VAW desk officers, like women in their care, also need support

VAW desk officers, like women in their care, also need support

/ 05:44 AM April 01, 2024

PHOTO: VAW officer Helma Hidalgo at her office in Barangay Baesa, Quezon City. STORY: VAW desk officers, like women in their care, also need support

FRONT-LINER VS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE | Helma Hidalgo at her office in Barangay Baesa, Quezon City (Photo by NIÑO JESUS ORBETA / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

(Last of two parts)

Elizabeth dela Cruz, 59, said her village of about 4,000 residents is generally peaceful. But she also deals with cases related to her job as officer tasked with the barangay’s Violence Against Women (VAW) desk.


A common complaint that she handles from time to time concerns financial matters, such as when the supposed breadwinner in a family could not otherwise provide for their needs.


“Sometimes they don’t even have rice. The husband is deadbeat, prompting the woman to file a complaint,” Dela Cruz told the Inquirer.

“[But] in some cases, the father has the financial capacity to support the child but would deliberately refuse to provide that support just so the mother would give up custody to him,” she said.

READ: It takes a village VAW desk: Her days of abuse can stop here

This withdrawal of financial support constitutes economic abuse because “the woman will be left to carry the heavy burden of supporting the child,” Dela Cruz said.

In such cases, the parties concerned could get carried away by their emotions, as when the husband would utter insulting words as if he were “undressing” his wife in front of other people.

“It’s hard. Sometimes you get moved when the woman is aggrieved because, of course, she should be the one you’re defending,” Dela Cruz said, adding that her emotionally heavy work could also be physically exhausting.


She recalled one of the toughest cases she handled—an attempted rape. “I did not sleep for 32 hours. It felt like I was floating. But then again, I had to accompany and assist the victim to the hospital, the women’s desk of the police, and the local judicial court for filing the case,” Dela Cruz said.

She would, at times, fear for her safety when mediating a confrontation between a couple because it could erupt into a physical fight.

VAW desk officers: ‘First responders’

VAW desk officers like Dela Cruz play a crucial role in their communities, said Kristine Yuzon Chaves, former executive director of the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW).

“Since our barangay is the first responder in the community, [the desk officers] are very helpful for our VAW victim-survivors because they are the ones [whom] women in the grassroots can go to in times of trouble,” Chaves told the Inquirer.

“And since the VAW desk officers most likely come from the same barangay where the victims also live, they are more comfortable to share their stories of abuse rather than go to [a] precinct and relay their story to a complete stranger,” she added.

One of the issues that the PCW aims to address is inadequate pay for these desk officers.

Dela Cruz herself said she receives an honorarium as a “kagawad” but no pay for her work at the VAW desk.

To top it all, VAW desk officers do not have security of tenure since they are only appointees of the barangay chair.

The commission plans to propose amendments to Republic Act (RA) No. 9262, or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004, to correct that situation.

The PCW also recommends an appropriation for VAW desks since their budget currently depends on the discretion of the local governments, Chaves said.

“We are also very concerned about the honorarium of our desk officer[s] because their work is not easy, sometimes they are at risk when [a case] already involves [the issuance of] a protection order,” Chaves said.

No space

Based on 2023 data from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), nine of Metro Manila’s 16 cities and one municipality have a compliance rate of 100 percent in their barangays—meaning each village has a VAW desk and designated desk officer, as required by the Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710).

These localities are the town of Pateros and the cities of Las Piñas, Makati, Malabon, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Pasig, San Juan and Valenzuela.

Other cities still need to catch up, such as Mandaluyong, which has a compliance rate of 74 percent, or 20 out of 27 barangays with assigned VAW desks, and the capital of Manila, which is 82 percent compliant, with 737 out of 897 barangays having VAW desks.

Cities like Caloocan (98.94 percent) and Navotas (94.44 percent) are almost fully compliant.

When reached for comment about the fact that 160 barangays in Manila have not yet set up VAW desks, Diosdado Santiago, director of the city’s Barangay Bureau, explained that some villages have limited space—some barangays do not even have their own offices.

“They (the barangays) couldn’t physically place a VAW desk, but as far as VAW desk officers handling cases [are concerned], Manila is complete,” he said in an interview.

Since all barangays in the city have VAW desk officers, once a village receives a complaint, its desk officer will be called to assist the victim and refer her to the proper authorities, Santiago said.

Barangay 467 in Sampaloc district is one such village that didn’t have an office for a long time, let alone a VAW desk. It used to occupy an empty lot as its headquarters until it recently found a house for rent near the village chair’s residence.

DILG office

“This is how it is in our area, it’s expensive to rent a place because we are along the university belt,” said village chair Jose Sinforoso Jusay, who recalled a time that he was kagawad when the barangay would hold meetings on the street.

Dennis Villaseñor, who heads the DILG’s National Barangay Operations Office, explained that “In some areas, resources are really lacking. There are [also] geographically isolated and disadvantaged barangays. Those are the areas that do not have access to proper roads.”

As its name suggests, the National Barangay Operations Office is tasked with providing logistical support to the barangays and monitoring the different aspects of their service, including the protection of women and children.

Villaseñor said one area the agency is monitoring is the functionality of VAW desks and whether there are ample resources for desk officers to perform their duties.

According to his office, 84 percent, or 35,358 barangays out of 42,046 nationwide, have established VAW desks. One notable exception among the country’s regions is the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which has a compliance rate of 36.56 percent, or only 947 out of 2,590 barangays with VAW desks.

Chaves emphasized that it is through these barangay officers that programs related to issues of violence against women can be developed.

* * *

Incidents of violence against women may be reported through the national emergency hotline (911), the Aleng Pulis hotline (0919 777 7377) or to the PNP Women and Children Protection Center at (02) 8532-6690.

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The Public Attorney’s Office may be contacted for legal assistance at (02) 8929-9436, locals 106, 107 or 159 (local “0” for operator).

TAGS: Violence Against Women desk

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