these women victim-survivors often find our churches ‘closed’, they added. ( It’s ) structures are either hostile or unwelcoming.

Many “silent but heroic programs” of institutions and centers that rescue and provide sanctuary for victims. .They are a “concrete expression ‘from below’ of merciful compassion…and can reconstruct violated identities.”

The Tagaytay group committed themselves to prioritize rights of women and children in their teaching and work. Review and revise the 2003 protocol on “Pastoral Care of Victims and Offenders”, they urged Catholic bishops. Heads of other Christian churches were to strip away attitudes that spur violence against women and children.

Prioritize resolution of sexual abuse cases to ensure swift decision, they asked government. Curricula ought to incorporate a “human sexuality education centered on responsibility and equal rights. “(We must see ) in our sexually violated sisters the face of God.”

(E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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