Bread and Roses: Women Workers and Prostitution Survivors Call for an End to Militarism and Sexual Violence

International Women’s Day Press Statement
 
Three days after President Gloria Arroyo signed the Anti-Terror Bill into law, women’s groups led by workers and prostitution victims-survivors echoed the call of the first Russian feminists who called for bread and peace in 1917, when women started to mark March 8 as International Women’s Day.
 
In a march-rally to Mendiola, organized by the Women’s Committee of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) as well as by victims and advocates of prostitution from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP), speakers denounced the passage of the Human Security Act and the continuing Balikatan exercises as “grave acts of pimping by the Arroyo government of our country and women, for the US.”
 
Marlene Sindayen, spokesperson of APL-Women, said that the Human Security Act (HSA), clearly patterned after its American version, will trample upon civil liberties that people fought so hard to restore after the Marcos dictatorship.  “This government continues to welcome US troops through Balikatan exercises even as it has facilitated the transfer of custody to the US Embassy of serviceman Daniel Smith who was convicted of raping a Filipina.  Our country and the Filipino women are being prostituted by our own government in exchange for continued patronage,” according to Sindayen.
 
A total of 390 American servicemen will participate in this year’s Balikatan.  According to earlier reports, around 5,000 American troops participated in past Balikatan war games. Balikatan 2007, the 23rd in this series, is conducted under the auspices of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). 
 
Field trainings had originally been planned for this year’s exercises in Capas, Tarlac and in Laur, Nueva Ecija.  However, the US said the exercises would push through only after the Philippine government handed Smith back to American custody even without a court order.   Smith, who was convicted last December 4 for raping a Filipina in the former Subic Naval Base, was turned over to US authorities on the midnight of Dec. 31, 2006, as the Filipinos are gearing for the New Year’s celebration.
 
“Prostitution and rape of Filipino women and children increased once again after the signing of the VFA in 1998,” stated Jean Enriquez, Executive Director of CATW-AP.  Citing statistics that prostitution during the presence of the US military bases rose to at least 22,000 in Angeles and Olongapo cities, Enriquez noted that the number dramatically fell to 143 when the bases were removed in 1992 up to 1998[1].   Since the VFA came into effect in 1999, the number of prostituted women in Angeles and Olongapo has risen again to roughly 8000 in 3 years time.[2]
 
“Now, we are counting around 11,000 women in prostitution in just the two cities, and they keep getting younger women[3].  We haven’t even included those abused in Cebu, Gen. Santos, Zamboanga and numerous other cities where the US troops now have access because of the VFA.  Our member organizations have documented the recruitment of girls, allegedly for househelp or waitressing, ending up as entertainers for the soldiers,” according to Enriquez.
 
Mylene Aniola, a survivor of prostitution and leader of Bagong Kamalayan Collective, Inc. (BKCI) testified that her own mother has been recruited for prostitution in Olongapo City.  According to Aniola, “Many of us belong to second-generation prostitution because US militarism in our country continues.  What we need are jobs and peace, and not increasing numbers of soldiers.  Genuine human security means bread and roses, freedom from hunger, war and sexual violence.”
 
In its statement, the labor center averred that prostitution is not work, but violence against women.  APL asserted that it is the government’s duty to ensure the provision of full employment to women and all citizens.
 
Then in 1917 and now, women workers (commemorating those who died in New York at the Triangle Fire) and prostituted women march for bread and peace.  The survivors carried roses, demanding the scrapping of the VFA, the HSA and calling for justice to all women victims of sexual violence.  They also wore white shirts with slogans:  Karapatan ng Kababaihan, Ipaglaban!  (Fight for women’s rights!)  The images are no different from what Russian Alexandra Kollontai wrote in her account of the women’s day in 1917:…”The wives, daughters and mothers of soldiers, previously as downtrodden and oppressed as prostitutes, demanded an end to their humiliation and angrily denounced all the hungry suffering of the past…”
 
[1] Data from BUKLOD, survivors’ group based in Olongapo City and member of CATW-AP.
 
[2] Ibid
 
[3] Ibid
 
 

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