by Arbil Bucatcat and Ana Catalina Paje
The Los Baños Gender and Development (GAD) Office conducted a series of seminars on violence against women and their children (VAWC) and gender sensitivity for barangay officials and GAD focal persons last March 11, 15, and 25 at Brgy. Lalakay, Brgy. Batong Malake, and Brgy. Baybayin, respectively.
The GAD Office identified VAWC as one of the major issues in the barangays despite having no increase in the reported VAWC cases. One of the reasons identified by the GAD Office was the lack of skills of the so- called “frontliners” such as barangay officials and focal persons to handle VAWC cases. To address such concern, the GAD Office organized the series of seminars on VAWC and gender sensitivity in the barangay level.
Karen Lagat Mercado, designated municipal GAD officer, said that the seminar equipped the participants with knowledge on legalities and procedures on VAWC cases. She added that through the seminar, the GAD office would be able to build capacities at the grassroots level.
She mentioned that based on their data, majority of barangay officials and GAD focal persons are not knowledgeable on how to properly handle VAWC-related cases. She explained that they tend to follow old practices because they are unaware that there are procedures.
For instance, Mercado, also a former barangay councilor, added that when victims of violence go to the barangay to report the incident, the common response of the officials is to reconcile the partners.
Mercado said that frontliners are not aware that the incident should be immediately reported to the police. However, Ellen Ramos, GAD office staff, pointed out that an important aspect of VAWC that needs to be addressed is maintaining economic stability in the family in instances when the abuser is sent to prison.
Furthermore, Eleonor P. Jimenez, the newly designated GAD desk officer in Brgy. Baybayin, said that members of the community are not aware of VAWC. She explained that some couples consider verbal, physical, or economic abuses as normal part of married life. She added that husbands do not know that physical battery is a crime.
On the other hand, Romeo Oro, a barangay councilor in Brgy. Baybayin, said that men and women should be represented in VAWC equally. He added that hunsbands should also be informed about the consequences of their actions.
Aside from the seminar, Mercado shared that the next step that their office would like to focus on is to make a comprehensive list of all VAWC-related cases. She said that the Philippine National Police – Los Baños has only three to four recorded cases but statistics may be higher based on feedback from barangays.
Meanwhile, in celebration of the women’s month, the GAD Office also conducted a seminar themed Juana, ang Tatag Mo ay Tatag Natin sa Pagbangon at Pagsulong, last March 19 at the GAD municipal office.
Mercado said that the activity aims to empower women by educating them about their rights. Dr. Helen Dayo, director of the UP Los Baños (UPLB) Gender Center and one of the resource persons, stressed that women should know their rights so that they would be able to exercise their rights and assert themselves. She added that most wives suffer from physical violence because they tolerate their husbands’ behavior, thinking it is how it should be.
Another speaker, Prof. Amelia L. Bello, coordinator for the UPLB Gender and Rural Development Office (GRDO), talked about some of the laws related to violence against women such as:
- Republic Act (RA) 3815 or the Revised Penal Code, which defines and provide penalties for VAWC cases;
- RA 7877 or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, which declares all forms of sexual harassment in the employment, education and training environment as unlawful;
- RA 8353 or the Anti-Rape Law of 1997, which reclassifies rape as a crime against persons, defining it as a public rather than private crime;
- RA 8551 or the Philippine National Police Reform and Reorganization Act of 1998, which mandates the creation of Women’s Desk in all police stations throughout the country;
- RA 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 which defines prostitution and penalizes people engaging in services such as sexual trafficking; and
- RA 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004 which defines VAWC and penalizes the commission of such acts and provides for the security and protection of the complainant/victim, and her family through barangay, temporary, or permanent protection orders.
Sairah Saipudin, university research associate at the UPLB Gender Center, said that the GAD Office’s seminar will hopefully make a significant change in the field of gender education since their audience are from the grassroots. She added that aside from informing women about their rights, it is also their advocacy to make men aware that any form of violence against women is not only disrespectful but is also punishable by law.