RECENT headlines detailing the physical abuse by Presidential Adviser for National Security Chavit Singson of his common-law wife Raquel Tiongson have raised awareness that domestic violence is rife in Filipino homes, despite widespread claims that ours is a family-centered society.
For most readers and viewers, the reports may be riveting mainly for their shock value. However, like other headlines and current news, they are easily forgotten with the next big story.
Not so for Senior Police Officer 4 Nenita Abanes and other policewomen who handle the Women and Children?s Protection Desks (WCPD) in police stations across the country. For these law enforcers, these are real events in the lives of real people.
You?d think Abanes has seen them all in her 30 years of service: women of all ages beaten up and bruised by drunken husbands, raped by stepfathers, or their throats slit by live-in partners. But the tough-talking cop confesses to somehow still getting affected by such cases.
?I still feel contempt for the men responsible for these acts,? she says in Filipino.
Abanes is assigned to the Philippine National Police (PNP) WCPD of the Marikina City Police Station ? one of 2,727 policewomen all over the country behind the desks that are part of the Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC).
The WCPC was created as part of the PNP?s response to the particular needs of cases related to Republic Act 9262, or the ?Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004.? As defined by this law, violence against women (VAW) consists of any form of physical, sexual, and psychological harm or suffering, as well as economic abuse committed inside or outside the home. This includes wife battering, rape, sexual harassment, acts of lasciviousness, and verbal abuse.
Underscoring the delicate nature of these complaints, women?s groups have pushed for the creation of women?s desks in police stations, starting with the first women?s desk in 1993 in what was then Police Station 5 in the Batasan area in Quezon City. It took five years before the desks became institutionalized and required in all police precincts with the passage of Republic Act 8551 or ?The PNP Reform and Reorganization Act of 1998.?
By August last year, every one of the country?s 1,752 police stations had set up a Women and Children?s Protection Desk, with some sub-stations and precincts, particularly those in major cities, having a similar unit to better monitor and handle complaints.
Today there are 1,832 WCPDs under the supervision and organization of the Women and Children?s Protection Center, considered the PNP?s ?one-stop shop? for VAW as well as child abuse and trafficking cases. Located in Camp Crame in Quezon City, the WCPC?s purple façade creates a soothing atmosphere. The interior is pleasant as well, the walls adorned with pictures of fairy tale and cartoon characters, with a play area cleared for children.
But not all women?s desks are as spruced up. Right across the gate of the Batasang Pambansa Complex in Quezon City is Police Station 6, where the pilot desk was established some 15 years ago.
Only a low divider sets off the section from the rest of the police station. Curtains dress up the windows but the walls are bare. There are two desks and two cabinets, but chairs have to be borrowed from an adjoining room when complainants come. The section has no computers.
They are saving up for better facilities, says Senior Police Officer 1 Leila Agati, officer-in-charge of the desk. Her plans might seem ambitious given the lack of resources: ?We?d also like to have pink flowers painted on the walls,? she adds in Filipino.
The planned makeover is not just an aesthetic touch, she continues. The desk must be private, given the sensitive nature of the cases reported. ?Sometimes it can?t be helped, there?s a lot of crying going on and we don?t want to draw attention to the victim.?
Given their monthly budget of P2,000 from the Quezon City Police District, however, these plans may have to wait. The available funds mostly go towards covering the complainant?s expenses, Agati says. These include fees for the required medical certificate and photocopying of documents. There are times, she adds, when they even have to shoulder the complainant?s fare to City Hall.
Abanes describes working with the WCPD as ?a sacrifice.? Since the women?s desk of the Marikina City Police Station gets a monthly allowance of only P500 and a gasoline budget of P300, she says, the policewomen assigned to it often have to shell out their own money for a complainant?s expenses. Occasionally, though, some are reimbursed.
But these are not the only challenges that the WCPD faces. Under the law, the PNP should allot 10 percent of its budget for personnel, training, and education for women. At the Marikina City Police Station, however, there are only 14 women in the 300-strong police force, Abanes says. That?s less than the 10 percent required by law. And with three of their policewomen retiring in the next few months ? Abanes among them ? the WCPD will have to find more investigators to handle the VAW complaints brought to them.
The challenges, however, are nothing compared to what the policewomen consider a major setback in their mission ? when the women themselves withdraw their complaints before they even get to court. It can be frustrating for the policewomen who want to help them, even as they understand that social pressures for the woman to keep her family intact, as well as the lack of economic resources to pursue their complaints, force many abuse victims to withdraw their charges.
?Even if the men keep repeating the offense, some of the women are still willing to give them another chance,? Agati says. While she is glad that the complainant is able to work it out with her husband or partner, she confesses that she gets frustrated when the complainant shows up at the station again ? with new wounds and bruises.
For 2007, the WCPC recorded 6,648 complaints of violence against women nationwide. From January to September 2008, there were 6,152 cases. For both years, wife battering, physical injuries, and rape topped the list.
Abanes estimates that only 35 to 40 of the 108 VAW complaints received by the Marikina station in 2007 were brought to court. But, she points out, they tell the women who choose to drop their complaints to do so before the fiscal ? and not at the WCPD.
Police Chief Superintendent Yolanda Tanigue, head of the WCPC, emphasizes that a case should always be filed, especially when physical injury is inflicted. ?Once a man beats up his partner, he is likely to continue doing so,? she warns.
Tanigue looks forward to the day when the WCPC can become an independent unit of the PNP, as this would mean having their own budget and enough funds for the women?s desks across the country.
For now and despite the setbacks, she and other police officers behind the women?s desks hang on to their mission of helping keep other women safe and secure in their own homes. Women?s Feature Service