(Trigger warning: the story mentions acts of violence)
When Johnny Depp recounted the violence he suffered under ex-wife Amber Heard, novelist Robert recalled how his ex-partner broke his nose with a chair during a fight over money and hoped the Hollywood star's plight would show that while men are most often portrayed as the abusers, they too can be victims.
Robert said he was coming forward not take the heat off physically abusive men, but to raise awareness on the plight of men like him, who are reluctant to tell their story because of societal expectations.
"Totoo namang maraming gagong lalaki pero 'wag nating i-deny ang katotohanan na meron din sa part ng mga babae, 'di naman santo ang lahat ng tao," the 54-year-old told reportr.
When women fall victim to cruelty, the world rallies behind them. It's the #MeToo movement at work, giving women a platform to speak up against violence usually inflicted by men in power, sociologist Enrico Baula told reportr.
"Regardless of what evidence there is, may idea tayo na protect agad ang victim. Guilty by association by being a male si Johnny Depp. You're a male. Chances are, statistically speaking, probably ikaw ang abuser."
What happens, then, when it's the men who are victims of violence?
Why men won't speak out
In patriarchal Philippines, men are taught to "man up" in the face of physical attacks: stoic, controlled, and always dominant, Baula told reportr. When they're at the receiving end of abuse, it's usually overlooked or dismissed as weakness, diminishing their manhood.
"A man admitting they're physically, emotionally, psychologically hurt, it all goes against the definition of masculinity of Philippine society so therefore the admission that they are all of those things is an admission technically speaking that I'm not a man, especially ang naga-abuse sa akin is somebody 100 pounds lighter than me."
Robert tried to justify the violence he endured from his ex as part of a loving relationship. After getting bloodied by chomp bites on his arm or putting a cigarette out on his leg, he said they would always end up holding hands, exchanging "I love you's", and enjoying sexual intimacy.
"Tututukan n'ya ako ng kutsilyo sa leeg. Nasugatan leeg ko dahil nakatutok talaga kutsilyo. Pagkatapos iyak siya nang iyak, makikiusap siya na baka puwede sa susunod na mag-away kami 'wag ko isusumbat sa kanya 'yung ginawa n'ya," he said of his ex.
He will make up excuses to cover up for their fights at home. Broken nosebridge? The tricycle suddenly stopped and I hit myself, he would say. If he can't think of excuses, he would stay silent to prevent stigma.
For Robert, the most painful of all the attacks was when his ex spat on his face.
"Duraan ka, maliitin ka, wala kang kuwenta, inutil ka, those things really resonate sa mga lalaki kasi 'di naman sila trained to be emotionally accessible," said Baula.
Their two female children were also abused, Robert said. At that time, they were no more than 10 years old. "Sila mismo nag-recall sa akin kung papaano inipit ng pliers ang daliri nila, paano pinakain ng tae, paano sila sinubuan ng powdered instant coffee, paano sinubsob sa basurahan 'yung panganay ko."
No cases were filed and Robert's children lived with him since their separation. Years later, he would find out his ex has bipolar disorder and has since sought psychological help.
The patriarchal system that oppresses women is the same one that forced battered men to think they are not entitled to protection because they are supposed to be the abusers, not the abused, Robert said. "Ang violence, wala namang kinikilalang gender 'yan."
What can be done?
Recognizing the need to protect everyone from violence regardless of gender, Rizal Rep. Fidel Nograles in 2019 filed a bill to expand the Violence Against Women and Children to include "all those who suffer violence from their partners."
Women's party-list Gabriela said the bill was "unnecessary." "In the first place, nakakalamang na nga sila, bibigyan mo pa sila ng dagdag pang venue para mas makalamang pa," then Gabriela secretary general Jang Monte-Hernandez said in GMA News' Brigada in 2019.
Robert said he was against Gabriela's position. "'Di na nga kumikibo 'yung mga lalaki sa dinaranas nilang pang-aapi at sila mismo ay biktima ng patriarchal system, pati ba naman mga babae sasagkaan n'yo pa 'yung bill na fina-file?"
Robert eventually co-founded an organization that seeks to empower battered husbands and partners in hopes that more men would speak up against abuse.
"Pinu-push namin ito 'di para ipahiya na may mga lalaking sinasaktan, para magkaroon ng boses ang mga lalaki at eventually mabuksan ang mga dibdib nila at umagos ang mga nabubulok na anumang natatago d'yan."
For sociologist Baula, advancing equality, not double standards, is a way to prevent abuses across all genders.
"Enough of that binary na lalaki can only be stoic, express anger. Allow boys to express emotions without diminishing them, in the same way women," said Baula.
"Dapat siguro sa lipunan natin magbago na ang paningin na lalaki lang ang may capability na manakit, physical man, verbal man, psychological man. Lahat ng gender may kakayahang gawin ito e so dapat may katapat na batas na aayos sa ganitong mga bagay," Robert said.