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The hurt locker

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - December 5, 2020 - 12:00am

COVID-19 quarantines are meant to suppress action. But in the context of gender-based violence, they have provoked the equal and opposite reaction.

Victims are locked in and then they’re locked out. Locked in, i.e. trapped in the same living hell as their abusers. In 73 percent of cases, the hurt providers are current/former husbands/partners. And then locked out – as in unable to access the needed justice, healthcare, wellness support, shelter. The UN calls it the shadow pandemic.

These were already painful realities before 2020. The National Demographic Health Survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority found that, as of 2017, 1 in 4 of the age 15-49 bracket experienced physical/sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime.

Suffering in silence. At COVID-19’s start, there was an odd decrease in incidence of violence. Immediately, this was understood as owing to the inability to get out the cries for help. There was inadequate public transport; movement was limited, aggravated by the fear of speaking out in the presence of abusers or being actually prevented by their strength, ascendancy.

A culprit also was the skeletal complement of responding authorities. This same dilemma prompted the Joint United Nations Program on HIV-AIDS to speak of a second wave of the other colliding pandemic and it’s seen here at home. Dec. 1 was World AIDS Day. COVID-19 has disrupted the HIV-AIDS response, making treatment options more difficult. And, globally, there has also been a perceived re-deployment of resources and personnel toward confronting COVID-19 challenges.

But the underreporting anomaly has corrected itself. The spike in numbers depicting the true picture of domestic violence has become palpable. In Quezon City, Mayor Joy Belmonte noted the more than 100 percent jump in reported weekly domestic abuse cases as of June. Women’s groups like Gabriela dispute official figures, disclosing that victims seek assistance after being rebuffed by authorities. Many are advised by the PNP women’s desks to just endure the abuse until end of lockdown. And we have read the reports of the police themselves demanding sex in exchange for quarantine passes.

Path of devastation. The pandemic has also heightened the risk of trafficking. Lockdowns have facilitated one particular form: that of online sexual exploitation.

Violence against women (VAW) is not just sexual or physical. It is also emotional. It can have consequences far more extensive and longer lasting than physical scars. The intergenerational impact is difficult to quantify. Victims of violence include those who witness it, who are themselves at risk of becoming victim or perpetrator in the future. And then there are the negative social and economic consequences. Failure to address it hinders development.

At home, last Nov. 25 we celebrated National Consciousness Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Children. President Gloria M. Arroyo in 2006 signed Proclamation 1172 extending the 16-day action against gender-based violence which the Philippines had been a part of since 2002 to an 18-day campaign. Instead of concluding on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, it would end on Dec. 12, the anniversary of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.

Agenda. Given this predicament, the challenge is to strengthen on the ground response. Frontline response for survivors is the barangay VAW desks. This year’s 18-day campaign theme is to strengthen and capacitate barangay mechanisms to be more responsive. At the start of the pandemic, barangay VAW desks were redirected (in the same manner as the global HIV-AIDS efforts were derailed) for alternative COVID responsibilities. According to the DILG, as of 2019 only 19 percent of barangays assessed had reached the “highest level of functionality” for their VAW Desks.

For us, the job is to promote awareness, provide information and gather support.

King’s gambit. The Philippine flag proudly waves over the international courses where Filipina golfers Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan compete. In another ancient sport, an even more prominently placed Filipino champion has been dominating. Whenever he wins, he carries with him the red, white and blue. But there is no yellow sun and triad stars. Instead, it’s the US flag that he waves. That man is chess grandmaster and World Fischer Random Champion Wesley So.

Wesley So’s triumphs on the world stage has made the back story of how we lost him to the US Chess federation a cautionary tale. As he negotiates his surging ascent, the tale will continue to be told. Because of politics (Treat Huey of tennis is experiencing the same bitter truth), the best Filipino and potentially the best ever chess player in the world plays for another country.

Wesley has become an undeniable force in world chess. This year alone he has been a winning machine. He won the Skilling Open (Rapid), upsetting World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen in the final. In October, he defeated all comers in the US Chess Championship. Last November 2019, he emerged on top at the first FIDE recognized Fischer Random World Championship, again at the expense of No. 1 Carlsen.

The magnitude of Magnus. Carlsen has been on top of the chess world for the past 10 years. Only 3 years older than Wesley, he has been World Classical Chess Champion, World Rapid Champion and World Blitz Champion (but not World Fischer Random Champion). He holds the record for highest ELO rating in history and is second only to Gary Kasparov in length of time as No. 1. But against Wesley So, he is not invincible.

On any given day, the top 10 level in the world can beat anybody. Players play to their individual strengths: opening, middlegame and end game; open and closed positions. Time management is an additional superpower in any format – classical, rapid, blitz. The Fischer Random World Championship (aka Chess960) at which So crushed Carlsen 13.5 to 2.5 is interesting. Starting positions on the board are randomized. Memorized openings are useless. The format places a premium on creativity and intuition. For many, it’s the true canvass of genius.

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