NTF-ELCAC and AFP’s lies on the abduction of 2 anti-reclamation activists in CL exposed

NTF-ELCAC and AFP’s lies on the abduction of 2 anti-reclamation activists in CL exposed

The Center for Women’s Resources urgently seeks the immediate release of Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro, two dedicated young environmental advocates who were abducted by armed men on September 2, 2023, in the province of Bataan.

Contrary to the statements released by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Jonila Castro revealed that they were indeed abducted by individuals who identified themselves as military personnel in a press conference held today, September 19. Jonila said that they were forced to sign the affidavit created by the military stating that they voluntarily surrendered to the state forces. 

The military even tried to counter Jonila’s statements by saying that syndicates were responsible for their abduction. On the other hand, the NTF-ELCAC is trying to weave more lies by saying that the case of the two young women is “an elaborate hoax and scam perpetrated by the leftist movement on the public.” The truth however is that Jonila and Jhed currently remain in the custody of the military in Plaridel, Bulacan.

It must be noted that the NTF-ELCAC is well known to be involved in the surveillance, harassment, and threats against community organizers and environmental human rights defenders. 

Instead of trying to propagate more false statements, the NTF-ELCAC and the military must immediately and safely release Jonila and Jhed. The government has the highest obligation to ensure that the rights of the two young women are respected and upheld, including their rights against illegal/arbitrary detention, physical and/or psychological torture, due process, and independent and competent legal assistance. 

CWR joins rights groups and the families and friends of Jonila and Jhed in the call to release them immediately, and to stop the attacks on environmental and women human rights defenders. #

Student dropout rate will remain high as long as the national government fails to address basic student needs

Student dropout rate will remain high as long as the national government fails to address basic student needs

In response to the alarming surge in student dropouts in recent years, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno recently proposed amendments to the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act of 2017 (UAQTE of 2017).

The UAQTE of 2017 was a landmark legislation aimed at leveling the educational playing field and ensuring that education is accessible to all.

While the implementation of this law has been less than ideal, the notion of scrapping free tuition in favor of a competitive screening test, is deeply concerning. Not only would such a move be detrimental to the entire Filipino youth but it would also disproportionately impact young Filipino women, robbing them of their fundamental right to education.

Data from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) shows that 36.83% of college students who entered the School Year 2020–2021 dropped out or temporarily left schooling. The factors for student dropouts are numerous, but they consistently point toward the glaring lack of economic resources required to sustain the high cost of education in the country. For years, higher education in the Philippines has been characterized by expensive privatized education alongside meager allocations for public education.

As of 2020, there are 667 (28%) State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), Local Colleges and Universities (LUCs), and other government schools (including satellite campuses) compared to 1,729 (62%) private higher education institutions in the Philippines.

Compared to public institutions, private universities and colleges typically charge higher tuition fees. As a result, it becomes more difficult for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds to afford quality higher education. This higher cost can force many students to drop out and forgo pursuing a degree altogether, or opt for cheaper, often lower-quality, options. 

Case studies conducted by the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) underscore the immense challenges that students from low-income households face in their pursuit of completing their education. In Roxas City, Capiz, a woman leader from an urban poor community said, “Kahit may Free Education, hindi naman makaka-akses dito ang marami sa mga maralita sa komunidad dahil ni hindi sila nakakaabot na makapagtapos ng high school o kahit man lamang elementary.” (Even if there is Free Education, many of the poor in the community cannot access it because they could not even finish elementary, much less high school.)

It must be emphasized that beyond tuition fees and other school fees, access to education includes the requirements to continue schooling in the midst of the online and hybrid set-up of classes such as smartphones, WiFi and internet connections, laptops, electricity, and the like. Without the means to afford these essential resources, many students from low-income backgrounds are left at a disadvantage, unable to participate fully in their education.The intersection of high unemployment rates and meager wages further exacerbates the accessibility of education, directly impacting the rate of students who successfully complete their tertiary education. 

The Center for Women’s Resources firmly believes that the most effective approach for the administration to tackle the high dropout rates among students is to retain the free tuition policy, accord a higher budgetary priority to education in ongoing budget discussions, ensure a living wage and income, and make education truly accessible to every Filipino. By retaining the free tuition policy, the government can alleviate the financial burden on struggling families and encourage more students to complete their education. Additionally, allocating a higher budgetary priority to education would enable schools to provide better resources and facilities, ultimately improving the quality of education and reducing dropout rates. Lastly, ensuring living wages and substantial income would address the root causes of inequality, giving everyone an equal opportunity to pursue education and acquire the necessary skills for economic growth. ###

Stand with human rights defenders! Uphold justice, freedom, and democracy in the Philippines!

Stand with human rights defenders! Uphold justice, freedom, and democracy in the Philippines!

On the occasion of the 25th year of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) stands in solidarity with human rights defenders who tirelessly struggle for justice, freedom, and democracy in the Philippines, and across the world. 

In the Philippines, the weaponization of the law against human rights defenders is an affront to our democracy. Activism and other forms of resistance are persistently depicted as threats to national security, or worse, as acts of rebellion. Draconian laws with ambiguous and sweeping definitions, such as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, have been enacted , empowering authorities to label activists and human rights defenders as terrorists or enemies of the state. 

The Anti-Terror Law has been weaponized by the state against the Filipino people as a tool of fascist terrorism ever since it was put into effect. In recent months, increasing cases of use of ATL or RA 11749 and RA 10168 related to “financing terrorism” have been recorded.  

It is also important to note that many of those charged by ATL, those included in the terrorist list, and those subjected to relentless attacks are human rights defenders who are at the forefront of the fight against neoliberal development and repressive state policies impacting women’s and people’s lives.

From July 2016 to December 2022, there were 66 women victims of extrajudicial killings, many of whom were women human rights defenders – Elisa Badayos, Zara Alvarez, Leonila Pesadilla, and numerous others. These victims include educators, health activists, human rights advocates, and farmers opposing major mining projects destructive in their communities. They tirelessly work to expose the injustices perpetrated by powerful institutions and corporations, and fight for the rights of marginalized communities.

Meanwhile, enforced disappearances remain rampant. On May 3, 2022, Loi Magbanua, a labor organizer and women’s and LGBT rights advocate, was abducted along with a fellow labor organizer. Two months later, peasant organizers and human rights defenders Cha Pampoza and Elgene Mungcal went missing in Moncada, Tarlac.

As of June 2022, there are 162 women political prisoners, including human rights workers Alexandrea Pacalda and Glendhyl Malabanan, development worker Rita Espinoza, writer and women’s rights advocate Adora Faye de Vera, community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, and peasant women organizer Amanda Echanis.

Despite relentless attacks, and amid the worsening economic and social crisis, human rights defenders remain committed to holding the state accountable to its people. They stand firm and grounded, even as they face threats to their safety and liberty.

As we commemorate the 25th year of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, let us reaffirm our collective commitment to defend and uphold the rights of those who dedicate their lives to defending the rights of others. Let us remember that the fight for human rights is not limited to a single day or a single declaration, but it is a continuous effort that requires our unwavering commitment and dedication. Together, let’s defend the defenders! Let us strive for a more just, equitable, and democratic future for all Filipinos. ###

Women call out Marcos Jr. admin’s inadequate response to escalating food crisis

Women call out Marcos Jr. admin’s inadequate response to escalating food crisis

The Center for Women’s Resources laments the inadequate response of the Marcos Jr. administration to the ongoing food crisis in the Philippines. Despite being at the helm of the Department of Agriculture, effective solutions to combat the escalating food prices, especially regarding rice, have remained elusive. Instead of implementing concrete measures to strengthen local food production and ensure food security, the government has resorted to short-term, stopgap solutions to address the crisis.

Under Executive Order No. 39, issued by Pres. Marcos Jr., price caps were enforced on regular and well-milled rice starting September 5. The stipulated price limit for regular milled rice is set at PhP41.00 per kilogram, while the ceiling for well-milled rice is PhP45.00 per kilogram.

During the first week of July 2023, the average retail price of a kilogram of well-milled rice stood at PhP45.56 nationwide. In comparison, during the same period last year, the average retail price was PhP43.32. For regular milled rice, over the course of a year, the price has surged from PhP38.99 in 2022 to PhP41.23 in July 2023. Notably, in certain regions like Region VII (Central Visayas), the average retail price can climb even higher, reaching PhP48.25.

The high rice prices disproportionately affect low-income households, as they allocate a more significant portion of their income toward food, especially cereal products like rice. According to the Household Food Consumption Survey conducted by the Food and Nutrition Institute of DOST, low-income households allocate 41.6% of their food expenses to energy-providing foods such as rice and cereals, compared to 28.8% among high-income households.

While the government attempts to stabilize rice prices and make them more accessible to consumers, it is crucial to address the underlying issues plaguing the agricultural sector. These issues include the adverse effects of agricultural liberalization, the lack of robust support for local food producers, and the persistent problem of landlessness.

Passing burden on small retailers

The imposition of price caps on rice does little to address the root causes of the soaring food prices. Price caps may provide temporary relief for consumers by limiting the price they have to pay for rice, but they fail to tackle the issues of supply and demand imbalance, production inefficiencies, and market speculation. 

Another concern is the impact of this policy on small retailers and how it may further burden them without addressing the main issues of supply and demand. Price caps may force small retailers to sell rice at lower prices, potentially leading to reduced profit margins and financial strain. This could result in the closure of small businesses, further concentrating market power in the hands of larger retailers, big importers, and the rice cartel. 

More false solutions

Meanwhile, Marcos Jr. announced his plans to import more agricultural produce this year to address the surge in prices of basic commodities. The government has long pursued a path of agricultural liberalization, which prioritizes rice imports over developing local rice production. This overreliance on imports, reinforced by the enactment of the Rice Liberalization Law in 2019, renders the country vulnerable to fluctuations in global rice prices and undermines the livelihoods of Filipino rice farmers struggling to compete with cheaper, imported rice.

On the other hand, the persistent neglect and lack of support for local food producers, particularly rice farmers, exacerbate the problem. The national budget, for instance, reflects the government’s disregard for the agriculture sector. The proposed budget for the Department of Agriculture for 2024 amounts to PhP 197.84 billion, a 6 percent increase from the 2023 budget allocation of PhP186.54 billion. 

Notably, the biggest share of the budget went to the Office of the Secretary, of which, one-third was allocated for infrastructure development – purportedly to the repair and construction of farm-to-market roads. However, this does not necessarily address the needs of small farmers such as direct subsidies, irrigation, and access to market and resources. 

Another pressing concern is the long-standing issue of landlessness among Filipino farmers. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty and inequality in rural areas, as farmers struggle to make a sustainable income and provide for their families. Seven out of ten farming families still do not own or control the land that they are tilling. Without secure land tenure, farmers are often left vulnerable to exploitation from landlords and agrocorporations. Addressing the issue of landlessness is crucial in ensuring the socio-economic development of Filipino farmers, as well as achieving food security and sustainable development in the country.

The Center for Women’s Resources urges all Filipino people to call for comprehensive and sustainable solutions that prioritize strengthening local food production, supporting small farmers, and addressing the problem of landlessness. #

2 young women activists & environmental defenders latest victims of state terror in Central Luzon

2 young women activists & environmental defenders latest victims of state terror in Central Luzon

The Center for Women’s Resources raises alarm over the recent abduction of human rights and environmental defenders in the Philippines. Last September 2, two community organizers, Jonila Castro, 21, and Jhed Tamano, 22, were abducted by four armed men in Barangay Lati, Orion, Bataan. 

The two young women had been experiencing surveillance and harassment while conducting an investigation in the community regarding the impacts of the Manila Bay reclamation project on fisherfolk’s livelihood and flooding in the area. The two were preparing for relief operations and consultation in communities in Bataan, days before they were abducted. 

At least 23 land reclamation projects have been approved in Manila Bay, an important fishing ground and hub of marine biodiversity in the country. These projects in the provinces of Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan, and Cavite have caused the displacement of coastal communities, the decline of fish catch, and the deforestation of mangroves, ultimately contributing to the decline in fisherfolk’s livelihood. The permits for the projects were completed under the Duterte Administration between 2019-2022, these builds are linked with Chinese construction company China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC).

While the Marcos administration has ordered an indefinite suspension of 22 major land reclamation projects in Manila Bay, this is not enough to address the long-term impacts of these projects on the livelihood of fisherfolks. It is also crucial to recognize that this suspension was the result of the relentless and persistent advocacy efforts of local rights groups and civil society organizations.

What is also concerning is the surge in acts of violence and aggression targeting community organizers and environmental rights defenders who oppose the reclamation project. The abduction of Castro and Tamano is only the recent spate of these attacks. In October 2019, Cora Agovida, then spokesperson for Gabriela Manila and a campaigner against land reclamation was illegally arrested and detained for two years. Three other anti-land reclamation activists Ram Carlo Bautista, Alma Moran, and Reina Mae Nasino were arrested in November of the same year.

The Center of Women’s Resources joins the families, fellow volunteers, and anti-reclamation groups in demanding the safe return of Jonila and Jhed, in calling to stop attacks against community organizers and rights defenders, and in putting an end to state-sponsored terror. #