A Filipino version of the MeToo movement was sparked by a controversial Facebook post, inspired more than 50,000 tweets and ignited a deeply felt debate on the nation’s self-styled rape culture.
A local police station in Quezon province, south of Manila, posted a Facebook message saying “And for you girls, don’t wear skimpy clothes because if you are harassed, you would be seeking our assistance.”
“Think about it!”
Just before Filipinos celebrated Independence Day in June, the insensitive post was put up which subsequently became the target of a backlash of comments. The hashtag #HijaAko (“I am a young lady”) continues to resonate with Filipino women even though the post was quickly deleted.
The police post was replied in a tweet by Frankie Pangilinan, the 19-year-old daughter of Philippine actress Sharon Cuneta Pangilinan and Senator Francis Pangilinan, saying “STOP TEACHING GIRLS HOW TO DRESS?? TEACH PEOPLE NOT TO RAPE,” in angry capital letters.
The point that rape and sexual assault are not driven by so-called skimpy clothes was highlighted by former television personality Kat Alano, 35.
She explains her point further, recalling her experience with an unnamed Filipino celebrity in a tweet saying “When I was raped by #rhymeswithwrong still famous celebrity who had smear campaigns to destroy my career and raped many more, I was wearing a T-shirt and jeans.“
“He drugged me too, so trying to take my jeans off was difficult for him. Hard to rape an unconscious person in jeans.” The celebrity raped Alano when she was just 19, and she has said that breaking her silence with the allegation has since ruined her career.
Arceli Bile, a women’s rights activist from the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, says the HijaAko movement is a welcomed party to the fight for women’s rights in the country, especially now that more young people are engaged in the discussion.
She adds that speaking out on taboo subjects like rape and sexual assault is difficult due to Filipino culture.
“When women do speak up, there’s always this shadow of doubt cast over their testimony, because that’s not what we were taught to do,” she says. “In some cases, the victims even end up blaming themselves.”
Nearly 1 in 10 married Filipino women think their husbands are justified in beating them if they refuse sex, according to a 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey. Other reasons including burning food and neglecting their children.
Lawyer Twyla Rubin, from the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, says rape culture is attributed to a failure of leadership.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s candid references to rape and sexual assault was cited by Rubin who explains that “The state is obligated to ensure that violence against women will not occur, but how is this possible if the state itself – through its leaders – is perpetrating it?”
Duterte talked about the city for which he was mayor before he became president in 2018, saying: “They said there are many rape cases in Davao. As long as there are many beautiful women, there will be more rape cases.”
During a military graduation ceremony in Baguio City in the following year, the President pardoned cadets for past offences and joked that rape was included.
At the ceremony, Duterte further commented, “The number one is for rape … Number two is drugs with rape with robbery … Third, multiple rape of the women of Baguio, the beautiful ones.”
This sort of remark according to Rubin will leave a lasting impression. “When our public servants make fun of, or trivialise, rape, it affects the public’s perception, making people think they can also get away with it.”
According to Rubin, accountability from the government, particularly in implementing its laws for women like the Anti-Rape Law of 1997, need to be actively pursued by Filipinos.
Bai Bibyaon, a respected elder from the Lumad, the collective term for the indigenous non-Muslim peoples of Mindanao, recalls that Filipino women haven’t always lived under a shadow of rape and sexual assault while growing up in the southern Philippine region. “For us Lumad, the word rape did not exist,” she says.
“It was only introduced by the entry of the military and the Japanese into our communities.”
29th July 18:30
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