MANILA — Thousands of women filled the streets to mark the 101st commemoration of the International Women’s Day. They criticized violations of women’s rights being perpetrated by the administration of Benigno Aquino III.
“Women are condemning the criminal partnership of Presidents Aquino and Barrack Obama in subjugating Filipino women under the yoke of imperialist military terrorism and economic plunder of our national patrimony,” Lana Linaban, secretary general of Gabriela, said.
Protesters held a protest action at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila before they marched toward Mendiola at around 5:00 p.m., where they burned an effigy: a huge yellow ribbon that Aquino used in his presidential campaign with stars and stripes similar to the American flag.
The protest action last March 8 is one of the biggest rallies in recent years.
The declaration of March 8 as International Women’s Day was proposed by socialist parties during the Second International conference in Copenhagen in 1910 and was first commemorated in 1911. Women then rallied against the exploitative conditions of workers, mostly women, in European countries.
Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano said in a statement that majority of the Filipino working women are suffering from the prevailing social and economic conditions in the country.
“The working women are among the most exploited in the farmlands, economic zones and work places,” Mariano said, adding that it is enough reason for people to come together and struggle for genuine social change as they fight oppression and repression perpetuated by the ruling system.
Mariano added that it is “unfortunate that the administration of Benigno Aquino III chose to perpetuate this oppressive social system that subjects majority of Filipino women and men alike to exploitation.”
Exploitation of women workers continues
Despite notions of female empowerment in workplaces, Filipino women workers still get lower wages and lower quality jobs than their male counterparts, observed the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER). Citing the 2011 Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics’s Gender Statistics on Labor and Employment, EILER said that “women bear the brunt of the highly backward domestic economy as they are concentrated on volatile and informal jobs with low or no wages at all.”
About 2.3 million Filipino women render “unpaid labor” especially in the countryside. The women are counted as part of the so-called “unpaid family workers” who are “mired in rock-bottom poverty and are highly prone to exploitation and abuse,” said Anna Leah Escresa, executive director of EILER.
“Since they have no pre-determined scope of work, unpaid female family workers also experience long hours of strenuous work that poses serious risks to their health and reproductive well-being,” Escresa said.
On the other hand, Escresa also said there are 1.63 million Filipino women working in private households, normally as helpers, who suffer measly wages and un-secure employment terms. “On an average, females working in private households earn only P123.20 ($2.86) per day, or merely P3,203 ($74.49) a month. Such wage rate is obviously inhumane amid skyrocketing prices of oil and basic commodities,’ she said.
Women are still disadvantaged in the manufacturing sector, where their average wage is lower by 7.3 percent than the male’s. According to EILER, female factory workers earn an average of $6.9 a day while the male were earning $7.44. Both are below the country’s minimum wage of $9.9 a day.
“Wage inequality is sharpest in the hotels and restaurants sub-sector, wherein women workers earn wages that are 77.80 percent lower than their male counterparts,” Escresa said.
The Aquino government, however, have no plans to address these issues. As stated in the Philippine Labor and Employment Plan 2011-2016, the government policy is mere employment facilitation and not creation of new jobs with decent pay.
Resisting price hikes, taxes and overpricing
Outside the Filipino women’s respective workplaces, the oppression continues. “The prices of goods have increased. How about your salary?” Nitz Gonzaga of Kilusang Mayo Uno asked during the program in Plaza Miranda.
Early 2012, there seems to be an unabated and continuing increase in prices of petroleum products, and consequently staple commodities. According to women’s rights advocates group, it is the mothers who are greatly affected by price increases as they shoulder the responsibility of making sure that their meager income would be enough to cover their daily needs.
“Amid the specter of our women reeling from the headache of trying to make ends meet, we have a president who refuses to heed the call of the Filipino people to scrap the Oil Deregulation Law, EVAT, EPIRA (Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001), and all laws that impose a heavy toll on our women’s pockets, hearts, minds, and stomachs,” Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus said.
Worse, the women railed that amidst increased poverty of his constituents, Aquino is reportedly planning to purchase a new limousine and private jet.
De Jesus said Aquino has “totally abandoned the protection and respect for the rights and welfare of poor Filipino women and their families by consigning one of its most important resources to big foreign companies,” referring to the 15 oil and gas exploration contracts offered for bidding to big transnational companies, in the midst of the increasing prices of oil products due to monopoly overpricing and speculation in the oil futures market.
Among these big oil companies with local subsidiaries include Shell Philippines Exploration B.V., Total E&P Activities Petrolieres, Esso Exploration International Ltd., GDF Suez, Repsol Exploracion S.A., ENI, Nido Petroleum Philippines Pty. Ltd., Philex Petroleum Corp. at Mitra Energy.
De Jesus said that allowing foreign companies to extract the country’s natural resources so they could sell it to Filipinos at a high price is “like handing them the gun that they will use to kill us. It is an insult to Filipinos who barely survive the incessant oil price hikes.”
“We stand with the women of the toiling masses in opposing US military presence in the country and monopoly-capitalist control of the local oil industry,” Kilusang Mayo Uno said in a statement.
Protest against the unabated oil price hikes has been one of the main themes of the local campaigns of Gabriela chapters nationwide. In Tuguegarao and in Davao City, some 500 and 2,000 protesters, respectively, called on the Aquino government to scrap the expanded value added tax on oil and the oil deregulation law that has brought about price hikes not just in petroleum products but also in staple commodities.
According to Gabriela, their local chapter in Cebu City briefly occupied the office of the Department of Energy “to shame the agency for its uselessness in regulating abuses of the oil industry.”
Around 700 protesters in Iloilo City also held a caravan against foreign intervention and oil price hikes.
RH bill, long overdue
De Jesus said Filipinos should expect that, as a consequence of the continuing price hikes, prices of basic commodities would also increase. She added that it would be another burden to most women who are either jobless or receiving very meager salaries. In Bacolod City in Negros Occidental, Gabriela said, the poor living conditions of sugar cane workers pushed them to go to the streets and protest their $0.88 salary per day. Such salary would not be able to keep up with the increasing prices of everything.
Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan said the impoverished condition of the Filipino people is all the more worsened with the lack of social services given to Filipino women and mothers with the failure to immediately pass the Reproductive Health bill.
“The RH bill is long overdue. Women are spending less and less of their family budget for healthcare. It would certainly help if the Aquino government would help ensure that maternal health services are provided free of charge in village centers and public hospitals, instead of making a turn toward privatization that will inevitably make health more of a business than a social service,” Ilagan said.
Ilagan added that other women’s legislation which aim to increase awareness of women’s rights and promote protection against abuses should also be prioritized, namely: HB1800 Increasing Maternity Leave Benefits from 60 days to 120 days; HB 4822 Designating Special Courts for Illegal Recruitment cases; HB6274 Prescribing Penalties for Employers and Superiors who deny VAW victims’ application for leave; HB1479 Introducing Amendments to the Sexual Harassment Act and; HB1799 Introducing Divorce in the Philippines.
No to increasing U.S. military presence
Gabriela, the country’s largest women group, criticized the increasing presence of U.S. military deployment in the country with its coming joint military exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. During the protest action in Plaza Miranda, Linaban said, the Aquino administration is opening up the country to more direct U.S. intervention.
In the Bicol region, American soldiers were deployed under the banner of Operation Pacific Angel. Some 3,000 protesters gathered today in front of Camp Ola in Daraga, Albay to criticize the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows such military operations. A total of some 11,000 activists and advocates also gathered in front of the respective provincial capitals of Sorsogon, Masbate and Camarines to denounce the continuing civic and military operations under the Balikatan exercises.
Some 400 activists also protested against the Balikatan exercises in Butuan City in Mindanao.
“Allowing increased US military presence, the continuing Balikatan and so-called US humanitarian missions in the Philippines all constitute a surefire formula against peace, and the proliferation of social ills and prostitution,” Ilagan said, “Women strongly condemn this presidential invitation for US military intervention and the resulting abuse and rape of women and the nation.”
Ilagan said women have witnessed how U.S. soldiers who violated, raped or even killed women and children during their stay in the country always manage to remain scot-free from accountability. She cited the case of “Nicole,” who was raped by L/Cpl Daniel Smith, Buyong-buyong Isnijal, who was shot by Private Reggie Lane and the arbitrary closure of the Panamao district hospital ordered by US MSgt Ron Berg.
“Today, Women’s Day, women declare their commitment against US intervention,” Ilagan said, “Filipino women are calling for an end to US intervention, and to the rape of women and our nation.”
Women protesting in Palawan to commemorate the International Women’s Day were harassed by members of the military and the police, according to Gabriela Southern Tagalog.
In a statement, some 500 members of the local chapter of Gabriela were preparing to march when they noticed some 20 police and members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Command in full battle gear outside the venue of the first assembly of Gabriela-Palawan, which began on March 7.
The police and the military continued to “guard” the venue until almost midnight of March 8. The remaining 32 delegates of Gabriela, at that time, could not go out of the venue.
The people of Southern Tagalog are facing a tough struggle ahead of them. Some 1,800 U.S. soldiers are currently conducting joint military exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines in their area.
“Can’t Aquino see the situation? Is he blind?” chair emeritus of urban poor group Kadamay Carmen “Nanay Mameng” Deunida asked during the protest action in Plaza Miranda. She added that the Filipino people are going through so much poverty that even children resort to begging on the streets.
Kadamay, in a statement, noted the worsening conditions of the Filipino people under the present administration. She cited the recent results of the SWS survey which reveals an increase in families experiencing involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months. The survey was conducted from December 3-7 , 2011. The survey showed that 22.5 percent, or an estimated 4.5 million families experienced involuntary hunger during the said period, which is higher than the 21.5 percent or 4.1 million families who experienced involuntary hunger last September 2011.
Moderate hunger, or those who experienced hunger “only once” or a “a few times” in the last three months fell from 18.0 percent or 3.6 million families registered in September 2011 to the 17.7 percent or 3.57 million families in December 2011. Severe hunger, on the other hand, or those who experienced hunger “often” or “always” rose from 3.5 percent or 713 million families to 4.7 percent or 955 million families.
On the other hand, there are 9.7 million Filipinos unemployed and 1.4 million families facing threats of demolition in Metro Manila alone.
Such conditions have pushed Filipino women to find work abroad. According to Migrante International, the feminization of labor migration in the Philippines have intensified over the years with the government intensifying its labor export policy. In 1995, the National Statistics Office’s Survey of Overseas Filipino said that there are 91 female overseas Filipino workers for every 100 males. Ratio have increased in 2006 with 102 females per 100 male migrant workers.
“To date, women overseas Filipino workers make up more than half, or 60 percent, of the stock estimate of migrant workers, outnumbering male especially in the service sector, with 135,168 female new hires to 19,367 male in 2010.
The increase have placed women in vulnerable conditions. They are victims of sexual discrimination, other gender specific abuses, exploitation and violence. Women migrant workers are prone to illegal recruitment, human and sex trafficking, among others. They are also caught in crossfires such as the U.S.-NATO-led wards of aggression in the Middle East-North Africa region and in the strife-torn Syria, according to Migrante International.
“Today, Migrante International marches with them in solidarity with the women’s struggle for freedom, democracy and national sovereignty and against imperialist plunder and military intervention,” the OFW group said in a statement, “In celebration of the International Women’s Day, we salute and honor them and other women OFWs around the world.”
International chapters Gabriela in Riyadh, Hong Kong, San Francisco and New York held protest actions, criticizing the Aquino government’s hikes on taxes and migrant labor fees.
“We call on women from the toiling masses in the Philippines to continue the tradition of great women heroes – from Gabriela Silang and Melchora Aquino to Lorena Barros and Cherith Dayrit-Garcia, to Benjaline Hernandez and Eden Marcellana – who have laid down their lives for the liberation of the Philippines, of women, and of the working class,” Kilusang Mayo Uno said. (Bulatlat.com)