‘We will not be intimidated’

The title of this column is the title of the statement signed and released by 31 women, all awardees of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS). I take pride in being one of the signatories of this statement that comes amid assaults by the President no less on various sectors, including women.

TOWNS is made up of a very diverse group of women awarded not just for their expertise, accomplishments and talents but more so for their service to the nation. Some TOWNS members signified support for the issuance of the statement but could not sign it because they are in government or are involved in court cases related to their profession.

I signed not just as TOWNS member, but as a Filipino of Tsinoy origin, alarmed at the relentless assaults on our democratic institutions and rapid deterioration of our nation’s values.

The statement reads:

In a series of disturbing moves, the Duterte government has shown its real purpose: to intimidate the public into submission. It is not accidental that his worst assaults have been against women, strong women who speak their mind and stand their ground. 

Last year, we witnessed the filing of impeachment charges against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the unjust detention of Senator Leila de Lima, the threat of impeachment against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and the sidelining of Vice President Leni Robredo.

Now, just two weeks into 2018, Duterte has moved against two other strong women: Patricia Licuanan who was forced to resign as chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education six months before her term expires, and Rappler, the news website operated by award winning journalist Maria Ressa. 

Patricia Licuanan is a tireless advocate of excellence in higher education, whose efforts at raising Philippine education to international standards have borne fruit. Her unceremonious dismissal on dubious charges smacks of putrid politics, not to mention bad governance.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, taking its cue from higher authorities that have voiced displeasure with the independent reporting of Rappler in this age of fake news, has revoked Rappler’s license over what it claims to be a violation of the Constitution, for supposedly circumventing its foreign ownership restrictions. 

What this really is, is harassment by government for Rappler’s truthful reporting on the actual state of the nation. This unprecedented move by the SEC is an attack on freedom of expression, one of the inviolable freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution. Such action is unconscionable and is anathema in a democratic society. 

We take note of the frequency of acts of harassment and intimidation against citizens – women leaders in particular – who are doing their jobs with competence, dignity and integrity. We stand with them in the defense of our rights and freedoms. 

We will not be intimidated. We invite other women – and men – of conviction to stand with us in condemning these assaults on our democracy.

Uphold the dignity of our nation

President Duterte has made it clear: The comfort woman statue on Roxas Boulevard is an exercise of freedom of expression. Though he did not categorically state it, we are confident that the statue will continue to stand proud by Manila Bay.

Just before the President made his statement, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano expressed his dismay over the statue, saying it is “bringing up things that have already been settled and putting our good relations with Tokyo at stake.” He formed a committee to study and make recommendations on the issue. His statement was what prompted me to release my statement. How can there be reparations to the comfort women when the Japanese government refuses to even admit that it happened? The Japanese have called the comfort women volunteers, or worse, tagged them as prostitutes (see Tulay, January issue).

Following are excerpts from my statement:

We urge our government to uphold the dignity of the Filipino people and not to make our country the laughing stock of the world. Let us hold our head up high and not shame our people…

We have not asked Japan to remove the shrines for Japanese soldiers in our land – the kamikaze shrine in Mabalacat, Pampanga; memorial shrines in Corregidor, in Lumban, Laguna, in Muntinlupa and elsewhere. No threats of unfriendly relations, economic sanction, pullout of ambassadors, abrogation of sister city agreement budged Korea, San Francisco, Sydney and others. Not one country in the world succumbed to Japan’s unreasonable demand to have their statues removed. We can do no less. We are at par with these countries as we stand secure in upholding the truth and honoring our past.

Show to Japan that we have pride, too, and we will not be subservient to any promises of economic gains at the expense of forgetting history and denying justice to victims. China and Korea continue to be Japan’s major trade partners despite thorns in their relations. 

The atrocities, persecutions, massacres and other war crimes Japan committed during the war are facts. The rape and bondage of our women are facts. These we cannot and should not deny.

The comfort woman statue on Roxas Boulevard stands with dignity, not anger, to remind humanity that violence against women is unacceptable at any time and under any circumstances. It also serves to remember the women who suffered and to pay tribute to their courage and resilience. Many of them brought the dark secret of their past to their graves. But those who are still living are still waiting for Japan’s admission of and apology for the crime against them.

The blindfolded comfort woman pleads for justice, recognition and reparation. We cannot shame the comfort women all over again by disrespecting a statue built to honor and remember them. We treasure our right to remember our history and pay long overdue respect to the comfort women who suffered degrading inhumanity. No one should take this away. The presence of the statue is a revelation of our true history, our nation’s acknowledgment that the ordeal of the comfort women happened.

Let us not bring shame to the comfort women all over again. Let us keep the statue erected in their honor standing. Above all, let us not allow another shrine honoring Japanese soldiers to be standing in our land.

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