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Troubling “Feminist” Bill Advances in the Philippines

Piero A. Tozzi, C-FAM

(NEW YORK – C-FAM) A radical, feminist-inspired “gender mainstreaming” bill has been voted out of the Philippine Senate and is now before the Bicameral Conference Committee, which will likely meet next week in order to reconcile the upper and lower house versions.

Both pro-family and pro-feminist Senators tacked on preferred language to the “Magna Carta of Women,” reflecting two divergent ideological perspectives. The result is often muddled and contradictory.

Radical feminist legislators added a provision saying “No one shall invoke religious beliefs or customary norms as a means of evading compliance with this Act.” This language echoes a 1994 report by the United Nations (UN) committee that monitors compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Pro-family legislators then were able to have a proviso adopted which states that “each individual shall make their own decision based on their respective religious, moral and cultural beliefs.”

The highly-problematic definition of “gender” that appears in the House of Representatives version, positing that gender is purely a sociological construct not grounded in biology, has been remedied in the Senate bill, albeit inelegantly. The Senate definition states that “Gender refers to the physiologico-social differentiated roles, characteristics, and expectations attributed by nature and culture to women and men.”

Fenny C. Tatad, the Executive Director of the Bishops-Legislators Caucus of the Philippines, said better draftsmanship and stronger provisions for reducing maternal death by emphasizing access to emergency obstetric care would improve the bill.

"A clear and honest definition of gender that reflects the religious, cultural and ethical values of Filipinos, rather than as dictated by foreign ideologies," would help, Tatad added.

The ambiguities and contradictions apparent in the draft legislation enhance the likelihood of a lawsuit, opening the door to expansive interpretations of any statute that is eventually passed.

Perhaps foreseeing such an outcome, the bill’s feminist proponents inserted a provision stating “The State shall keep abreast with and be guided by progressive developments in human rights of women under international law and design of policies, laws and other measures to promote the objectives of this act.” Critics note that such open-ended reference to “progressive developments” sets up an argument that “evolving” human rights norms require judicially-imposed liberalization of laws restricting abortion and the creation of “rights” based on novel concepts like “gender identity.” Colombia’s constitutional court adopted such an approach in 2006, when it narrowed that country’s laws defending unborn life.

The Constitution of the Philippines has very strong pro-family and pro-life clauses, however, which could check impulses to legislate from the bench. It requires that the State shall safeguard “the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution.” The Constitution further provides for protection of “the life of the unborn from conception.”

Article 15 of the Constitution further obligates the State to defend the “rights of the spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions.” This language was also added to the proposed legislation.

Critics allege that the bill was shadow drafted largely by members of the radical feminist organization CEDAW Watch Philippines, several of whose members have been affiliated with the CEDAW committee and the UN Development Fund for Women, also known as UNIFEM.