In 1993 the Philippine National Housing Authority embarked on the demolition of Smokey Mountain, one of the most well-known informal settlements of the time and built on a landfill in Manila. One civil society organisation to form through the action surrounding the site was DAMPA, or Damayan ng Maralitang Pilipinong Api ("Solidarity of poor Filipino oppressed"; dampa means "shack"). I spoke with five of its members — Josephine Castillo, Virginia Gandia, Emma Manjares, Marlyn Barlomento and Belen — to learn how it has moved on to preventing violence against women.
How did DAMPA form?
"We started in 1995 because of massive demolitions that were being undertaken in Metro (metropolitan) Manila. In 1995 they were demolishing our houses and they were not giving us any shelter in its place. There was no resettlement. So we organised because of that: [around] problems of housing, demolition and relocation, poverty, basic services. We had our first general assembly in 1996 with 17 groups who had come together because they were affected by demolitions. Then we gradually grew. Now, 18 years later, we have 217 groups. In the process of these years we also realised that a lot of our women are victims of violence, so we changed to help with that problem. We are not exclusively a women's group. We are mostly women, 85% of the membership, but we also have men. Out of our 217 organizations (all across the country) we have older people, youth, men and women. In each group there are 60 to 500 members. Each region has a representative and we federate at a national level. We are like an umbrella organisation. We are a national federation, we have members all over the Philippines."
When I learned I can get help from barangay and the police, I reported that to the police and my husband was sent to prison for one week. When he came out of prison, he started behaving better—a little, not that much, but a little better.
DAMPA's current work
"At this point we focus on several campaigns including land and housing, safer cities and resilience-building for safer cities. We also do training work about housing and about gender issues, specifically against violence. We do awareness-raising about violence against women and children. We also involve men and politicians in our trainings. The Huairou Commission (HC) supports us in our campaigns. Our connection with HC goes back to 2005, when our president met the HC in Beijing. That is how our group became connected with HC and became a member of GROOTS International."
"Since 2000 we have been doing advocacy work among the barangay (neighbourhood government areas) for women, by creating a 'Women's Desk' as a focal point in each local government. We have set up Women's Desks at barangays, so victims of violence they can go to the women's desk within their barangay to get help. What we want is for the Women's Desks to be run by our members, instead of politicians, so it does not become politicized."
"Currently, there are more than 2,000 barangays in Metro Manila, and we work with 18 barangays in Metro Manila alone. With these 18, we do advocacy work for women, and specifically for the Women's Desk. In some barangays it's more difficult than others for our women to serve, but there are several barangays that have our women members as their focal gender person. For example, in all these 18 barangays there are Women's Desks, but not all of them are our women members. In some the focal person is a politically driven [person] and does not necessarily advocate for women the way we see it."
Personal experiences of violence
"Here among five of us we have two of us who are victims of violence. My friend and I are both victims. But I left and I am now alone. She is still struggling. My friend was going to workshops and trainings of barangays and it was through them she learned how to handle her abusive husband. In those workshops they talked about what to do when the husband comes home and wants to 'do boxing on you', beat you up. One of the strategies we learned was to not get into verbal fight or quarrel. Not to answer. This was helpful. But most important was that we learned where to go, how to get assistance, and what we can do. For these reasons we got stronger. Today we help other women fight gender violence through giving awareness, also by collaboration with barangays. We also organise and coordinate our struggle with others groups including with the youth."
Partnering for women's safety
"With the barangays, we can ask the Women's Desk for police help with victims of violence. Because of our partnership with the barangays, because of the women's desks we have established at the barangay levels, we also have shelters for victims and women and children can go to them. Every barangay will have a shelter. For example, I used to be beaten up. When I learned I can get help from barangay and the police, I reported that to the police and my husband was sent to prison for one week. When he came out of prison, he started behaving better — a little, not that much, but a little better. But now I have got the courage to be separated. I am now a stronger woman. I fought my husband and had my husband out and now I live on my own with the children. The husband is gone. I live 'happily ever after'. I am also part of the solo parent support group and am trying to connect our support groups to the Department of Social Welfare [and Development]. For now I do trainings for other women, and for that I get a little funding from a foundation. It is very little but helps to support me."
One of the strategies we have used in the past and still sometimes use is to make noise, to bang pots and pans when there is a case of domestic violence. For example, we will throw stones at the metal roof or metal sheeting of the doors or walls, to tell the abusive husband we hear what is going on, we are witness, and intimidate him to stop.
"One of the strategies we have used in the past and still sometimes use is to make noise, to bang pots and pans when there is a case of domestic violence. We learned this from Bantay Banay, which started in 2004. Bantay Banay was a small group that gave us training on banging pots and pans to make noise against domestic violence. For example, we will throw stones at the metal roof or metal sheeting of the doors or walls, to tell the abusive husband we hear what is going on, we are witness, and intimidate him to stop. But we did this when we did not have support of the police and the local government. Now that we have Women's Desks, we have training of the police and we call in the police to arrest the husband. What we do now is we have given awareness about laws and rights of women. They know now that police can arrest the husband. So now we need to rely less on making noise. We are now more focused on giving awareness, gender awareness. We are also working on organising and raising awareness of men. We have some male members, men who are against violence and want to stop violence against women. We have members that are husband-and-wife, and they bring awareness to men and train them. The men will share with other men that women are not boxing bags; they must not be beaten. Some men are our partners and supporters. They are also against violence and help us with this."
"One aspect of our training work is work with policemen. The policemen are already trained and know that if they do not do anything about it, they are liable. They cannot say it is a private matter. Before, women were ashamed to report violence because they were being blamed. But now with the Women's Desks and training and awareness, the women are not ashamed. The policemen know it is their responsibility and they must do something. We now have a federal article [a law: Republic act no. 9262, the 'Anti-violence against women and their children act of 2004']. We also have laws for support of solo parents [Republic act no. 8972, the 'Solo parents' welfare act of 2000']. Much of our training of police is educating them about the articles and laws. The law 9262 has helped us a lot. The 9262 law was already there. But what we did is to mobilise support for the law and its enforcement at local government level by police enforcement of the law that was there."