#MeToo In Philippines: Ces Drilon Opens Up On Sexual Harassment And The Public’s Morbid Fascination On Rape
From left: Lynn Pinugu, Ces Drillon, Toni Brillantes, and Coach Pia Acevedo on the #MeToo panel of She Talks Asia / Photo by Alodie Gifford Co
The second "She Talks Asia" summit last March 10 once again set the stage for women’s empowerment and conversation, drawing in crowds of ladies across all ages to come together for an insightful day. Within its roster of thought-provoking talks, one of the most controversial is the #MeToo panel discussion, a platform to raise awareness on sexual abuse, of which ABS-CBN broadcast journalist and lifestyle content head Ces Drilon is one of the speakers.
The #MeToo hashtag rose to heart-stopping prominence in social media around October 2017, in an effort to call out sexual harassment in the workplace, particularly in Hollywood. The viral campaign has since spurred other efforts, such as the Golden Globes #TimesUp, and has encouraged many high-profile women to reveal their experiences of assault and harassment.
Although a continent away from Hollywood, Philippines had its #MeToo moment at the She Talks Asia summit, as Ces, along with co-panelists, recording artist Toni Brillantes, and motivational speaker Coach Pia Acevedo, reveal their personal experiences of sexual abuse.
As the first speaker, Ces recounts the traumatic encounter she had with a former superior, who had assaulted her during her early years in journalism. This was not the first time she publicly came out with her story, says Ces, but it took nearly a decade for her to open up about it.
"Instead of holding onto the dark, what are the tools you need to anchor yourself onto the light?" @cesdrilon @tonibmusic and @coach_pia talk about the importance of self-forgiveness for getting through hard times in the #MeToo Panel led by @lynnpinugu ???????????? #SheTalksAsiaSummit #SheisSelfMade #YSEALISeeds #avonph
Before an attentive audience, she recalls the incident which took place in one busy day in the newsroom, as her superior took her to a small room in the office. “You know, for a long, long time after the experience I could still smell the room, whenever I remembered. So I was pulled by my boss, and kissed… with tongue… in my mouth.”
Ces couldn’t scream at the time, and merely pushed the perpetrator away as she ran out. For the rest of the day, she pretended like nothing happened. “Well, I was just starting my career as a journalist then, and the person was my superior. I didn’t want to put my job on the line," she admits. “And it seemed like it wasn’t right for me to make a scene, that was how I felt [then]. I didn’t want to disturb the goings-on of the newsroom, and so I pretended like nothing happened.”
Ces Drilon tells her story in front of the "She Talks Asia" crowd / Photo by Alodie Gifford Co
Although several other women, along with Ces, had shared the same experience among themselves, only one co-worker mustered up the courage to report the perpetrator to management. But nothing ever came of it, and the following day management had even joked about the incident. Ces confesses, candidly, “You know, we were all so relieved [then], that we didn’t complain, because we would have been put to shame that way—sadly.”
“So I carried that guilt for a long, long time, because I felt that I didn’t support my co-worker," continues Ces. The guilt carried through until she was given an opportunity to speak about it on Probe, and finally open up about her ordeal. “When I was asked if I would come out and talk about it, I did, and it was so cathartic.”
Talking about it was such a release, comments Ces, after all the years of hiding and being part of the “silent conspiracy” that covered up a violation. Her personal experience taught her first-hand why women take a long time to come forward with their stories of abuse. Fear of retribution, a culture of shame and victim-blaming still grips how Filipinos perceive sexual violence; this is on top of a sickening intrigue that sensationalizes victimhood.
Lynn Pinugu, multi-awarded social entrepreneur and co-founder of ‘She Talks Asia’, shared the backstory of Ces’ involvement in the #MeToo talk. “When [Ces] announced that [she] was speaking, I got a lot of inquiries as to whether you’re going to open up about being raped while you were in captivity [by the Abu Sayyaf]. As if they’re quite excited, they are sensationalizing the fact that you could have been a victim.”
During and in the immediate aftermath of her 2008 kidnapping by Abu Sayyaf militants, recalls Ces, there was a “morbid fascination” by the public to confirm or unearth details of her being gang-raped. Although the possibility was frighteningly real, she says, she was not raped in captivity, and wishes to settle that once and for all.
But the most upsetting aspect of Ces’ kidnapping were the speculations and implications of her rumored assault, which sought to dehumanize her. Horrible comments on social media included jokes about her contracting hepatitis B from rapists, or being gang-raped by militants. “As if it was my own fault if I was [raped].”, remarks Ces, and continues to argue that even if she was, “So what?”
Above all, however, Ces’ experiences have showed her the importance encouraging women to speak up, and why sharing these stories is her own little advocacy. “I just hope that my coming forward about an experience that was so long ago will empower others to speak up,” she concludes. “Because not speaking up can prolong the abuse.”
Photos courtesy of She Talks Asia