Presentation of Recommendations by Civil Society Organizations to the Diplomatic Community for the 4th Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review

Intervention* delivered by Cielito V. Perez, Center for Women’s Resources
27 September 2022

To the distinguished members of the diplomatic community, to the UN Philippines, and my fellow members of civil society – a pleasant day to everyone:

During the 3rd cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), member-states gave their recommendations to the Philippine government, including those pertaining to the protection of women, under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which the Philippine government signed and ratified. Therefore, it has the obligation to take appropriate measures against discrimination and ensure that Filipino women can fully enjoy their human rights.

However, the Philippine government under former President Rodrigo Duterte failed to deliver on these recommendations especially in addressing the issues of poverty alleviation, discrimination, protection of health, access to justice, and violence against women.

Pre-pandemic, there were already 16 million women who are economically insecure and this increased to more than 21 million in the first months of the lockdown. The pandemic disproportionately impacted women, both in the formal and informal sectors, those who lost their jobs and livelihood. They received little or no support for economic relief, food, and medical care even as the Duterte administration received billions from local and foreign donors for COVID-19 response. The crisis in the public health system characterized by decades of privatization and meager public funding impacted poor women’s overall health, and in particular, their sexual and reproductive health – including their access to modern contraceptives, and maternal and childcare services.

The socio-economic crisis and the pandemic also increased gender-based violence. While data shows a lower number of reported cases of violence against women from 20,000+ cases in 2019 to 15,000+ cases in 2020, we see this as grossly underreported. Restrictions in mobility confined women at home and it increased their vulnerability to violence if they are living with abusive partners. Women had greater difficulties in accessing mechanisms to report abuse and access support services.

We also see gender disparity in public and political life participation where only 23.1% of those in elective positions are women. And while civil society, nongovernment, and community organizations give space for women to practice leadership and participation, we see an alarming trend of attacks against women activists, advocates, and women human rights defenders.

In light of this situation, we hereby forward the following recommendations:

1. Ensure full and effective implementation of the Magna Carta of Women to improve work opportunities, receive equal pay for equal work, and guarantee against discrimination.
2. Ensure full and effective implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act including provisions on access to modern contraceptives. To ensure comprehensive sexuality education in formal and non-formal institutions, and put a stop to discriminatory practices preventing access to SRHR services.
3. Pass the Divorce Bill to allow the dissolution of marriage, especially those involving violence against spouses, and to correspond this with amendments to the Family Code.
4. Enhance measures to prevent violence against women and girls including expanding psychosocial and legal services and integrating these measures into national and local COVID-19 response and recovery plans. Recognize and support women’s rights groups and organizations that provide services and advocate for policies to address gender-based violence.
5. Finally, take measures to eliminate structural, legal, and cultural obstacles hindering the participation of women in politics and decision-making; promote programs fostering leadership skills for women and girls, and promote gender equality. This also necessitates putting a stop to attacks against women activists, advocates, and women human rights defenders.

* This intervention is derived from the submission of the Center for Women’s Resources, GABRIELA – Alliance of Filipino Women, and from the Joint Recommendations of the Commission of Human Rights and Civil Society Organizations for the United Nations 4th Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review

Statement on the 50th Anniversary of Martial Law

The Center for Women’s Resources joins the Filipino people in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, one of the darkest moments in Philippine history. Fifty years ago, Ferdinand Marcos Sr. plunged the country into an unsurmountable crisis characterized by massive plunder, corruption, elite rule, and political repression.

But while the dictatorship signaled crisis and the death of democracy, it gave birth to the fiercest resistance of women and the Filipino people. Today we salute and pay our highest tribute to those who dared to resist and fight back. We remember Elsa “Liza” Balando, a trade union activist killed by military forces while voicing the workers’ demands for better working conditions; Rizalina Ilagan, an activist and community organizer who was forcibly disappeared; Liliosa Hilao and Nimfa “Nona” Del Rosario, student writers, and activists; Maria Lorena Barros, a young woman leader, writer, and instrumental in mobilizing women’s resistance against the Marcos dictatorship. We honor and remember the tens of thousands who were killed, disappeared, imprisoned, and tortured, in the course of fighting tyranny.

The tyrant was ousted in the people’s uprising in 1986 yet the Philippines has never totally recuperated. Our economy continues to be underdeveloped, debt-ridden, and foreign-controlled. While those in power continue to live lavishly, the majority of Filipino people, including women suffer from poverty and lack of basic services, and human rights violations.

Five decades on, massive disinformation, misinformation, political deceit, and brazen electoral fraud have installed Marcos Jr. to the Philippine presidency. He is hell-bent on systematically denying the grim history of his father’s regime. At the same time, we see the same patterns of corruption, lavish lifestyle, adherence to neoliberalism, and total disregard for women’s and people’s rights and welfare.

Today, we reaffirm our commitment to fight back. We will remain steadfast in holding tyrants, plunderers, and rights violators accountable – in the halls of parliament, on the streets, and in our communities. We will carry forward and strengthen our movement, to continue our collective education and mobilize against all forms of injustice.

On Pres. Marcos’ state visit to Indonesia, bring Mary Jane safely back home

The Center for Women’s Resources echoes the calls of the family, friends, and supporters of Mary Jane Veloso, to free her and bring her home to the Philippines. We call on President Marcos Jr. to prioritize raising the issue of Mary Jane Veloso and seek clemency as he visits and speaks with Indonesia President Joko Widodo this week.

Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipina migrant worker, has been unfairly languishing in jail for 12 years now. She was arrested in 2010 upon her arrival in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, when authorities found heroin hidden in the lining of the suitcase provided by her recruiters. She was convicted of illegally importing drugs and is currently on death row after a series of unfair trial proceedings.

Mary Jane previously worked as a domestic helper in Dubai to support her two young children. She fled after an attempted sexual assault. She went home, jobless and penniless. Despite the terrifying experience, she accepted when she was offered to work as a maid in Malaysia. But there was no job in Malaysia. Instead, she was told to travel to Indonesia, where she was given a suitcase lined with illegal drugs.

Mary Jane is among the many Filipinos, most of whom are women, who are forced to leave the country amid the chronic economic crisis and lack of job opportunities, only to become victims of human trafficking and subjects of extremely inhumane working conditions.

Mary Jane has suffered years of injustice as a woman and as a migrant worker. We reiterate our call for Pres. Marcos to urge Pres. Widodo to grant clemency and bring Mary Jane safely back home to her family. Moreover, we demand that the Philippine government ensure the safety and security of all Filipino migrant workers abroad.

Finally, we demand that the Marcos administration prioritize addressing the root cause of Filipino workers’ being compelled to take a chance on precarious opportunities overseas. By supporting rural development and national industrialization, it can provide decent jobs with living wages to its people and put an end to labor export.

CWR Statement on the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances

The Center for Women’s Resources joins the families and friends of the disappeared, advocates and human rights defenders, in renewing the calls to end involuntary disappearance and human rights violations in the Philippines.

The abduction and disappearance of Elizabeth “Loi” Magbanua, Ma. Elena “Cha” Cortez Pampoza and Elgene Mungcal add to the long list of names of activists and community organizers who were forcibly taken and disappeared. Data from human rights organization Karapatan showed that there had been 254 victims of enforced disappearances in the Philippines — from the Arroyo administration up to July 2021 during the Duterte administration.

Last May 3, Loi Magbanua, a labor organizer and women’s rights advocate, was abducted along with fellow labor organizer, Alipio “Ador” Juat. A few days later, Ador communicated with his family, informing them that unidentified men abducted and forced them into separate vehicles. The two are believed to be detained against their will in a military camp.

On July 3, peasant organizers and human rights defenders Cha Pampoza and Elgene Mungcal went missing in Moncada, Tarlac. Before her disappearance, Cha’s family had been subjected to harassment by uniformed personnel of AFP and PNP.

We urge the public to express support for the families and friends of victims of enforced disappearances and other human rights violations, especially with the widespread climate of impunity. The impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial arrest and detention is exacerbated by Duterte’s Executive Order 70 – the ‘whole of nation approach’ that intensifies brutal attacks towards activists and human rights advocates. It is high time to raise our voices and speak out against these rights violations and demand justice.

Finally, we challenge the Marcos administration to show its sincerity in addressing the spate of involuntary disappearances and human rights violations in the country by revoking Duterte’s EO 70, dismantling the NTF-ELCAC, and promptly ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Statement of Support for HB 2173 – Security of Tenure Bill

The Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) welcomes and strongly supports the legislative proposal House Bill 2173 or the Security of Tenure Bill recently filed by Gabriela Women’s Party and Makabayan Bloc in the 19th Congress. The Bill which seeks to end all forms of contractualization is long overdue and has always been one of many failed promises made by past administrations.

With the current pandemic situation, high unemployment rate, the dwindling income of Filipino families, rising prices of consumer goods, and concerning increases in poverty and inequality, CWR believes that Congress and this administration must immediately pass legislation to protect and advance workers’ rights.

Even before the pandemic, Filipino women workers are found in precarious labor and 60% are considered economically insecure. With the economic contraction brought by the pandemic, workers under contract were pushed to further insecure conditions as they were the first to lose their jobs. They live at a critical point, vulnerable, and often with no buffer against economic shocks.

CWR, in its recent study on the conditions of women workers amid the pandemic found the following:

1. Contractual workers have fewer employee benefits like company medical insurance, and this forces employees/workers to pay out-of-pocket for expenses that under normal circumstances are covered by an employer. Although the government mandated employers to pay for certain benefits such as SSS, Philhealth and PAG-IBIG for all types of workers, some employers do not pay for these benefits. Other benefits that contract workers do not receive compared to regular workers include paid vacation/ sick leave, and 13th month pay.

2. Contract workers need to provide for their own retirement plans and savings for periods of unemployment.

3. “No work, no pay” rule imposed on employees by service contracts and contract workers.
4. Low wages are a disadvantage for employees who are hired on a flexible basis. Workers in these arrangements are much more likely to earn wages that are at or near the minimum wage and earn significantly less than regular workers. As a result, many of these workers are working at/or near the poverty level.

5. Contractualization undermines worker’s right to organize and form unions.
The road to pandemic recovery presents an important opportunity to reverse the trend of disadvantaged workers through enacting the Security of Tenure Bill. Further, many studies have shown that increasing women’s economic security leads to positive outcomes in health, education, and women’s participation, which are important aspects in economic development and nation-building.

It is in this light that the Center for Women’s Resources deems it imperative to legislate a genuinely pro-worker and pro-women Security of Tenure Bill that will end all forms of contractualization and violation of workers’ right to security of tenure. We challenge the Philippine Congress and the Marcos Jr. administration to decisively prioritize this legislative agenda and ensure workers’ right to work and development.