Saturday, September 12, 2009

'Gains and gaps' in Philippine’s Magna Carta of Women

The recent alleged beating of Rachel Tiongson, former live-in partner of Deputy National Security Adviser Luis Chavit Singson, hammers home the gains and gaps in the newly enacted Magna Carta of Women (MCW). Feminists now ask: Will the state really use its legal powers and force to punish the rich and powerful, including political cronies and state functionaries, who commit crimes against women?

This question cuts more sharply in the case of the battered Tiongson, and Gabriela Womens party-list Rep. Liza Maza is strongly criticizing Malacañangs soft handling of her alleged battering done by the deputy national security adviser. Malaca–angs soft handling of Tiongsons case itself violates Republic Act 9262, or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act and the newly passed Magna Carta of Women, charged Maza. She decried that Malacañangs statement that the issue is a domestic problem and it is up for Singson, a former Ilocos Sur governor, who is closely associated with the Arroyo administration, if he wants to take a leave of absence from his post feigns ignorance of the law that says any form of violence against women in a sexual relationship is a public crime under the MCW.

Singsons boss, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, has refused to fire or force Singson to take a leave, a stance Filipino feminists see as a bad message for women. Malacañangs statement urging Deputy National Security Adviser Luis Chavit Singson to take a leave of absence condones the act of violence against women. It is clear the Magna Carta of Women, Chapter 3, Section 5, says that the state as the primary duty-bearer shall protect women against discrimination and from violation of their rights, Maza said.

Malaca–ang had said it could not just slap Singson with a preventive suspension because the case had nothing to do with his job in the Cabinet, and this is tantamount to washing its hands clean of responsibility, contrary to the MCW, asserted Maza. She noted that the MCW, and local and international laws mandate the government to fulfill these duties through law, policy, regulatory instruments, administrative guidelines and other appropriate measure including temporary special measures.

Signed on August 14, the MCW is meant to be a comprehensive law on womens human rights that is expected to strengthen existing laws on violence against women and children, rape, labor migration and many others.

Said National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women Chairman Myrna Yao, [It] is a landmark law because the Philippines will now have a national framework for the implementation of the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW], considered as the international bill of rights for women.

One prominent provision is Section 13 on equal access and elimination of discrimination in education, scholarships and training. The provision prohibits any school from dismissing and expelling students who became pregnant out of wedlock. Part of Section13 (c) reads: No school on the account of her having contrasted pregnancy outside of marriage during her term in school. It also provides a special leave that may extend up to two months for women who had to undergo surgery because of gynecological orders.

Some provisions under Section 32 on the protection of the girl-child also mandate the equal access of Moro and indigenous girl-children in madaris (plural of madrasa, Muslim schools), schools of living culture and traditions, and the regular schools as well as the development of gender-sensitive curriculum, including legal literacy and books in any educational centers.

Yet, many feminists remain unhappy with the process behind the MCW.
Ana Maria Nemenzo of Task Force Magna Carta admits being disgusted and frustrated with the intervention of the church in corrupting a secular and credible legislative process, alleging that the Catholic hierarchy inserted terms not in the reconciled bill of the two houses of congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. After a reconciled bill, which should have been the final version was produced, a cardinal is said to have insisted the inclusion of the word ethical in the section on reproductive health. Section 17 (b) (3), pertaining to Comprehensive Health Information and Education, now reads: The State shall provide women in all sectors with appropriate, timely, complete and accurate information and education on . . . womens health . . . with due regard . . . to ethical, legal, safe and effective family planning.

Said feminist nongovernment organization, Isis International, It is for this reason that some feminists have opted to disengage with the process that it believes resulted in the omission of a definition of gender, now regarded as a weakness in the law, especially in appreciating gender-based violence and discrimination. Nemenzo did not attend the signing of R.A. 9710 in the presidential palace, though she reportedly considers the MCW a good framework bill.
She is also known for her opposition to the President who is touted to be unsupportive of the more crucial reproductive health bill that remains pending in Congress. Still, many feminists remain keen in participating in the drafting of the laws implementing rules and regulations, or implementing mechanisms and in pursuing other equally important womens issues.

Citing the Task Forces contribution of important provisions to the Magna Carta of Women, Nemenzo has remarked, One can still do something [in enriching the law].
The MCW is expected to promote the economic rights and well-being of women, especially those in the marginalized sectors, it ensures they will be given equal rights in food security and resources for food production that include the titling of land and issuance of stewardship contracts and patents.
It mandates that women will also be given equal opportunities for employment, livelihood, credit, capital and technology as well as in skills training and scholarships including those for women migrant workers.

Marginalized sectors are those who belong to the disadvantaged or vulnerable groups who live in poverty and have no access to basic social and economic services such as health care, education, water and sanitation, employment, housing, physical infrastructure and the justice system.

The law now mandates government financing and credit agencies to step up their micro-finance programs so that they can lend more money to women, especially those in the rural areas, who want to go into small businesses or livelihood projects. Filipino women are known for their entrepreneurial ways, and the womens sector is one of the heralded pillars of the economy.

MCW also provides an opportunity for a stronger state agency, since the NCRFW, to be renamed as the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), is now coordinating with the Commission on Human Rights and other concerned departments and agencies, nongovernment organizations, civil society groups and representatives from both houses of Congress in formulating the MCWs implementing rules and regulations.
The enactment into law of MCW is just a step in the legislative mill concerning women. There remains important tasks for advocates, like ensuring that other laws like the Family Code, the Civil Code and the Revised Penal Code would now be revised to ensure womens fullest protection under the law.

This was the main gist of the review conducted in 2006 by a committee of the United Nations (UN) on the Philippines compliance with the CEDAW.

For one, many have pointed out that there are existing discriminatory provisions of the Code of Muslim Personal Laws, permitting marriage of girls under 18, polygamy and arranged marriages. These are accepted cultural practices that have been decried as subverting womens rights, based on local and international legal standards.
Feminists have long decried that the Philippine government had long been remiss in its mandated task under the CEDAW to undertake a systematic review of all legislation and their loopholes and weaknesses, and initiate all necessary revisions to achieve full compliance with CEDAWs provisions.

The country still needs to increase awareness of all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, marital rape and incest, and the unacceptability of all such violence. The CEDAW Review Committee recommended that the Anti-Rape Law of 1997 be reassessed, and its provision pertaining to the extinguishing of the criminal action be repealed.

The government should enhance data collection on various forms of violence against women, especially domestic violence. It should also conduct research on the prevalence, causes and consequences of domestic violence to serve as basis for its targeted interventions.

The last-mentioned is now a particularly sour point for both Filipino women and the Philippine government, as shown in the dramatic case of the brutalized Rachel Tiongson.

Said Emmi de Jesus, Gabriela Womens Alliance secretary-general, Ultimately, womens collective action to be vigilant on guarding the governments implementation of the law will determine its success in advancing and uplifting womens rights and welfare
Manila Time By Nora O. Gamolo, Former Senior Desk Editor and Columnist

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