Saturday, May 27, 2006

Repeal penalty on abortion

(published letter to the editor, The Manila Times, November 14, 2005)

IN 2000 estimates showed that despite the illegality of abortion, 473,400 Filipino women induced abortions (Alan Guttmacher Institute and the University of the Philippines Population Institute, 2005). Out of every 100 pregnant women, 18 induced abortions. And because of
the illegality, about 78,900 women were hospitalized, and many others died from complications from clandestine and unsafe abortion. This has led to high maternal mortality, with a ratio of 200 deaths per 100,000 live births (UNFPA, 2005 State of the World Population).

Recognizing that criminalizing abortion does not lessen the number of abortion but makes it dangerous for women, the Cairo and Beijing conferences urged countries to review penalties against women who undergo abortions, and the United Nations Committee on the
Elimination of Discrimination Against Women recommended that state parties remove punitive provisions imposed on women who undergo abortion.

The United Nations Committees monitoring the implementation of treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights have all linked high rates of maternal mortality with illegal and unsafe abortion. The same committees have recommended state parties to review their legislation criminalizing abortion.

Having ratified the abovementioned treaties, the Philippines is obligated to repeal the Revised Penal Code provision imposing penalties on women inducing abortion and those assisting them. Predominantly Catholic countries such as Spain, Italy and Belgium make safe and legal abortion available for their women. Indeed, our laws should be compassionate and responsive to women’s realities.--Clara Rita A. Padilla

Gay rights

(published The Manila Times, December 04, 2005)

THE criminal complaint for violation of Quezon City Ordinance SP-1309, S-2003, prohibiting homosexual workplace discrimination, against Miriam College top officials, gives face to gay discrimination in the workplace in the Philippines in the person of private complainant Marlon T. Lacsamana, former librarian of Miriam College.

Marlon and his boyfriend celebrated a symbolic wedding. Unfortunately, three days his wedding, he received a letter from Miriam College informing him that his contract as a librarian would not be renewed. He faced comments from Miriam College officials such as, "Miriam College is a Catholic school and it could not tolerate gay weddings" and "you’re like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole."

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protects homosexuals against discrimination. In the 2003 Concluding Observations on the Philippines, the Human Rights Committee, the United Nations agency tasked to monitor the implementation of the ICCPR, urged the Philippine government to "strengthen human rights education to forestall manifestations of intolerance and discrimination."--Clara Rita A. Padilla

Friday, May 26, 2006

Population: women's rights issue

(published Phil. Daily Inquirer, Aug 11, 2004)

I AM concerned about how House Bill No. 16 has made population its central issue. The bill seeksto provide information and services onreproductive health care to arrest the growthrate of our population, not to allow women toexercise the right to choose whether and when tohave children. Its preferential incentive onscholarships for children of families with twochildren discriminates against poor childrenbelonging to larger families.

The bill mistakenly presumes that all kinds ofabortions are hazardous. Clandestine abortion isunsafe and dangerous, but safe and legal abortionis not. An abortion performed under properconditions is even safer than childbirth.

The bill also makes it a point to maintain theillegality of abortion under the Revised PenalCode. It fails to recognize that the illegalityof abortion does not lessen the incidence ofabortion but only makes it dangerous for women.It also fails to recognize that, having ratifiedthe Convention on the Elimination of All Forms ofDiscrimination Against Women, the Philippines isbound to remove punitive provisions imposed onwomen who undergo abortion.

Dangerous pronouncements have also been made,such as the statement of Rep. Ace Barbers to denyfree health care services to women who have morethan two children to discourage multiple births.This places poor women's health and lives atrisk. A clear illustration of how widely accessible health care services save lives is thefact that, in the United States, only eight womendie out of every 100,000 live births while, inthe Philippines, 240 women die out of every 100,000 live births.

On the other hand, the Catholic Churchhierarchy's stand against modern contraceptivemethods is not new at all. The Church can say allit wants but the duty of the government is toprovide access to information and services on thefull range of contraceptive methods regardless ofwhat the Catholic Church hierarchy professes.

Catholic women around the world--including morethan 60 percent of Catholic women in Trinidad,Tobago and Botswana, and 28 percent in thePhilippines--have used contraceptive methods,showing that Catholic women exercise freedom ofconscience. What we need is a reproductive healthcare policy that assures access to informationand services for all women regardless of theirreligion and the number of their children.--ClaraRita A. Padilla,

Discrimination against gays

(published Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 1, 2004)

THE STATEMENT of Marissa Laguardia, chairpersonof the Movie and Television Review andClassification Board (MTRCB), censuring thetelevision show "The Buzz" for airing a lesbianwedding, shows how a portion of our Philippinesociety obstinately preaches intolerance withoutrealizing that they are breeding hatred,discrimination and violence against lesbians,gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBTs), all ofwhom are entitled to equal treatment under thePhilippine Constitution. Her statementillustrated how some people refuse to heed theinternational trend toward recognizing the rightsof LGBTs.

The International Covenant on Civil and PoliticalRights (ICCPR) protects LGBTs againstdiscrimination. In the 2003 ConcludingObservations on the Philippines, the Human RightsCommittee (HRC), the United Nations Committeetasked to monitor the implementation of theICCPR, urged the Philippine government to "takethe necessary steps to adopt legislationexplicitly prohibiting discrimination" and "topursue its efforts to counter all forms ofdiscrimination" pertaining to sexual orientation.The Committee further urged the Philippines to"strengthen human rights education to forestallmanifestations of intolerance anddiscrimination." Contrary to Marissa Laguardia's statement that"homosexuality is an abnormality," the HRCrecognized, in its General Comment 19, that theconcept and structure of family may differ fromstate to state and that the right to marry andfound a family may be based on diversedefinitions of families and relationships.

The Philippine government and its officials havethe duty to fulfill its obligations underinternational laws. Ms Laguardia, as an officialof the MTRCB, is duty bound to protect LGBTsagainst discrimination.--CLARA RITA A. PADILLA

Legalizing Abortion Will Save Filipino Women's Lives

(published in Today, April 28, 2003)
The police recently arrested six "abortionists" in Obando. Police Chief Supt. Eduardo Matillano, director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), even said that abortion should be made a heinous crime.

Estimates show that despite the illegality of abortion, 400,000 Filipino women induce abortions annually. About 80,000 women end up hospitalized and many others die due to complications from clandestine and unsafe abortion. Unsafe abortion and its complications have been the number three leading cause of hospital discharge from 1994-99.

Those who impose their morality on women are oblivious to these facts. Women who undergo abortion are faced with unwanted pregnancies. Mainly married women with three or more children are the ones obtaining abortions. Many of these women are unable to practice contraception while others are rape and incest victims.

Prosecution of women who undergo abortion and those who perform abortion is not the answer. Recognizing that the criminalization of abortion does not lessen the number of abortion but makes it dangerous for women, the Cairo and Beijing conferences urged countries to review penalties against women who undergo abortions and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women recommended that state parties remove punitive provisions imposed on women who undergo abortion.

The Philippines has a commitment to make abortion safe and legal for Filipino women. Where abortion is legal, like in Canada and Turkey, abortion rates did not increase while the Netherlands has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world. Deaths due to abortion fell 85 percent after legalization in the US. Matillano erred in likening a fetus with a child. Such statement is not supported by Philippine law. As a civil servant, he should not use his position to further his religious beliefs and impose his morality.

Increasingly, countries worldwide are permitting abortion on broad grounds including Spain and Italy. Just as Presidential Decree 772 on anti-squatting—seen as an injustice to the urban poor and not a solution to the problem of squatting—was repealed so must the 1932 Revised Penal Code provision penalizing the woman who undergoes abortion and those assisting her be repealed.

Women's realities and abortion

(published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 18, 2002)

I have noticed much reluctance and defensiveness in the way abortion rights had been discussed in recent newspaper columns and letters to the editor. Much about reproductive rights is also
misunderstood. Reproductive rights include the woman's right to prevent pregnancy and to terminate her pregnancy. I will not skirt around the issue and say that abortion is indeed a part of it.

In upholding these rights, legislators are counted upon to show impartiality in the face of the massive disinformation campaign launched by Catholic fundamentalists who purposely appeal to morals and religious devotion and allegiance, which the state must be dissociated from. Catholic fundamentalists have turned a blind eye to the realities women face today. Women are dying because they are forced to resort to clandestine, illegal and unsafe abortion to terminate their unwanted pregnancies.

The Philippines is one of a few predominantly Catholic countries where Catholic dogma has prevailed in law. It has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world-even penalizing the woman who undergoes abortion. And it is one of the remaining countries in the world that deny emergency contraception, specifically, levonorgestrel. One glaring example is the outdated Revised Penal Code provision penalizing the woman and the person assisting the woman for undergoing abortion. Another example is the 1987 constitutional provision equally protecting the life of the mother and the life of the unborn. This particular provision was not in the 1935 and the 1973 Philippine Constitutions. It is unfortunate that the religious commissioners during the 1986 Constitutional Commission had used their position to insert this provision in our Constitution-a blatant violation of the principle of separation of church and state. We cannot let fundamentalist Catholics and any other religion to perpetuate the imposition of their morals and religion in our law.

To those who are imposing their fundamentalist morals and religion, I will pose these questions: If you or your daughter were raped, would you or your daughter bear that child even if it was not your or your daughter's choice to get pregnant? If you already have several children and are hard up with money and your husband forces you to have sex, will you bear that child even if it was not your choice to be pregnant?

If we are to engender women's reproductive rights and we are to be compassionate and responsive to women's realities, then women's right to safe and legal abortion as well as right to emergency contraception should be recognized and protected by Philippine law.--Clara Rita A. Padilla

Relisting Postinor

(published letter to the editor Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 23, 2002)

Almost a year has passed since Postinor was delisted from the drug registry by the Bureau of Food and Drugs with the approval of the Department of Health (DOH). This decision, issued last Dec. 7, 2001, arbitrarily stated that "Postinor had abortifacient effects." Even after the hearing on Postinor's re-listing on Oct. 4, 2002 the DOH has not made a definitive ruling to make Postinor available in the Philippine market.

The DOH's delay in making Postinor available denies all women in the Philippines their right to prevent pregnancy. Countless women who have been raped, engaged in unprotected sex, or who have experienced contraceptive failure are unable to prevent pregnancy. This is a blatant human rights violation. The issue that the DOH wanted to resolve during the hearing was the question of "what is the moment before an established pregnancy called." The only issue that should be resolved is whether Postinor is an abortifacient or not. The DOH should not rule on the basis of morals or ideology.

The World Health Organization defines emergency contraception (EC) a method of preventing pregnancy. It says that EC does not interrupt pregnancy and thus is not considered a method of abortion. Countries worldwide are not only registering EC pills such as Postinor but they are making them available over the counter, i.e, without prescription.

In accordance with good governance and policymaking, the best thing that the DOH can do is to relist Postinor in the registry of available drugs in the Philippines. As a government agency charged with addressing the health concerns of the entire Filipino populace, the DOH should rule on the basis of internationally accepted medical findings and not allegations of fundamentalist Catholic groups which have deliberately engaged in a campaign to mislead the Philippine government and populace. The DOH's delay is forcing desperate women to resort to clandestine illegal and unsafe abortion to terminate their unwanted pregnancies -- pregnancies that could have been avoided with the use of Postinor.--Clara Rita A. Padilla

When Catholic Dogma Breaks Line

(published The Manila Times, September 19, 2002)

It is dangerous when key people in the government are beholden to the Catholic Church and use their positions to turn their personal beliefs into policy. The head of state herself, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA), seemingly feels indebted to the Catholic Church after being catapulted to the presidency during the EDSA II revolution.

She has forgotten that many events that preceded the EDSA II revolution were led and carried out by political activists, women’s groups, and the common tao. Perhaps GMA thinks that the celebration of masses at the end of the EDSA II sums up all the efforts of the common tao.

GMA’s sense of indebtedness to the Catholic Church can be seen from her pledge early in her presidency to follow the Catholic teaching on "natural family planning." Soon after, she retracted her statement and said that she would respect the decision of each couple on matters of family planning. But despite her retraction, her administration has been known to publicly support and use government funds for promoting "natural family planning."

The Catholic Church’s influence was also apparent in the decision of the Bureau of Food and Drug Administration, with the approval of the Department of Health secretary under GMA’s administration, to prohibit the use of Postinor, a brand of emergency contraception (EC).

Postinor was previously allowed in the Philippines to be used by rape and incest victims to prevent pregnancy. The prohibition of Postinor was issued by the BFAD on the grounds that it has abortifacient effects, despite the World Health Organization’s endorsement of EC as a proven, safe and effective method of modern contraception.

Similarly, the city mayors of Manila and Puerto Princesa have been known to impose their religious beliefs on their constituents, the former by discouraging access to contraceptive services and information and the latter by banning these services altogether. By denying access to modern contraceptives and forcing women to use the less reliable "natural family planning" method, these policies lead to more unwanted pregnancies, many of which end in abortion.

The separation of church and state is also undermined when our legislators refrain from needed law reform because of their religious views. The Penal Code’s criminalization of abortion is a classic example of the entrenchment of Catholic dogma in our laws. The abortion ban, one of the vestiges of Spanish colonization in the Philippines, was lifted directly from the old Spanish Penal Code. It is ironic that Spain, from which we inherited the Catholic religion and this particular criminal provision, has already made abortion legal under certain conditions. Indeed, staunchly Catholic Italy permits abortion on even broader grounds.

Our parliament fails to recognize that it is putting women’s lives and health at risk. It fails to recognize that abortion is a reality, and that women die and suffer lifelong disabilities from abortion complications because of lack of access to safe and legal abortion services. Claiming to be concerned about heightened promiscuity, our parliament ignores the reality that it is mainly married women with three or more children who are obtaining abortions

When Catholic dogma makes its way into government policies, the very essence of the separation of church and state is eroded. The delineation between Church and state is broken and rights of individuals are infringed. The moralist Catholic view, which is focused on the implications of "conception," ignores a social context in which men think they can have sexual access to women whenever they choose. Rape (including marital rape), incest, and domestic violence remain prevalent, leading to unwanted pregnancies. The truth is that many women who want to practice contraception are unable to because of their male partners’ refusal.

When will government officials face the truth and respect the line between church and state?--Clara Rita A. Padilla