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Tag Archive | "women’s rights"

Women’s Autonomy in the Hands of the SC

The legal state of a married woman’s autonomy over her own body has been put in a strange limbo thanks to two recent Supreme Court decisions.

Image by Justin Vidamo

In the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Law, certain provisions were struck down as unconstitutional. While most of the RH Law was retained, one of the provisions struck by the SC puts women’s autonomy in a precarious position. The provision that the SC struck down was Section 23(a)(2)(i) and in their decision the court stated that it is unconstitutional to:

allow a married individual, not in an emergency or life threatening case, to undergo reproductive health procedures without the consent of the spouse;

In the Philippine context, this is especially bad for the wives in a (heterosexual) marriage. Over the course of the lengthy RH debates, we’ve heard many stories of women who could not undertake reproductive health measures because of pressure from their husbands.

Women should have autonomous control over their own bodies, even after they have entered a marriage. After all, it is the woman’s life that is at stake when they undergo pregnancy.

The majority decision from the SC to declare unconstitutional the spouse’s autonomy over their own RH decisions becomes puzzling in the light of a newer ruling from the SC on marital rape. In this ruling, the SC upheld a decision from the lower courts that rape within marriage is still rape, doing a good job in laying down local jurisprudence for future legal cases of marital rape. In the decision authored by Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes, he says in the final note that:

A husband does not own his wife’s body by reason of marriage. By marrying, she does not divest herself of the human right to an exclusive autonomy over her own body and thus, she can lawfully opt to give or withhold her consent to marital coitus.

Justice Reyes’ decision on the status of marital rape was consented by four other SC Justices. Among these five, Justice Reyes and Chief Justice Sereno were consistent with in voting that Section 23(a)(2)(i) of the RH Law is constitutional. Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Lucas Bersamin, and Martin Villarama Jr had voted it down as unconstitutional.

These two SC decisions on marital rape and reproductive health have put a strange tension to the legal question of women’s autonomy over their bodies.

On one hand, women in marriages don’t have autonomy over their own bodies when it comes to their own reproductive health decisions. On the other, they do have autonomy when it comes to deciding when to have sex in marriage.

In the marital rape ruling, the SC Justices have shown that they understand the importance of the human right to autonomy over your own body. It could even be said that three SC Justices have gained a better understanding about the importance of this right since the RH Law decision.

While RH groups won’t be appealing the SC rulings anymore, I hope future rulings on women’s autonomy follow the line of legal reasoning laid down by Justice Reyes in the marital rape case.

Posted in Politics, RH Bill, SocietyComments (0)

It’s International Women’s Month! Share Your Stories with Us!


March is International Women’s Month! If you have a story to share about fantastic females, send them to us! Commemorate your mother’s strength, narrate your best friend’s journey, or divulge your very own struggles. Or if you have in-depth commentary on the fight for women’s rights, we would love to hear it, too.

Simply email your tales and essays to [email protected] with the subject “Women’s Month Submission.”

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Paalam, Soledad

Based on true events, “Paalam, Soledad” follows the struggles of Sister Soledad with her faith and her principles amidst the realities of Santa Clara, a small town ruled by closed minds, false hopes and repressed sexuality. [YouTube’s block has been resolved; this video is now viewable.]

Scene Selection

Group song welcoming people to Santa Clara (3:12)

First Act: Baptism (11:28)

Priest sings about sacrifice and the original sin (22:19)

Sister Soledad sings about the morality of changing and loving our bodies (24:50)

Second Act: Marriage (31:22)

Four women confront Sister Soledad about how society unfairly blames women (40:08)

Third Act: Funeral (46:49)

A happy, naughty song about the IUD (47:52)

Priest and mayor sing about their mutually beneficial partnership (1:05:05)

Finale: people sing about their hopes for Santa Clara (1:16:11)

Credits (1:20:24)

Posted in Religion, Society, VideoComments (6)

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.



Posted in Politics, SocietyComments (2)

National misogynist hero

Manny Pacquiao“I don’t want to use a condom. Using a condom means I’m just using you for sex.”

That’s what my friend’s boyfriend told her when she suggested protection. She thought it was romantic. When he found out she was on the pill, he was insulted and asked her, “Why? Are you afraid of having my baby?” After they broke up, during the requisite mourning period, I listened to her talk about the highlights of her just-ended relationship, and concluded the guy was a chauvinist ass. She had no idea, for some reason, and the fact that I could still see his douchiness despite her sugar-coating (she still liked him) meant he must’ve been more of an ass than I could determine from what she was telling me.

That was almost a decade ago. Since then, my observations of my friends’ relationships have brought me to the conclusion that there were more guys like that out there. And these friends are mostly from middle-income families, and dated men who were more or less in the same income bracket, with the same level of education. I remember when I was little, I asked our laundrywoman why she had so many kids. She told me that whenever she refused to sleep with her husband, he’d accuse her of having an affair, so she just gives in to him. She didn’t even mention contraception or family planning, and I’m pretty sure she wasn’t too aware of either their existence or that they applied to her. I’m tempted to generalize and say that my friend’s ex’s and our laundrywoman’s husband’s attitude is typical of Filipino men’s attitude towards women’s choices regarding reproduction and sexuality, but I won’t because (1) I want to be an optimist, and (2) I like to hang out with more enlightened men, and these guys make me optimistic.

And then Manny Pacquiao decided to join the Reproductive Health Bill debate.

An undisputed national hero and distinguished gentleman representative from Sarangani, Manny Pacquiao was staunchly against the RH Bill. He quoted the Bible, and said, in effect, that any attempts to curb reproduction was against the will of his god. While we’re not sure how the personal religious beliefs of this pregnancy-challenged man have to do with us uterus-carrying citizens, people pointed out that his wife Jinkee has admitted to being on the pill. Now he’s bragging that he made his wife Jinkee stop taking pills and have more kids. (I wonder if my friend would’ve found this romantic too.)

Now if Cong. Pacquiao’s constituents meant to elect someone who insists on controlling his wife’s reproductive health choices, I suppose that’s democracy for you. What puzzles me is this: Pacquiao is an international superstar. He has fans all over the globe. He’s a celebrity’s celebrity; Hollywood big shots are falling over themselves to meet him. Why oh why does he not have the sense to hire — or listen to — a public relations agent or firm who will tell him that this sort of misogynist douchbaggery isn’t going to be good for his reputation? Granted, it’s nothing close to Mike Tyson’s conviction for rape, but for us Filipinos, this is an insult to women in general, and not because Pacquiao’s a boxing superstar but because he is an elected public servant who is tasked to improve the lives of his constituents — male and female. It’s difficult to expect him to protect women’s rights and welfare when he seems unconcerned about flaunting his blatant sexism all over the place.

The Pacquiaos are luckier than most Filipino couples — they actually have the choice of buying any form of legal contraceptive there is. Hell, they can buy an entire condom factory if they want to. Not everyone has that luxury. A lot of families are so poor they can barely afford three meals a day, much less birth control pills (mine are less than PhP 50 for a whole month’s pack) or condoms. The Reproductive Health Bill is mostly to help them, to give them a choice on whether to have 1, 2 or a dozen children. Or none, if that’s what they prefer. And the Pacquiaos can afford to feed, clothe and spoil the heck out of their four children. If they have two dozen more kids, the Pacquiaos can give each of them a mansion with servants. Thousands of families in the Philippines can barely afford to feed theirs. All Cong. Pacquiao can talk about is his god’s will, not even trying to propose solutions to the problems of families having to feed more kids than they can afford. Or the problem of an average of 11 women dying every day due to birth complications. Not all those who are anti-RH Bill are opposed to artificial contraceptives in general, and they don’t have to be. Cong. Pacquiao didn’t have to flaunt his staunch opposition to pills, but he seems to be trying to show off for his church’s bishops, so much so that his wife’s reproductive choices had to get dragged into this. Jinkee Pacquiao now says she’s against the RH Bill and that she has stopped taking pills. Her husband says they fought over the issue of her taking pills, but that they’re of one mind now concerning the issue of contraception, and one wonders if Manny Pacquiao, national hero and boxing superstar, will make sure to get her pregnant soon just to prove it.

Tania writes about stuff at The Entropy Blog.

Jinkee Pacquiao says Pacman didn’t know she took birth control pills before – Spot.PH
Pacquiao: Jinkee and I fought over RH bill – Yahoo! news
Pacquiao slips RH advocates’ jab on Jinkee’s pill use – Inquirer.NET
Pacquiao opposes RH bill while Jinkee pops birth control pills – Philippine News
Jinkee stopped taking birth control pills, Pacquiao says – GMA News

Posted in Featured, Politics, Religion, SocietyComments (111)

Women’s Day: 11 more women will die today

A hundred years after the first International Women’s Day, Filipinas still do not have power over events only women face—risks to life and health in pregnancy and childbirth.

Eleven women die each day from maternal complications. Most do not even want to get pregnant; those who do certainly have no wish to die while giving life.

Contraception can stop the deaths of women who have unplanned pregnancies. Women who do want a child can be saved through skilled attendance at birth by midwives, doctors or nurses; and prompt action during complications by health facilities with emergency obstetric care. Young women can protect themselves from sexual coercion and abuse and early pregnancies through accurate and positive sexuality education integrated in the formal school system. All of these measures are key parts of the reproductive health (RH) bill which, after ten years, is still stuck in Congress, obstructed by religious arguments raised by religious forces.

If those who have power routinely die from pregnancy and childbirth, would debates over a legislative policy last a decade? Would there even be reasons for debates?

“The State condemns discrimination against women in all its forms,”proclaims the Magna Carta of Women. This law says that discrimination occurs if “women, more than men, are shown to have suffered the greater adverse effects” of measures or practices.

Obstructing RH services and letting 11 women die each day is discrimination pushed to the extreme. That 90 or so bishops of the CBCP[1] have louder voices than four million women users of contraception and millions more who lack RH services emphasize the gross injustice of it all—a few powerful ultraconservative men imposing their religious beliefs on all women.

In its lengthy pastoral letter on RH, the CBCP said that the “proposed bill in all its versions calls us to make a moral choice: to choose life or to choose death. Completely oblivious of the real life-and-death situation women face during each pregnancy and childbirth, not a word was mentioned about deaths from maternal complications.

Reproduction and the moral choices that women make are things that bishops will never experience. Daily and routinely, women balance the risks, the joys and hopes of having a child, and the realities of being responsible for another human life. The bishops’ insistence on the moral superiority of their beliefs based on their claim that they can “rightly guide” women’s conscience on reproductive matters reeks of nothing but male arrogance.

March 8 is Women’s Day. Sadly, 11 more women will die today, not because we lack the resources, knowledge or means to save them, but mainly because those in power have not yet deemed women’s lives as important enough to save.

We have had enough. We affirm the morality of choices women make over their reproductive lives. We condemn the tyranny and discrimination that CBCP and its allies wish to impose on women, and we hold them responsible for the 11 women who die each day.

– statement of RHAN & RH Ipasa Na! campaign on Women’s Day


[1] Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines

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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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