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The Malaysian Insider :: World

Filipinos flock to northern town for fertility dance

Posted: 17 May 2011 05:55 PM PDT

OBANDO, Philippines, May 18 — Hundreds of couples flocked to a town in the northern Philippines to take part in a centuries-old ritual dance, honouring a patron saint believed to bring fertility.

The ritual took place this year amid an increasingly acrimonious battle over a controversial bill promoting artificial contraception in this intensely Catholic nation.

But those seeking children packed into Obando by the thousands for the annual May ritual, inspired by miraculous stories of the babies it has brought.

Couples dance in the two-hour long procession, swaying their hips to a traditional folk tune from bamboo and marching bands. The ritual is accompanied by a short chant and prayer to Saint Claire, the local patron saint of fertility, asking her to bless them with children.

Ruelito Cruz and his wife Gina came in the hope that the dance would help them have a child more than a decade after they had their first.

"They say this is where we can ask those kinds of wishes, that is why we hope our wish for a second child would come true," said Cruz.

The rite has taken place in Obando for centuries and apparently originated from a pagan fertility ritual where couples once rubbed their body parts against an idol.

But the act was later changed by the Catholic Church when they introduced Saint Claire, the patron saint of fertility, to the locals.

Dentist Earl de Castro's wish for a healthy child came true after his wife surmounted difficulties with past pregnancies to bear a healthy baby.

"It was a miracle for us to be given a child. That is why we go back here yearly for thanksgiving," De Castro said.

The dance also promotes fertility in a different way, with the saint playing matchmaker to help people find a partner.

Newlywed Tess Faustino said she found her husband after asking the patron saint for guidance.

"This is my first time to wish for a child," she added.

The contraception bill has led to an escalating war of words that has put Philippine President Benigno Aquino on a collision course with the country's powerful Catholic Church leaders, who have blocked similar measures since the 1990s.

"The problem is not the bearing children, but the problem is poverty and corruption in our country," said Jerry Fortunato, a parish priest in Obando.

The Philippines, with 80 per cent of its 100 million population devoted Catholics, holds many festivals honouring patron saints that are believed to grant miracles.

Not everyone came to ask the saint for children. Some begged for different miracles instead.

Jemimah Santiago, a call centre agent with two children and pregnant with her third, danced in the hopes that her husband would return after leaving her for another woman.

"I'm dancing right now (to see) if he can come back with me," she said. — Reuters

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New York hotel maid unaware of IMF chief identity

Posted: 17 May 2011 05:31 PM PDT

The buildings of the jail at Rikers Island where International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is being held after being denied bail subsequent to being arrested and charged on Sunday with sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid, are seen in New York May 17, 2011. — Reuters pic

NEW YORK, May 18 — The hotel maid who IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is accused of trying to rape has gone into hiding, and she was unaware of his identity until a day after the alleged attack, her lawyer said yesterday.

The 32-year-old Sofitel hotel maid is a widow with a 15-year-old daughter, said her lawyer Jeffrey Shapiro. They moved to New York from the West African nation of Guinea about seven years ago, he said.

"She didn't have any idea who he was or have any prior dealings with this guy," Shapiro, a New York City personal injury lawyer, told Reuters.

The attack is alleged to have happened about 12 p.m. (1600 GMT) on Saturday and the woman was unaware of Strauss-Kahn's identity until Sunday. "A friend called her and said 'do you have any idea who this guy is?'" Shapiro said.

Prosecutors have accused Strauss-Kahn, 62, of attacking the maid when she entered his suite, apparently unaware it was occupied, at the luxury Sofitel hotel near Times Square.

During Strauss-Kahn's first appearance at Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday, prosecutors said he had sexually assaulted the maid, attempted to rape her and then, when unsuccessful, forced her to perform oral sex on him.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyers denied the charges of a criminal sexual act, attempted rape, sexual abuse, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching. He was denied bail on Monday and is due to reappear in court on Friday.

He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Shapiro said that after the woman "escaped from the room she reported it to security, the New York City police were called, they interviewed her, they investigated the scene."

"She is someone who respects the fact that the laws exist in this country. She came from a place where laws are few and far between and not readily enforced. She felt it was her obligation to report this," he said.

"She has no agenda in this other than to answer the questions that are asked of her, to tell the truth."

The woman, who is not a US citizen but says she has a visa to work in the United States, has a limited education and experience, but had worked hard to obtain her job as a maid at the Sofitel, Shapiro said.

Shapiro, who was introduced to the woman by a friend on Sunday, said that since the incident, she had not returned to her home in the New York City borough of the Bronx and saw her daughter for the first time only yesterday.

"She's been the victim of a rape and physical assault, she hasn't had a chance to deal with that personally," he said, adding that he was organizing for her to see a counselor.

Shapiro described his role as trying to help her sort out her life and to explain the legal proceedings to her.

"She wants to remain anonymous because she's very much afraid that something could happen to her physically, she feels very threatened by this," he said of all the global attention on the case. — Reuters 

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