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Tag Archive | "human rights"

Hold Your Horses: On Our Global Women’s Progress Report Standing

Malacanang came out with a statement yesterday on Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s recent Global Women’s Progress Report, which ranked the best and worst countries in the world for women. The Palace was very glad to note that the Philippines placed 17th out of the the 165 countries included, and was the only Asian nation with a spot in the top 20. Local media, of course, lapped it all up, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if individual politicians use this bit of news to bolster their opinions and agendas. The following chunks of the Malacanang statement, in particular, are bound to be quoted ’til kingdom come:

“Garnering an overall score of 86.3 out of 100, our country scored highest in the areas of education (92.2), economics (89.1), and justice (88.4).”

“This is an affirmation of the respect our culture has always accorded to Filipino women—one that manifests itself as well in our government’s efforts to promote equal gender opportunities in all spheres of public policies and programs. “

Many would see the whole statement as a very heartening bit of news (and likely another easy excuse to be “proud to be Pinoy”). But the thing is, it’s only a whopping 142 words long. It only highlighted the bits in the report that sounded brag-worthy, didn’t bother to place the data into context, and kept out significant results in the study. It is, for the most part, a grossly misleading statement, and Malacanang should have known better than to trumpet it about.


Bragging rights

A 92 in education, an 89 in economics, and an 88 in justice. Music to your ears, right? And yes, if you compare the Philippines to, say, Saudi Arabia, where women can’t drive; or to Pakistan, where a thousand women each year are murdered in the name of “honor;” or to Somalia, where almost all women undergo genital mutilation, then yes, it would seem just about right.

The problem is, just because we’re better off than other countries doesn’t make us a stellar, shining beacon for women’s rights just yet. We still have a long, long, long way to go, and the worst thing we can possibly do is to rest on our so-called laurels. How can we be proud of ourselves now when women still can’t break free from their tortuous, torturous marriages through divorce? When women are still sexually molested by priests, who in turn cower in the shadows of their bishop’s cloaks? When women are still denied the ability to learn more about their own reproductive system, and decide how to plan their familiesWhen 11 women a day die from maternal complications?

Unlike what the carefully crafted Palace statement implies, the Philippines is not exactly a safe haven for women. We still have a lot of shit to deal with. It’s so easy for the public to misconstrue the abovementioned numbers, and Malacanang should have clarified things further.

Health, held up

Going back to our women’s being denied reproductive rights, it is also incredibly important to note that the Malacanang statement left out our score in a very crucial criterion: Health. We scored a sickly 57 points in this category — the lowest amongst the top 20 countries, with the rest scoring in the 80s and 90s. And why the low score? Let’s take a look at what constitutes good health in this report:


-Adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19)

-Maternal mortality rate (maternal deaths per 100,000 live births)

-Contraceptive prevalence (percentage of women ages 15-49)

-Proportion of women with unmet need for family planning (aged 15-49)

-Proportion of women attended at least once by skilled health personnel during pregnancy

-HIV incidence rate

-Proportion of women receiving antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV

-Number of unsafe abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44

-Whether abortion is legal:

To save woman’s life

To preserve physical health

To preserve mental health

In cases of rape/incest

In cases of fetal impairment

Economic or social reasons

On request

With the exception of the abortion segment and anti-retroviral drugs, every one of these factors could be easily addressed with the passage of the Reproductive Health bill — a bill that can’t seem to make any progress thanks in great part to the tag-teaming between Catholic bishops and nincompoops in the Senate.

It must be noted that the Palace also recently made a statement in favor of putting the bill to a vote already. This statement was made last Wednesday, September 21st, the same day the other statement about the Global Women’s Progress Report was made. It’s such a shame that they didn’t lift the Health facts from the Progress Report to bolster the other statement. Then again, why should we expect this from an institution that always seems preoccupied with aggrandizing itself?

PR and the Palace

At this point in our country’s history, our government should stop publicly patting itself on the back and justifying such actions as a way to lift the nation’s spirits. There is harm in too much PR. If Malacanang really is behind ending this RH brouhaha once and for all, then they should stop withholding information from the public, and stop making such damningly misleading statements.

To anyone who read the statement and felt absolutely ecstatic over it, hold your horses. The words on the page and the world out your window can be two very different things. We have to stop this inane cycle of being so (naively) proud of our country that we become complacent, suffering the consequences of our negligence, an cheering ourselves up with more, and even emptier, reasons to take pride in our nation.



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UN Affirms Blasphemy as a Human Right

A constant in the unfolding controversy regarding Mideo Cruz is the debate on the right to free speech. The Palayain ang Sining movement has insisted that this isn’t just about Cruz’s work but about the right to free expression. And, ultimately, it is. It doesn’t matter whether you do not find the work aesthetically appealing or even worthy of attention. What is at stake is the right of artists, of human beings, to speak out.

Every conservative with one or two inches of column space has jumped on their rallying cry of “free speech is not absolute.” The claim that Cruz’s piece, which involved a penis on the image of a Caucasian Jesus Christ, was offensive to Catholics (they insist on “Christian” just to bump their numbers up) is being used by the personnel of the CBCP, such as Atty. Jo Imbong, in filing a suit against the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

What is hard to imagine is that something as essential to human rights as free speech even needs defending. It is as if the Catholics have forgotten that, once upon a time, their religion too was in the minority and was persecuted for heresies. The right to free speech is not absolute, yes, but it is abridged only by the risk of actual harm. Offense does not constitute real harm, according to our current understanding of the word. It is quite easy to pretend to be offended and even easier to organize an entire religion around the notion of offense.

This real harm is brought to bear by provable nonsense such as faith healing Masses that are regularly advertised on street banners. This real harm is caused by ex-gay clinics run by fundamentalist Christians. It seems clear that freedom of speech is only limited in the view of conservatives whenever it is convenient for them to curtail it. I wouldn’t be surprised if religious leaders cry persecution should the FDA start regulating these leaders’ therapeutic claims.

It is therefore encouraging that more enlightened bodies such as the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has released General Comment No. 34, which affirms the superiority of the right to free speech over the so-called right against blasphemy. Sorry, Atty. Imbong. General Comment No. 34 was put out by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which the Philippines is a member. As a signatory and ratifier, the Philippines is legally bound by international law to follow GC34. In the comment, it says that, “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant….”

Members of the ICCPR are required “to guarantee the right to freedom of expression… This right includes… political discourse, commentary on one’s own and on public affairs, canvassing, discussion of human rights, journalism, cultural and artistic expression, teaching, and religious discourse. It may also include commercial advertising.” The comment instructs members to embrace “even expression that may be regarded as deeply offensive….” However, GC34 allows for laws against speech that could incite violence, discrimination, or hostility against a race, nation, or religion.

Certainly, there was no incitement of violence in Cruz’s piece against any person. If only the conservative Catholics offended by his work would extend the same courtesy. With death threats against Cruz and members of the CCP board, and threats against the security of the CCP, fundamentalists are keen on using their Constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech to the point of breaking. The fierceness with which they try to defend their sensibilities betrays insecurity, I think. It reveals a sliver of unsureness, that their beliefs aren’t capable of surviving criticism or a bit of reassessment.

With General Comment No. 34, the Philippine government may be compelled to repeal all the repressive and retrograde blasphemy laws we have in our books that the clerico-fascists keep dusting off and pulling out whenever society dares to go against their medieval aspirations.

The right to free speech protects not the pleasing ideas that we can all agree on, but the ones that we find most outrageous and unappealing. GC34 affirms that “Freedom of opinion and freedom of expression are indispensable conditions for the full development of the person. They are essential for any society. They constitute the foundation stone for every free and democratic society.” But the conservative extremists in the Philippines seem hellbent on eschewing democracy and liberty in favor of their own mangled notion of freedom.

It is not just the rights of Cruz and the CCP that the Church aims to restrict. It is the right of each and every one of us to hear what Cruz and what every other artist, every other person, has to say. And if what we hear is offensive, then we get to decide that, not the Church and certainly not someone who needs to preface every statement with “I’m a Thomasian.”

Image from

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Hate Crimes: Definitions and a Call to Action

Over the past few months, the Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch has compiled records and reports of the violent deaths of LGBT Filipinos from 1996 to the present. As we continue to share these data with fellow LGBT activists and human rights advocates, we have encountered recurring questions, including: How do we know if these acts are hate crimes? What are hate crimes, anyway?

According to Preventing and responding to hate crimes,1a publication from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, an act can be considered a “hate crime” if it (1) “constitutes an offence under criminal law”; and if (2) “in committing the crime, the perpetrator acts on the basis of prejudice or bias.” Perpetrators of such crimes select their victims because of their negative opinions, intolerance or hatred towards the members of a social group on the basis of any of the following characteristics: race, ethnicity, language, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity or other status.

Hate crimes are also known as bias crimes. The U.S. Department of Justice Training Guide for Hate Crime Data Collection2underscores the role of bias in the following definition of hate crime: “a criminal offense committed against a person or property which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offenders’ bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnicity/national origin, or sexual orientation.”

Stonewall UK’s publication, Homophobic hate crime: The Gay British Crime Survey 20083, presents yet another definition of hate crime taken from the UK’s Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). It is: “any hate incident, which constitutes a criminal offence, perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice or hate.” The document further clarifies that “hate incident” is defined as “any incident, which may or may not constitute a criminal offence, which is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice or hate.”

Unfortunately, our Pilipinas has neither official policies nor rigorous studies on the issue of hate crimes. Prejudice, bias, or hate towards any minority group (such as LGBT Filipinos, Indigenous Filipinos, Filipinos of Foreign Descent, Filipinos from non-major religions) are not at all considered when investigating crimes. The absence of an established mechanism in our country to prevent, identify, or resolve hate crimes does not mean they do not happen. It does mean that, if and when hate crimes happen to members of a minority group, the authorities do not recognize them and deal with them as such.

The alarming number of LGBT Filipinos who have been killed in recent years is strongly indicative that hate crimes may indeed be happening. As of this year alone, twenty-eight LGBT Filipinos have been murdered. Twenty-nine were reported to have been murdered last year. Looking at available reports for the past twenty-five years, we found that 103 LGBT Filipinos have been murdered from 1996 to the present.

The brutalities done to the murdered LGBT Filipinos also suggest that they were victims of hate crime. Thirty-six of the victims were stabbed multiple times. Six were tortured before they were killed. Others were raped, or killed with a blunt object, or suffocated, or dismembered, or burned alive.

It is important to note that hate crimes are not limited to murder. There may be an even greater number of crimes—theft, assault, rape–committed against members of minority groups because of the prejudice, bias, or hate against them.

Now is the time to uncover the truth. We call on our government to conduct a national inquiry on crimes involving victims who were known or perceived to be a member of a minority group, and to investigate the possibility that these crimes were motivated by prejudice.

The Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch is thankful to all its members, advisers, and supporters. We are also grateful for Rep. Teddy Casino’s call for a congressional inquiry on the murders recorded in the Watch’s database. That is a start.

But for this advocacy to succeed, we call on all elected officials,  individuals, advocates, and organizations who value human rights above all. People who will do all they can to protect, promote, and fulfill eveyone’s human rights without prejudice, bias, or hate against any sector or group. Despite all that divides us, we must unite so that all of us will live and grow in liberty, equality, and justice.

There is hope that the nature, occurrence, perpetrators, and targets of hate crimes in the Philippines will be better understood. Greater hope still that marginalized and stigmatized sectors of Philippine society will be protected and given justice when victimized. And this hope may come to fruition if all of us work together.

You may download resource materials on hate crime and human rights from this link:

[1] Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. (2009). Preventing and responding to hate crimes: A resource guide for NGOs in the OSCE region. Retrieved from

[2] U.S. Department of Justice. (1996). Training guide for hate crime data collection. Retrieved from

[3] Dick, S. (2008). Homophobic hate crime: The Gay British crime survey. Retrieved from


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Sex: Control and Consequences

“It’s good if the man agrees with you—then he controls himself.” (Maganda pag ok ang lalaki—siya na ang nagkokontrol.) Were the men controlling their sex drives? Or controlling their orgasms so as not to come inside their wives? I was struck by the language used by a group of urban poor women as our team of community researchers analyzed a video of a focus group discussion last week. The women were all non-users of modern contraception despite their desire to stop childbearing altogether.

pregnant bishopI think they meant both types of control. About half were doing rhythm, and the rest were on the withdrawal method. Almost all were keenly aware that their methods were not so reliable (hindi safe). One woman narrated how a severe hypertensive disorder (eclampsia) during her last pregnancy forced her to stay a month at a hospital to recover.

Men are in control. Women bear the consequences.

Will our society ever put an end to this glaring inequity? I think there is hope. When the group was asked if they thought it was a woman’s right to use contraceptives, all said “Yes!” in unison. None fingered the husband as the reason for non-use.

Gender equity and equality in the bedroom or banig are still far-off, but there are signs of progress. The 1987 Constitution vowed for the first time to “ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men.” Forcing sex on one’s spouse became an offence in the Anti-Rape Law of 1997. Women with college education have narrowed the gap between the number of children they want (average of 1.9) and the number they end up with (2.3), according to a 2008 survey. The 2009 Magna Carta of Women has mandated the State to “take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations.” Reproductive Health bills based on the principles of human rights and reproductive rights have won broad public support in recent years.

There is hope. Except perhaps for the Catholic Church.

Popes, bishops and priests still lord over Catholic sexual moralities with strange antiquated rules. A man may spill his seed anytime with his wife, but not anywhere: rhythm method is moral, withdrawal is not.

The scientific stance about rhythm and withdrawal methods are way easier to comprehend and judge for truthfulness: both are more effective in preventing pregnancy than no method at all, but are less effective than modern methods like condoms, pills, injectables, IUDs, vasectomy and tubal ligation.

If women could become priests, bishops and popes, or if women could participate at the highest level of policymaking, would the Church remain so harsh and dogmatic about contraceptive methods? I suspect the answer is no, but I figure changes like these would take generations or centuries to occur.

Secular structures move faster. Filipino men approved women’s right to vote in a plebiscite in 1937. Less than eight decades later, we have had two women presidents. There are women in the Senate and House of Representatives; women justices of the Supreme Court; women governors and mayors; women managers of enterprises; women in practically all professions. Heck, even elementary pupils elect girls as classroom presidents! In this great social tide of building more egalitarian institutions, the Catholic Church stands firm resisting change.

In matters of sex, the Filipino family and the Church are quite similar. Men are in control. Women bear the consequences. But unlike the Church, each of us can change the family we belong to, or the one we plan to build and nurture.

The Church may be hopeless, but there is hope.


The operations research of Likhaan Center for Women’s Health is ongoing at a large urban poor community in Letre, Malabon. Why some women like those in the focus group discussion (FGD) are not using contraceptives, and what can be done to help them are the key questions we hope to answer and share with you by year’s end. Nene facilitated the FGD I narrated above. Eric, Lina, Iday, Miriam and I are part of the team. Thanks to Monk for the idea on blurring the lines. Any and all errors in this article are of course mine.

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A Call to Restore Sexual Orientation in UN Resolution against Extrajudicial Executions

On November 2010, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly voted to remove a reference to sexual orientation from a key resolution condemning extrajudicial killings. For the past ten years, the Resolution on Extrajudicial, Summary, and Arbitrary Executions has urged states to “to investigate promptly and thoroughly… all killings committed for any discriminatory reason, including sexual orientation. The amendment removing the reference to sexual orientation was adopted with79 votes in favor, 70 against, 17 abstentions and 26 absent. The Philippines was among the seventeen states that abstained.

Today, December 21, 2010, the UN General Assembly will vote on a motion to restore “sexual orientation” in the text of the resolution. The following is a letter from the Filipino Freethinkers urging the Philippine government to uphold the rights of Filipino lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBTs) by voting to restore the reference to sexual orientation.

21 December 2010




Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs

H.E. (Mr.) Libran N. Cabactulan

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations

556 5th Avenue

New York, NY

Dear Sirs,

We, the members of the Filipino Freethinkers, are writing to you as allies of the Filipino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and advocates of equal rights for LGBTs. We urge you to vote for restoration of the category sexual orientation in the Resolution on Extrajudicial Summary, and Arbitrary Executions.

In the Philippines and all over the world, LGBTs continue to be victims of abuse and extrajudicial killing. In 2010 alone, the non-government organization Rainbow Rights Project, Inc. (R-Rights) reported 11 documented cases of local killings based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Given the lack of policies against discrimination and hate crimes, it is highly probable that many more cases go undocumented and unnoticed. Overseas Filipino workers are also vulnerable to torture and killing based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, especially in countries where consensual same-sex behaviour is deemed criminal. By abstaining from the previous vote on the amendment to the resolution, the Philippine government has turned a blind eye to the realities faced by Filipino LGBTs.

All too often, these grave violations of human rights are motivated by an irrational hatred of sexual minorities, or committed in the name of religious fundamentalism.  As advocates of reason, science, and secularism, we condemn these forms of human rights violations, and we urge you to do the same. We believe that hate crimes and killings on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity—whether or not they are based on religious dogma—should have no place in a state that has committed to promote, uphold, and protect human rights for all. We implore you to vote to restore the reference to sexual orientation in the text of the resolution on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary killings.


Filipino Freethinkers

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