October 5, 2004
In a press conference today, survivors from organizations within the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) marked the International Day of No Prostitution, by criticizing statements by legislators during recent hearings in the Senate on the escort system. CATW leaders also revealed studies on human rights violations within the system of prostitution.
Minda Pascual, President of Bagong Kamalayan and a survivor of prostitution, challenged Senator Lito Lapid to study the problem of prostitution and human rights suffered by victims before making any statement on it. Ms. Pascual decried the degrading remarks by senators, quoting Sen. Lapid, “Tutal bayad na kayo, wag na kayo magsalita,” and Sen. Flaver making fun of Keanna Reeves’ real name, “Ah, Janet Derecho ba, akala ko kaliwa.” Pascual decried that the women are being treated in a humiliating manner, when they are known to have been used in prostitution.
According to Jean Enriquez, Deputy Director of CATW-AP, “women in bars and street prostitution have always been the target of humiliation, not only by legislators but more frequently by the police, even as the bar owners, pimps and customers run free and get protection.” Philippine members of CATW revealed data from Regional Trial Courts in Quezon City that there were 623 women arrested for vagrancy charges in 2003 and 176 cases from January to June of this year.
“There should be a shift in the mindset of policy-makers, law enforcers and the public,” said Enriquez. Calling for the passage of the Anti-Prostitution Bill, members of CATW asserted that the women and children in prostitution should be considered victims of economic and gender inequality which place women in subordinated and objectified status in society. The bill, filed in the Lower House as HB 2419, in July 2004 by Representatives Mario Aguja and Loretta Ann Rosales seeks to penalize all actors that exploit the victims in prostitution.
The International Day of No Prostitution is celebrated every October 5 globally, calling for the eradication of the industry. In the Philippines , men from student and labor groups such as the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) joined the march of survivors calling for the protection of victims in prostitution and for penalties against customers and profiteers in the industry of prostitution. The survivors wore masks during the march to symbolize the invisibility of victims brought by the stigma from policy-makers and the public.
* Statement of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific
Anti-prostitution bill discussed
Committee Source: REVISION OF LAWS
THE PROSTITUTE is a victim of human rights violation.
Akbayan Representative Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel stressed this point during a joint Committee deliberation on a bill that seeks to shift criminal liability for the crime of prostitution to persons who perpetuate and profit from such trade, such as the pimps, club owners and patrons, and even law enforcement officers.
House Bill 2419, authored by Akbayan Reps. Loretta Ann Rosales, Mario “Mayong” Joyo Aguja, and Hontiveros-Baraquel, addresses the system of prostitution by imposing penalties on its perpetrators and providing protective measures and support services to victims.
The bill is under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Revision of Laws under Siquijor Representative Orlando Fua Jr.and the Special Committee on Millennium Development Goals under Rep. Nerissa Corazon Soon-Ruiz (6th District, Cebu).
Rep. Hontiveros-Baraquel argued during the bill’s deliberation that the consent of the prostitute does not extinguish the criminal liability of the offender. The prostitutes, she said, should be treated as victims of the crime and as such, should not incur any criminal liability.
The bill defines prostitution as any act, transaction, scheme or design involving the use of a person, whether woman, man or child, for the sexual gratification, exploitation or pleasure of another in exchange for cash, profit or other consideration, or any act that promotes or facilitates the accomplishment of the said act, transaction, scheme or design.
It sets broad parameters by which the crime of prostitution may be committed and also seeks to criminalize the attempt to commit child prostitution. In effect, it repeals the provisions of the Revised Penal Code on prostitution and modifies all other laws related to this crime.
The bill provides protective measures and support services, such as alternative employment as well as educational and livelihood programs, to victims.
Rep. Rodante Marcoleta (Party List, ALAGAD) said that the propensity of an individual to engage in prostitution and gravity of the offense are some of the matters that have to be looked into. The social impact of the measure should also be considered, he added.
He also proposed to include a provision exempting from criminal liability those who are forced to enter prostitution for reasons such as poverty and inability to obtain gainful employment.
Rep. Solomon Chungalao (Ifugao), meanwhile, emphasized the difficulty of ascertaining whether an offender habitually engages in prostitution. However, Rep. Hontiveros-Baraquel clarified that under the bill, a single act already constitutes prostitution, to which Rep. Chungalao opined that it drastically changes the definition of prostitution.
He also inquired into the possibility that the measure may encourage women to bring false charges of prostitution against, for example, their former lovers. However, Rep. Hontiveros-Baraquel countered that there is a great difference between a lover and a customer of prostitution.
Meanwhile, Rep. Eduardo Zialcita (1st District, Parañaque City) suggested including karaoke bars in the list of establishments mentioned in the bill that serve as a cover or venue for prostitution.
In relation to the lawmaker’s comment, Arlene Alipio of the Department of Tourism (DOT) informed the body that the department does not accredit karaoke bars that employ guest relation officers. However, the DOT accredits those establishments duly licensed by local government units.
Responding to Rep. Zialcita’s inquiry, Rep. Hontiveros-Baraquel clarified that even if there is no monetary consideration involved, the crime of prostitution may still be perpetrated particularly if the perpetrator exercised power and authority over his or her victim.
In support of the bill, Executive Director Emmeline Verzosa of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW) agreed that the crime of prostitution as stated in the Revised Penal Code should be repealed because it stigmatizes women. She also advocated the “healing of women victims” rather than their commitment to an institution.
The Department of Justice, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), Department of Labor and Employment’s Bureau of Working Conditions and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police likewise supported the measure.
The Coalition on Anti-Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) through its deputy director, Jean Enriquez, also favored the passage of the bill because it punishes police officers who rape prostitutes after apprehending the latter.
Representatives from Gabriela and the Bagong Kamalayan Collective, Inc. also expressed support for the bill.
After the discussion, the joint Committee created a technical working group (TWG) to be headed by Rep. Hontiveros-Baraquel to consolidate HB 2416 with the other bills addressing the problem of prostitution.
Nine other bills similar to the subject matter of HB 2419 have been referred to the joint Committee for disposition. These are the following: HB 327 by Rep. Imee Marcos (2nd District, Ilocos Norte); HB 1383 by Rep. Mat Defensor Jr. (3rd District, Quezon City); HB 1708 by Rep. Oscar Gozos (4th District, Batangas); HB 4436 by Rep. Joel Virador (Party List, Bayan Muna); HB 520 by Rep. Darlene Antonino-Custodio (1st District, South Cotabato); HB 2394 by Rep. Consuelo Dy (Pasay City); HB 2857 by Rep. Bienvenido Abante (6th District, Manila); and HB 3051 by Rep. Nanette Castelo-Daza (4th District, Quezon City).l
Source: Committee Administrative Support Service, Committee Affairs Department
Filipinas speak up at UN women’s meet
Olivia J. Quinto, Mar 09, 2005
NEW YORK — Ten years after adopting an ambitious plan of action for women’s rights at a landmark international conference in Beijing, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women opened its 49th session at the UN headquarters last week to review its progress.
The event, dubbed “Beijing +10,” is a two-week affair where member states, policy makers, and non-governmental organizations from around the world can assess implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – international instruments that promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
While acknowledging that “a lot of progress has been made since Beijing,” Rachel Mayanja, special adviser to the UN secretary-general on gender issues and advancement of women, also said, “There is much more that needs to be done to put the platform for action into practice, especially in terms of alleviating poverty, improving health, creating opportunity for economic advancement and political leadership, and reducing human rights violations.”
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his opening speech at the conference, noted that the continued trafficking of women and children is one of the biggest obstacles to development goals. The other biggest factor is the spread of HIV/Aids.
Trafficking – one of the world’s fastest growing industries with an annual profit of -7 billion – and the violence it places on women are issues of great import to many members of the Philippine delegation to the conference – a group made up of various NGO workers and other civil society experts.
The Philippines, which passed an anti-trafficking law in 2003 notably due to the intense lobbying of women’s organizations, was the first country in Asia to pass such legislation.
Minda Pascual and Elisa Ebrele, two members of the Philippine delegation to Beijing +10, were at the forefront of this struggle whose stories reflect how personal this issue is to Filipinas.
Both are former prostitutes in the Philippines who have managed to rise up from their difficult pasts and help other women in need.
Pascual is the president of Bagong Kamalayan Collective, Inc., an organization based in Manila which provides livelihood services to street prostitutes. Ebrele is a member of Buklod ng Kababaihan.
Based in Olongapo City, Buklod was founded as a drop-in center for prostituted women outside the former U.S. Subic Naval Base. Today, it has shifted its focus toward helping the urban poor and bar women in Olongapo, as well as to promote the welfare of their children, particularly those of Amerasian descent.
Asked why she came to Beijing +10, Pascual replied, “bilang mga survivors, gusto namin iparinig ang aming mga boses at para marinig namin ang mga pinaguusapan sa conference (As survivors, we want our views to be heard. We also want to know what’s going on in this conference).”
Ebrele looked more to promote the passage of the Philippines’ anti-prostitution bill, “para maging batas siya at makatulong sa amin (so it can be enacted to help us).” The anti-prostitution bill, if passed, would repeal the Philippines’ Vagrancy Act which many human rights defenders deem as a law causing more abuses than it prevents.
Both women claim that the trafficking and prostituting of Filipina women, especially those from the provinces, remain a big problem in the Philippines – a situation exacerbated by the U.S.-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which has strengthened the presence of American military forces in the country.
Referring to the recent migratory trend of traffickers, pimps and prostitutes, Ebrele said, “Kung saan ang Balikatan [military exercise], doon sila pumupunta (They are present where the military exercises are held).”
However, while trafficking is condemned across the board by all participants, there is controversy over the issue of prostitution.
The U.S., which is set this week to introduce a resolution proposing a global ban on prostitution to help stop trafficking of women and sexual tourism, is facing opposition from other governments and parties that favor its legalization. These groups claim that criminalizing prostitution would only drive the industry underground and leave prostitutes without legal protection or important social services.
Ebrele had a different view. She sees the movement toward legalization as “nakakalungkot…parang sinasabi nila na maging legal na ang lahat ng violence sa amin (sad…it’s like legalizing all the violence inflicted on us).”
Pascual echoed her sentiment, saying that legalizing prostitution simply amounts to governments saying to women that, “puede tayong bilhin (you are for sale).”
Meanwhile, Abigail Acuba, research and documentary coordinator of the Asia-Pacific region arm of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW-AP), expressed the other big concern of the Philippine delegation – globalization and poverty.
Acuba expressed hope that the impact of globalization would be acknowledged during discussions on empowerment issues.
Gabriela, the Philippines’ largest national alliance of women’s organizations, declared that based on surveys taken in the country, six out of 10 Filipino families “live in a hand to mouth existence” – meaning their daily income is way below the poverty line.
In their statement paper regarding Beijing +10, Gabriela said, “In reality, this means families not eating three meals a day. Results from a survey from July to September last year indicate that about 12 million Filipinos (15 percent of the population) experienced hunger at least once within the time frame of the survey. Women, especially mothers, are the ones who usually give up their own share of meals in favor of their husband and children.”
Another contentious topic at Beijing +10 is the issue of reproductive and sexual rights.
Jean Enriquez, deputy executive director of CATW-AP, stated her reason for attending the conference, “I’m here to participate in the review of the Beijing Declaration…to reaffirm its principles and defend the most controversial parts of it, [including] reproductive and sexual rights.”
The U.S. stalled the conference last week by taking four days to argue that the new declaration affirming the Beijing Platform for Action did not create any new human rights. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, chief U.S. delegate to the UN Conference, claimed that the Bush administration had concerns that a phrase in the Beijing platform endorsing women’s access to “reproductive health services” could be interpreted to mean access to abortion.
After four days of divisive debate, in which no other participant supported its position, the U.S. withdrew its demand and joined the consensus. Observers claimed that such a move by the U.S., solely based on promoting the administration’s ideology, wasted valuable time that could have been devoted to other issues.
Another U.S.-backed resolution expected to generate controversy this week is that urging governments to promote women’s economic rights by amending inheritance laws that favor men, allowing women to own property and offering them small loans. This resolution has already drawn 10 pages of amendments from countries that object to what they view as America’s interference with their laws and customs.
Approximately 100 women participated in protest action on March 8 – International Women’s Day. The group demanded an end to war and militarism – events that disproportionately affect women and children.