Assumption College president Carmen Valdes said she was first sexually abused by an older cousin when she was 6 years old. He went on to “share” her with another older cousin. The abuse went on for two years. Years later, she was abused by a family friend.
Valdes disclosed the abuse for the first time in a book she had written. It took her 60 years to actively speak about it. To this day, she says, she can still smell her abusers. “Just the memory of the scent turns my stomach. One never forgets.”
Her disclosure moved one of her sisters to speak about her own encounter with sexual violence. Her sister had been raped as a child by a carpenter who worked in their home.
Sexual violence in the Philippines
The first national study on violence against children conducted by the United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) showed that 17.1% of Filipino children experience some form of sexual violence while growing up.
These forms of violence range from unwanted touching, having sex videos or photos taken without their consent, and severe sexual violence, like forced consummated oral, anal, or vaginal sex. The usual perpetrators are relatives: brothers, cousins, older sisters or stepmothers/fathers. It is usually someone who is known to and trusted by the family and the victim.
#MeToo has moved far from being a hashtag to a force that had taken down men from their once untouchable perches of power, compelled companies to re-evaluate corporate policies on what constitutes acceptable workplace behavior, and made individual men and women re-visit and re-assess their past sexual encounters.
#MeToo has sparked conversations and heated debates even among women about the painful but necessary discussions we need to have. In one way or another, it has driven us to examine questionable behavior we may have been guilty of and its impact on others.
But in the Philippines, stories like that of Valdes, of Judy Fugoso, and the various revelations of sexual misconduct in the music scene have done little but ruffle a few features and trigger a few angry whispers in the small circles of the art and music community. There's nothing yet that could be used as a galvanizing force to overhaul the cultural and social norms that enable sexual violence and allow misogynistic views that fuel it.
Duterte afraid of strong women
Whatever attention and traction our own #MeToo movement may have gotten has been muzzled by President Rodrigo Duterte and his complicated love-hate relationship with women.
Running two years into this “relationship,” we know the playbook by now.
Inappropriate statement about women. Citizen indignation. Feeble attempt at a spin by current spokesperson. Repeat.
And the gaslighting continues.
The inappropriate statements run the full spectrum of lewd compliments to rape jokes and the latest, incitement of violence when he encouraged (or is "ordered" a better term?) soldiers to shoot female communist rebels in the vagina because “they are nothing without it.” (READ: From 'fragrant' Filipinas to shooting vaginas: Duterte's top 6 sexist remarks)
Most of womanity would appreciate it if the President kept his filthy mouth away from our vaginas. But the President continues to be obsessed with women and their body parts, reserving his most vile and repugnant comments for strong women who aren't afraid to challenge him or tell him off.
A strong woman doesn't need balls. She has a vagina and is like a man in every way except that she has a different body part.
Maybe that’s why Duterte is so scared of strong women that he doesn’t know what to do with them, except degrade, insult, and strip them of their character by reducing them to nothing more than body parts.
Leni Robredo is but a pair of legs and nice smooth knees. Leila de Lima is but a sex tape and a lover. And NPA women rebels are nothing without their vagina.
The frequency and the regularity of his statements have sent us reeling in perennial reaction mode, sending out angry statement after angry statement, posting enraged Facebook update after Facebook update. Personally, I don’t have enough middle fingers for the kind of verbal abuse and degradation we have been subjected to by this president the past months.
We’re too incensed over the President’s latest outlandish statement about women that we don’t have time to process and think about what it is collectively doing to us as a people.
On the surface, the laughter his statements generate point to a desensitization and normalization. It also gives credence to callous statements, like that of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque about feminists just being “OA” or over acting.
Is that the kind of environment we want for our girls? Is that what we really want to tell our boys?
If it is, then we resign ourselves to living in a toxic culture that permits sexual violence and verbal abuse.
Women like Valdes will be heard but not listened to. They will be pitied but not understood. They will be acknowledged but not helped. Nothing will be done to take on the long, tediou, and iterative process of creating and sustaining positive change.
It certainly will not help that some women – even those who once had the temerity to call themselves women’s rights advocates – rise to Duterte’s defense. They will echo the call to just “ignore it” and choose to look at all the good things Duterte is doing for women. They completely and conveniently overlook the fact that the many (but still limited) liberties Filipino women enjoy today is borne from the pains of women who came before usm the ones who found the courage to speak out and say, “I’m not taking anymore of this shit.”
I am reminded about a man I was meeting with. Over lunch, a man told me that Filipino women had it all. We could go to school, work, dress, and do whatever we want.
“You’re already empowered. What more do you want?” he asked.
That was before the Duterte era, so I gave him a list: divorce, birth control, rights for single mothers. "The Filipina is empowered to decide on most things except when it comes to matters of her heart and her vagina. That is legislated by the State, the Church, and family."
If he had asked me that question today, I would have answered him with one word: respect.
And our own Philippine #MeToo Movement. – Rappler.com
Ana P. Santos is Rappler’s sex and gender columnist and Pulitzer Center grantee. In 2014, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting awarded her the Persephone Miel fellowship to do a series of reports on Filipino migrant mothers in Dubai and Paris.