The Philippines: Review set for Gender and Development programs, budget; stronger anti-sexual harassment law

QUEZON CITY, Jan 27 — The Philippines was touted as among the leaders in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the world in implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) through its local laws but a lot needs to be done to further strengthen legal frameworks in ensuring women’s human rights. New and emerging challenges were also cited that need to be addressed even as existing laws need to be reviewed for Cedaw compliance.

In a seminar-workshop being held today until Wednesday, the United Nations Women Project Office in the Philippines, the Philippine Coalition for International Criminal Court and the Institute of Human Rights of the University of the Philippines Law Center invited members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to build, expand and strengthen a pool of champions on Cedaw among legislators and their staff.

One of the speakers in the seminar, Bulacan Rep. Liinabelle Ruth Villarica, Chair of the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality said the committee will invoke its congressional oversight powers in ensuring the effective implementation of legislated mandates like those relating to the Gender and Development (GAD) programs and utilization of the GAD budget under Section 36 of the Magna Carta of Women.

“With our collegial efforts in the Committee and the House of Representatives as a whole, important measures acted upon in the past Congresses shall be prioritized in this 16th Congress, such as amending an ineffective anti-sexual harassment law enacted more than 16 years ago; the bill prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; the measure creating a resource development and crisis assistance for women and children; the bill amending the current rape law; and other measures, championing women causes,” Villarica said.

Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman of Anak Mindanao (AMIN) Party List also came to attend the seminar-workshop along with Rep. Abigael Faye C. Ferriol, and Rep. Regina Ongsiako-Reyes.

The National Coordinator of UN Women Philippine office, Aida Jean Manipon, cited the Philippines for being well-known in setting global standards recognizing women’s human rights.

“However, we must continue to build national expertise to continue the tradition of not only making new laws and reforming existing laws to better comply with the Cedaw. What kind of new laws do we need on gender-responsive humanitarian response? In situations of disasters, gender equality is not a reality and gender inequality rather, becomes even more pronounced. Another good news we just received is the breakthrough in the peace process between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. We know that efforts to draft the new basic Bangsa Moro law will be hastened. Women civil society advocates have been preparing for this and looking at how Cedaw can serve as an inspiration or basis for the drafting of the new law and review of the existing laws on Bangsa Moro. These are among the immediate challenges that frame the context in which we’re having this workshop,” Manipon explained.

Department of Foreign Affairs Asst. Secretary Jesus S. Domingo who gave the agency’s message to the participants at the opening of the seminar this morning, said they are looking forward to building expertise and more Cedaw champions among the legislators.

“For me, I find this exercise particularly important, not only because I’m with government, in the DFA, but as a father of a 7-year-old. The traditional paradigm of a concerned father is the “shotgun”. What is more important approach than the “shotgun” is the implementation of the Cedaw. Being a father of a woman, a son of a mother, and a husband of my wife, this is also our fight,” Domingo said.

The Philippines ratified Cedaw in 1981 and enacted the implementing law RA 9710 Magna Carta of Women in 2009.

Villarica said the 16th Congress has seven women Senators, and 79 women Representatives among the 289 members of the House of Representatives or 27.34% women representation.

“Looking at the over-all trend in the participation of women throughout all elective positions in our country for the past few years, it was 17.2% in 2001; 16.6% in 2004; 18.6% in 2007 and 18.4% in 2010. Three decades after Cedaw, and this is where we are. Hapi na ba tayo dyan? Don’t you think political participation of women should now be a norm, not a novelty? Let us buckle down to work; we still have a lot of archaic laws that holding back our women,” Villarica told the participants. (PCICC)