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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Vaya con Dios, 'torni Arbet

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
October 18, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

It was Friday, 1 pm. I was preparing for my health tips and trivia segments for a weekly one-hour radio program over dyLA produced by Women’s Feature Service, an international wire agency that works to place into mainstream media the pressing issues faced by women and children across continents and walks of life, when my co-anchor Marivir Montebon-Auxilio called to inform me that I don’t have to arrange for another guest for our 3 pm program. Marivir got somebody to talk on the issue of women dragged into virtual prostitution by a Caucasian who operated an Internet café here that allowed customers online pleasure (as in cybersex) with the women.

The guest’s name was something like “Anna Yongco”.

She was introduced to me by Marivir when I arrived at the radio station. But since that was the first time we met, Marivir took care of introducing her on air. She was Attorney Arbet Sta. Ana-Yongco who worked on cases involving violations against women and children, and an advocate working to address major global concerns such as women trafficking or modern-day slavery, child prostitution and pornography.

She shone in her field without that air of arrogance most lawyers have. She was expounding on women trafficking, emphatic but never intimidating. In her soft-spoken unassuming manner, she was able to put the message across that women are pressed with the major issue of “the struggle for power”. She cited that feminist advocates should be alarmed that Cebu has unfortunately become both the main passage and destination point in the trafficking of women and children. Her point was recently supported by the survey released by a non-government advocacy group, which stated that no less than 1.2 million children have been trafficked for prostitution, child labor and domestic servitude in 2003 alone.

Yesterday, ‘torni Arbet was laid to rest after four bullets took her precious life on the morning of October 11 inside her office at the corner of Alcohol and Sikatuna streets in barangay Zapatera. She handled mostly pro bono cases, particularly the Ecleo parricide case, and others, like that of the shooting of a prominent Danao city businessman, of a man sentenced to 26 counts of death penalty for raping his own twin daughters, and another case involving a girl rescued from sex slavery.

Sharing ‘torni Arbet’s feminist advocacy, I can’t help but be angered by such a senseless killing. “Kon naglagot man diay, dapat mokiha! Ayaw lang patya! The person killed was a good woman, wife, sister, and lawyer alone in her fight.” She was the lone prosecutor in the Ecleo case. With that one-hour she spent with us over the radio, she showed us how firm she was in her stand to free women from the claws of virtual prostitution. ‘torni Arbet told me it is part of the fight, to educate women so they will have options and/or alternatives other than trading their flesh in exchange for cold cash, including the virtual flesh vending.

She said some women don’t know the quagmire they are in because they simply don’t realize they are victims. Expounding this stand, but without imposing, she left behind a message that the best thing an educated woman can do is to get a fellow woman out of that quagmire of ignorance, to walk with her another mile, and show her there are better paths for women to take.

‘torni Arbet was shot while she was reading her Bible at her office. You can just imagine the ruthlessness of the gunman! Her death is indeed a loss to the legal profession, an attack against the judicial system, a loss to our feminist advocacy. I remember her words well “the attack on women and children is an issue involving people enslaved by their struggle for power”.

Even in her death, she carried the issue of being attacked by people enslaved by their hunger for power, of people who enjoy moving around brandishing their arrogance, happy at phasing out good people from the face of the earth to whitewash their guilt, cowards who can’t overpower a woman’s wit in the sala of justice other than to silence her with a gun.

As for ‘torni Arbet, vaya con Dios! You fought a good fight. They had taken your body, but not your spirit. They might have tipped the weighing scales, but never will they have power over it! They will continue with their arrogance, fanning the fires of their malevolence, but good shall triumph in the end. It has been written, it shall come to pass!

(For comments, reactions, suggestions and contributions, crank up my addies: wild_pechay@yahoo.com or pinay_mangatkatay@yahoo.com)