Women’s Front: Change, still illusive for indigenous women


It has been 100 days since President Rodrigo Roa Duterte was installed in office.

In the past months, we have seen his administration take unprecedented actions that will help realize what he has outlined in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), in terms of policies and programs beneficial to the people. We have also seen him declare pronouncements that, when translated into action, will positively affect the masa.

In his first 100 days in office, Innabuyog commends the President for staying committed to his campaign slogan, “Change is coming.” However, much has yet to be done in terms of reforms beneficial to indigenous women and their communities.

The resumption of the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) is much welcomed as a venue that will facilitate the discussion of basic socio-economic reforms that will address the change that indigenous women and their communities demand. In addition, the President has declared a unilateral ceasefire to support the ongoing peace process. Nevertheless, various violations of the rights of indigenous women and their communities by state military forces continue without let-up.

In Kalinga, the Charlie Company of the 50th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) has been encamping in Ag-agama in the municipality of Western Uma since October of last year. Here, Innabuyog has documented cases of sexual harassment against women committed by the soldiers that has gone unpunished. In addition, the prolonged encampment of the military in Ag-agama has also disturbed the once harmonious dynamics of the Uma Tribe. And even with the communities’ petition for their immediate pull-out, the elements of the Charlie Coy, refuse to leave Ag-agama.

In Abra, the 24th IBPA has launched a military operation in Barangay Bazar in the municipality of Sallapadan on September 27, encamping there after – a clear violation of the ceasefire. Similarly, in Ifugao, the 54th IBPA and the 77th IB CAFGU has been launching combat operations in the towns of Tinoc and Asipulo since July this year. These operations has greatly distressed the umili, affecting their livelihood and their mobility.

The unilateral ceasefire should mean the pull-out of military forces in communities and the cessation of military operations under the internal security plan, Oplan Bayanihan, which targets civilians and their communities.

Additionally, the violations of elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines should be addressed immediately. The government should carry out concrete actions to end the impunity enjoyed by military forces implicated in these violations so that these will not undermine the ongoing peace negotiations.

Impunity has also been observed in cases of violence against women and children (VAWC). We recall that during his SONA, the President ordered all concerned agencies, bodies and units of the government in all levels to fully implement the Magna Carta for Women, a comprehensive law that assures and recognizes women’s basic rights.

However, even with this pronouncement, services for women victims of all forms of abuses remain backward and are very slow – including the services rendered by the Department of Justice, contributing to the overall impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of abuse. Justice for victims has become illusory. As a result, the culture of silence and fear among victims of abuse persists which further aggravates the vulnerability of women and children to abuses.

It is not surprising then that the number of VAWC cases continue to rise at an alarming rate. In a span of just 2 months (September – October), Innabuyog has already received 12 cases of child abuse including sexual harassment committed by just one person, 12 cases of sexual harassment, and 2 incest cases.

These show that there is a need to review efforts of the government in relation to the elimination of all forms of VAWC. The country already has 37 laws for women, including the Magna Carta for Women. What is needed is the political will to effectively implement these laws.

In addition, the government should support initiatives and actions of women’s organizations that contribute to the elimination of all forms of VAWC.

Policies and programs that positively affect women has already been started during the President’s first 100 days. It is our challenge then to the Duterte administration to continue to ‘walk his talk’. And as the changes unfold, we continue to be vigilant for much has yet to be done in order for indigenous women and their communities may say, Change has indeed come. # nordis.net