A Century Later, Filipino Women Continue Struggle for Change

“Today we highlight the hard-earned gains in the fight for women’s rights. Yet at the same time, we recognize that Filipino women are still shackled with oppression as hunger and violence continue to threaten them under a government that refuses to act on the pertinent issues confronting the people,” Lana Linaban, Gabriela secretary general, said.


MANILA – On the 100th year commemoration of International Women’s Day, thousands of women marched toward the Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola) bridge, a few steps away from the Malacañang palace and called on President Benigno S. Aquino III to act on the core issues that burden Filipino women.

Led by Gabriela, the country’s premier women’s organization, protesters gathered in two assembly areas, Plaza Miranda and Welcome Rotunda. The two contingents converged at the corner of Recto avenue and Morayta street and proceeded to Chino Roces bridge.

Gabriela challenged the Aquino administration to act on their 10-point demand: government intervention to lower prices of commodities and utilities; increase in minimum wages; comprehensive reproductive health services; save OFWs in danger situations as in Libya and the Middle East; distribution of Aquino-owned Hacienda Luisita to tenant-farmers; cessation of demolition of urban poor communities; release of all political prisoners and prosecution of former president Gloria Arroyo and cohorts; justice for comfort women; elimination of violence against women; and promotion of the rights and welfare of children.

“Today we highlight the hard-earned gains in the fight for women’s rights. Yet at the same time, we recognize that Filipino women are still shackled with oppression as hunger and violence continue to threaten them under a government that refuses to act on the pertinent issues confronting the people,” Lana Linaban, Gabriela secretary general, said.

Linaban scored what she calls “multiple blows” against women, referring to increases in the costs of food, oil, public transportation, utilities and other basic necessities.

Nita Gonzaga, vice chairwoman for women affairs of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), said that amid the price increases, a substantial wage increase should be implemented.

“The nine-month administration of Aquino is inutile in responding to the urgent demands of women and the people as it is adamant in continuing economic policies that adhere to imperialist globalization. Its cornerstone program the PPP is nothing more than a repacked economic program with globalization as framework. It is a sell-out to US imperialist dictates, allowing private corporations ownership and greater control over essential sectors and industries in the Philippines, including basic services and utilities,” Linaban said.

Faces of Women

Women from all walks of life joined the protest rally.

More than 200 women peasants and workers from Hacienda Luisita, a sugar estate owned by Aquino and family, joined the protesters at Chino Roces bridge after holding a picket rally at the Supreme Court. They called on the Supreme Court to issue a decision on the decades-old land dispute.

Amihan, an organization of peasant women, said landlessness is also an issue of women. The group challenged Aquino to start land reform by turning over Hacienda Luisita to the farm workers.

Meanwhile, Pam Pangilinan, Migrante spokeswoman, criticized the Aquino government’s ineptness in responding to the conditions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Migrante International receives three to five complaints from OFWs per day, ranging from contract substitution, physical abuse, sexual abuse and death.

Pangilinan cited as an example the repatriated OFWs from Libya who received no assistance from the government except for shirts from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

Migrante also said that while many more mothers, sisters and daughters who have no other choice but to work abroad because of joblessness in the country are now left in the midst of danger in North Africa and Saudi. “The government could not do anything to repatriate overseas Filipino workers who are caught in the middle of the crisis in Libya and soon in the Day of Rage in Saudi Arabia,” Migrante said. The Day of Rage in Saudi Arabia that will be held on March 11 is an anti-government protest against the increase in prices of crude oil in the world market.

In a statement, Gabriela said, while the Philippine government continues to export Filipino labor to keep the economy afloat with overseas Filipino workers’ remittances, it completely fails to ensure the safety of migrant workers in situations of danger. This is the glaring truth behind the government’s delayed and inadequate response to help thousands of Filipino in Libya, many of whom are women working as nurses and domestic helpers.

Women from different urban poor communities in Metro Manila condemned the continuing demolition of their shanties and the absence of a housing program for the poor.

The Filipino youth also joined the rally. In her speech, Vanessa Faye Bolibol, secretary general of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) said Aquino’s PPP stands for “Patong-Patong na Pahirap” (burdens upon burdens), citing the tuition increases in schools.

The Filipino children are hardly hit by the economic crisis, said Melissa San Miguel, spokeswoman of Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concern. “According to the data of the national government, there are four million families who experience hunger. If every family has four children, it means that there are 16 million children who experience hunger.”

According to the 2008 National Nutrition Survey, about 3.35 million Filipino children ages 0 to 5 are underweight; 3.57 million are short in height for their age. The United Nations has identified the Philippines to be among the top 20 countries identified to have 80 percent of the world’s stunted pre-school children.

Meanwhile, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan pointed out that overpopulation is not the cause of poverty but the exploitation of the few elite. Ilagan reiterated the importance of enacting a Comprehensive Reproductive Health Bill that will provide basic health services to adolescent girls, single women, mothers, as well as menopausal women.

Ilagan said that 11 women die every day due to preventable childbirth complications. Maternal, neonatal and child deaths are highest among 20 percent of the poorest Filipinos. An estimate of 1.73 million (8.9 percent) out of 19.4 million Filipino women of child bearing age do not have access to prenatal care from skilled birth attendants.

“The government should see how important it is for poor families to have access to healthcare services. Poor women are less likely to spend on healthcare as their family budget diminishes,” said Ilagan.

Fighting Back

Amid the crisis, Bolibol said the Filipino youth and the people will respond with another “PPP” which stands for “Papalaki at Papatinding Protesta” (intensifying protests).

Carol Araullo, chairwoman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and vice chairwoman of International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS), said the crisis of imperialism causes the exploitation of women and compels the peoples and women all over the world to fight back. ()

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