The Women's Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB) was the first feminist legal NGO ever established in the Philippines and was among the pioneers of feminist legal practice and advocacy in Asia. Founded in 1990, WLB continues to make strategic interventions locally, regionally and internationally.
WLB issued the following statement on the occasion of the Philippine government report to the thirteenth session of United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 29 May 2012.
Arguably, the Philippines has been exemplary in the score of treaties, agreements, laws and programmes it has signed and adopted to protect and fulfil women’s rights, and it continues to rank high in global gender equality measures and indices. However, many of these are constantly breached, with discrimination, violence and injustice against Filipino women remaining an everyday occurrence in the country today.
We call particular attention to the case of Karen T. Vertido who, in 2007 brought her case before the Optional Protocol of the CEDAW and won. In 2010, the CEDAW treaty body found the Philippine government to have violated Ms. Vertido’s rights under the CEDAW, for allowing her charge of rape against a Mr. Jose Custodio to be dismissed in one of its courts, on blatantly sexist and gender-discriminatory grounds. These included basing the decision to acquit Custodio on what was deemed the absence of physical resistance on Ms. Vertido’s part and how she should/should not have reacted or behaved as a woman under those circumstances.
A landmark decision in the history of the CEDAW and its Optional Protocol, Ms. Vertido’s case remains bereft of justice for more than five years since she was compelled by the exhaustion of domestic legal remedies to seek redress from the treaty body. The Philippine government is yet to act on any of the CEDAW Committee’s recommendations, which include providing her “appropriate compensation commensurate with the gravity of the violations of her rights” and undertaking specific measures to address similar and recurring problems violative of the CEDAW in Philippine legislation, prosecution, jurisprudence and other court practices against rape victims. In effect, Ms. Vertido continues to be violated of her rights by this denial of justice.
Recently, we saw another charge of rape swept aside by the Philippine government when it washed its hands of responsibility over the case of 19-year old “Pamela” who reported the violation against a Panamanian diplomat. A state party of the CEDAW could have at least first argued out its accountability to Pamela on the basis of its legal obligations under the Convention. But, it took another path, quickly invoking the immunity of Mr. Erick Shcks under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, with no apparent concern for potential contraventions of other human rights state obligations, especially those enshrined in the CEDAW. Neither have we seen efforts to educate the public on the sexist bias behind the aspersions cast on Pamela for “inviting” the rape, though the CEDAW clearly binds state parties to address cultural norms and attitudes discriminatory to women.
As the Philippine government makes its second report before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC), we claim the mechanism of the Universal Periodic Review to call its attention and that of the international community to continuing violations of Filipino women’s human rights. The Philippine government is still failing to provide protection and build a supportive environment for women and children within the judicial system, and in so doing, contributes to the persistence of a culture of systemic impunity embedded in the criminal justice system.
The Philippine government has to be reminded again and again that it ratified both the CEDAW and its Optional Protocol. It enacted the Magna Carta of Women, localizing the CEDAW. It is also one of the few countries in Asia with a national women and gender mechanism, in addition to having Gender Ombud powers lodged in a separate national mechanism on human rights. The time to move beyond de jure equality to de facto equality is very much long past due.
The challenge raised in the first round of the UPR in 2008 by other countries at the UN HRC still remains. We call on the Philippine government to act with due diligence and uphold its responsibility to respect and implement all human rights and freedoms, specifically women’s human rights. We call on the government to address the rising cases of violence against women by holding perpetrators accountable and dispensing justice without delay to ensure women are able to access justice and enjoy their rights.
Jelen C. Paclarin
Executive Director, Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau
Mae V. Buenaventura
Chair, Board of Trustees, Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau
Women's Legal and Human Rights Bureau, Inc. (WLB)
Room 305 College of Social Work and Community Development Building
Magsaysay Avenue, University of the Philippines
Diliman, Quezon City
Telefax number: (63-2) 921-4389
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