Thursday, November 10, 2005

Women’s letter to rape victim

``We believe in you. We do not have to behold your face or know your name in order to say this.’’

Thus began the short but moving letter of 28 women’s groups and their allies to the 22-year-old victim of rape allegedly committed by five US servicemen last Nov. 1 in Subic.

The letter, expressed profoundly in Filipino, offered solace and solidarity with the woman from Mindanao who met her tragic fate while visiting Subic. Some members of the women’s groups that sent the letter are rape survivors themselves.

``We are with you while you weep, because your experience has been the experience of many of us. We are with you as you nurse the pain, because we also feel the pain when your dignity as a woman was trampled upon by US servicemen who had done the same to women in Angeles, Olongapo and other places. We are with you as you seek justice…We know that your healing will depend on many things, one of which is getting justice.’’

Those excerpts are for English speakers who do not understand Filipino. But there is nothing like reading the whole letter in the national language. It stabs deep into the heart. I hope the rape victim, whoever she is, wherever she is, would be able to read this and be convinced, really convinced, that she is not alone. Her kabaro are reaching out to her.

``Naniniwala kami sa ‘yo, kabaro.

``Hindi namin kailangang makita ang iyong mukha o malaman ang iyong pangalan para masabi namin ito.

``Sa matagal na panahon ng aming pagsama at pagtulong sa mga biktima ng panggagahasa, alam namin kung gaano kahirap ang lumantad bilang biktima. Lalong hindi madali sa iyong kalagayan dahil ang iyong isinusuplong ay anim na sundalong Amerikano. Alam namin na hindi ka magrereklamo kung hindi totoo ang iyong sinasabi.

``Kaya naman sa tapang na iyong ipinakita para simulan ang hakbangin tungo sa hustisya, sinasabi namin na naniniwala kami sa iyo at nandito kami para tumulong sa abot ng aming makakaya.

``Hindi kaiba sa marami sa amin ang matinding pinsala sa kaisipan at pagkatao na bunga ng pang-aabusong ito. Ilan sa amin ay naging biktima rin. Marami sa amin ay araw-araw na humaharap sa mga biktimang gaya mo at tumutulong bilang counselor, therapist, doktor, abogada, tagataguyod, kasama, kaibigan.

``Kasama mo kami sa iyong pag-iyak, dahil ang iyong karanasan ay karanasan ng marami. Kasama mo kami sa matinding sakit na iyong nararamdaman, dahil ramdam din namin ang pagyurak sa iyong dignidad at pagkatao, gaya ng ginawa ng maraming sundalong Amerikano sa maraming babae sa Angeles, Olongapo, at iba pang lugar. Kasama mo kami sa iyong paghangad ng hustisya, dahil ito ang nararapat at ito rin ang inaasam ng marami nating kabaro na naging biktima gaya mo.

``Alam namin na ang iyong paghilom at paggaling ay nakasalalay sa maraming bagay, kasama dito ang pagkuha ng hustisya.

Sana ay maging matatag ka sa mga susunod na araw. Sa iyong pakikipaglaban para sa iyong dignidad at karapatan, taos-puso kaming nag-aalay ng aming tulong. Nandito kami. Handang samahan ka.’’

The women’s groups, led by Women’s Education, Development, Productivity, Research and Advocacy Organization (WEDPRO), said they are willing to walk with the victim. ``Nandito kami. Handang samahan ka.’’ (We are here. Ready to be at your side.)

Aida Santos of WEDPRO however stressed that ``despite the women’s outrage over the incident, and being reminded of past incidents, we need to take into consideration what the 22-year-old woman and her family want to do. She is the most important person in this case. We are trying our best to make a personal and hopefully quieter way of reaching out to her. This is a political issue, but most of all, this is a very personal issue.’’

Santos cited examples of victims opting to retract or for an out-of-court settlement leaving outraged sympathizers out in the cold. But rape being a public crime, there is no way suspects could avoid prosecution if the evidence is strong.

I agree that this is a grave personal and national issue. The initial protests against the perpetrators of the crime and the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement are to be expected. But I also think that women’s groups should not do an overkill without first hearing from the victim herself. Pressure from many sides could leave the victim confused and feeling that she is but a fodder in a raging issue.

What does she want for herself? How does she want the case resolved? What form of justice?

Santos pointed out that media’s overemphasis on the fact that the victim was ``not a sex worker’’ seemed to imply that if she were a prostitute or a loose woman it was okay to abuse her.

``Prostitute or not, drunk or not, no woman deserves to be used like a piece of commodity and thrown away,’’ Santos said.

A visiting US national had earlier twitted women at a protest rally and in front of the media that the victim was probably a prostitute and therefore had it coming.

In a separate statement, the same women’s groups demanded that the Philippine government pursue all means necessary to immediately prosecute those who committed the crime. ``This is not the first time US soldiers showed pure contempt for a Filipino woman and, in effect, Filipino women in general.’’

Among the 28 signatories of the letter to the rape victim and the statement were Kalayaan, Likhaan, Women’s Legal Bureau, Women Step In, Women’s Rage, Women Working Together to Stop Violence Against Women, Nagkakaisang Kababaihan ng Angeles City and International Women’s Network Against Militarism.

It has been announced that the next US ambassador to the Philippines is, for the time, a woman. We are eager to know how she views the case.