Features Spotlight

Defeating the system: An urgent vow to stop VAW

Words by Beatrice Mendoza

Every year, on November 25, countries from across the globe launch a 16-day campaign for the elimination of violence against women (VAW). This initiative was established by the United Nations (UN) back in 2013. It originally lasts until December 10, ending on the International Human Rights Day, however, the campaign was extended until December 12 following the International Day Against Trafficking in Persons which promotes the “prevention, suppression and punishment of trafficking in persons, especially women and children,” under Proclamation no. 1172 of former President Gloria Arroyo.

The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW)—a government agency mandated to create policies & coordinate matters on women and gender equality—will launch an 18-day campaign this year against VAW. The campaign theme for 2020 is “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!,” with the color orange symbolizing “a brighter future without violence against women.” 

The PCW highlights the role of the barangay and its responsibilities in eliminating women’s abuse. This year’s program includes training barangay officials in handling these cases, including, but not limited to, gender-based harassment. Its activities also comprise various online webinars & talks about eliminating VAW, which are accessible and free for all interested individuals live streamed on PCW’s Facebook page. The goal is to strengthen “local mechanisms,” in the barangay through the creation of VAW desks which will cater to the heightened abuses experienced by women brought about by the ongoing pandemic. 

The Worsening trend of cases of violence against women 

In what is dubbed as the “shadow pandemic”, the plight of women has seen no rest as attacks on the freedom and human rights of women have continuously occurred. According to PCW, COVID-19 has “aggravated underlying gender issues and affected marginalized and vulnerable sectors.” This is further affirmed by the UN stating that “there has been an increase in calls to domestic violence helplines in many countries since the outbreak of COVID-19.” 

As even before the pandemic, 1 in 3 women globally have faced physical or sexual violence from their partner. The Philippines recorded that 1 in 4 women, aged 15-49, have experienced physical, sexual, emotional violence from their partner. Meanwhile, the country has experienced a general downward trend of reported cases from March to April, but abuses are not isolated cases since it has been present even before the imposition of lockdown. Despite having a downward trend, the fact remains that women are much more vulnerable to abuse during the lockdown due to limited physical mobility. The Philippine National Police Women Children Protection Center (PNP-WCPC) recorded 763 crimes against women from March 13 to April 30, 2020. While Gabriela noted 3700 cases of abuse against women during the two-month period of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) alone.

UN mentioned that sexual harassment can occur in online spaces and that a decrease in cases may be attributed to survivors having limited access to information regarding helplines and desks. 

VAW as a multi-sectoral occurrence 

Recently, Duterte’s seemingly sexist jokes, amid the catastrophic effects of the consecutive typhoons that hit the country, was downplayed and justified by Palace officials mentioning that this was Duterte’s way of coping with disasters. In his address last November 17, Duterte proceeded with calling out Leni Robredo and even went as far as publicly threatening her saying, “Matagal na akong maraming sabihin sa ‘yo, pero ireserba ko na lang. When you start your campaign, kapag magtakbo ka ng presidente, waswasan kita nang husto. This is your nightmare.” He said this on the basis that Robredo had spoken against him, amid the calls for #NasaanAngPangulo. It was later proven that Leni did not say those things and Duterte, instead, succumbed to circulating fake news.

Meanwhile, in the trans community, Pemberton was granted an absolute pardon by the president himself on the basis of good conduct, despite not having previous public relations. This reduced his sentence of 10 years to 5 years and 10 months. Pemberton was convicted of the violent murder of Filipino transwoman Jennifer Laude back in 2014, when he discovered that Laude was a transwoman. Laude was found dead with the autopsy revealing she had died by asphyxia and drowning.

Prominent women figures in the entertainment industry such as Liza Soberano and Angel Locsin were also targets of gender-based violence. Soberano recently spoke in a Gabriela-Youth talk, advocating for women’s rights. Not long after, General Parlade Jr., spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), red-tagged her and warned her that she would be killed if she further involved herself with “left-leaning groups.” This sparked a movement with the hashtags #NoToRedTagging and #YesToRedLipstick which also involved other victims of Parlade’s blatant red-tagging like Angel Locsin & Catriona Gray. (Read: Celebrities wear red lipstick to support Angel Locsin amid red-tagging issue

Human rights activists and women journalists are also victims of discrimination and oppression. Reina Mae “Ina” Nasino, a social activist working with urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY), was arrested and charged with alleged cases of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. During the period of her detainment, she was unknowingly in her first trimester of pregnancy and even gave birth to her child River. She was only given a month to care for River, and when River died, she was granted only 6 hours to mourn for her baby. The funeral home was surrounded by jail guards and police officers who attempted to take Nasino away from the wake, even before the four hours were up. Such harsh treatment made it seem like she was a high-profile inmate more than a grieving mother. (Read: Philippines: Anger over death of baby separated from jailed mother). 

Another case would be of journalist Maria Ressa, CEO and Executive Editor of social news network Rappler, who sparked international outrage when she was convicted of cyberlibel. The article in question, written before the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 came into action, “defamed” Wilfredo Keng who pressed charges. The verdict found Ressa and co-writer Santos Jr. guilty with fines and a bailable six months to six years in prison. This is one of the 11 cases against Ressa and Rappler that occurred during Duterte’s Term. (Read: LIST: Cases vs Maria Ressa, Rappler directors, staff since 2018

All the more are the masses affected by present-day machismo ideologies. Under the Duterte administration, economic think-tank IBON reported that the number of employment of women has lessened and that work conditions are not improving. Women still receive low wages and face a gender gap in terms of pay. This is seen by the decrease of employed women from the start of the term of Duterte, at 16 M going down to 15.7 M in 2018. Various indicators such as percentage share of employed women in precarious work, share of women employed working excessive hours, average real daily basic pay (ADBP), and the wage gap in various industries show little to no improvement. The situation is aggravated by the policies of the Duterte administration that benefit big businesses and in turn disregard the rights of women and workers. 

Macho-fascism, which intensified under the Duterte regime, has proven to be detrimental towards the women’s struggle for gender equality. Issues such as economic discrimination and wage gap remain prevalent among women especially in the marginalized sector.

Peasant women are made more susceptible to attacks by the government due to their status and lack of resources. Amihan—a national federation of peasant women—reported that there is a huge wage gap of P30 pesos a day between female and male agricultural workers. Peasant women also face the unresponsiveness of the government when it comes to their plight regarding economic discrimination, gender inequality, aerial bombings & the militaristic government response to the pandemic. (Read: Año’s “house-to-house” to cause more abuses – peasant women group)

The youth is no exemption to harassment. The most recent reported case occurred 4 days before the VAWC campaign, with a grade 7 student found dead without clothing and multiple stab wounds. The motive of the case is unknown as of writing, as the student went out to get a mobile phone signal for her online classes.  

It is also worth noting that at the start of the year, several high school students from different academic institutions came forward with stories concerning sexual harassment, grooming, abuse of authority from their teachers or personnel and used hashtags like #MCHSDoBetter #SPCPSQUAREUP #STCDoBetter #TimesUpAteneo, etc. (Read: “I was 12, I didn’t know any better,” says former Miriam student on her teacher’s grooming

Fight for genuine equality and safe spaces

The clamor and fight for gender equality and treatment are not finished, and should not end. The latest of which is the Sexual Orientation Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) bill, which strengthens the rights of women, and fights for the democratic freedom of marginalized sectors including transwomen, lesbians, and the whole queer community. Policies could only do so much. While we strive for its ratification, let us not forget to hold people accountable whenever they blatantly disregard these laws. Existing policies against violence have long been established in the constitution yet we still see its prevalence. Provisionary laws like the Safe Spaces Act and the Bawal Bastos Law among others that have been passed during Duterte’s term, will always be dismissed as long as government officials themselves do not see the gravity of their careless actions. 

Having a macho-fascist leader leading a country asserts dominance over women, enables sexism in all sectors, as seen earlier. A leader, who visibly flaunts misogyny, and disregards minimum decency and professionalism, will only further attacks against women. With a militaristic approach by the government, violence against women intensified and, in some cases, are even left to fend for themselves. It is this same culture of impunity that allows Duterte to evade accountability. Citizens are even asked to understand his “quirks” and suddenly, the laws protecting women are bent in accordance with his sexist remarks. (Read: Dysfunctional authority: A macho-fascist guide to impunity)

It is now, again, up to the masses to not forget the government’s constant negligence regarding this matter and to hold them accountable. Laws and policies are bound to fail in protecting us, as it holds selective justice in service of those in power and the ruling class. In this pandemic, women need all the support they need as they are even made more vulnerable to attacks by their partners and in extreme cases, of their own relatives. Even having stricter physical boundaries fail because online platforms make it easier for abusers to reach women through their social media accounts by sending unwanted sexual advances. Under Duterte’s macho-fascist administration, there is little to no remorse for the breach of the rights of women, even breeding a culture of such. [P]

Reach out to these numbers if you have a case and need assistance & aid:


  • Hotline: (02) 8929-9436 local 106, 107, or 159 (local “0” for operator)
  • (+62) 9393233665
  • Email address: pao_executive@yahoo.com

REFERRAL SERVICES: Inter-Agency Council on Violence Against Women and their Children 




Photo by Sophia Isabel Pangilinan

UPLB Perspective is the official student publication of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, established in 1973. It is the first campus publication established under Martial Law in the Philippines.

1 comment on “Defeating the system: An urgent vow to stop VAW

  1. Pingback: Taking up space: Honoring the women of Southern Tagalog – UPLB Perspective

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