MANILA – The 22-year-old actress’ voice broke last week when she spoke about being threatened with rape online. She said she was concerned about the environment her young nieces would grow up in and called for “a better future for all” to be created.
This week a Filipino general said she could end up dead if she doesn’t act differently.
The general, Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade – de facto head of a military task force fighting a longstanding communist uprising in the Philippines – directed his criticism not at the remarks of the actress Liza Soberano, but at the forum in which she made them: one Online discussion on women’s and girls’ rights organized by the youth wing of Gabriela, a women’s rights group whose military claims are linked to communist guerrillas. (Gabriela denies the charge.)
“Liza Soberano, there is still a chance to abdicate this group,” General Parlade said on Facebook. Otherwise, she would “suffer the same fate” as Josephine Ann Lapira, a young activist who was killed in 2017 in a battle between the military and the communist rebels, the New People’s Army.
The general’s comments sparked an outcry from social media users, liberal politicians and the Human Rights Commission, an independent government agency.
“Such a statement, made by a senior military official, is a form of repression and restriction designed to dissuade those who stand up for their beliefs and interests,” a member of the Justice Commission, Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana, said on May Friday
A lawyer for Ms. Soberano, Jun Lim, said the actress was “apolitical” and accused General Parlade of “marking her in red” – meaning she was a communist. “Expressing their love and respect for women and children is their personal advocacy,” said Lim.
General Parlade denied that Ms. Soberano was a communist, saying he had only warned her not to associate with militants. He said he supported women’s rights.
However, some of the general’s critics said his comments reflected a hostility towards women that prevails in President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.
In his Facebook remarks, General Parlade also warned another Filipino celebrity – Catriona Gray, who won the Miss Universe contest in 2018 – not to partner with left-wing activist groups. And he accused Angel Locsin, an outspoken actress, of being involved in the rebels.
Ms. Gray, in particular, spoke out loudly about the government’s crackdown on human rights organizations and the passage of a controversial anti-terror law, which right-wing groups say is intended to suppress the voices of the opposition.
“For Liza and Catriona, it is difficult and painful to fight on the front lines alongside people oppressed by a norm that advocates rape, murder and exploitation,” Senator Risa Hontiveros said by phone.
“We will be monitoring him from now on,” Senator Hontiveros said of General Parlade. “He shouldn’t use his power as a general and threaten these women.”
Mr Duterte, an avowed womanizer, has been repeatedly accused of misogyny. He once joked about the rape of an Australian missionary during a prison riot in the southern Philippines and said he was allowed to attend.
The New People’s Army, the armed wing of the country’s Communist Party, has been waging guerrilla warfare since 1969. Mr Duterte, who describes himself as a leftist and once studied under the party’s founder, Jose Maria Sison, wooed the rebels to negotiate Tisch shortly after he took office and had hoped to reach a peace deal before stepping down in 2022.
But the relationship deteriorated, and the rebels and the military accused each other of continuing to incite violence. Mr Duterte scrapped the peace talks, saying he would only resume them if Mr Sison returned to the Philippines from self-imposed exile in the Netherlands.
Gabriela, the country’s best-known women’s rights organization, has denied having ties to the Communist Party or the rebels. Arlene Brosas, a Filipino lawmaker who is a member of Gabriela, said the military used a “revised script” to attack the group.
“Our 20 years of promoting women’s and children’s rights in and outside of Congress cannot be smeared by their repeated lies,” she said.
Ms. Soberano is a popular film and television actress whose breakthrough came with “Forevermore,” a soap opera on the ABS-CBN network. On Friday ABS-CBN made statements in support of Ms. Soberano and Ms. Locsin, who are also represented in the network.
In the online discussion last week, Ms. Soberano got emotional talking about supportive messages she received from women after filing a criminal complaint against someone who allegedly posted a rape threat against her on social media.
“I cried when you sent me these messages,” she said, “because I didn’t know how many women were fighting to stand up for themselves.”