16 August 2006

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee Urges Philippines to Speed Up Legislation Aimed at Erasing Stereotypes, Combating Violence against Females

NEW YORK, 15 August (UN Headquarters) -- The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today urged the Government of the Philippines to speed up the passage of legislation needed to erase sexual stereotypes and to combat violence against women as it considered the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of the predominantly Roman Catholic country that faces one of the highest population growth rates in Asia.

Expert members of the Committee also urged the Philippine delegation to move on more than a dozen pieces of pending legislation, including the Magna Carta for Women, now in the final stages of review in the House of Representatives, the passage of which would bring the country into alignment with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It would commit the State to recognize, affirm and intensify its efforts to guarantee the rights and fundamental freedoms of women, especially those in marginalized sectors.  Once a similar bill was filed in the Philippine Senate, the two would eventually become the country's Gender Equality Law.

Committee Chairperson Hanna Beate Schöpp-Schilling said more legislation was needed in addition to laws approved over the past decade.  They included the anti-rape law of 1997, which expanded rape from being a crime against chastity to a crime against a person; the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, which created policies and penalties to stop trafficking in persons; and the Anti-Violence against Women and Their Children Act of 2004, which tried to protect women and children from physical, psychological and economic abuses in the context of marital, dating or common-law relationships.

Country representatives said the Philippine Government was working diligently to revise codes and laws that were incompatible with the Convention and which discriminated against women.

During the discussion, experts focused on Government policies covering a wide range of issues from family planning to overseas workers to divorce.  Ethelyn P. Nieto, Under-Secretary in the Department of Health, the lead agency for family planning, said the Government's goal was for Filipinos of all ages to enjoy the benefits of responsible reproductive health services by 2015.  The Government had not banned any artificial family planning methods and wished couples to have access to all means they needed to plan their families.

In the few locations where artificial contraceptive methods were banned, national hospitals continued to provide information about all types of family planning, she said.  And concerning the legal status of abortion, the Government upheld the Constitutional provision safeguarding the life of the unborn child and mother.  It was not moving to abolish the law that made abortion a crime subject to penalties.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 15 August, to consider the fourth periodic report of Chile.


The Committee had before it the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of the Philippines (documents CEDAW/C/PHI/5-6) on that country's implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women covering the period between December 1995 and December 2003.

Part I contains responses to the concluding comments and recommendations made by the Committee with respect to the fourth report submitted in December 1995.  Part II contains information on the political, social and economic climate in the Philippines, including updates on the situation of women.  Part III provides specific information regarding implementation of articles 1 to 16 of the Convention.

According to the report, the National Statistics Office estimates that the country's population totalled 81.1 million in 2003, up from 76.5 million in 2000, and grew by about 2.36 per cent annually, one of the highest rates in Asia.  Women made up 49.6 per cent of the population in 1995 and 2000.  The country has 111 linguistic, cultural and ethnic groups and about 80 per cent of the population is Roman Catholic.

The report notes that, while the country has made significant efforts to mobilize an increasing number of Government and non-governmental institutions towards a more gender-responsive society, many challenges lie ahead.  One area that requires more work is massive poverty and inequality in the ownership of economic resources.  More effective poverty-alleviation strategies are needed to help poor women in both urban and rural areas, including those working in the informal sector without basic support systems such as social security and health insurance.

As noted in the section of article 6 regarding the exploitation of women, the impact of crime on women and children, as well as the Government's war against rebel forces and terrorist organizations, require immediate and serious attention.  Women should be involved in peacebuilding and the rehabilitation of their communities.  Civilians displaced from their homes due to armed conflict suffer in evacuation centres owing to poor living conditions, malnutrition and illness.  Violence against women persists and the number of reported crimes increased between 2000 and 2002 before declining to 7,805 in 2003, a figure 13 per cent lower than that for the preceding year.

Many women who leave the country as entertainers, fiancées of foreign nationals, service workers, tourists or undocumented workers fall victim to organized crime syndicates, the report states.  Their undocumented or illegal status has kept them outside the protection of laws and from 1992 to December 2002; the Philippine Foreign Service establishment recorded 1,084 cases of human trafficking.  Reported data are very low.

To combat the trafficking of women and children, the Government approved the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, which defines trafficking in persons as a crime and sets penalties for various types of offences, the report says.  The stiffest sanctions, life imprisonment and a fine of up to 5 million Philippine pesos, are reserved for any person found guilty in various situations:  if the trafficked person was a child, the trafficked person died or contracted HIV/AIDS; the offender was related to the child or a member of a law enforcement unit.

The Government began designing a national strategy to prevent trafficking in women and children after an alarming number of cases surfaced in 1996, according to the report.  These measures included the creation in 2000 of an Executive Council to coordinate the activities of all pertinent agencies, and of the Philippine Centre on Transnational Crime (PCTC) in 1999.  The latter includes a database that Government agencies share for information on criminals, arrests and convictions for transnational crimes, including trafficking in persons, illegal recruitment, intermarriages and overseas employment.

Concerning articles 7 and 8 on women's political and public life, the report notes the country's lack of a critical mass of women in top-level and decision-making positions.  Their low representation in these positions is linked to the need for more effective measures to eliminate the gender biases still evident among women and those who recommend and approve appointments.  It is also related to the need to train women for decision-making posts; to encourage women voters to elect men and women who support women's empowerment and gender equality; and to sustain the political agenda and parties of women.

The report notes that, although the country has a woman President for the second time in Philippine history, there have been no significant changes in other elective positions.  For example, in 2001, as in 1998, no more than 20 per cent of the electoral candidates were women and the proportion of them who won election remained at 20 per cent or less.  In the legislature, the share of women in the Senate dropped to 9 per cent in 2001, or 3 women out of 23, a drop from 17 per cent in 1995.  In the House of Representatives, the trend was reversed and women's share of seats increased from 9 per cent in 1995 to 16 per cent of the 205-member chamber.

On the other hand, by the end of 2003, 5 out of 19 Cabinet department secretaries were women, the report points out.  And as of September 2003, four, or 27 per cent, of the country's 15 Supreme Court justices were women; 12, or 25 per cent, of 47 justices on the Court of Appeals were women; and three, or 27 per cent, of 11 justices on the Sandiganbayan, which handles graft and corruption cases involving Government officials, were women.

And regarding women in the diplomatic service, in September 2002, women headed 22 of the 80 Philippine embassies and consulates around the world, or 28 per cent.  Twelve of these held the rank of Ambassador and 10 that of Consul-General.  In November 2003, only 17 out of a total of 61, or 28 per cent, of ambassadors and chargés d'affaires were female.  Ten of the 19 consuls, or 53 per cent, were women.

Introduction of Report

The Philippine delegation was headed by Esperanza I. Cabral, Secretary for Social Welfare and Development, and also included Myrna T. Yao, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women; Bayani S. Mercado, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations; Ethelyn P. Nieto, Under-Secretary, Department of Health; Luzviminda G. Padilla, Under-Secretary, Labour and Employment; Amaryllis T. Torres, Commissioner, National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women; Evelyn S. Dunuan, Commissioner; Emmeline L. Verzosa, Executive Director, National Commission; Marie Yvette L. Banzon, Third Secretary, Permanent Mission of the Philippines; Aurora Javate de Dios, non-governmental organization representative and CEDAW expert; Feliz V. de Leon, Jr., Attaché, Permanent Mission of the Philippines; and Cecilia Rachel V. Quisumbing, Permanent Mission of the Philippines.

Introducing the report, Ms. CABRAL, Secretary for Social Welfare and Development, said the country had seen substantial gains from the Government's gender mainstreaming policy.  Laws, policies, executive and administrative orders in national Government, as well as local ordinances that worked for gender quality had all provided the mandates to develop programmes that could effectively close the gaps in the benefits and opportunities enjoyed by women and men.  The Framework Plan for Women served as the gender equality framework of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's present Government.  The promotion of women's human rights was a key component of the Plan, as was the promotion of women's economic empowerment and gender-responsive governance.

Regarding article 6, she said landmark legislation for dealing with violence against women and human trafficking had been successfully promulgated and the Convention could now be cited as a reference in cases filed under those laws.  Due to the legislation's initial progress in combating trafficking in persons, the Philippines had been removed from the United States Department of State's watch list of countries with severe incidences of human trafficking.  In the past year, the courts had convicted seven individuals on trafficking offences and sentenced four to life in prison.  Sixty-seven offenders had been charged and 31 prosecuted for violations of the law.

Turning to the fight against poverty, she said it was the focus of the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan and the Government aimed to create 1.4 million to 1.6 million jobs annually.  The promotion and development of small businesses was viewed as a critical strategy to spur economic growth.

Regarding traditional sex roles, she said they had been difficult to break in the area of reproductive health rights and family planning remained largely a female responsibility.  The number of male spouses using contraceptives remained low.  Family planning and population policy revolved around the "four pillars" of responsible parenthood, birth spacing, respect for life and informed choice.  Responsibility for providing reproductive health information and services had been devolved to local government, which may choose to implement aspects of the Responsible Parenthood Programme or ignore it totally.

She noted that the Philippines had made progress in disseminating information on the Convention and its Optional Protocol.

Interactive Dialogue

Committee experts started the discussion with questions and comments on a range of issues under the Convention, including discrimination, policy measures, guarantees of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, special measures, sex-role stereotyping and prejudice.

Experts asked if there was a time frame for repealing discriminatory laws and sought details on procedures to ensure that all relevant national laws complied with the various articles of the Convention.  They also expressed concern over the apparent lack of robust State machinery to guarantee, monitor and evaluate the Convention's consistent application, and asked the delegation to elaborate on Government follow-up efforts.

One expert asked about the membership of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights and its role in drafting the country report, while others questioned the delegation about the rights of Muslim women and the application of sharia law.

A country representative said in response that section 14 of the Philippine Constitution's article 2 guaranteed equal rights for men and women and that there were several national laws that prohibited discrimination against women.  The anti-rape law, Family Code and other laws had been amended to expand protections for women.  Several pro-women bills, such as the Magna Carta for Women, which included a definition of discrimination, were before Congress.  The Magna Carta was currently pending passage in the lower house of Congress and once passed and certified by the President, would be sent to the Senate for approval, probably by the end of 2006.

Another country representative noted efforts to implement the Convention through the enactment of national laws and jurisprudence.  For example, the national telephone company and Banco Central of the Philippines had referred to the Convention when addressing discrimination against married women in the workplace.  However, measures were needed for the proper implementation of anti-discrimination laws.

In relation to the treatment of Muslim women, a delegate said the Philippine Code of Muslim Personal Laws was perceived as having certain discriminatory provisions.  For example, it permitted arranged marriages, marriage for girls under the age of 18 and polygamy, whereby men were allowed up to four wives.  A balance must be struck between adherence to the Convention and respect for the cultural sensitivities of the large Muslim population.  The Government had consulted non-governmental organizations, Muslim groups and women's leaders to bridge that gap.  Sharia courts had indeed been remiss in addressing discrimination against women, many of whom had filed divorce cases but had not been able to recover their dowries.  The National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women and the Justice Department were working with sharia courts to address such concerns.

Regarding institutional gender mainstreaming, another delegate said that, since 1986, the National Commission had been conducting capacity-building for civil servants and government bureaucrats at the national and regional levels.  In 2004, the Government had circulated memos mandating capacity-building at the regional and local levels in line with the Convention.  All government agencies were supposed to earmark at least 5 per cent of their budgets for gender-equality projects.  The National Commission was pushing for agencies to increase that percentage and results-based monitoring systems had been set up to track progress.

The delegate said that, in terms of compiling sex-disaggregated data, the National Commission had asked the National Statistics Coordinating Board to provide such data when possible, despite the higher cost of doing so.  All data-gathering agencies -- including those charged with education, health, social welfare and labour -- had been asked to disaggregate data in accordance with the Beijing Platform of Action.

Another country representative added that the National Commission did not work directly with women, but rather conducted policy analysis and provided technical assistance for Congress, as well as monitoring evaluation and gender budgeting.  It was moving towards gender auditing.  The Secretary for Social Welfare and Development had 12 sectoral representatives for gender mainstreaming, including in such areas as academia, labour, agriculture, media, culture and the arts.  Those representatives were appointed by the President and worked on a non-paid, voluntary basis.

As for the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, another delegate said it was an independent, constitutional body with investigatory powers that had recently created a women's centre.  It was hearing cases on human rights violations against women.

Experts touched on a range of issues including responsibility for implementing the policies of the Commission; when Parliament would adopt the Magna Carta; the present administration's commitment to the status of women; and budgeting for gender equality measures.

They also sought to know about the powers of Commissioners and their ability to influence Cabinet members on the status of women, and whether the Magna Carta would help provide protection for prostitutes.  One expert raised the use of temporary special measures as a vehicle to get women into decision-making positions at the national and local levels and to change the perception of women.  Was the Magna Carta a mandated temporary special measure?

A country representative said the Commission was not under the Department of Social Welfare and Development.  Rather, the Department provided an oversight role for the Commission, which was under the Office of the President from where it operated more effectively.  Under the Magna Carta bill, the Commission would operate in the same manner and its Chairperson would assume Cabinet rank.  The Commission had about 65 permanent staff members.

Regarding the administration's priorities, the country representative said they were mainly economic.  While women's issues were important, the Philippines also faced such challenges as globalization and terrorism.  The President had shown her support for women's issues through the Magna Carta bill.

Another country representative said the delay in passing certain laws was due to the patriarchal attitudes among many policymakers.  There was a need to boost the representation of women in politics in order to strengthen policies of concern to them.  There were serious problems concerning the portrayal of women by the media and the lack of women in business and politics.

Regarding article 4 and temporary special measures, a country representative said the Philippine Constitution had no prohibition against them and did not view such measures as discriminatory.  The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 was the primary Government agency for indigenous cultures and communities.  The passage of the Magna Carta bill would help institutionalize women's rights.

Regarding the elimination of sexual stereotypes, experts sought information about how the Government linked violence with the continuation of sexual stereotypes; the anti-rape law and its provisions regarding marital rape; and concrete data about the anti-trafficking law, such as the number of women rescued.  Other questions focused on attitudes surrounding teenage pregnancy and research on the men responsible.

A country representative said the changing of sexual stereotypes must be linked with their contribution to sexual violence against women, adding with respect to rape that it was one of the highest indicators of crime against women.  In addition, incest had been recorded as rape.  There had been reports on incest and the issue had been out in the open, but there was still a cloud of secrecy surrounding it which must be addressed.  The Government must deepen its research on violence against women.

Women's groups were pushing for anti-prostitution in the next few years, she said, adding that obstacles to its passage were the same as those hindering any gender-equality legislation.  Such bills had a low priority.  Regarding the anti-trafficking law, there had been seven convictions and three persons had been sentenced to life imprisonment.  There had been 186 trafficking cases before the Justice Department in 2005.

Concerning women's representation in judicial posts, several experts noted that the Philippines had only five women judges and asked whether there was a quota system to ensure equal representation.  How were judges recruited?

Ms. CABRAL, Secretary for Social Welfare and Development, said there were no separate congressional seats for women and that, while the ratio of women to men in the judiciary was not satisfactory, the balance was improving.

Another delegate noted that the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women and other concerned sectors had proposed the formation of a selection committee that would start to scout women candidates for judicial posts.  There were few vacant judgeships since judges were allowed to serve until they reached age 70.  The President had worked with the sharia courts to select women nominees as there were several vacancies for judges in those courts.

The Philippine Judicial Academy was providing gender sensitivity training to a branch of the Supreme Court, another delegate noted.  Last year, the Supreme Court and the National Commission had created a gender justice award to recognize justices who had a critical understanding of women's issues.

Another country representative noted that, if approved, the Women's Empowerment Act would require that all major political parties sitting on municipal and provincial boards reserve one third of their seats for women.

Turning to follow-up questions, a delegate inquired about rescue and rehabilitation programmes for women who had been prostitutes or victims of trafficking.

A delegate said in response that 137 victims of trafficking, rape and violence, mainly women and children, had been rescued during 25 rescue operations between 2003 and 2005.  Officials had made 57 arrests for trafficking crimes out of 169 cases received.  The Department of Social Welfare and Development provided immediate assistance to survivors, operating 19 crisis centres nationwide, as well as 16 shelters offering psychosocial support, legal assistance and job training.  The National Commission had partnered with religious non-governmental organizations in that regard through an anti-trafficking and anti-prostitution network, but the Government did not fund such civil-society endeavours.

Regarding education, one expert asked whether there were special measures in place to ensure that minorities and women in rural areas had access to the educational system, including scholarships.  Other questions focused on what measures were in place to reduce sexual stereotypes in the education system.

Concerning unemployment, one expert asked whether the Government's measures would reduce unemployment among women, which had stood at 8.5 per cent in 1997 and risen to 12.4 per cent in 2004.  Would new Government measures reduce the unemployment rate and provide information about training opportunities and access to credit and the social security system?

Turning to articles 11 and 12, which cover issues of employment and health, experts asked about labour conditions; pay and benefits for female home workers; Government approaches to end abuse of and discrimination against female migrant workers, including bilateral agreements with other nations; and the high pay gap between men and women.

Experts also expressed concern over the Philippines' high maternal mortality rate and the fact that women, rather than their male partners, where chiefly responsible for family planning.  They asked about measures to prevent abortion and natural family planning programmes.

In response, a country delegate said overseas employment would continue to be an option for Filipino workers.  Migrant workers were covered by protective measures from recruitment until they returned home.  Only licensed recruitment agencies were allowed to hire migrant workers and all work contracts must be verified by the Labour Attaché for compliance with labour codes.  All job orders by foreign employers must register with the Philippine administrative authority.  Philippine overseas labour offices were staffed with 230 personnel throughout Asia.  They provided social services and acted in many cases as halfway houses for workers in stressful conditions.  To enhance protection for Filipino migrant workers, the Government had signed memorandums of understanding on migrant workers' rights with other countries, including Bahrain, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Northern Mariana Islands, India, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Another delegate said the President was promoting microcredit and microfinance for women-owned and women-operated businesses to bolster entrepreneurship among women, particularly those in poor rural areas.  The National Federation of Homeworkers, which was recognized by the United Nations and assisted by the International Labour Organization, had successfully lobbied for passage of a law granting informal workers the right to social security, including maternity leave pay.

A country representative said the Government respected the right of women to choose their type of work and if they wanted an overseas job it would provide them with all available protection.  As a protective mechanism for women heading overseas, the Government offered free employment seminars that provided information about overseas destinations and what to expect.  A woman could not leave the country without attending a pre-departure orientation seminar that included information about foreign cultures.

Regarding overseas migrants, the Department of Labour and Employment provided services for Filipino women working overseas no matter where they resided.  The problem was that the Government did not always know where overseas workers lived and whether they needed help.  Another delegate said the Government's long-term strategy for those women was to expand the Philippine economy and increase job opportunities at home.

Concerning reproductive health, a country representative said the Department of Health was the Government's lead agency in that area and its goal was for Filipinos of all ages to enjoy the benefits of responsible reproductive health services by 2015.  The Government had a number of administrative orders spelling out its reproductive health policies on such issues as safe motherhood and the prevention and management of abortion, as well as guidelines on contraception.

The Government had the responsibility to provide information so that couples could make informed choices as they reached their family goals, she said.  It had not banned any artificial family planning methods and wished couples to have access to whatever methods they needed to ensure the recommended spacing of three years between children.  The Government used the help of non-governmental organizations, as well as public and private partnerships, to achieve those goals.

She stressed that the Government promoted natural and artificial family planning services and the Population Commission was attached to the Health Department.  In the few areas where artificial contraceptive methods had been banned, national hospitals had continued to provide information about all types of family planning.  The rhythm method was regarded as a natural means of family planning.

And concerning the legal status of abortion, the Government upheld the constitutional provision safeguarding the life of the unborn child, as well as the mother, she said.  While no measures were being taken to abolish the law making abortion a crime, no one, including girls, had gone to jail for violating that law.

One expert asked why the Government did not modify the Penal Code if women were not prosecuted for abortion.  Another expert asked how the Government could expect women to use only natural family planning methods in a patriarchal society where most women had difficulty negotiating their right to refuse sex.

Turning to articles 13 and 14, on economic and social benefits and rural women, experts asked about the ability of those women to access land titles and credit.  They also sought to know about the effectiveness of Government programmes to assist women in poor rural areas and to help indigenous groups.

In response, a country representative said that, thanks to the lobbying efforts of women's groups and women in academia, many women had been given land transfers whereas, in the past, land-transfer certificates had been given only to men.  Still, women were sometimes reluctant to have their names on land and property titles.  More advocacy efforts were needed in that regard.

Another delegate said the Arroyo Administration had core asset-reform programmes and that credit programmes had benefited some 618,000 women in the trade sector, more than 46,000 in the livestock sector, over 36,000 in services and more than 12,000 in agriculture.  The number of microfinance-programmes beneficiaries in the country's 30 poorest provinces had risen from 86,000 people in 2004 to 100,400 in 2005.  $3.75 million in funding had been provided for rural improvement projects.

Another delegate said that, as of 30 June, 44 certificates of ancestral domain titles had been issued to indigenous cultural communities.

The experts then sought clarification on issues of divorce, including whether it was truly an option, the grounds for annulling a marriage and the custody of children.  Other questions touched on measures to build stronger family courts and repeal discriminatory codes; what the Government was doing to deal with local laws that were incompatible with the Convention; and efforts to discourage underage marriage.

A delegate said the Government was working diligently to revise codes that were not compatible with the Convention and that discriminated against women.  Another delegate said divorce was not legal and the marriage contract could only be terminated by petition for annulment on grounds provided in the Family Code.  The annulment would declare the marriage void from the beginning.  Another option would be a legal separation, in which case the couple would remain married in name.  Courts could grant legal separation and annulment as long as the reasons were grounded in law.  The family courts had been revived in 1997 and 79 of them around the country were handling a backlog of cases.  That had prompted the Supreme Court to set up a mobile court based in Manila, which showed that more women were asserting their rights.

In concluding remarks, Ms. CABRAL said the meeting had been very productive and that the experts' comments and questions would be brought to the relevant Philippine authorities for serious consideration.

HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany and the Committee Chairperson, said that one concern that had become clear during the meeting was the need to expedite the legislative process.  In addition, the seventh report of the Philippines was already due this year and it was to be hoped that it would be submitted in a timely manner.

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