Today is International Day to End Violence Against Women. I am sharing my poem that was published in Chaneg ten years ago.

While Silence is Her Refuge

He crushed her being

spat on her education

raked her self-confidence

burned her plans

charted in the kitchen

where her work was never done.

Violence upon violence

visited her scar-ridden body

The pain - so severe

she could not even scream.

Silence was her refuge.

Her wounds ran much deeper

than sisters could imagine

But she swam alone in the

sea of her nightmares and anguish

Fears covered, cries stifled

Silence was her refuge.

The crowd had a million ears

but not one for the moans

of a sister’s tortured soul

It taunted her for her questions

crucified her for her speech

Word of pain was infamy

The crowd rubbed salt on the

raw, bleeding wound

Since then, silence became her refuge

A daughter now does the work

that is never done

Her spirit protests not

numbed by her mother’s death

and her own, for like her mother

she died a hundred deaths

and will die a hundred more

because silence is her refuge.

The crowd does not know

that silence betrays

The crowd itself has run

a million times

to silence for refuge

It still does.

When will the crowd realize

that silence is a foe?

It harbors violence

and squeezes the blood

that waters and keeps alive

the tree of death

that has eternal life

while silence is woman’s refuge./ Cheryl L. Daytec, 13 March 2000


A year ago today, 58 people were massacred in Maguindanao, Philippines. The murder was heartlessly committed by a political family- the Ampatuan Family- closely allied with then Unelected President Gloria Arroyo. The very perverse crime was committed under the cover of impunity that the Ampatuans enjoyed as factotums of the Arroyo regime.

The following is the Statement I delivered today on behalf of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers during the Baguio City commemoration of the massacre.

by Cheryl L. Daytec

When Gloria Arroyo rose to power in 2001, she assumed the throne with the burning desire to sit there forever. But she knew that she would be stopped by the guardians of democracy. She would be stopped by the journalists whose pen was always thought to be mightier than the sword- these watchdogs of society who can bring a totalitarian regime down to its knees, who could set a nation free from the yoke of oppression with just one weapon: the truth. She knew she would be stopped by the lawyers who have sworn to uphold the rule of law that frowns upon tyranny. She knew she would be stopped by the defenders of justice and human rights, the inherent rights of human beings and peoples against the arbitrary and capricious exercise of state power.

So Arroyo had to stop them first before they would stop her. She targeted them: the lawyers, the journalists, the human rights defenders. She put them on military surveillance. They were threatened. Their offices were ransacked and raided. They were tagged as communists. They were arrested without warrant. Their names were put on the military Order of Battle. And she went on killing and kidnapping sprees assisted by her sycophants among the state security forces who thought that their allegiance was to her greed for power and not to the Filipino people. One by one, the lawyers, the journalists, the human rights defenders, were disappearing. One by one, they were dying in the most inhumane and horrendous of circumstances. Nobody was paying for the senseless shedding of their blood, for the enforced disappearances. Cases against perpetrators were being dismissed by a corrupt justice system.

Witnesses were being harassed. In an outright mockery of democracy, the Butcher General Jovito Palparan, perhaps the most blood-thirsty and ruthless general to walk the face of the earth, was extolled by the State as its guardian. The atmosphere of impunity was not only alarming; it was shocking. It was shocking the Filipino people. It was shocking the world.

In 2005, this country was named the most deadly place for journalists by Reporter Without Borders. The Committee to protect Journalists was kinder: it named the Philippines the second most dangerous place after Iraq which was mired in a war that time. The International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the International Association of Peoples Lawyers denounced the Philippines for the extrajudicial killings of lawyers and judges calling it one of the most dangerous places for the legal profession.

We knew then that democracy in this country was an illusion. The message of the killings was clear: In the words of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists: "Murder is the ultimate form of censorship. One reporter is killed, and hundreds are sent a message that certain topics are too dangerous to be discussed." It was a time of living most dangerously. But we did not stop. We knew then that our pens and the truth they wrote, our microphones and the truth they spoke, our courage and the justice and human rights advocacies it championed, our law books and the rule of law they enshrined – these were needed more than ever. As guardians of democracy we rose above our personal considerations, our fears for our own security safety. We founded the National Union of Lawyers in 2007. We founded the National Union of Journalists. The impunity had to be stopped. But it did not.

Last year, 58 people were massacred, 32 of them journalists. Two of them were co-founders of NUPL: Connie Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo who used their profession fighting for the oppressed, the marginalized, the disadvantaged.

To date, no one has been made accountable for the massacre. No one has been made accountable for the disappearances and the killings of other lawyers, journalists and activists. According to the human rights group Karapatan, from the time Arroyo came into power in 2001 to the year 2009, 1118 were extrajudicial murdered, 204 were disappeared, 1,026 were tortured and 1,932 were illegally arrested. But as Prof Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions said: "(N)umbers are not what count. The impact of even a limited number of killings of the type alleged is corrosive in many ways. It intimidates vast numbers of civil society actors, it sends a message of vulnerability to all but the most well connected, and it severely undermines the political discourse which is central to a resolution of the problems confronting this country.

The killings have not stopped. Palparan is still calling the shots. And nobody has yet to be punished by our justice system for the crimes committed on the guardians of democracy. We honor the memory of the 58 who perished in the massacre last year by demanding that the Aquino government speed up the investigation and indict those who are responsible especially the Ampatuans who used their privileged position in the Arroyo administration to commit one of the most perverse crimes in Philippine history. We urge the Aquino government to block the dilatory tactics of the Ampatuans. A government on the straight path understands that justice delayed is justice denied and will not sleep until justice is served. We urge the government to investigate the other murders and disappearances and to release all political prisoners who were persecuted simply on account of their support for powerful expressions of dissent to tyranny. We urge the government to dismantle all private armies and paramilitary groups that have been instruments to commit political killings with impunity. The non-action of this present dispensation will make it complicit in the crimes, in the travesty of justice, rule of law and truth, and in the attack on democracy.

Someone said that “whoever thinks that the pen is mightier than the sword has never encountered automatic weapons." The enemies of truth, rule of law and justice may believe this. They do not realize that the blood of martyrs nourishes the heroism of resistance. For today, we honor the 58 who perished in last year’s massacre by renewing our commitment to democracy, truth, rule of law and justice. We honor our fallen comrades,Connie and Cynthia. We will continue the struggle. They did not die in vain.

On behalf of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers, I thank you./


The world does not belong to this place

Not to this time

Mine. Yours. Ours together

Marooned in contentment


Fear laced with sorrow

Slowly, deliberately slithers

Over our peace

Like a snake after its prey

The longing to remain here

In the circle of your embrace

To say vows

We want to honor

But may not

For to honor them

is to be dishonorable

Tugs, stays, tempts, explodes

Our pace rises to crescendo

Impelled to create as much distance

Between us and the world

Chasing us

When the sun vacates the horizon

Darkness is our wide shawl

Hiding us

From the million prying eyes

Our paths are as clear

As our catastrophe

We walk

One soul

Split in two lonely parts going

To opposite directions

Behind us a crumbling arcadia

That was never really ours to keep/ chyt may2008


Sometime in August 2009, my grad school classmate Emina Cerimovic told our class about how four-year old girls are seen in Bosnia wiping car windshields while begging for money. That story is a mirror image of what is common in the Philippines, a very wealthy country where only 5% are affluent and 70% live below the poverty line.


The red light flashes

I step on the brakes

She rushes to my direction

With a dirty cloth in her hand, she wipes

The non-existent dust off my side mirror

She stares at me with the eyes of the legion

Draped in vulnerability

Who live mourning

The death of their dreams everyday

I feel her nudging the heart of humanity

To awaken from deadwood slumber

The green light flashes

As I fish into my pocket for some coins

I hear cars behind me honk with impatience

Fearing their rage I release my brakes

And drive away as coins fall on my feet

In my side mirror I see

The slumped shoulders of a four-year old

Who looks sadder than a widow

And more venerable than a grandmother

She moves between rushing cars

In a rat race that worships gold

Five miles away…

How could a helpless infant

With an atrabilious look

Make me feel such abyssal self-disgust? /chytdaytec

(Photo credit: Emina Cerimovic)