On UN SR Irene Khan’s visit, women’s institution highlights the protection of Filipino women’s right to freedom of opinion and expression

On UN SR Irene Khan’s visit, women’s institution highlights the protection of Filipino women’s right to freedom of opinion and expression

The Center for Women’s Resources welcomes the visit of UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan to the Philippines. CWR recognizes this as an opportunity to emphasize the need to protect and uphold the right to freedom of opinion and expression for Filipino people, especially of marginalized women and women human rights defenders. These fundamental rights serve as cornerstones in the advancement of women’s development and the safeguarding of women’s human rights within democratic societies.

In the Philippines, women who speak up face significant risks. Even voicing demands for jobs, livelihood, access and control over land and other resources, access to health and education services, can lead to persecution. These women are attacked and harassed for being members and leaders of organizations, associations, and unions that oppose state’s anti-people policies and actions. They face constant surveillance, arbitrary arrests, and unfair trials, all aimed at silencing their voices and undermining their work.

Restrictive laws such as the Anti-Terror Law (ATL), the creation of NTF-ELCAC and the continuing implementation of Executive Order 70 enables and exacerbates the risks faced by women human rights defenders. This stark reality persists despite international and national commitments, including recommendations under the UPR, CEDAW, and SDGs. 

In a span of one year, from July 2022 to June 2023, eight (8) women, mostly peasant and rights activists, have fallen victims to political extrajudicial killing. Three women have been forcefully disappeared, including peasant rights advocates Elgene Mungcal and Ma. Elena Pampoza. Illegal arrest on trumped up charges also continues. 

According to Karapatan, in July 2022, 13 human rights defenders in the Southern Tagalog region were slapped with charges under the ATL. This includes a 19-year-old woman, Hailey Pecayo, coordinator and paralegal of Tanggol Batangan. Pecayo joined a fact-finding mission to look into the killing of 9-year-old Kyllene Casao by suspected military elements in Taysan, Batangas. Also facing charges under ATL is Jasmin Rubio, secretary-general of Mothers and Children for the Protection of Human Rights. 

It is crucial to note that these women human rights defenders are leaders in their respective communities, they are farmers, workers, indigenous people, who have long experienced discrimination and rights violations, and thus know and hold the solution to the current economic and social crisis that we are facing. As key stakeholders, WHRDs are uniquely positioned to advocate for solutions that will ensure women’s democratic rights. 

In time for UN SR Irene Khan’s visit to the Philippines, we demand urgent attention and action to address the challenges faced by WHRDs and ensure that women’s voices are not silenced:

1. Address the culture of impunity surrounding attacks on women human rights defenders. Investigate and prosecute perpetrators to ensure accountability and justice.

2. Repeal repressive laws such as the Anti-Terror Law (ATL) that curtail freedom of opinion and expression. Steps must be taken to ensure freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, and regardless of frontiers, as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ensure that laws and policies align with international human rights standards and do not hinder the work of women human rights defenders.

3. Implement comprehensive mechanisms to protect women human rights defenders. Foster an environment that encourages open dialogue and inclusivity, ensuring that women’s voices, particularly those of marginalized groups, are heard and valued in decision-making processes.

As we strive for a society that upholds democracy and justice, we call on the Philippine government to take concrete steps to respect, protect, and promote women’s democratic rights. We hope that UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan will hear the voices of marginalized sectors and women’s human rights defenders. We hope that she will incorporate their perspectives into her report, which should serve as the foundation for formulating recommendations to strengthen the protection of human rights in the Philippines.

Finally, we call on all Filipino people to remain steadfast in our commitment to pursuing our democratic rights. It is through our collective unity and shared struggles that we can guarantee its realization towards a just and democratic society. #

CWR Position Paper on Increasing Women’s Participation in Political Parties

CWR Position Paper on Increasing Women’s Participation in Political Parties

The Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) supports the proposed legislative measures aimed at increasing women’s participation in political parties (House Bill No. 6604 and House Bill No. 9667). This proposed measure is of critical importance and represents a stride towards empowering women within the political sphere, aligning with principles enshrined in international human rights frameworks.

The right of women to participate in public and political life, including their representation, is vital for fully realizing their role as agents of change and beneficiaries of sustainable development and progress. The meaningful involvement of women in public life is crucial to ensure the integration of their concerns and perspectives in decision-making processes and policy formulation.

Examining the current landscape of women’s political participation in the Philippines reveals a modest increase in women’s representation in elected positions, with the proportion of female elected officials rising from 22% in 2016 to 31% in 2022. Despite an 8.47% increase in the number of women elected officials between the 2016 and 2022 National and Local Elections, the overall proportion fell short of the envisioned 50-50 distribution in decision making positions.

While legal impediments to women’s political representation do not exist, and despite the enactment of the Magna Carta of Women, systemic and cultural barriers persist. The slow growth in women’s political representation is attributed to various challenges, including persistent patriarchal norms and gender stereotypes, domestic responsibilities, and inadequate training and education. Financial constraints and limited economic resources for political campaigns greatly impedes women’s ability to compete on an equal footing with male counterparts.

Instances of violence against women in politics remain a significant concern. Women candidates and politicians face threats, harassment, and discrimination, creating a hostile environment that discourages many from active political engagement. For instance, the Gabriela Women’s Party, the lone women’s political party and sectoral representation in the Philippine Congress, faces ongoing disqualification cases filed by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) with the Commission on Elections. This troubling trend underscores the urgency of addressing not only the barriers to women’s political participation but also the systemic harassment and intimidation they encounter in the pursuit of their political roles.

In this light, the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) supports the provisions of the proposed legislative measure to increase women’s participation in political parties and recommends the following:

  1. On supporting women quota, CWR emphasizes the importance of prioritizing women from marginalized sectors in the implementation of the Women Participation and Representation in Political Parties Act. Women from the marginalized sectors of workers, farmers, migrants, indigenous peoples, possess a unique understanding of the challenges faced by their communities, and this will ensure that policies are not only inclusive but also responsive to their specific needs.
  2. On Women and Gender and Development Agenda and Program, CWR notes that political parties must integrate gender perspectives and women’s human rights into their core philosophy and ideas. The Women and Gender and Development Agenda and Program must give emphasis to addressing pressing issues of women, including economic security, access and control over resources, access to health and education, and addressing gender based violence, among others.
  3. On establishing the Women in Political Parties Empowerment Fund, CWR supports the creation of the financing of the Women and Gender and Development Agenda and augmenting campaign expenditures for women candidates. However, mechanisms should be in place to ensure that the funds will be used by women candidates from marginalized sectors who have limited access to resources.
  4. CWR underscores the need to strengthen mechanisms to ensure a safe and enabling environment for women’s political participation and safeguard them from potential risks. This will ensure a robust and fearless representation that is essential for promoting genuine democracy. There must be mechanisms to prevent discrimination and hate speech against women politicians and women candidates in political and public discourse. Concrete steps must be taken to prevent harassment and threats against women candidates and politicians.

These recommendations aim not only to rectify the current gender imbalances in the political sphere but also to pave the way for a truly inclusive and democratic political landscape. The Center for Women’s Resources remains steadfast in its dedication to supporting the full participation of women, especially those in the marginalized sectors, in the political sphere.

After 37 years of Mendiola Massacre, justice remains elusive, struggle for land distribution continue

After 37 years of Mendiola Massacre, justice remains elusive, struggle for land distribution continue

Justice remains elusive almost four decades after the bloody dispersal in Mendiola where 13 farmers, including peasant woman Adelfa Aribe, were killed and 50 others injured on January 22, 1987. Thousands of farmers and peasant rights advocates marched towards the Malacañang Palace demanding for free land distribution and living wage in the midst of massive landlessness and poverty.

Years on, in the face of persistent adversity, farmers and advocates for peasant rights march on. Vast tracts of land remain disproportionately concentrated in the hands of a select few landlords or under the dominion of agro-corporations and plantations. This protracted struggle has given rise to a new generation of farmers and activists, committed to demanding free land distribution, adequate funds for agricultural subsidies, and facilities.

Farmers including peasant women continue to organize themselves and reclaim their access and control over land and resources through different means. Alarmingly, these actions were met with violence by state forces, private goons of landlord-politicians, and through intensified militarization in rural areas.

Attacks against peasant advocates particularly intensified during the Duterte administration, with a long list of women farmers and peasant advocates killed by state forces. This includes Elisa Badayos, who was killed in 2017 in Negros; farmer Leonila Pesadilla, who donated a parcel of their land to a Lumad (indigenous) school; and Cora Lina, an active member of United Farmers in Laak in Compostela Valley. 

Rights violations against peasant women continued during the Marcos Jr. administration, from illegal arrest and detention to extrajudicial killings, including the enforced disappearances of peasant and land rights advocates Ma. Elena “Cha” Pampoza and Elgene “Leleng” Mungcal in Central Luzon.

Despite the pervasive attacks, peasant women remain steadfast and militant. They actively participate in the struggle for emancipation, presenting alternatives and taking action to address hunger and poverty. Those who were left with no other recourse, have chosen to confront guns with guns, joining revolutionary groups in the pursuit of land and justice.

In remembrance of the victims of the Mendiola Massacre, the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) stands united with peasant women and rights advocates in resolutely demanding land to the tillers and echoing the enduring call for justice. #

Women’s group opposes Charter Change, calls for prioritizing social services, welfare, and women’s health

Women’s group opposes Charter Change, calls for prioritizing social services, welfare, and women’s health

The Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) reiterates its opposition to the latest attempt to amend the 1987 Constitution amidst the escalating economic crises in the Philippines and globally. In recent weeks, top political figures, including Rep. Martin Romualdez, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s cousin, have once again intensified efforts to push for charter change. 

The women’s group believes that recent strategies employed by charter change proponents such as sponsored television advertisements, signature campaigns, and petitions are mere attempts to create the illusion of popular support for charter change. In reality, these are just tactics used to push the agenda of those in power. 

The proposed charter change aims to push for provisions to liberalize the economy further and open the country to foreign investments under the guise of economic development and prosperity. Notably, Senate President Miguel Zubiri reiterated in a press conference that their charter change review will be on the basis of liberalization policies in the Public Service Act to allow foreign ownership of public services.

Contrary to addressing the multitude of economic problems the Filipino people are subjected to,

further opening up the country’s resources to foreign control contradicts rural development and building national industries. These are critical steps to respond to the chronic crisis of hunger and unemployment. CWR stresses the need to tackle the root causes of economic and social crisis, cautioning against using constitutional reforms to allow foreign investors to exploit the country’s resources. 

CWR also flags the significant increase in the budget allocation of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) from ₱2.2 billion to ₱14 billion, earmarked for conducting and supervising elections, referenda, recall votes and plebiscites. This is a far cry from its usual appropriation in the last five years – ₱2.2 billion in 2023 and 2022, ₱2.1 billion in 2021, and ₱1.9 billion in 2020 and 2019. 

The group raises its concern on the increased budget while noting that allocation for social protection such as direct health services and for addressing the well-being and welfare of the most vulnerable members of our society remain insufficient. 

In 2023, only ₱296.3 billion was allocated for the Department of Health’s budget, with 33.8% dedicated to PhilHealth, thus, private households still cover the majority of health expenses, with 41.5% being out-of-pocket expenditures. CWR notes that these funds, if reallocated, can be spent on HPV vaccines for 1.2 million young women and breast cancer screenings for 6.3 million women, which can reduce out of pocket expenses for women and their families.

Furthermore, it is apparent that the push for charter change not only aims at economic revisions but to facilitate the extension of possible term limits, allowing the ruling clique and political dynasties to expand their authority and remain in power – very on-brand Marcosian tactics.

CWR urges the Filipino people to remain vigilant and unite against attempts to further liberalize the Philippine economy through constitutional change, and to be wary of attempts of those in power to perpetuate their authority. Alongside this, Filipino people must unite to call for genuine economic change, emphasizing a shift to building national industries, creating decent jobs with livable wages, and providing social welfare to Filipino women and people. #

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