As we mark International Working Women’s Day on March 8, 2023, human rights alliance Karapatan and women human rights defenders of Tanggol Bayi stand in solidarity with all the women victims of repression under the Marcos Jr. regime —especially the political prisoners, the involuntarily disappeared and victims of extrajudicial killings, arrests, torture and abduction.
Women figure prominently in the roster of victims of human rights violations under the Marcos Jr. regime.
The third day of Marcos’ rule saw the involuntary disappearance of two women activists—Anakpawis member Ma. Elena Pampoza and Gabriela Women’s Party organizer Elgene Mungcal. The two women went missing on July 3, 2022, and are presumed to have been abducted by state agents. They were last seen in Anao, Tarlac while on the way to a consultation with farmers. Witnesses reported that Pampoza and Mungcal had been under surveillance before they disappeared.
On July 18, the regime had more blood on its hands with the killing of a schoolgirl, 9-year-old Kyllene Casao in Barangay Guinhawa, Taysan, Batangas. Troopers of the 59th IB who chanced upon her, her father and her 14-year-old brother near the village school immediately trained their guns at them. Kyllene ran and was shot in the head by the soldiers.
Two more women became victims barely a month into Marcos’ rule as his troopers perpetrated the single worst human rights violation to date under the Marcos administration. Massacred in the early morning of July 26 were Christina Jacolbe, a daycare teacher who was five months pregnant, her 18-year-old daughter, Grade 11 student Everly Kee Jacolbe and Roldan Montero, a family friend. Elements from the 62nd IB rained bullets at the Jacolbe residence in Barangay Budlasan, Canlaon City, Negros Oriental, killing Christina and Roldan Montero on the spot. Christina’s husband Ernie was able to escape the attack.
Marcos Jr. also has the singular distinction of jailing mostly old and sick women activists. Of the 812 political prisoners nationwide, 160 are women who have been slapped with trumped-up cases and are unjustly imprisoned in various detention facilities across the country. Of these 160 women, three were arrested under the Marcos Jr. regime, all of them ailing and elderly:
• Adora Faye de Vera, 66, arrested on August 24, 2022. A rape and torture survivor under martial law, the severely asthmatic De Vera now faces a new round of trumped-up charges of murder and multiple frustrated murder and is currently detained in Iloilo.
• Atheliana Hijos, 76, arrested on August 31, 2022. The secretary-general of Gabriela-Caraga was arrested in her home in Nasipit, Agusan del Norte based on the fabricated and absurd testimonies of soldiers alleging that the frail and elderly Atel, as she is fondly called, was a combatant involved in armed encounters. She has since been diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis and suffered a stroke while in detention.
• Presentacion Saluta, 63, arrested on January 29, 2023 in General Santos City. Released in 2019 after the dismissal of the trumped-up charges against her, the frail Saluta faces yet another set of manufactured cases based on planted evidence and the perjured testimonies of witnesses.
Another elderly and ailing woman activist, 63-year old Makabayan-Bicol coordinator Marites Pielago, was arrested on July 28, 2022 by joint elements of the PNP Regional Intelligence Division 5 and the 9th Military Intelligence Battalion while she was seeking medical attention at a hospital in Naga City. She faces trumped-up murder and frustrated murder charges.
Just a few weeks ago, 49-year old Cordilleran activist Jennifer Awingan was served a warrant for a trumped-up case of rebellion at her home in Baguio City last January 30. Four of the seven Cordilleran activists named in the warrant, including Awingan, are women—the three others being peasant leader Lourdes Jimenez and development workers Sarah Abellon and Florence Kang. For Awingan, Abellon and Kang, the manufactured rebellion charges are but the latest in a string of attacks by the state to vilify them and discredit their pro-people advocacies.
Pielago as well as the four Cordilleran women activists have posted bail for their temporary liberty.
There are many other women who have been victimized as they suffered economic and social dislocation due to aerial bombings, artillery attacks, militarization and the demolition of their communities. There are likewise those who slowly suffer and die, not from bombs or bullets, but from the insidious violence wrought by poverty in their daily lives.
The Marcos Jr. regime must be held accountable for its violations of these women’s civil, political and economic rights. As we mark International Working Women’s Day, we call on the Marcos Jr. regime to release all political prisoners, especially the sick, elderly and long-detained women political prisoners. We demand an end to extrajudicial killings, arrests and involuntary disappearances. We cry out that we are fed up with economic policies that condemn us to live our lives on the brink of survival.