Press Release
June 30, 2017

On the first year of the Duterte government

*Speech delivered by Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros before a Women Event entitled "Equality Makes Sense: A forum on women empowerment in the Philippines", June 30, 2017, Ateneo De Manila University

This day could not have come at a more significant time. Today is a marker, a moment of courage. June 30 marks the end of Pride Month when we all call for equality and an end to gender (or SOGIE) discrimination amid a growing climate of misogyny and sexism in this country. We mark the end of Pride Month, but not the end of the fight to dismantle all the political, social and cultural structures that contribute to the persecution and discrimination of our LGBT friends.

However, I would like to venture that today is also a day of remembrance for the thousands who have died, many at the hands of extrajudicial killers, one year since President Rodrigo Duterte launched his bloody war on drugs.

"To forget is to erase our humanity"

In a few weeks, the President will deliver his second State of the Nation Address (SONA). Even as government downplays this colossal human rights crisis and in some cases, even denies the very existence of these killings, we need to remember. We must never forget nor dismiss this sanctioned and deliberate crime against the people. The act of remembering is a revolutionary and courageous act. To forget is an assault upon truth. To forget is to erase our humanity.

And in this important act of remembering, we, women, play a central role. I have always believed that women are excellent "rememberers." Many of our culture's storytellers and lorekeepers are women. From the vivid memories of our "lolas" or grandmothers, to the stories our mothers tell us about our families, and then there are the lessons from our teachers, who taught us to remember not only our lessons, but the values of integrity and truth. Women have served as our bridge to connecting the past with the present, and many have helped us in unearthing and protecting the truth from systemic obfuscation and falsehood.

But given the important part women play; how do we fare presently? If one simply looks at the statistics, it would seem that Filipino women are doing very well.

The Philippines ranks 3rd in Asia and 17th worldwide in terms of political empowerment. This comes courtesy of the 2015 Global Gender Gap Index Report. Just to add some comparative perspective, our country ranks higher than Malaysia and Singapore in that regard. From 1998 to 2013, there was a steady rise in women's participation in politics from 16.15% (1998) to 19.92% (2013) In 2010, two women were elected to the Senate. Then there were four in 2013. Now, six women serve this country as elected senators. This is the largest number of women in the chamber to date.

Yet, beyond the statistics, if we take the larger, and longer view, these numbers tell us just how wide the gap is.

If female participation was right around 20% as of four years ago, then that meant 80% of political positions were still occupied by men - & 19.92% was supposed to be an all-time high! In the Senate, six women is only 25% of the total population of the chamber, less than half. It's also worth noting that no woman has ever served as Senate President despite the institution's 100-year history. And within the bureaucracy itself, women are more likely to be technical personnel, while men tend to be clerks, executives, or managers.

Worse, there has been a surge in the culture of sexism and impunity that has marked the character of this government. Many of us here have probably heard or read the stories reported by the media - the trivializing of rape as something funny, or telling soldiers that it is okay to commit rape, reducing women public leaders to body parts, catcalling a female reporter and justifying it as freedom of expression and a compliment. There is also the distasteful reality of gender-based online harassment, and slut-shaming. Fake news is deployed as a weapon to stifle political dissent and lie to the public. There is a profound, palpable hatred and persecution of women leaders who dare stand up to the blatant disregard for human life as shown by the bloodthirsty war on drugs and recent proposals to return the death penalty to this country.

Duterte's first year: A year of grieving, a dangerous time to be a woman

If we assess the first year of the Duterte administration, it is clear that it is a dangerous year to be a woman. It is the year of misogyny and relentless killings. It is a year of grieving. In the government's abusive war on drugs alone, how many wives have lost their husbands? How many mothers have lost their sons and daughters? How many of our fellow women have lost their lives? How many more must suffer and die?

Friends and fellow women, one year into the Duterte administration, this is the kind of atmosphere we Filipino women live in right now. We live in a time when the culture of death, rape, and misogyny is pervasive, made worse by the despicable behavior of many of our public officials who lend their voices to the gross, blatant objectification of our women. We live in a time when democracy and human rights are grossly violated and their active defense is seen as an act of weakness and a promotion of criminality.

Descent into madness, nostalgia for authoritarian past

Many have been asking, how did we descend into this madness? How come Filipinos who cherish freedom and democracy, and who defeated a dictatorship 31 years ago, seem to be again succumbing to the false promise of authoritarian rule? These are difficult questions and I will not pretend to have the definite answer, but I will share my own take on them. I believe that there is a strong nostalgia for an authoritarian past as a shortcut to the complexities of modern democracy. The allure of authoritarian shortcuts appeals mostly to those who have been terrorized by crime, those who feel that their interests and aspirations cannot be realized under democracy and those who have become disillusioned with the limits of a still largely traditional political system.

The resurgence of this anti-woman climate is not surprising given that the authoritarian past is also the dwelling place of medieval world views like sexism.

The power of remembrance, women in government

We cannot allow this to continue unchallenged. This is where I would like to go back to the power of remembering. At a time when fake news deadens our senses and distracts us from the truth, we need more progressive women in government because we need to remember. I believe that stronger women in politics is the first in a long line of steps to curb the now emboldened trend of violent language, falsehoods and the unthinking acceptance of authority that is the poison of every democracy. We need more progressive women in government because if some men are too afraid to stand up for human dignity, then, it will be the courage of women that will take up the torch, beat the drum, and lead the way.

Women comprise 50% of the country's population. It's only reasonable to work toward a similar balance in politics. Women voter turnout in 2013 was at 77.9%, while it stood at 77% for men. There is a need for more women in legislation and in politics because we have just as much to contribute to the national agenda as men, and women are equally powerful role models for men. I think it's tragic that women participate so much in the shaping of their government, but those who should speak for their struggles barely occupy half the seats to make a difference.

The country needs more progressive women in politics because as women have a demonstrated capacity to bring issues of family, gender and equality into the open, women also have the power to help us remember that these are the issues central to a democracy: that governance is inclusive, that dissent is not only vital but necessary, that representation should translate into the sharing of power, and that mere accusation is never proof.

And so, as we mark the first year of the Duterte government, let us also mark this as the time when we, especially women, celebrate and further broaden our resistance. We must continue to raise our voices amid the violence and the deaths, the persistence of lies, the proliferation of fake news, the perversion of truth, and the blatant disregard for democracy and human rights. They can shame us with rape jokes, barrage us with fake news and threaten us with trumped up charges and even incarceration, but we will not relent. We will continue to resist.

"Failure to remember EJKs is to kill again"

Dear friends, let us remember this day. Let us mark this as a day of remembrance for all the victims of extrajudicial killings. Our collective failure to remember is to kill again.

Finally, I urge all of us to march forward, both in law and in life. I urge us all to remember, because to remember is to live. Democracy is a universal value. Our continuing journey toward a more participatory and pluralist society is the best guarantee that we can create a nation that will truly protect and realize all our human rights and aspirations.

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