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The Invisibility of The Filipina

April 21, 2006

 For forty-six days now, Congresswoman Liza Largoza Maza of the Gabriela Women's  Party of the Philippines has lived in the tiny confines of her office at the Batasan (Congressional Building).  She is the only female among five congress people granted sanctuary by a unanimous resolution of the House of Representatives and the Senate when the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo attempted to arrest them without warrants.  One would think such uniqueness would bring her a fair amount of media and public attention.  On the contrary.  A New York Times April 18 article on one of the five, Cong. Satur Ocampo, included this statement:  “Late at night he pulls a folding mattress, sheets and pillow from behind his desk and joins four congressmen also facing charges, grouped together for safety in the office of the House speaker. One other leftist congressman was arrested outside the building and is in jail.” (Emphasis supplied).  The Filipina’s invisibility is frightening.                     Nearly two months after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared and abruptly lifted a state of national emergency, on the claim that Right-Left combined forces were about to launch a coup, the alleged combine has dwindled to mostly Left.  Generals were cleared, soldiers punished with a “stay in barracks” command, “wanted” military men couldn’t be found.  Unfortunately for Ms. Maza, the definition of what’s Left in a country reputed to be the world’s top exporter of women includes being the sole women’s representative in Congress and being the standard bearer of an all-women political party;  unfortunate as well for members of both Gabriela Women’s Party and GABRIELA Philippines, whose leading members find themselves facing rebellion charges.                    Of the five congress people, Ms. Maza alone has been able to leave the “protective custody” of Congress three times:  first, to attend a House bicameral meeting about one of her bills, the Juvenile Justice Law; second, to attend a preliminary investigation at the Department of Justice on the rebellion charges against her and third, just yesterday, to have a dentist deal with a nagging toothache.  Her absence inspired rumors that she had “escaped” – but considering that 68 women activists, organizers and leaders had been assassinated, that would have been extremely risky.           Inday Estorba, 31, of the Gabriela Women’s Party and staff member of the Women’s Development Center in Bohol province was gunned down on April 3.  Her assassination appears to be intended to negate the good media exposure that Ms. Maza and Gabrielas had received, through an actress participating in a TV reality show, Pinoy Big Brother.  In a kind of popularity contest, actors in the show had to live and interact together while the public voted for the most sympathetic.  Each actor also chose a partner charity to receive a donation from sponsors.  In contrast to other contestants who chose traditional charities like orphanages and schools, Janet Direcho Duterte chose the Gabriela Women’s Party.  The latter had lent her support when she exposed a prostitution syndicate disguised as an “escort” service.   Ms. Duterte obtained 575,000 votes to win prizes for herself and a million pesos ($20,000) for the Gabriela Women’s Party.   The jubilation over this remarkable show of support from the people was shrouded by news of the assassination of Inday Estorba.                     In the silencing of women’s voices that followed, the Philippines’ Department of Justice abruptly downgraded charges of rape against three of four U.S. marines participating in periodic joint military exercises with the Philippine military.  In the original charge, six marines were said to have raped a 22-year-old Filipina on November 1st and thrown her out of the van naked and unconscious, “like a pig,” said witnesses.  The six became four and now only one, as charges were reduced to accessory to rape.  Secretary of Justice Raul Gonzales said he would have exonerated the three marines, were it not for “mob rule” and in concession to the victim’s mother.  The alleged victim’s lawyer, Evelyn Ursua, denounced the decision, saying “they (the three marines) were shouting go, go, go, Smith.  They were shouting those words repeatedly.”  Smith is Lance Corporal Daniel Smith who remains a principal in the rape case.  Analysts say that the reduction of principals in this case – from six to four to one – lays the foundation for the marines’ claim that the sex was “consensual.”                      The absurdities of the judiciary system in the Philippines have inspired Ms. Maza to say that “only a mass movement can save us.”  All of the five congress people’s appeals to the court have been summarily rejected, denied or postponed.  The government’s evidence seems manufactured and includes an accidental sighting by a gay manicurist of a meeting of military men and the congressional representatives in front of a vacant lot.   The military’s reputation for brutalizing gay people is such that this was met with a mass rolling of eyes.                       In the silence, Ms. Maza’s friends, supporters and colleagues have started an online petition http://www.petitiononline.com/freeliza/petition.html asking the Philippine government to drop the rebellion charges against her and 50 others.  To date, nearly 2,000 women and men from as far as Nigeria and as
Tags: Politics

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