By Dana Batnag

When Dodong, 58, failed to go home on the night of May 7, his wife, Patring, 60, was dead worried. In fact, he was missing for six straight days after leaving for the Navotas Fish Port to buy fish that they sell in front of their house in Barangay 31 in Caloocan City. Navotas and Caloocan are adjacent cities in Metro Manila, the national capital region. Navotas City, a coastal town, has one of the largest fish ports in Asia.

On the sixth day, a doctor who knew Patring casually asked about her and her family, and she mentioned that Dodong had disappeared. The doctor then asked Caloocan Catholic Bishop Paulo Virgilio David to help find Dodong, who, in turn asked a photojournalist, Vincent Go,to join the search.

Dodong was found at the Navotas Sports Complex. He had been arrested for crossing the border to Navotas from Caloocan, without a travel pass. He had no means to contact his family since he and his wife do not own mobile phones.

Photojournalist Go informed the bishop and fish vendor’s family of Dodong’s predicament. Then he posted it on Facebook and the post went viral. It moved local officials and other citizens to action.

Caloocan City Mayor Oscar Malapitan promised to help Dodong so village officials went to Dodong’s house and handed over some cash assistance that the national government had promised to the poor. Earlier, Dodong and his family were told they didn’t qualify.

CARITAS, the Catholic church’s charity arm, pledged to pay for the PhP3,500 (roughly US$70) bail for Dodong. Unfortunately, the bail process was so tedious that Dodong ended up staying in the crowded detention center for 12 days, by which time he had fully served his sentence, but he has to be arraigned and plead guilty before he could be released from detention. The last that  I  heard about Dodong was that he got a new bike and sidecar, courtesy of a partylist group. Dodong’s story ends on a happy note, sort of.

But what of Patring? The social media posts were all about Dodong and it is presumed that whatever good things that came out of Dodong’s case, his wife is likely to benefit from it as well.

A pregnant woman waits to board a bus to Sorsogon, a province 525 kilometers south of Manila. She went to Cavite province which is adjacent to Metro Manila, to see her husband but was trapped in the lockdown. “The will of God will never take you where the grace of God cannot protect you.”

Actually what I wanted to show was not that most of us may have presumed that Patring would benefit, it’s just that we don’t even think of the woman.

Patring, also a fish vendor, is partly blind from cataract, and also needs help. All the time when her husband was missing, she tried to find ways to support herself and their five-year-old adopted daughter.  But only Dodong’s story went viral and, in fact, no one asks about Patring.

Patring’s case illustrates how women’s stories and needs easily get sidelined during a crisis, like this pandemic. It is often thought that women’s issues can be resolved if the state or charitable groups intervene through the men who are said to be the head of the family. However, this approach is insufficient and gender-blind.

According to a UN Women report that came out in April 2020, “(w)omen and girls in the Philippines are facing distinct challenges to their safety and well-being during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, such as access to healthcare services, gender-based violence and other human rights violations, and economic insecurity.”

“While not all the impacts of COVID-19 are fully understood yet, it is evident that the gender and social inequalities that existed in the Philippines before the pandemic are now exacerbated, ” the report added.

A pregnant woman is examined by a midwife in a health center in Paranaque, in Metro Manila. Because of the lockdown and the lack of public transportation, the number of women who go to the health center for checkup has increased. Four days after this picture was taken the barangay was put on a two-day calibrated lockdown.

As the Philippines went through one of the world’s strictest lockdown to slow down the spread of COVID-19, reports about women’s safety were disturbing.

Data from the Philippine National Police (PNP) showed that in the first two weeks of community quarantine, from March 15 to April 2, there were 391 cases of violence against women and 42 cases of rape were reported nationwide.

The report speculated that there might have been “increased constraints on survivors to report abuses, including the ability for women to find privacy from their abusers to seek help from friends, family, service providers or women’s organizations.”

It is often thought that women’s issues can be resolved if the state or charitable groups intervene through the men who are said to be the head of the family. This approach, however, is insufficient and gender-blind.

Such was the case for Cheche, a security guard. She went to the women’s desk in their community to file a complaint against her live-in partner. However, she was told that the desk was closed because of the pandemic. She then asked if she could seek shelter in the barangay office but was turned away.

A group of priests found Cheche. She was walking aimlessly along EDSA, the main highway connecting Metro Manila’s north and southern portions, and incoherently talking of going to the airport to reach her family in the province. They took her to their parish church. She soon recovered and found a job as a stay-in security guard.

Stories about women who recovered from COVID-19 were inspiring while those who died deserved boundless gratitude for their sacrifice. However, there are also other stories that are often not told because they can be easily seen as less important because they have nothing to do with the heroism of frontliners.

In March, as Luzon went on lockdown, an obstetrician-gynecologist who refused to be named, had decided to self-isolate herself, to keep her family safe  as she attended to her patients in the  hospital. Her husband, who is not a doctor, stopped talking to her. She was deprived of  emotional and psychological support at a time when she needed it.

Health workers bring food inside an isolation center. Only the one in PPE actually went inside the building.

There are many stories of women during the pandemic that have yet to be written. How do women grieve over the loss of their loved ones? How do women who lost their husbands to the government’s violent drug campaign cope?

How do women that were twice locked-up – in prison and by the pandemic – survive in jails? The Correctional Institution for Women has recorded at least 48 COVID-positive cases among the detainees while there were two COVID-related deaths as of April 25. So far there have been no stories of women in detention during the lockdown.

Partly, the reason for the absence of stories of women is the inability of journalists and women writers to physically seek out such stories.  But wholly, the reason is the culture of silencing, or the general belief that women’s stories are less important than men’s –  that not even the availability of social media and other electronic gadgets could help them find their voices, let alone write their stories. It is best to assume that they’d rather suffer in silence, although we know they shouldn’t.

Even after two female presidents, at least two female newspaper publishers and countless other women in influential positions, many stories of women remain untold; their voices unheard. And I, writing this, must also answer the question of why I have not pursued the stories I mentioned. Alas, like many other women, I am saddled with other reports and deadlines, too busy to write the stories of my sisters. WWW

About the author:

Dana Batnag is a journalist, a lawyer, a data privacy officer, a mother, and a woman who struggles, often unsuccessfully, to find the time and energy to write the stories that must be written.