Archive for May, 2007

Women’s Rights NGO calls on Candidates to Uphold Reproductive Rights

May 8, 2007

By Clara Rita A. Padilla, April 30, 2007

“Congressional and local electoral candidates when elected into government posts must uphold women’s rights as protected by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Women’s Convention),” says Atty. Clara Rita A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights. She adds, “They must take their stand to protect women’s access to the full range of contraceptive methods including emergency contraception, access to safe and legal abortion, sexuality education for adolescents, skills and education for women in prostitution, legalization of divorce, repeal of discriminatory Muslim Code provisions and lesbian rights.”

These concerns except for lesbian rights were included in the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Concluding Comments during its 36th Session in August 2006. CEDAW monitors the implementation of the Women’s Convention by the Philippine government.

“When elected into office they must provide access to the full range of contraceptive methods in an effort to prevent unintended pregnancy, abortion and maternal mortality and morbidity. They must take a stand in opposing bills restricting access to medically safe methods of contraception such as emergency contraceptive pills, Depo Provera, and IUDs,” Atty. Padilla added.

“Congressional representatives should file bills that uphold women’s rights including bills on Reproductive Health Care, Anti-Discrimination against Sexual Orientation; repeal of the penalty imposed on women who induce abortion and those assisting them as means to decrease maternal mortality and morbidity related to complications from unsafe abortion; improvement of the implementation of the Policy on Prevention and Management of Abortion Complications; implementation of sexuality education in schools for adolescents; and legalization of divorce,” says Atty. Padilla.

In the House of Representatives, staunch supporters of reproductive health and rights in the past were Nereus Acosta (whose sister Malou Acosta is now running), Benjamin Agarao, Jr., Mayong Aguja (Akbayan), Darlene Antonino-Custodio, Agapito Aquino, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel (Akbayan), Liza Largoza-Maza (Gabriela Women’s Party), Renato Magtubo (Partido ng Manggagawa), Satur Ocampo (Bayan Muna), Gilbert Remulla, Loretta Ann Rosales (Akbayan), Rolex T. Suplico, Lorenzo R. Tañada III, and Ronaldo B. Zamora.

Atty. Padilla said, “Government officials should follow the lead of local government officials such as Governor Bellaflor Angara-Castillo of Aurora and Governor Glenn Prudenciano of Ifugao who have spearheaded the enactment of ordinances such as “The Aurora Reproductive Health Care Code of 2005” (Provincial Ordinance No. 125 (2005)) supporting increased reproductive health care services, including mandatory sexuality education, responsible parenthood counseling and “Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenthood Ordinance of Ifugao” (Ordinance 2006-33), respectively.”

“We cannot have government officials who use their religious beliefs in governance. Clearly, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has wielded her influence in the Department of Health and the Population Commission in vigorously campaigning for the so-called “natural family planning” (NFP) method as a means of courting the religious right,” said Atty. Padilla.

Atty. Padilla cautioned against several local officials who used their administrative powers to completely prohibit the delivery of modern methods of contraceptives and to promote natural family planning. She says, “In recent years, policies banning all “artificial” birth control methods, including condoms, pills, intra-uterine devices and sterilization, were introduced in Laguna, Manila City, and Puerto Princesa in 1995, 2000 and 2001 respectively. The policies introduced in Laguna and Puerto Princesa have since been overturned by subsequent local administrations, but the Manila City Policy still prevails.”

In Makati, pregnant adolescents are denied access to free medical services through an erroneous assumption of Mayor Jejomar Binay that such policy will “discourage the incidence of teenage pregnancies.” Atty. Padilla says, “This policy clearly discriminates against adolescents’ right to access reproductive services and unnecessarily puts them at risk.”

“Another glaring example is the continued conduct of congressional hearings in the 13th Congress on bills filed by blatantly religious party-list groups such as Buhay party-list that aim to prohibit safe and effective methods of contraception including IUDS and emergency contraceptive pills and even increase the penalty for women who induce abortion all stemming from their religious beliefs,” Atty. Padilla continued.

Atty. Padilla says, “We also have the problem of continued arrests by police of abortion service providers and sellers of the medical abortion pill Cytotec. Television crews, who do not understand the issues of women relating to abortion and who are mainly concerned with raising their viewership for purposes of sensationalism, instigated these arrests.”

“Such religious stances have no place in governance. These stances disregard women’s realities where half of all pregnancies of Filipino women are unintended and about 200 Filipino women die from maternal-related causes out of every 100,000 live births,” says Atty. Padilla citing the UNFPA 2006 State of the World Population report. Nine in 10 women who induce abortion are married or in a consensual union, more than half have at least 3 children, roughly two-thirds are poor and nearly 90% are Catholic; about 800 women die every year (or two women die every day) due to complications resulting from unsafe abortion; approximately 473,000 women had abortions and an estimated 79,000 women were hospitalized for complications due to unsafe abortion in 2000 (Singh S et al., Unintended Pregnancy and Induced Abortion in the Philippines: Causes and Consequences, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2006, at 4). Such stances endanger women’s lives and health violating women’s basic right to life and health.

The constitutional provision protecting the life of woman and the unborn from conception allows access to information and services to contraception and even abortion. Chile and Peru have the same constitutional protection of the life of the woman and the unborn from conception and they allow access to emergency contraceptive pills. In Argentina and Belgium, emergency contraceptive pills are available without prescription. Spain, upon whose old Penal Code the Philippine Revised Penal Code penalty imposed on the woman who induced abortion was adopted, allows abortion on grounds of rape and fetal impairment leaving the Philippines to contend with its colonial laws. Belgium, France and Italy allow abortion on demand. Colombia allows abortion on grounds of danger to life and health, rape and fetal malformation incompatible with life outside the uterus. Last April 24, Mexico City legalized abortion in the first trimester without restriction.

All the above-mentioned predominantly Catholic countries belie the claim that restricting access to contraception and even safe and legal abortion in the Philippines is a matter of practice of the Catholic religion. It is simply ignorance of medicine, science and law and clinging to our colonial past.

Catholic women around the world–including more than 60 percent of Catholic women in Trinidad, Tobago and Botswana, and 28 percent in the Philippines–have used contraceptive methods, showing that Catholic women exercise freedom of conscience.

It is the obligation of the Philippine government as cited in the recent CEDAW Concluding Comments on the Philippines to “strengthen measures aimed at the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, including by making a comprehensive range of contraceptives more widely available and without any restriction”; “give priority attention to the situation of adolescents and that it provide sex education, targeted at girls and boys, with special attention to the prevention of early pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.”

CEDAW urged the Philippines “to consider the problem of unsafe abortion as a matter of high priority. The Committee recommends that the State party consider reviewing the laws relating to abortion with a view to removing punitive provisions imposed on women who undergo abortion and provide them with access to quality services for the management of complications arising from unsafe abortions and to reduce women’s maternal mortality rates.”

“Elected officials must realize that our very own Constitution states that, ‘Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.’ Elected officials must be reminded that they are mere representatives of the Filipino people and that their obligation is to the Filipino people and not to themselves,” said Atty. Padilla.

“Elected officials must respect plurality in our society. They should allow access to information and health care services and give primary importance to a person’s right to reproductive self-determination. Fundamentalist public officials who restrict access to information and health care services do not deserve any place in governance,” Atty. Padilla added.

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EnGendeRights Calls on Candidates to Uphold LGBT Rights

May 8, 2007

By Clara Rita A. Padilla, April 28, 2007

“Congressional and local electoral candidates when elected into government posts must uphold lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights as protected by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Women’s Convention) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),” says Atty. Clara Rita A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights. She adds, “They must take their stand to uphold LGBT rights.”

“When elected, they should file bills and ordinances that uphold LGBT rights including bills/ordinances on Anti-Discrimination against Sexual Orientation; repeal of the vagrancy provisions under Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code, Reproductive Health Care, implementation of sexuality education in schools for adolescents,” says Atty. Padilla.

“Legislators should support bills repealing the vagrancy provisions of the Revised Penal Code such as House Bill 4804 and House Bill 4436 filed by Liza Largoza-Maza of Gabriela Women’s Party and Joel Virador of Bayan Muna, respectively, in the 13th Congress. These bills intend to put a stop to human rights violations of women in prostitution and homosexuals who are rounded up on the basis of Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code,” continued Atty. Padilla.

Atty. Padilla says, “Government officials should emulate the example of Quezon City legislators in terms of its passage of an ordinance protecting the rights of homosexuals against discrimination in the workplace (Quezon City, Ordinance No. SP-1309, S-2003).”

Legislators should author bills protecting LGBTs against discrimination such as House Bill 634 on Anti-Discrimination against Sexual Orientation filed by Loretta Ann Rosales of Akbayan in the 13th Congress. Staunch supporters of this bill in Congress were Nereus Acosta (whose sister Malou Acosta is now running), Henedina Abad, Mayong Aguja (Akbayan), Justin Marc Chipeco, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel (Akbayan), Liza Largoza-Maza (Gabriela Women’s Party), Renato Magtubo (Partido ng Manggagawa), Satur Ocampo (Bayan Muna), Lorenzo R. Tañada III, and Joel Virador (Bayan Muna).

Danton Remoto, a gay rights activist running for a congressional post for the 3rd district of Quezon City, when elected into position will strongly advocate for LGBT rights.

Atty. Padilla cautions against party list organizations such as ABA-AKO that have in their line-up a so-called “pro-life” nominee and a platform that campaigns for the “traditional natural Filipino family.” She adds, “This platform discriminates against the rights of LGBT families and even fosters hatred against LGBTs instead of upholding their rights.” Atty. Padilla said, “We cannot have public officials who obstinately preach intolerance without realizing that they are breeding hatred, discrimination and violence against LGBTs who are entitled to equal treatment under the Philippine Constitution.”

In the case of Gualberto vs. Gualberto, G.R. No. 154994, the Philippine Supreme Court recognized that lesbian mothers have a right to custody of their children and their being lesbians do not make them unfit mothers as contemplated under Article 213 of the Family Code. The Supreme Court held that, “sexual preference x x x does not prove parental neglect or incompetence.”

Public officials must heed the international trend toward recognizing the rights of LGBTs. Recognition of same-sex marriage and unions is recognized in Canada, Netherlands, United Kingdom and even in predominantly Catholic countries such as Belgium and Spain.

The ICCPR protects LGBTs against discrimination. In the 2003 Concluding Observations on the Philippines, the Human Rights Committee (HRC), the United Nations Committee tasked to monitor the implementation of the ICCPR, urged the Philippine government to “take the necessary steps to adopt legislation explicitly prohibiting discrimination” and “to pursue its efforts to counter all forms of discrimination” pertaining to sexual orientation. The Committee further urged the Philippines to “strengthen human rights education to forestall manifestations of intolerance and discrimination.”

Contrary to the disinformation of fundamentalist groups that “homosexuality is an abnormality,” the HRC recognized, in its General Comment 19, that the concept and structure of family may differ from state to state and that the right to marry and found a family may be based on diverse definitions of families and relationships.

In CEDAW’s General Recommendation 21, it recognized that “[t]he form and concept of the family can vary from State to State, and even between regions within a State.” CEDAW has also asked states parties to reconceptualize lesbianism as a sexual orientation and to abolish penalties for its practice.

A clear expression of the affirmation of the rights to sexual orientation is the March 26, 2007 Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity released by international human rights experts in a worldwide call for action against sexual orientation discrimination. The Principles were adopted by 29 distinguished experts in international law following a meeting in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Among the group of experts were former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, UN independent experts including Philip Alston (UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions) and Paul Hunt (UN Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health), current and former members of human rights treaty bodies, judges, academics and human rights defenders. Sonia Onufer Corrêa of Brazil, who co-chaired the experts’ group said, “ [W]omen, men and persons whose sexuality does not conform with dominant norms face rape, torture, murder, violence, and abuse because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. These Principles affirm that human rights admit no exceptions.”

“It is the duty of the Philippine government to fulfill its obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of LGBTs,” Atty. Padilla stressed.

Candidates and their Stand on Women’s Right

May 8, 2007

By Clara Rita A. Padilla, March 29, 2007

“Congressional and local electoral candidates must take their stand to uphold women’s rights as protected by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Women’s Convention),” says Atty. Clara Rita A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights. She adds, “Women’s rights activists want to hear their stand on prevailing issues such as access to the full range contraceptive methods including emergency contraception, access to safe and legal abortion, sexuality education for adolescents, skills and education for women in prostitution, legalization of divorce, repeal of discriminatory Muslim Code provisions and lesbian rights.”

These concerns except for lesbian rights were included in the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Concluding Comments during its 36th Session in August 2006. CEDAW monitors the implementation of the Women’s Convention by the Philippine government.

“Candidates must take a stand in opposing bills restricting access to medically safe methods of contraception such as emergency contraceptive pills, Depo Provera, and IUDs. They should file bills that uphold women’s rights including bills on Reproductive Health Care, Anti-Discrimination against Sexual Orientation; repeal of the penalty imposed on women who induce abortion and those assisting them as means to decrease maternal mortality and morbidity related to complications from unsafe abortion; and implementation of sexuality education in schools for adolescents, among others,” Atty. Padilla added.

Atty. Padilla stressed, “The Philippine government must fulfill its obligations under the Women’s Convention. Candidates must place women’s rights agenda in governance and development priorities of the government.”

“We cannot have government officials who use their religious beliefs in governance. Clearly, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has wielded her influence in the Department of Health and the Population Commission in campaigning for the so-called ‘natural family planning’ (NFP) method as a means of courting the religious right,” said Atty. Padilla.

“Another glaring example is the continued conduct of congressional hearings on bills filed by blatantly religious party-list groups such as Buhay party-list that aim to prohibit safe and effective methods of contraception including IUDS and emergency contraceptive pills and even increase the penalty for women who induce abortion all stemming from their religious beliefs,” Atty. Padilla continued.

This religious stance has no place in governance. It disregards women’s realities where half of all pregnancies of Filipino women are unintended; about 200 Filipino women die from maternal-related causes out of every 100,000 live births (UNFPA, 2006 State of the World Population); nine in 10 women who induce abortion are married or in a consensual union, more than half have at least 3 children, roughly two-thirds are poor and nearly 90% are Catholic; about 800 women die every year (or two women die every day) due to complications resulting from unsafe abortion; approximately 473,000 women had abortions and an estimated 79,000 women were hospitalized for complications due to unsafe abortion in 2000 (Singh S et al., Unintended Pregnancy and Induced Abortion in the Philippines: Causes and Consequences, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2006, at 4). Such stance actually endangers women’s lives and health violating women’s basic right to life and health.

“Elected officials must realize that our very own Constitution states that, ‘Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.’ Elected officials must be reminded that they are mere representatives of the Filipino people and that their obligation is to the Filipino people and not to themselves,” Atty. Padilla added.

CEDAW Concluding Comments Urges the Philippines to fulfill its Obligations under the Women’s Convention

May 8, 2007

By Clara Rita A. Padilla, March 29, 2007

 The August 25, 2006 United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Concluding Comments on its review of the Philippine government’s report during its 36th Session urged the Philippines to fulfill its obligations under the Women’s Convention.

 CEDAW is the committee tasked to monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Women’s Convention).   The Concluding Comments contains CEDAW’s observations and recommendations on the de facto and de jure equality of women in the Philippines and the obligation of the Philippines under the Women’s Convention to eliminate discrimination against women.  

 “CEDAW raised its concern about  the ‘Convention [having] been in force in the State party for 25 years’ and ‘the lack of progress in undertaking and completing necessary revisions of discriminatory provisions in national legislation and in enacting a comprehensive legal framework pertaining to gender equality,’” says Atty. Clara Rita A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights.  Atty. Padilla submitted their collaborative Shadow Report to CEDAW and presented at the CEDAW-NGO dialogue at the UN.  EnGendeRights drafted their collaborative Shadow Report together with the Center for Reproductive Rights, Reproductive Rights Resource Group-Philippines (3RG-Phils), and Health Development Initiatives Institute.

 “The Committee expressed its concern about ‘the inadequate recognition and protection of the reproductive health and rights of women in the Philippines. The Committee is concerned about the high maternal mortality rates particularly the number of deaths resulting from induced abortions, high fertility rates, inadequate family planning services, the low rates of contraceptive use and difficulties in obtaining contraceptives. It is also concerned about the lack of sex education, especially in rural areas. It is concerned at the high rate of teenage pregnancies, which present a significant obstacle to girls’ educational opportunities and economic empowerment,’” Atty. Padilla added.

 The Committee urged the Philippines as a State party “to take concrete measures to enhance women’s access to health care, in particular to sexual and reproductive health services, in accordance with article 12 of the Convention and the Committee’s general recommendation 24 on women and health. It requests the State party to strengthen measures aimed at the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, including by making a comprehensive range of contraceptives more widely available and affordable and without any restriction and by increasing knowledge and awareness about family planning. The Committee recommends that the State party give priority attention to the situation of adolescents and that it provide sex education, targeted at girls and boys, with special attention to the prevention of early pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.”

 “The Committee urged the Philippines ‘to consider the problem of unsafe abortion as a matter of high priority. The Committee recommends that the State party consider reviewing the laws relating to abortion with a view to removing punitive provisions imposed on women who undergo abortion and provide them with access to quality services for the management of complications arising from unsafe abortions and to reduce women’s maternal mortality rates in line with the Committee’s general recommendation 24 on women and health and the Beijing Platform for Action,’” says Atty. Padilla.

 CEDAW requests “the wide dissemination in the Philippines of the present concluding comments in order to make the people, including government officials, politicians, parliamentarians and women’s and human rights organizations, aware of the steps that have been taken to ensure de jure and de facto equality of women, as well as the further steps that are required in that regard.” 

For a copy of the Concluding Comments, please click on the following link:

http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw36/cc/Philippines_25augrev.pdf