MANILA -- It was like most Christmas parties around--people having fun with those they've spent the year with, reveling in the dances, songs, 

games,  and even the new fad of self-pampering activities like haircutting, manicure-pedicure, massage, pranic healing, and other alternative healing rites like chiropractor and acupuncture.

The party was thrown by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) and its attached agencies--Philippine Information Agency (PIA), Radio Television Malacanang (RTVM), Peoples Television (PTV4), Philippine Broadcasting Service (PBS), Bureau of Communications Services (BCS), Philippine News Agency (PNA), News and Information Bureau (NIB), Apo Productions (APO), National Printing Office (NPO), and the PCOO Gender and Development (PCOO-GAD)--together with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)

What makes the party different is the advocacy behind it. The celebration was shared with the Marilac Hills National Training for Girls in Alabang, Muntinlupa City.

“This program is not just about bringing joy but bringing joy with a purpose for making them aware of their rights as women, what they can and cannot do to protect themselves," said lawyer Judie Rose Tugado Dimayuga, Director 2 of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal, who gave a short talk during the program.  

Lightly titled "BongGADka Day Part 3," the party was actually the third of a series of programs meant to promote gender awareness and development, particularly of the rights under the Philippines' Magna Carta of Women or Republic Act 9710.

The first was in December 2016, and the second was in March 2017.  During last December 19's program, Dimayuga gave a short lecture on women's rights and how to avert sexual assaults and harassment. The audience was mainly the residents of Marilac Hills, who are mostly women aged five to 24 and were victims of some sorts of violence against women.

She said seeing the kids and telling them of their rights pose a unique challenge. “How do you explain to these kids the concept of rape, simplify the concept, but at the same time try to protect their innocence?" she asked. “It’s so hard to simplify the law. Sadly, you are in this position when you have this traumatic experience—how to understand, what to do to prevent further acts of sexual assault.” 

The outreach program was a welcome break to the staff and 194 residents of the Marilac Hills facility—most of whom are suffering from the mental and physical trauma of their former lives as sexually abused children or victims of child pornography, exploitation, and human trafficking.  

“We have a high incidence of sexual harassment. It can happen in school, on the street, or at work; and the problem is with Filipinos. We have this tendency to be quiet instead of reporting, we’d rather keep the shame,” Dimayuga, a former trial lawyer, lamented. “It’s sad that the oppressors walk away and live a normal life while the victim suffers in silence. You can’t help but feel sad because what you study and read about in law school suddenly takes on a face in real life.”

But with projects like BongGADka Day, Dimayuga is hopeful. “Women are now becoming more aware and in that awareness and understanding of the law and their rights, women now begin to muster the courage. When women are informed, they become empowered,” she said. (PNA)

Products made by Marilac residents were on sale at the BongGAD ka Day. (Photos by Albert A. Abando)