Friday, April 13, 2007

Sleeping with the enemy, grappling with “he-manity”

Santa Clarang pinong-pino
Kami po sana’y bigyan n’yo
Ng asawang labingwalo
Sa gulpe walang reklamo.

Saint Clare most mild
Please do give us
Eighteen spouses
Who won’t gripe if they’re mauled.

LOVELORN males on a pilgrimage to Obando town in Bulacan some 30 kilometers north of Manila pray and sway skip and hop to a lilting folk tune in homage to Sta. Clara. The patron saint is believed to listen to requests for a fiancé. A reworked version of the same folk tune is often sung in booze binges of Filipino men folk—the drinking devotee brashly asks for a retinue of wives, a harem to serve him without qualm or complaint even if he thrashes anyone in such a string of mistresses in his fold.

That reworked folk tune betrays a mindset that afflicts the Filipino male. It is an affliction that may likely have been ingrained by some 300 years of convent trysts with fat padres and over 50 years of necking in cinema shadows with film demigods—it’s an acculturation process that reduced women to the level of chattels and playthings. We may have grappled with it in a try to struggle and prevail. Or we must have lost badly, embraced and acquiesced to our conquerors. So we took to their ways. Adopt their norms we unwittingly did.

Well-stacked Roma Batarra (not her real name) doesn’t look her age— flirty-something, maybe in her “thrifties” as she tightly holds the purse strings to a thriving publication business. She defied norms, typified the strong woman of substance who runs a tight household and a weekly tabloid. But she sounded like a lost waif as she sobbed a torrent about how her much younger live-in partner beat her black and blue.

Batarra caught him in flagrante with a much younger lover. But he wasn’t sorry getting caught. He was sore at Batarra for getting in his way and whims.

So she caught most of the blows the live-in partner rained at her. Nearly bashed to a pulp, Batarra bawled him out of the house, which she owns. The young man stormed out, still heaping verbal abuse and threats at her.

Batarra wielded her influence as a crusty tabloid journalist and got back at the errant partner whose threats of bodily harm were carried out on him. That interesting story how she got even didn’t break as news. She confided to an erstwhile editor how she got even, got herself together and moved on, sense of self-esteem intact. Body bruises can heal.

Not all bruises heal as seen in this bit lifted off a police blotter: “Insp. Mario Monilar, homicide section chief told this newspaper that they are still waiting for the documents such as marriage contract and death certificate before they could file a parricide case against the husband.

“The wife’s remains are now at the St. Ignatius Chapel… She left behind a one-year old girl.

“The girl’s aunt told investigators the dead woman was a battered wife and had long been taking the abuses.”

Cases of violence against women (VAW) that found their way into police blotters bloated from 1,100 cases in 1996 to 7,383 by 2004. The highest recorded number of VAW cases in the police department peaked in 2001 at 10,343. Both the 2004 police and social welfare records show that battering and rape are the most common types of reported cases.

Battery cases could be construed as attempts to induce abortion: six of ten battered women were brutalized during pregnancy. While a child sired on the missus can be living proof of male potency, an additional mouth to feed can wreak havoc on the man’s earning capacity.

Every now and then Eileen Corporal (not her real name) meets up with advertising honchos, looking like she had gone through 12 rounds with a wannabe Manny Pacquiao to whom she had been married for 20 years. She’d rather not talk about those bouts. She can leave her man anytime she wishes to—she is an heiress to extensive farmlands in Bulacan, she has a stable job that pays well—but she’d rather tough it out. She was brought up, her mindset shaped in time-honored values, maybe quite feudal but she hasn’t outgrown that. She isn’t looking forward to recurring return bouts to count her mounting losses. She can take the beatings.

Unlike Eileen, Siglynd (an alias) snapped after three children and 18 years of toughing it out as a human punching bag totally dependent on her tormentor for financial support: "I thought, if I got past the experience of being a battered wife for so many years, then I could cope with any other trials that come my way."

She sought help from a non-government organization espousing women’s rights. The NGO taught her about her rights and helped her obtain a court-issued restraining order for the husband to cease and desist from mauling her. She now runs a thriving cargo hauling business and sends all her children to school on her own.

In unflinching reminiscence, she muses: "My inspiration are my children. They were also my source of strength during the times that my husband was beating me up. I cannot afford to be weak since my children and I have no one to depend on but myself. I also give credit to the NGOs that not only helped me to stand on my own, but more importantly, helped me banish the trauma from my experience through counseling. Being finally free from my husband, I've now learned to appreciate my self-worth."

In recent years lawmakers have arrayed a legal arsenal to stem the rising tide of violence perpetrated on women and children. The weaponry includes:

RA 7877 Anti-Sexual Harassment Law:
RA 8353 Anti-Rape law - elevation of rape as crime against person; expanding the definition of rape to include marital rape-- 9 of 10 battered women experienced marital rape:
RA 8505 Rape Victim Assistance Act;
RA 6955 Anti-Mail Order Bride Law:
RA 9262 Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Law: and
RA 9208 Anti-trafficking in Persons Act.

Buried in Congress is a bill throttled to death by so-called Pro-Life lobbyists and their lawmaker minions, the Responsible Parenthood and Population Management Act. It is grounded on obligations of national and local governments to deliver basic services including basic health, reproductive health and family planning, with penalties for public officials who shall prohibit or intentionally restrict the delivery of legal, medically safe reproductive health care services including family planning. The bill doesn’t prescribe two-child family as ideal family size.

Legal weaponry aside, women’s rights advocates such as the Cebu-based Lihok Pilipina Foundation have also helped battered women to stand their ground, regain their bearings, and assert their humanity. Tessie Banaynal Fernandez brought the organization to life in 1985 as a group of 20 women to discuss among themselves primary health care, herbal medicines and family problems.

While a clutch of statutes can be wielded in defense of women’s rights, chucking off Jurassic thinking and repressive cultural norms ought to be the more telling tack: "The propensity to do violence begets more violence. When children witness violence, they grow up thinking that it is okay to found a family where violence exists.

"I think one significant indicator of development and all of the things we are fighting for is being able to uphold the personal integrity of each person. Until we have that, violence in the homes, in the fight for properties or land, and everything else cannot be entirely solved," she points out.

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