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Category: International

Media Silence on Major Asia Story: Philippine Congresswoman Charged with Rebellion

March 16, 2006

Why the media blackout on a major story from the Philippines? Filipino papers are not permitted to cover it ?but whatever happened to free press in the west?

On the 20th anniversary of the 1986 People Power uprising that toppled the Marcos dictatorship, the current president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, issued Presidential Proclamation 1017, declaring a state of national emergency.  The phraseology of PP1017 and Marcos' martial law proclamation was close enough to cause the late dictator's daughter, Imee Marcos, now a congresswoman, to exclaim that Macapagal-Arroyo was (badly) mimicking her father.   PP1017 was followed by General Order #5 which enabled the military and police to conduct raids and arrests sans warrants; disperse and ban demonstrations, rallies, and mass assemblies; occupy and close down media offices; and threaten everyone with charges of rebellion and/or sedition.   Arrests were made, one newspaper, the Daily Tribune was closed down, a television station,  ABS-CBN, was threatened with sedition charges, Congressman Crispin Beltran of the Anakpawis Party was imprisoned and five others marked for arrest.

Among them was Representative Liza Largoza Maza of the Gabriela Women's Party, Asia's only all-women political party and one of only a half-dozen of its kind in the world. Rep. Maza was the main author and sponsor of the Philippines' Anti-Trafficking Law and the Violence Against Women Act.  Last year, she filed a Divorce Bill.  A thorny issue for a predominantly Catholic country, divorce was becoming a necessity as hundreds of thousands of women DEPARTED to work overseas.  Rep. Maza, with her four colleagues on the "to be arrested without warrants" list, obtained sanctuary at the congress building, asserting their constitutional immunity from arrest while congress was in session.  As the five hunkered down on sleeping bags, the military and police ringed the building in a strange standoff that continues to date.

The Gabriela Women's Party is known for its unflinching advocacy of women's rights and freedoms.  Launched in 2003 amidst predictions of failure, it garnered enough votes to merit one congressional representative.  It is backed by the women's mass organization GABRIELA Philippines--born in 1984, after 10,000 women marched in Manila, defying a Marcos decree against demonstrations.  GABRIELA Philippines unites some 200 women's desks, institutions, and organizations; its membership reflects Philippine demographics:  peasant women constituting the largest number, worker women next and then youth and students, professionals, and religious women.  Ms. Maza was formerly GABRIELA's secretary-general and is currently its vice-chair.

The state of national emergency, claimed the government, was occasioned by a coup attempt OF a hodgepodge alliance of military factions, right-wing groups, and left-wing opposition.  All the accused denied the accusation.  The military men said they only wanted to declare non-support for Macapagal-Arroyo; the civilian groups said they only wanted to commemorate People Power 1986; the left-wing opposition said it didn't believe in coups.  The state of national emergency quickly spun down to farce.  It was lifted seven days later, with not one military man charged with rebellion.  Instead, the list of "leftists" accused of either rebellion and/or sedition grew longer and longer, as military and police even in far-flung provinces drew up lists.

Several more women ended up in the "rebellion list," including Carol Araullo, chair of BAYAN (The People); Eliza Lubi, founding vice-chair of the Gabriela Women's Party; Julieta Sison who lives in Holland, and several a.k.a.s and Jane Does.  Emmi de Jesus, secretary-general of GABRIELA, made it oNto another list while both GABRIELA and Gabriela Women's Party were included in a list of organizations to be rendered illegal.  While the fight for women's rights and freedoms has always been fierce, a NEW LOW POINT has certainly been reached under this government.  In the last five years, 15 women organizers, connected with GABRIELA, its allied organizations, or Gabriela Women's Party, have been assassinated.  All told, some 500 activists, organizers, media people, church leaders, and opposition politicians have been killed.

At stake are two issues.

First, the Philippine Constitution.  Critics say Macapagal Arroyo wants to remove (a) provisions that enable the marginalized, like women, workers, and peasants, to have congressional representation; and (b) provisions that ban foreign troops from the country.  The Philippines hosted the largest overseas US military bases until 1992 and was a major "rest-and-recreation" center for the US military. Plans to bring these back hit a snag when four US marines allegedly raped a Filipina in November 2005  GABRIELA was the loudest to call for ending further hosting of US troops because of, among other things, the impact of military r&r on fostering prostitution.

Second, control of the country's main export : women.  Last year, some 700,000 women were exported to 168 countries, following the government's stated intent to export a million workers each year.  In 1992, women comprised only half of exported workers; in 2005, they were 75 percent.  One-third work as domestics while 30 percent are "entertainers and dancers," hidden under the category "professional and technical workers."  Assuming women contribute only 65 percent of total remittances from overseas workers,  they sent home half a billion dollars in January 2006 alone. Where a national economy depends on disguised sex-trafficking and labor -trafficking, the fight for women's rights and freedoms can become threatening to the status quo indeed.

IF Sen. Barbara Boxer or Rep. Maxine Waters had to seek sanctuary in Congress to avoid being jailed for sedition, while the New York Times  was closed down and if the National Organization for Women was outlawed, would it be considered newsworthy? Yet the Philippine government is modeled after the US and considered a strong ally . So the question remains: why the media silence?