Women's Liberation movement : the Philippine experience
I. Introduction/Report Coverage
This report tries to trace the activities being carried out by the women’s movement for liberation nationwide but focus mainly in the activities carried out by the Party especially in Mindanao during the revolutionary period being led by the Marxist – Leninist Party.
Though this effort tried to trace historical activities within the revolutionary movement, yet this does not limit itself to it and could not avoid to mention important activities and formations of independent women’s organizations which are not party led and who are in one way or the other had contributed to the shaping up of the women’s movement the country.
As mentioned, last section of this presentation deals much on the women’s work especially in Mindanao especially after the split in the national democratic movement in the early 1990s. Much as it is more on the realities of Mindanao, it cannot avoid to tackle at the fact that Mindanao has its tri-people composition – the Lumads (indigenous peoples), Moro and the Majority Christian Settlers, which greatly influenced our line of march/tactics in carrying out the women’s movement.
We also could not avoid omparing our women’s work with what is on-going with the women’s movement at the national level.
II. Brief Historical Account of the Women’s Movement in the Country
The historical beginning of the women’s movement in the Philippines is well presented by previous write ups of some Filipino women activist, (specifically Aida Santos, Sylvia, Estrada Claudio on “The Women’s Movement(s) and Social Movements: Conjunctures and Divergences”) who for one, we presumed, had been very active in the national democratic movement and turn out to be very critical in the conduct of the women’s movement in the country, in its orientation, conduct, approaches and directions. Going through with the write up, and reviewing with our very limited experience in the women’s movement , we have come to agree with the points being presented and raised in the paper.
As the document pointed out, women’s movement traces back its origin during the Spanish colonial period (18th century) wherein prominent women figures (the likes of Melchora Aquino and Gregoria de Jesus) had participated and provided support to the anti-Spanish revolutionary movement. To quote “ these women were moved not by pro-women sentiment or raw feminism… but by their deep sense of patriotism or love of country.” Looking further of this type of women participation in the anti-colonial struggles, is the grassroots women direct participation in the revolution as represented by the women warrior Gabriela Silang and many others who had never landed into our history books.
According to the write up, during those times, the Katipunan (the revolutionary organization) had been seemingly lack of feminist agenda. From there, as the workers movement started to evolve in the country, evolution of women’s organization took place with a women from the working class and later joined by some women of the elite section. Their issues focused on health, women and children, reproductive health and women’s right to vote. Maybe many still other colorful accounts of women’s activities and protest actions had never been reported during that time, but this for sure happens during the feudal times, as clearly depicted by Maria Clara and Sisa in our history books as written by Jose Rizal.
For more than 400 years of feudal domination by the Spanish colonial rule, the gendered male-female- family relations continue even after and during the American takeover of the affairs of the country. This existing situation is further re-enforced by Church teachings, where Philippines has been the only Christian country in the Far East, thanks and courtesy of our colonial masters.
During the American colonial period, a suffragist movement among the elite Filipino women mostly form the middle and upper classes, was supported by the American authorities to deflect on-going anti-American struggles. There was a debate on the suffrage that female suffrage would be reserved only for the educated elite. It was the national democratic movement led by Katipunan who had succeeded in pushing for the universal suffrage. But continued women’s concerns had not flourished much because of the unfinished revolution of the Katipunan.
III. Women’s Movement during the Anti-Dictatorship Period and the National Democratic Movement
Not much is written on the women’s movement after the weakening of the national democratic revolution being waged by Katipunan after the Japanese War (WWII) until its resurgence in late 1960s led by the then Communist Party of the Philippines. Women activists felt that if the revolution of 1896 is an unfinished business, and so with the agenda for women’s liberation is also an unfinished business.
At the period of massive re-organization of the national democratic movement under the period of Marcos dictatorship, the Party had organized a Women’s Bureau who is responsible for establishing MAKIBAKA (Malayang Kilusan nga Kababaihan) in 1969- an autonomous women’s organization, to attend to the growing women’s issues and had set up daycare centers for the women workers especially those in the service sector and or the shop workers in the major urban centers. Here, anti-feminist propaganda and accusations of being Western, bourgeois, lesbians and anti-male had been spreading even from among the ranks of the comrades in the revolutionary movement.
But this effort had been short-lived, when Martial Law was declared and MAKIBAKA went underground. Malaya had been changed to Makabayan which signaled the re-orientation from autonomous to national democratic arm and wing of the National Democratic Front. Here, the formulated Constitution has clearly articulated the issue on sexual orientation, membership includes ranks of women of different sexual orientation.
Feminist currents had spread out even with other political formations. In 1975, women active of the HUKBALAHAP organized the Katipunan ng Bagong Pilipina (KABAPA) whose constitution has the flavor of Third World feminism and addresses national, class and gender issues under its goals of equality, development , peace, freedom and happiness of children. They campaign strongly in the removal of the US Bases in the Philippines.
In 1981, an autonomous women organization named PILIPINA was founded by different social development workers all over the country. This autonomy stems from the insistence that “dictates from leftists male leaders had debilitating effects on women and women’s movements”. Later, leaders of PILIPINA had been instrumental in the founding of Women’s Action Network for Development (WAND) and Abanse Pinay, the first women political party to have a seat as sectoral representative to the Philippine Congress.
In 1983, at the height of the Marcos dictatorship, the Katipunan ng Kababaihan Para sa Kalayaan (KALAYAAN) had been formed, whose orientation rejects the primacy of class struggle and called for the establishment of an autonomous women’s movement within the national democratic agenda and labeled itself as “feminist” but has sought the blessings of the national democratic movement’s leader Jose Maria Sison. It has become a broad coalition of women whose members comes from different political currents including those of neutral political positions. Members are accepted on the criteria of being anti-bases, and pro-choice”. In trying to advance and realized the “women question” criticisms and attacks from comrades had been experienced such as feminism as middle class and bourgeois politics, highly western and not rooted in the local democratic movement, the call for autonomy would deviate from the primary goals of class struggle, it is an anti-male and would create divisiveness within the movement. Accusations of being merely unhappy wives and comrades were hurled upon its leaders. Efforts to ensure correct political line were made by the national democratic movement and requested to form a political collective within but the leaders refused to follow.
In 1984, GABRIELA (General Assembly of Women Binding Together) was founded as a broad united front against Marcos dictatorship. Here , it has to face the challenge of articulating feminist issues, which needed sharpening and deepening, and not just merely integrating women’s issues into its dominant class-oriented political perspective. Questions on organizational processes arises, and the way the coalition was managed. With unresolved differences, membership dwindled and only the basic sectoral organizations of peasant, workers and urban poor belonging to the national democratic current is left.
In late 1980s, other women groups emerged, mostly independently initiated from any social blocs or movements which took an issue-focused mandate. Three general observations are put forward of the on-going trend on issue-focused approaches:
1) there was a need to translate feminist theoretical understanding into concrete actions;
2) the issue-focus approach was a necessity since here was a felt need to put emphasis on the feminist issues;
3) interest of donors to address gender issues also propelled a number of women’s groups to set up programs addressing these issues.
As a result, women’s institutions and organizations mushroomed nationwide to address sector focus concerns such a women in the rural areas, urban poor communities, migrant women which attempt to address both economic and feminist concerns.
In 1987, DSWP (Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines) was founded who has been very vocal against neo-liberal globalization. While in 1994, SARILAYA emerged and focused on issues of food security and sustainable development. Another is SIBOL who was instrumental in the drafting and passage of the anti-rape and anti-violence against women and children laws together with the massive support of other women’s group.
As these women’s group continue to focus on women’s issues, some adapted a socialist feminist analysis of the economy and had maintained that liberation of women from patriarchal oppression cannot occur with out the liberation of the entire people from imperialist oppression and vice versa.
Rapid imperialist intervention in the country under the neo-liberal project had created major changes in the socio-economic and political landscape of the country as compared in the late 1960s. These changes had brought questions to some of the leaders of the national democratic movement especially cadres from Mindanao on how to advance the revolution at the stage of intense imperialist intervention. Debates on the mode of production in the country and its consequent revolutionary strategy has been brought forward to the attention of the leadership by some cadres. These has triggered more questions and debates within party organizations nationwide which finally resulted into split.
IV. The Period of Splits within the Left
When the Party’s orientation had been questioned regarding correct analysis, strategies and approaches on how to advance the revolution, in the given situation, this has become the triggering point of the split. For us in some Party organizations in the different regions of Mindanao, did agree to such questions at first, but did not expect it would result to the organizational split. What we expect that this would be approached by the Party with professionalism and maturity. That is maybe the reason why, we are not ready for any split and pursue other orientation at the time. We had then expected that the Party (CPP) would eventually realize the relevance of the questions being put forward to the leadership. But its result is otherwise. Instead, memorandum of “ reaffirming basic principles and rectifying errors” had been circulated nationwide and for those who does not follow would be considered revisionist and counterrevolutionaries. Efforts for democratic debates had been clamored by many cadres for more than a year, but the leadership had exercised its iron fist on the issue which finally resulted into split.
Thus, for us, who still believe in the correctness of the continued struggle for social change had to search for right connections and solidarity. We did try (for those who have the same questions and visions) to group together. But this has also been a long and tedious process. Many cadres were demoralized and disgruntled which resulted to massive loss of fulltime party cadres in all lines of party work. Until finally, we have had to stand for our own and search for solidarity with those whom we share with the same vision. Maybe, this is one of the reason why we had come to linked with FI.
The period of split has been the dark years of some revolutionary cadres who rejected the Maoist inspired CPP. As far as we can remember, some leaders of the group then, had continually searched for correct analysis and revolutionary directions. For us, in the ranks, its our very chance of reading other ML books, theoretical readings and opinions at different angles. Some of us did realize that there were some principles and theories that were implicitly omitted because it becomes inconsistent with the formulated strategies and approaches in advancing the national democratic revolution.
Immediately after the split, all spheres of Party work had been greatly affected, and that includes women work. For a time, we are at a loss of what to , where to, whom to look forward to and how to proceed of the struggle we had participated and had devoted our efforts upon. A stage of what we call as “groping in the dark”, searching for directions and solidarity had been experienced by all. This is maybe because, for a period of time in our direct involvement with the national democratic movement, we are not exposed to different schools of thought and orientation or maybe because we are prohibited to do so in the fear of being tagged as revisionist, divisive, counter-revolutionaries, etc. etc. and etc…
But the struggles must go on. Different spheres of our work had to continue despite of the lack of correct and appropriate orientation, and this includes our women work.
During the period of split within the national democratic movement, diverse women’s groups and organization had emerged where diverse NGOs and POs work on various issues had focused. There were efforts to mainstream feminist issues through formation of women’s committees or desks. Women’s studies in some colleges and universities and gender mainstreaming became a strategy within the bureaucracy. A number of academic based feminists and women rights advocates became consultants to the governments gender mainstreaming program. These diverse efforts on women’s work had continued with different groups and political blocs doing women’s group up to the present.
At the national level, issues on sexuality, reproductive rights, violence against women, sex trafficking, comfort women, had been widespread and had triggered discussions and campaigns amongst different women organizations which obtain considerable positive results. There were even laws being passed as a response to the growing clamor of these women’s group such as the law on violence against women and children. To date, the government had been forced to create services and bodies to implement such laws, even though how ill-equipped it is. Gender mainstreaming had been the order of the day even with government offices and programs.
V. Women’s Movement: The Mindanao Experience, Realities and Perspectives
Women’s movement in Mindanao has been closely linked with the development of the women’s movement in the country and at the same time is also highly influenced by the development of the movement in the world.
Mindanao, basically a predominantly agricultural economy which is highly dictated by imperialist control, is composed of tri-people - the Moro, Lumad and Majority Christian Settlers/Filipinos who had their own traditions, culture and religious affiliations which should be considered if we try to delve the issue on women. Given its uneven and mal developed capitalist mode of production, women work has also different levels of development and participation.
For us at the RPMM, our women’s work, orientation and conduct has been greatly influenced the orientation and directions being set by the national democratic movement. The historical presentation of the experiences at the national level is what we have had experience in Mindanao. It has only learned and understood socialist feminist orientation when after the split, after it has linked with the Fourth International through its studies in mid and late 1990s. For a time, we had been continuing with our women work, trying to understand its new level of orientation in the context of Mindanao realities and perspectives.
Our women organizing work considers the tri-people composition of Mindanao - the Moro, Lumads (indigenous peoples)and the Christian Settlers, its cultures, traditions and religious affiliations. Sectoral organizing of women especially with the Christian Settlers has also one of its approaches, that is whether they are farmers, fisherfolks, urban poor and women workers movement be it in trade union, service workers, agri-workers and the semi-proletarians. Organizations ranges from all women organizations to women’s collectives in mixed organizations in its tri-people composition and sectors.
Immediate and long term goals and objectives in setting up women’s organizations at different levels varies. This depends much on the concrete needs and issues faced by women in different areas, peoples, sectors and lines of work. That is from purely, women’s issues to issues on environment, human rights and economic matters are being attended to by these women organizations. Women issues on sexuality, reproductive rights and abortion is slowly included in our education work and campaigns and has to be very careful in each peoples realities. At the very start, considerations on ethnic origin, customs and traditions and even religious affiliation has to be observed by women organizers to gain acceptance and respect within the different peoples.
At present, women’s work had to take its attention in organizing women migrant workers including their families which grows in numbers each year. Because of the poverty situation and the growing unemployment rate especially in the countryside, women from both rural and urban communities, grab every chances of working abroad as domestic workers. With these migration trends at present, and according to national estimates, more than 40% of the Gross National Product of the Philippines comes from the remittances of the overseas Filipino workers. This trend poses a great challenge for the Party, on how to organize these Filipino migrants who are everywhere around the globe.
Most women from Mindanao had migrated especially in the Middle East countries to work as domestic help. Issues on the protection of migrant women’s workers right and welfare had been forwarded by migrant organizations. Cases of rape, mal-treatment, different cases of sexual harassment underpayment and non-payment of wages had been constantly experienced by migrant workers. There were even celebrated cases of rape, maltreatment and killings which caught the attention of the general public and host countries which resulted to mobilizations. To date, this has become a great challenge for the government and the women’s movement on how to delve with this on-going trends and issues.
Aside from setting up women organizations, women’s group had set up institutions that cater services to issues that affect women such as refuge centers for battered women and children, counseling and legal services. Programs, services and projects such as health, nutrition, adult literacy, campaigns on violence against women, women trafficking and livelihood projects are the usual activities of these women organizations and institutions.
The on-going war situation and peace issues in Mindanao had poses a great challenge especially to the women who are mostly affected by the war situation. Different revolutionary organizations are waging war against the government. From time to time clashes had been experienced not only with the revolutionary groups, but even with other discontented groups which the government tagged as “terrorists”. In war situation, it is usually the women who bear the burden of taking care of the family (children) including is livelihood and means of existence, not counting of the harassment experienced especially if these are the wives of revolutionaries. During military operations there are women who gets rape. Just lately, a celebrated case of rape victim by the American soldier participating in the “Balikatan project” – a joint war exercises by the government of the Philippines and American soldiers in the guise of fighting for the terrorists.
Different women organizations and groups had different forms and levels of participation to different political issues and campaigns. Women organizations and groups had been very active and some became the initiators of peace movements and campaigns , environmental related campaigns and other social movements.
There were women’s groups and individuals who participated and focuses in the electoral arena and legislations. For years, the electoral arena is an elite and male dominated endeavor. But with the direct participation of mass organizations in the electoral struggle, partylist organizations had succeeded in fielding candidates for the legislative bodies such as Abanse Pinay, Gabriela and women representatives from Akbayan. Networking, lobbying and advocacy of women’s issues and issues on peace and development consciously attended to by these organizations. At present, women organizations would then very busy in dealing with the issues on Charter Change where progressive provisions of the Constitution had been deleted in the Proposed Constitution. Added to that is the growing Federalism campaign in Mindanao as an alternative to the Charter Change.
VI. Our Challenges and Perspectives
On the ideological level, socialist feminist orientation and education is slowly incorporated in our capacity building activities for these women groups. A big challenge for the Party organization in Mindanao to concretize and actualize socialist feminist orientation in women’s organizations under its influence and care.
Even after our links with FI especially in its theoretical contributions to the Party organizations in Mindanao, difficulties in concretizing these theoretical inputs were experienced by some cadres especially on the women question. Difficulties on free and thorough discussions on sexuality and patriarchy especially among male comrades. It requires a lot of considerations and ingenuity to carry out discussions and campaigns on these especially at the grassroots level because majority are not exposed to such radical ideas and positioning or the existing practice prohibits or does not provide favorable venue for free discussions. Customs, traditions and religious affiliations had to be carefully considered in discussing these issues.
If one of the major elements of women’s liberation is the issue on sexuality and patriarchy, then the Party organization in Mindanao had to double its efforts on consciousness raising and concretizing these in its actual practice and that has to start with its general membership.
The challenge of building autonomous women’s organizations, groups and collectives in a mixed organization is constant and the incorporation of feminist orientation and curriculum in theoretical education.
Another aspect is on the problem and trends of Filipino migration has greatly affected the tri-people women in Mindanao.
Building closer working relations and cooperation with other feminist groups with other blocs and currents on feminist issues and campaigns is an on-going challenge and how to get over with the decade long disunity among progressive sections of the working class, which has also a corresponding effect in advancing anti-imperialist struggles and movement for social change .
RELIGIOUS CHAUVINISM, ARMED CONFLICT AND RH OF MUSLIM WOMEN IN BASILAN
TURABIN-HATAMAN Sitti Djalia 4 October 2005 Paper presented at the 10th National Conference of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), October 4-6, 2005, Heritage Hotel, Manila.
Basilan Province is an island 30 minutes away by sea from mainland Zamboanga City. It has a total land area of approximately 1,279 sq. kilometers and a total population of 332, 828 (NSO 2000). Despite its beauty and richness both in resources and in culture, Basilan is best known for only one thing: the extremist group Abu Sayyaf. Since the group first sowed terror in the early 90’s, the once underdeveloped but peaceful, tranquil island has become one of the poorest provinces in the country and battleground of the military and the Abu Sayyaf.
This tragic plight of the province is made even worst by the government’s response to the situation. Militarization alone is bad enough, couple this with a dwindling budgetary allocation, and you get a dying province. In 2001, Mindanao, of which Basilan is part of, was allocated a measly P100.7 Billion or 13.90% of the national budget. In 2002, it fell to P92.93 billion or 11.90%. In 2003, Mindanao’s share fell to a mere P84.86 Billion or a pitiful 10.55% of the national budget. This is further divided among the different cities and provinces in the region, many of which are the poorest in the country and are war-torn areas, with more or less half a million evacuees to be fed.
Welcome to Basilan. Welcome to Mindanao.
MEH KARENDEHAN SI BASILAN (THE WOMEN OF BASILAN)
Based on the 2000 census, out of the total population of Basilan, 60% are women. Of these, 69,894 are women of reproductive age. Majority of these women are Muslims and as such, her struggle is tripled.
In a highly patriarchal Moro culture, she struggles in asserting her rights as a woman. In a province plagued by war, she struggles to keep her family alive. In a country where Muslims are second rate citizens, she struggles against discrimination while struggling to preserve her identity as a Muslim. Indeed, struggle is an all too familiar word to a Muslim woman in Basilan.
In the year 2000, there were at least 3,207 families displaced due to armed operations and encounters between the military and lawless elements in the province. In 2001, the number increased to a whopping 15, 650 families with 74, 630 dependents. Translate this to 15,650 mothers looking after 74, 630 children, making a home out of the
little space assigned to her family in evacuation areas, looking for whatever food she could serve her family, tending to her sick or perhaps injured children or husband, and the others, mourning over the tragic loss of a loved one. At the end of the day, it is she who suffers most, it is she who pays for the miserable cost of war.
INE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH? (WHAT REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH?)
Given the above picture of the Muslim woman in Basilan, it is highly expected that her overall health comes last in her priorities, if it is a priority at all. Much more ignored is her reproductive health, if she is aware of it at all.
A recent interview with health workers in the province however revealed a different perspective of how Muslim women there confront reproductive health issues. Although the presumption presented can not be totally ruled out, there is a significant deviation from what was expected. They are aware of the problems, and are calling for solutions.
Almost all health workers, who are either nurses or midwives in the local health offices and centers echoed the same report. The clamor for family planning methods is overwhelming. Everyday, an increasing number of women are going to the health centers, asking for condoms, pills, IUD insertions, Depo shots and others. Unfortunately, none of these are available in the said centers.
As stated lately by the Dep’t. of Health Secretary, family planning is not the business of the government. This is heard loud and clear to as far as Basilan province. So who’s business is it then? What options do these women have?
From January to June of this year, Basilan General Hospital reported 15 cases of abortion. Quite a shocking figure for a small, conservative, Muslim-dominated province. And we have not looked into the unreported cases yet. .
As one nurse from the Lamitan Health Office said, “women are more open to abortions these days.” She narrated that once, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab casually walked up to her and asked what she can take to abort her pregnancy. A Muslim herself, the nurse was beyond belief! When she refused, the woman insisted, telling her that she is not asking for the medicine, just a prescription. Or even without a prescription, just the name of the medicine.
In Isabela City, where there are 23,213 women of reproductive age, there is a one-woman FPOP Center. For the second quarter of 2004, she has a total of 568 regular acceptors, majority of whom are Muslims. Services include are family planning orientations and methods such as pills, condoms, DMPA, IUD insertions and spermicides. They also conduct breast examinations and pap smears. Being the only FPOP Center in the entire province, there are also acceptors from other municipalities. Usually, whenever they or their husbands go to Isabela for any other errands, they visit the FPOP Center. She also related an instance when a Muslim woman asked for cytotec which she blatantly admitted she will use for abortion. The nurse refused. The woman went on to tell the nurse not to feel guilty, it will be her own sin anyway.
In the municipality of Maluso, the nurse there is more concerned with the possible incidence of sexually-transmitted diseases. What used to be a highly conservative, backward town, Maluso’s night life became more lively with the conduct of the Balikatan exercises. Night clubs opened and prostitution became rampant. Today, even after the Balikatan, the clubs continue to operate.
Though there are no reported cases yet, the health workers can not dismiss the possibility. No one agrees to medical examinations and even if there are, the center does not have the capability to conduct such.
As for Lantawan municipality, their biggest challenge is accessibility of the areas. Aside from being an Abu Sayyaf lair, the municipality includes 10 island-barangays. With no hazard pay or transportation allowance, the health workers hire fishing boats out of their own pockets, braving waves and storms to get to these barangays. Worst, upon reaching their areas, all they can do is, as what one midwife said, “nagtitinginan lang kami.” (We just look at each other). The last time they distributed medicines was more than a year ago, in a medical outreach conducted in the barangay of Lubukan after an armed conflict. But as to when the last time health centers were given medicines? They can no longer remember.
This predicament has also robbed Lantawan of the rare opportunity of having a Municipal doctor. After ten years without a doctor, Lantawan finally had one through the Doctor to the Barrio program. But he only lasted for a little more than a year. Dr. Omar gave up. He said there is nothing more demoralizing than being a doctor with no use.
For the year 2003, Lantawan has reported 4 cases of maternal mortality, due to placental retention and hemorrhage.
The interview made with the Muslim women and health workers in Basilan revealed the following:
A. PREFERRED FAMILY PLANNING METHODS:
1. Pills 2. DMPA 3. IUD insertion 4. Natural method - symptothermal - standard days method - Basal body temperature 5. Condoms 6. Ligation 7. Spermicide
B. CAUSES/REASONS OF INDUCED ABORTION:
1. Poverty 2. unplanned pregnancies 3. work abroad 4. maintain figure
C. CAUSES OF SPONTANEOUS ABORTION:
1. Poverty - malnutrition - work labor - incapacity to access medical assistance in cases of threatened abortions 2. Illness 3. Evacuations in times of armed conflict
D. CAUSES OF MATERNAL MORTALITY
1. Deliveries by untrained hilots - placental retention - hemorrhage - eclamsia - hypertension
2. No pre-natal care - non detection of illness or positioning of the fetus - malnutrition
3. Inaccessibility to hospitals or other facilities in case of emergencies - no transportation - distance - rough, non-passable roads
E. FACTORS AFFECTING DELIVERY OF REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH SERVICES
1. Reproductive health is not a priority of local government units - no medicines and other facilities - lack of trainings
2. Muslim culture and traditions
3. Peace and order situation
Statistical analysis of reproductive health indicators may prove to be inadequate considering there are more unreported cases than those which are reported. Though it may still be used as baseline for future studies, it cannot be reflective of the real situation of the Muslim women in Basilan.
With the above limitation, it is hereby opted that stories of three different Muslim women be told in an effort to paint a vivid picture of the realities confronting the Muslim women in Basilan in general.
SHE AND THE ABU SAYYAF
Elsa was already an elementary public school teacher in Basilan when she met Rashid, who was then a 3rd year Engineering student at the Zamboanga A.E. College. He was a religious Muslim and was very much into Islamic fundamentalism. It was only after almost a year in their relationship that she learned of his involvement with the Harakatul Islaamiya or commonly known as the Abu Sayyaf. She only knew of this when she told Rashid of her pregnancy. Rashid was not ready for marriage. They decided not to have the baby, foremost out of fear of public humiliation, considering Rashid’s presumed spiritual ascendancy as an Abu Sayyaf, and pre-marital sex is highly immoral in Islam.
After 2 years they finally decided to get married. Rashid dropped out of school and went into the jungles of Basilan, answering the call to Jihad of the Abu Sayyaf. Elsa had 3 more abortions, without Rashid’s knowledge. She said it was not really because of economic reasons, though they were also factors. It was more of her fear of loosing her husband, of raising a child alone, without a father. Whenever there are reports of military operations or encounters with the Abu Sayyaf, she is tortured with thoughts of Rashid being dead. She can not imagine giving that kind of life to an innocent child.
When Abdurajak Janjalani died in 1999, Rashid decided to quit. They opened their own business and tried to start over again. Elsa couldn’t ask for more. All they lack are little ones to make their life complete. But to this time, they never came. Rashid married another woman and now have 2 children with this second wife. Though he did not divorce Elsa, he rarely visits her.
All Elsa could blame is herself. She thinks those successive induced abortions caused her sterility. She did not give in to Rashid’s demand that they consult a doctor. She was afraid Rashid might find out about those abortions, convinced that he will kill her. She chose to keep her secret and carry the grudges alone.
SHE AND POLYGAMY
Orphaned at 19, Nisar was helpless when her relatives forced her to marry a distant uncle. They said marrying an older man will give her financial security and being her uncle, she is assured of being treated well. They all said it was best for her, even if she was the fourth wife.
In two months, she was pregnant. But her husband’s rice smuggling business was not doing well. He said he can not afford to raise another child. He had 4 children with his 1st wife, 6 with his 2nd wife and another 4 with his 3rd wife. He then brought her to a “doctor” in Zamboanga City.
All Nisar could remember was the excruciating pain, but she did not resist. She did not have the strength to defy her husband’s will. Even if she decides to keep the baby, she believes she does not have the means to support it. She just kept crying, apologizing to the baby who was meant to be her first.
SHE AND POVERTY
Nur-aina was the Barangay Health worker of Upper Manggas, Lantawan, Basilan. Being a BHW, she was aware of the risks of delivering the baby in the hands of a hilot. But much as she wanted a hospital delivery, they can not afford it. Her husband was a mere farmer and as a BHW, she only received an allowance of P500 per quarter.
Babuh was a trained hilot but was already in her mid 70s. The Municipal health nurse have already prohibited her from conducting deliveries knowing the high risk of doing such at her age. But when Nur-aina started to labor, her family called Babuh, being a relative.
The baby came out smoothly but the placenta remained inside longer that what babuh expected. She became impatient and started pulling what she thought was the placenta until it came out. She placed in a bag and brought it for a customary Tausug ritual. But after a while, Nur-aina started bleeding profusely and gasping for air. She was sweating and trembling, begging her husband to bring her to the hospital, 20 kilometers away. On the way to the hospital however, she died. Her husband related that her last words were instructions to him, telling him to bring their baby religiously to the health center for immunizations.
When they reached the hospital, it was found out that what babuh pulled out was not the placenta but the uterus.
These stories of the women of Basilan is a reflection of the totality of our condition in the province. Our struggle against religious and cultural chauvinism, against war, against poverty, leaves us with no choice but turn a blind eye to our personal health, more so our reproductive health.
This most sorry state of our women is indeed a violation of what Islam guarantees for women. A guarantee which is best perhaps described in the Hadith : “The best among you is he who is best in character. And the best in character is he who is best to women.”
TURABIN-HATAMAN Sitti Djalia