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Archive for June, 2008

After a short rainfall or two, the road that led to my partner M’s hometown just outside Manila would turn into a long stretch of potholes. Then a campaign and much fanfare, and the potholes would be “fixed” by the contractor who offered the biggest bribe. Whatever watered-down crap they used as filling would barely hold until the next rainy season, and the potholes were back. Then we got to do it all over again.

Unfortunately, this patch-over strategy describes how government officials deal with natural disasters as well. As I write this, the Philippines is still reeling from Typhoon Frank (Fengsheng). Large swaths of the Western Visayas are underwater, with some parts virtually undistinguishable from the ocean. Over 200 people are dead, more than a hundred thousand are displaced. And at least 700 passengers of a capsized ferry are still missing.

The thing is, we have storms like this every year. The country knows they’re coming. And yet, our government is never ready.

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After posting this entry on domestic workers, I learned of the case of Juana Tejada, a Filipina caregiver working under the Canadian federal Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP). She came to Canada in 2003, fulfilled the LCP’s stringent requirements, and was applying for permanent residency in 2006, when she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

She appealed to Canadian immigration officials to waive the health requirement for humanitarian reasons and was told the following:

“While I am sympathetic to your situation, I am not satisfied that these circumstances justify granting an exemption,” a case processing officer in Alberta wrote in the latest decision. “In the opinion of a medical officer, this health condition might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health and social services.”

Tejada’s dying wish is is to stay in Canada and to bring her family, a right she earned and would have availed of in 2006, had she not had the misfortune of getting cancer.

Tejada’s words:

“I have paid my dues to earn my permanent residency. I have worked hard to try to give my family (her husband and six siblings) a better life,” said Tejada, who has been apart from her family since 1995, when she began working abroad as a domestic. “I didn’t want to have cancer. It is not my fault.”

Juana Tejada has until August 8 before she is deported from Canada.

If you are Canadian, please contact your Member of Parliament to support Tejada’s campaign. And please sign the online petition asking Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reverse the deportation order against Juana Tejada.

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In October 2007, Jocelyn Dulnuan was found dead with multiple stab wounds inside the Mississauga mansion where she worked as a live-in caretaker. She was 27 years old, a native of Ifugao province.

Jocelyn migrated through the Canadian government’s Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP), a program which has been heavily criticized by groups like the National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada (NAPWC). The group disputes investigators’ claims that Jocelyn’s death was an isolated incident, because the LCP’s restrictions put caregivers in danger. According to NAPWC executive director Cecili Diocson:

Under this program… Filipino women are allegedly forced to live in the homes of their employers for a 24-month period to perform domestic and caregiving work. . .

The intolerable violence committed against Jocelyn urges us to continue the fight to stop violence against our women and to scrap the anti-woman and racist Live-in Caregiver Program which gives the majority of our women no other choice but to enter Canada as modern-day slaves.”

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“The Filipino people are the most pro-American people, maybe even more pro-American than the Americans themselves.”

Ladies and gentlemen, that was our President Gloria Arroyo, with a candid description of how she regards her country’s former colonizers. And she’s hardly alone in this attitude. Many Filipinos do promote this idea of a westernized Philippines, with proud statements like “We’re the only Catholic country in Asia.” Or that we assimilate easily into American culture. We speak American English and are thoroughly westernized.

What is the root of this exceptionalist thinking? Why the desire for approbation from colonizers? Why do we revel in being so distinct from our Asian neighbors?

In honor of Philippine Independence Day last June 12, I spent the week re-reading Paul A. Kramer’s The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines. Kramer shows how racial ideologies were used to justify US imperialism in its first colony. As a fringe benefit, these ideologies also served to construct a racial hierarchy among Filipinos.

While other works have looked at racial ideologies embedded in Spanish and US colonization, Kramer employs a more intersectional analysis by examining the Filipino elite’s complicity with the creation of a “national colonialism.” For the Filipino elite—the illustrados—the goal was not just nationhood. Rather, they argued that given their Western education and values, illustrados were fully capable of ruling over the rest of the Filipinos.

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Following is from Vernie Yocogan-Diano’s column “Violence against indigenous women related to land rights“:

Mining as a concrete form of development aggression imposes greater violence against indigenous women. We are displaced from our major role in sustainable agricultural production, conservation of resources and subsistence food production. We are displaced from our role as holders of traditional or indigenous knowledge including medicine and passers of that knowledge to the future generation. . . Mining as development aggression disintegrates our indigenous sociopolitical systems that enable mutual support and pursue community integrity, which includes the protection of women and children from various forms of violence.

Yocogan-Diano is the chair of Innabuyog, an organization of indigenous women in the Cordilleras, a province in the northern Philippines. Her words illustrate how intimately marginalized women are affected by factors like militarization and corporate mining. The stories emerge, of polluted waters and communities lost as women are displaced from ancestral lands.

Feminist author Linda Hirshman recently wrote a Washington Post article lamenting how feminism has lost its focus, as seen in Hillary Clinton’s loss in the Democratic primary. The writer faults feminists who practice intersectional analysis for diminishing gender into “just one commitment among many.” Hirshman also goes for a trifecta when she credits white, middle-class women with starting the movement.

How could Hirshman’s restrictive concept of feminism begin to address the issues of development aggression raised by Yocogan-Diano? Would feminicides like the case of Honiefaith Ratilla Kamiosawa even hit Hirshman’s radar as a feminist issue, as worthy as the glass ceiling and the high cost of daycare?

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I previously wrote about how an estimated ten to twelve women in the Philippines die everyday due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. So it made me happy to read that in Carmen, a small town in the central Philippine province of Bohol, there has only been one maternal death in the past five years.

Via the PCIJ blog, Avigail M. Olarte reports on how this was brought about:

These days, aside from the main one in the town center, five of Carmen’s barangays have birthing facilities. There are no doctors in these centers, but a midwife is usually on call, along with an army of barangay health workers; should any complications arise, an ambulance (Carmen has six) can be dispatched to bring the pregnant woman to the [reproductive health unit]…

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It’s been almost two months since the murder of Honiefaith Ratilla Kamiosawa, a Filipina waitress working in Japan. Much of the sensationalist news coverage focused on the details of her murder, mutilation, and dismemberment. Her death was painted as an isolated incident, a cautionary tale for Filipina overseas contract workers.

I argue that her death is a feminicide, and just one in the Arroyo government’s long track record of tolerating and sanctioning violence against women.

Feminicide provides a framework for analyzing the murders of women as systemic problems, rooted in the state’s indifference to gender-based violence. The advocacy group Migrante employs the language of feminicide when it assails the Arroyo government for contributing to the young Filipina’s death, through “mismanaging our economy and failure in governance, for massive corruption, and for the criminal neglect of migrant Filipinos around the world.

Framing the murders of Honiefaith in Japan and Fatima Maulana in Saudi Arabia as feminicides highlights their connections to the murder of Lourdes Rubrico and other activists in the Philippine countryside. Feminicide is rooted in gender, a recognition that women like Honiefaith are murdered because they are women who could be killed. By understanding their deaths as feminicides, these murders emerge not as isolated cases, but as systemic failures of the state.

Thus, feminicide highlights the complicity of state authorities, the political and economic elites, in committing violence against women.

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