Robredo on Pisay controversy: Abuse vs women unacceptable in any form

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo on Wednesday, May 29, urged Filipinos to fight all forms of abuse against women by changing the culture that allows it to persist. 

Robredo, an advocate women empowerment, made the statement hours after the Philippine Science High School board of trustees finally decided to bar 6 PSHS students from their graduation rites for sharing nude photos of their female classmates online.

The Vice President noted that the PSHS controversy, which was fueled by the board's initial decision to allow the students to join the May 29 graduation ceremony, was not just confined to the school and its community.

"It is an issue that goes to the heart of how we, as a society, must act when women are disrespected, demeaned, or abused, particularly when this is passed off as ‘boys’ having ‘harmless fun,’ and therefore ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable,'" she said.

Several female PSHS students had filed complaints with school authorities after learning that their boyfriends had shared their nude photos online. The PHSH board overturned the recommendation not to allow the 6 students to graduate, but later yielded to public outrage over the initial decision. (READ: From victim to fighter: 'We all have to take a stand,' says Pisay student

Referring to the PSHS incident, the Vice President said that with the pervading culture in the country that tolerates abuse against women, "perhaps we should not be surprised that even in a community of our nation’s brightest young minds, the poor treatment of women, at the hands of even those they trusted as intimates or friends, persists."

"The problem, after all, is not one of intelligence, but of culture. But if we are to find a way forward, to a society where both women and men can truly have an equal opportunity to be the best we can be, then we must make the conscious, if difficult, choice to change that culture,” the Vice President said.

She added: "And that begins with calling out behavior that is disrespectful and abusive to women, and ensuring that it is appropriately sanctioned. Not making excuses for it, not attempting to justify it, but recognizing it for the injustice it is, and taking the necessary steps to ensure it is not repeated again."

"It is my hope that this will be the principle that will serve as the foundation for the ultimate resolution of the current controversy in PSHS," added Robredo, whose youngest daughter Jillian graduated from PSHS in 2018.

The Vice President said Filipino women have long been “forced to endure various indignities in silence” and "must forge our way through a world of men seemingly determined to make us less than who we are." (READ: Robredo urges women: Be fearless in fighting for what is right

"What is worse, this condescension and abuse is presented as simply being ‘the way of the world,’ with those who protest dismissed as ‘overreacting’ or ‘someone who cannot take a joke,’" she said.

The Vice President made the statement days after President Rodrigo Duterte's latest rape jokes made at the Philippine Military Academy commencement exercise. Administration officials again tried to justify  them as Duterte's way of making people laugh. (READ: Not just a joke: The social cost of Duterte's rape remarks)

When she was still a member of the Duterte Cabinet, Robredo was the butt of the President's sexist jokes which Duterte and Malacañang. In a speech during the election campaign, Duterte had joked about grabbing a lady mayor's panties and not minding if her garter snapped because he just found her so "beautiful."  – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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