‘Protect women’s rights’

Published by rudy Date posted on March 9, 2009

MANILA, Philippines – On the occasion of International Women’s Day yesterday, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) called on the government to improve protection of women’s rights and related programs in the country.

Members of militant women’s groups also marched to Don Chino Roces Bridge near Malacañang to mark the day and demand the junking of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States, which they said trampled on the dignity of Filipino women.

The CHR specifically urged President Arroyo “to sign into law at the soonest possible time” the Magna Carta for Women, which covers a wide scope and range of matters pertinent to women’s rights and welfare.

CHR chairperson Leila de Lima said the Magna Carta for Women is important to improve the protection for the women population, which comprise about half of the national population.

The Senate passed the bill on the Magna Carta just before the commemoration of International Women’s Day.

“Women and girls, as human beings, have the equal right as men and boys to enjoy civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. (But) because there are certain issues that are more problematic for women than men, there needs to be stronger protection for them,” De Lima noted.

According to the CHR, the main issues that threaten the human rights of women in the Philippines include domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, extrajudicial killings, unequal job opportunities, internal displacement due to armed conflict, health care including reproductive health, education and literacy, and proper treatment in the criminal justice system.

“Equality and non-discrimination are not achieved by having gender-neutral laws per se, or by having laws that are equally applicable to men and women,” De Lima also said.

“Instead, equality and non-discrimination are fulfilled by having laws that, in their implementation allow both genders to live their lives in dignity and in full enjoyment of their human rights,” she said.

De Lima explained that whether as victims, witnesses, suspects or even when already convicted, the specific needs of women have to be addressed in terms of proper facilities and gender-sensitive official personnel and procedures.

De Lima urged the police, judiciary, and “all pillars of the criminal justice system” to fully implement the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004 (Republic Act 9262).

The CHR said some judges and police officers have been reluctant to apply RA 9262 purportedly feeling that it is not applicable to Filipino families. The CHR cited several cases of judges urging women to return to husbands who abuse them physically, emotionally or psychologically.

“Personal feelings aside, the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act is already part of Philippine law and therefore all law enforcers and members of the bench –as well as government agencies such as the Department of Justice, Department of Social Welfare and Development are required to apply existing law,” pointed out CHR Commissioner Cecilia Quisumbing.

“If they feel the law is wrong or faulty, they should campaign in Congress for amendment or repeal of the law or test it in the Supreme Court. For now, the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004 is law,” she also said.

In 2006, a petition was filed before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act, but it has not yet been decided upon by the High Court.

Meanwhile, Gabriela members waved purple banners during their commemoration of International Women’s Day.

At the rally Gabriela called for the junking of VFA “in defense of the Filipino women’s dignity” and for the country’s sovereignty.

“There is no better time than on Women’s Day for thousands of Filipinas all over the country to come forward, reclaim the dignity of women and defend the sovereignty of our Motherland against the ravaging of US intervention,” stressed Emmi de Jesus, secretary- general of Gabriela.

“Today, we will show the perfidious woman in Malacañang, that unlike her, we stand with the Filipino people and we will fight to end any and all forms of unequal relations with the United States government,” she said.

According to De Jesus, the problems besetting Filipino women stem from the continuing “unequal relations” between the United States and the Philippines.

She said that the “capitalist crisis” of overproduction in the United States impacts on the export-oriented and import-dependent Philippine economy and had caused the current massive retrenchment of tens of thousands of Filipinos.

Most Filipinos who lose jobs nowadays, here or abroad, are women, she added.

Gabriela said that for every 100 workers that are laid off, 70 to 80 of these workers are women.

Gabriela has been demanding the immediate scrapping of the VFA especially when the SC ordered the transfer of Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith to a Philippine detention facility last Feb. 11.

Smith was found guilty of raping 21-year-old “Nicole” in Subic in 2005. Since his conviction by a Makati City court, Smith has been held at the US Embassy in Manila, which, in effect, meant that he remains under the custody of the US government.

“Arroyo has consistently shown she is a shame to Filipino women. For years since she has occupied the seat of power in Malacañang, she has cheated and robbed women and their families,” De Jesus said.

“In the midst of the current global crisis, Arroyo peddles Filipinas to foreign economies as migrant workers to keep the failing Philippine economy afloat. The Arroyo regime had killed many honorable women and men who fought for the interest of the people. Treachery, tyranny and terrorism are the ways of the Arroyo regime in its loyal servitude to US imperialism,” she added.

Aside from commemorating International Women’s Day, Gabriela also celebrated its 25th anniversary yesterday.

Gabriela chapters outside Metro Manila also held similar rallies yesterday in Laguna, Bicol, Baguio, Bacolod City, Iloilo City, Roxas City, General Santos City and Davao City, as well as overseas in USA, Hong Kong, Australia, Japan and Italy. — Katherine Adraneda, Philippine Star

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