Friday, August 21, 2009

EnGendeRights Submits Shadow Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

Quezon City, September 4, 2009 – “Yesterday, September 3, EnGendeRights, represented by its Executive Director Atty. Clara Rita Padilla, submitted a Shadow Report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (the “Committee”) in time for its review of the Philippines on September 15 during the Committee’s 52nd session.

The Shadow Report drew attention to adolescents’ lack of access to modern contraceptive methods, emergency contraception, education on sexuality and family planning, safe and legal abortion, and safe pregnancy and childbirth. The report additionally discussed HIV/AIDS issues, forced marriages, gender-based violence and rape, human trafficking, discrimination against and suicide among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. All of these matters will be examined by the Committee in an effort to bring to the forefront the Philippine government’s violations of adolescent sexual and reproductive rights.

According to the 2008 UNFPA State of the World Population Report, adolescent Filipino girls aged 15-19 are already giving birth at 47 births per 1,000 women of their age. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) estimates that approximately 15% of women aged 20-24 in the Philippines were married before they were 18 years old. Under Muslim law, girls are allowed to marry at age 15 rather than age 18. By allowing girls in the Philippines to marry at such a young age, the Philippine government is perpetuating a harmful practice to girls that greatly impacts these adolescent women’s education, health, and their total well-being.
The Shadow Report calls the attention of the Committee on the Executive Order No. 003 (“the EO”) issued by then Mayor Jose L. Atienza, Jr. which effectively banned supplies of modern contraceptives from Manila City-run public health facilities and denied women referral or information on family planning services. Atty. Padilla said, “Mayor Lim, on the other hand, still has not repealed the EO despite repeated requests for him to do so. The EO is preventing Filipino women, including adolescents, from accessing information, supplies, and services on modern contraceptives in Manila-run public health care facilities. This is a problem primarily for poor and adolescent women who are in greatest need of such supplies.”

The Shadow Report also emphasized the rights violations caused by the lack of emergency contraception (EC) in the Philippines. Postinor, the emergency contraceptive, is banned in the Philippines due to the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD)’s claim that Postinor has an “abortifacient” effect. Atty. Padilla added, “Lack of access to EC unnecessarily exposes women to the multiple risks associated with unintended pregnancy. In the Philippines, the prevalence of laws criminalizing abortion compounds these risks. The immediate re-listing of Postinor in the registry of available drugs would be an important first step toward preventing unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and reducing maternal mortality.”

The illegality of abortion in the Philippines is a violation of the Convention. Results of a study conducted by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) revealed that in 2000, 473,000 Filipino women had illegal abortions and that approximately 800 women die every year due to complications resulting from unsafe abortion. Although abortion is outlawed, hundreds of thousands of Filipino women undergo the procedure unsafely with detrimental repercussions. Atty. Padilla asserted, “Criminalization of abortion has created an extremely prohibitive environment leading to discriminatory and inhumane treatment of women seeking medical attention after having undergone an unsafe abortion. Low-income women are disproportionately impacted by the ban on abortion…it is estimated that two-thirds of women who undergo abortion are poor.”

“Unsafe abortions contribute to the astoundingly high maternal mortality rate of 230 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2008. The law criminalizing abortion does not eliminate abortions; it only makes it dangerous for women who undergo clandestine and unsafe abortion. The criminal provision penalizing the woman and the physician for self-induced abortion must be repealed,” Atty. Padilla explained.

Atty. Padilla disclosed that, “Access to quality healthcare facilities is a major barrier facing pregnant Filipino adolescents, especially in rural areas. Only 60% of births in the Philippines are assisted by skilled birth attendants.”

HIV/AIDS is another issue discussed in the Shadow Report. Many new cases are being diagnosed in Filipino adolescents, and Atty. Padilla stated that, “Due to lack of sexual education, many of them are unable to negotiate safe sex and have limited or no access to information about protection. The spread of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines could easily be curtailed by a comprehensive national reproductive health policy that increased knowledge and use of contraceptives, including condoms. Yet, the Philippine government has no such policy and allows the Catholic Church to continue to deceive the Philippine public about the efficacy of condoms in preventing the spread of disease.”

Incidence of gender-based violence and rape remain high in the Philippines, with an average of eight women and nine children raped daily. Despite the Anti-Rape Law of 1997 and the Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act of 1998, the Shadow Report stated, “Numerous complaints for rape are dismissed at the preliminary investigation level and in the Regional Trial Courts… Many judges and public prosecutors still do not understand the realities of rape as gender-based violence.”

Studies show that three out of five Filipino women have been victims of physical abuse. The “Anti-Violence against Women and Their Children Act of 2004” took effect five years ago, but Atty. Padilla claimed, “There is still an ongoing disjunct between the law and how the law is being implemented in barangays, police stations, and courts.”

In 2005, an estimated 800,000 women and children were forced into prostitution in the Philippines. If caught, these women are imprisoned; Atty. Padilla clarified, “The existing criminal law imposing imprisonment on women in prostitution disregards the fact that many are lured to prostitution because of the desperation due to poverty and lack of alternative sources of income. The discriminatory provisions imposing penalties on women in prostitution should be repealed.”

On the issue of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals (LGBTs), the Shadow Report highlighted the blatant discrimination LGBTs routinely face including homophobic statements issued by Court of Appeals justices during hearings on a writ of amparo case filed by a lesbian who was locked in a room for a month by her own mother. Despite Committee recommendations in 2005 to “establish adequate mental health services tailored for adolescents,” suicide rates still remain high for the LGBT adolescent population. The Shadow Report pronounced, “Adolescence is a time of great change in any person’s life, particularly as one discovers and navigates her or his own sexuality and sexual orientation. This elevated suicide risk among gay, lesbian, and bisexual young adults is related to issues ranging from experiences of discrimination, experiences of sexual-orientation related violence, perceived stigma, and internalized homophobia.”

“Cytotec is a Life-Saving Essential Medicine” by Clara Rita A. Padilla

Quezon City, August 21, 2009 – “Yesterday, August 20, thousands worth of cytotec were seized by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Quiapo. Contrary to what fundamentalists and the misinformed say, cytotec, with generic name misoprostol, is considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “a life-saving device.” In April 2009, the WHO announced the inclusion of misoprostol to its Model List of Essential Medicines based on its proven safety and efficacy for the treatment of incomplete abortion and miscarriage,” said Atty. Clara Rita “Claire” A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights.

The inclusion to the Model List of Essential Medicines was made by an expert committee that evaluated available evidence, which includes several guidelines and numerous randomized and comparative clinical trials for this indication.

In the proposal submitted by Gynuity Health Projects to the WHO, it state the following evidence and considerations:
• “Misoprostol is effective for this purpose. More than a dozen randomized or comparative trials have been carried out, the most recent showing that misoprostol has a success rate of about 90-100% for treatment of incomplete abortion and miscarriage.
• Medical evacuation of the uterus with misoprostol offers an alternative to surgical treatment, which in low-resource settings is often unavailable and may be associated with significant morbidity.
• Misoprostol is inexpensive and so offers a low-cost but safe and effective means of treating this common obstetrical condition.
• Misoprostol is safe. More than 600 studies have been published on the use of misoprostol in obstetrics and gynecology that have involved well over 90,000 women.
• Incomplete abortion contributes disproportionately to maternal morbidity and mortality in much of the developing world.”
The WHO Model Essential Medicine List guides the development of national and institutional essential medicine lists. The Model List has led to a global acceptance of essential medicines to promote health equity.
Atty. Padilla said, “The denial of access to safe life-saving medicines such as cytotec is not only contrary to international human rights law and international medical standards but will further compound a major public health crisis in the country involving half a million unsafe abortion procedures every year, 79,000 hospital admissions for complications from unsafe abortion and 800 deaths.”
“Twelve percent of maternal deaths in the Philippines are due to unsafe abortion. The latest Philippine statistics on abortion also show the following profile of women who induce abortion: nine in ten women are married or in a consensual union; more than half have at least three children; two-thirds are poor; nearly 90% are Catholic,” Atty. Padilla continued.

“Our national statistics reveal that criminalizing abortion does not eliminate abortions; it only makes it dangerous for women who undergo clandestine and unsafe abortion. No one wants women to be in a circumstance where they have no choice but to seek an abortion. But the reality is that unequal power relations prevent women from having control over their bodies and their reproductive decisions,” added Atty. Padilla.

“Furthermore, in the Philippines the full range of contraceptive methods is unavailable, which directly contributed to the high rate of unwanted pregnancy and pushes women to resort to unsafe abortions that in many cases result in death. The obligation to provide access to information and family planning methods as a means of reducing abortion has been recognized by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) and the Beijing and Cairo Conferences consensus documents,” said Atty. Padilla.

Recognizing the need of women for misoprostol, organizations like Women on Waves and Women on Web have come out with guidelines on its use for medical abortion up to nine weeks of pregnancy.

Atty. Padilla continued, “Predominantly Catholic countries around the world have long separated fundamentalist Catholic Church doctrine with the states’ policies. A classic example is Spain, whose colonial rule in the Philippines converted many Filipinos to become Catholics, which allows abortion on certain grounds[2]. Other predominantly Catholics countries that allow abortion are Belgium, France, Italy,[3] Hungary,[4] Mexico,[5] Portugal,[6] Poland,[7] and Colombia[8]. While Spain and other predominantly Catholic countries have liberalized their laws to protect human rights and ensure social justice, we Filipinos have been left to contend with the vestiges of our outdated colonial laws and values.”

“During the August 2006 periodic review of the Philippines, the CEDAW Committee, urged the Philippine government to ‘consider the problem of unsafe abortion as a matter of high priority’ and ‘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,’” Atty. Padilla stressed.

Atty. Padilla added, “The critical link between unsafe abortion and maternal mortality has also been a matter of concern for the Human Rights Committee, the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee, and the Children’s Rights Committee. They have consistently called upon states with criminal abortion laws to review their laws as a means to ensuring women’s basic human rights.”
“In the communication K. Llantoy v. Peru[9] filed with the Human Rights Committee (HRC) where a 17-year old woman was prevented from terminating her risky pregnancy of an anencephalic fetus (a fetus with a partial brain[10]) where the infant died five days after birth and the woman fell into a deep depression,[11] the HRC found in 2005 that: forcing the woman to carry her pregnancy to a term constituted cruel and inhuman treatment in violation of article 7 of the ICCPR;[12] violated her right to privacy under article 17;[13] and violated her right to receive the special care she required as an adolescent girl from the health system under article 24.[14] The State party was recommended to provide an effective remedy to the author, including compensation, and to adopt measures to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future,”[15] Atty. Padilla continued.

“Although misoprostol (with brand name cytotec) is already in the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines, cytotec is still an unregistered drug here in the Philippines. Recognized as a life-saving device, cytotec must be registered by the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) to make it readily available to women who need it. The Philippine government must ensure that international human rights standards and medical standards are upheld in the Philippines,” concluded Atty. Padilla.

* * *

[1] Misoprostol is already included in the 14th (2005) and 15th (2007) editions of WHO Model List of EssentialMedicines (22.1 Oxytocic) because of its proven safety and efficacy for medical
abortion and labor induction. In April 2009, WHO announced the inclusion of misoprostol to its Model List of Essential Medicines for the treatment of incomplete abortion and miscarriage.

[2]Spain permits abortion on grounds of rape and fetal impairment.

[3] Belgium, France and Italy permit abortion upon a woman’s request.

[4] Hungary’s constitution protects life from conception but permits abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation.

[5] Mexico City legalized abortion in the first trimester without restriction (April 24, 2007).

[6] Portugal allows abortion up to 10 weeks of pregnancy but with a mandatory three-day "reflection period” (up to 12 weeks if her health is at risk; up to 16 weeks if the pregnancy is a result of rape; any time during the pregnancy to save a woman's life).

[7] Poland allows abortion to protect a woman’s life and physical health; rape, incest; fetal impairment

[8] Colombia now permits abortion on the following grounds: where the woman’s life or health is in danger; the pregnancy is the result of rape; when the fetus has malformation incompatible with life outside the uterus. Colombia’s abortion law formerly outlawed the procedure under all circumstances. The law was challenged in the Constitutional Court by a Colombian citizen on April 14, 2005. The argument included the CEDAW and ICCPR monitoring bodies’ recommendations for Colombia to decriminalize abortion under the most extreme cases.

[9] K. Llantoy v. Peru, Case No. 1553/2003, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/85/D/ 1153/2003 (2005).
[10] Id. ¶ 2.1.
[11] Id. ¶¶ 2.5 & 2.6.
[12] Id. ¶ 6.3.
[13] Id. ¶ 6.4.
[14] Id. ¶ 6.5.
[15] K. Llantoy. v. Peru, Case No. 1553/2003, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/85/D/ 1153/2003, ¶ 8 (2005).

"The Magna Carta of Women" by Clara Rita A. Padilla

Quezon City, August 14, 2009 – “The signing of the Magna Carta of Women is a milestone in the promotion and protection of the rights of women. The Magna Carta of Women is an important law. Finally, we have a law that incorporates Article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW or Women’s Convention) which defines discrimination against women,” said Atty. Clara Rita “Claire” A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights.

Sec. 4(b) of the Magna Carta defines discrimination against women as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

Atty. Padilla added, “Included in the law is the prohibition against discrimination of pregnant teachers and students outside of marriage (Sec. 13, paragraph c). This will stop dismissals of women teachers and students from school because of pregnancy outside of marriage. I know of a case where a national high school terminated a female teacher merely for being pregnant outside of marriage. I have also received reports of college students from a Catholic school who were forced to get married because their school wouldn’t admit them for the reason that they had borne a child outside of marriage. With the Magna Carta, a government official who is found to have violated this provision and other provisions of the Magna Carta will be sanctioned under administrative law, civil service law or other laws while a private individual can be made liable for damages and other applicable criminal laws.”

“The Magna Carta is indeed an important step towards the promotion and protection of the rights women. The effective implementation of the law will contribute towards the prevention and prosecution of discrimination against women,” concluded Atty. Padilla

"Cory: The Epitome of an Extraordinary Filipino Woman" by Clara Rita A. Padilla

Quezon City, August 5, 2009 – “At a time when the Philippines needed an icon to bring down a dictator, Cory Aquino was there. At the time of death, Cory again rouses our love for country, for democracy, for fellow Filipinos, for family. Cory is not just an icon of democracy she is the epitome of an extraordinary Filipino woman who is strong-willed, of pure and kind heart, selfless, calm, simple, and with abundant faith. Kudos to you, Cory,” said Atty. Clara Rita “Claire” A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights.

“As the epitome of an extraordinary Filipino woman, the world would be a better place if we emulate Cory’s essence in our hearts and minds,” added Atty. Padilla. “This also comes very timely when the 2010 elections are coming. It would do the Philippines good if candidates for the coming elections do a lot of introspection and keep in their hearts the essence of nationalism and good governance,” concluded Atty. Padilla.