Gender justice and Chief Justice Sereno
As the first woman Chief Justice of the Philippines, Ma. Lourdes Sereno can raise the bar for gender concerns. Filipino women’s access to justice is problematic given various peculiarities in Philippine law and the justice system.
We do not have a divorce law and women victims of violence have to contend with differing interpretations of psychological incapacity by judges, sometimes even absurd interpretations to maintain the marriage bonds despite clear evidence of the husbands’ failure to provide love, respect, concern, and moral and financial support to his wife and children.
Until a divorce bill is passed into law, women who have been denied their right to dissolve their marriages will appeal their cases to the Supreme Court and, under the helm of Chief Justice Sereno, we expect that the Supreme Court will accord these women the justice they deserve. Religious and gender biases need to be overcome so that the various abuses suffered by these women will be recognized as conclusive grounds to nullify their marriages.
Rape and sexual harassment survivors face grave difficulties in court. The most painful experience of a sexual assault survivor in court is being blamed for the sexual abuse she suffered and eventually losing her case because the judges and/or justices failed to appreciate her lack of consent based on a woman’s perspective.
In some cases, courts fail to appreciate circumstances that prove lack of consent including the effect of alcohol on the woman or means the woman employed to evade the sexual assault, such as expressing a desire to go home, constantly moving away from the perpetrator, keeping her thighs tightly closed, or not resisting due to fear of being beaten or killed.
As Chief Justice, we have high hopes that Chief Justice Sereno will ensure that the members of the judiciary will undergo intensive capacity-building training so they understand the lack of consent of rape survivors through a woman’s perspective. Viewing rape and sexual harassment through the eyes of women survivors of sexual assault is an important step in addressing the numerous dismissals of rape complaints, paving the way for gender justice for sexual assault survivors.
It is high time that our justice system recognizes rape for what it is – a pagsasamantala (abuse/assault) of the woman. It is my fervent hope that, through Chief Justice Sereno’s leadership, the likes of rape survivor Karen Vertido, who was deprived of legal recourse in the Philippines and forced to seek recourse at the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, can obtain their remedies in our very own Philippine courts.
I am confident that Chief Jusitce Sereno will continue to uphold the legacy of the Supreme Court in upholding its previous decisions in Estrada vs. Escritor and Ang Ladlad vs. COMELEC, of which I was a co-counsel for the party-list organization, where the Supreme Court upheld that our laws and system of governance should be based on secular morality and not religious morality.
I am certain that, if and when the issue of the constitutionality of a Reproductive Health Law is raised to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Sereno will lead the Supreme Court in upholding the right to reproductive health and the constitutional guarantees of equal protection of the law, privacy, and non-establishment of religion, upholding public good and human rights.
I am positive that many Filipino judges and justices not only recognize the constitutionality of the RH law but its direct effect in decreasing the number of unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth which could be averted with increased access to modern contraceptives, sexuality education, and maternal care services, including skilled birth attendants and emergency obstetric care.
In light of the obligation of the Philippine government to protect women’s rights to equality and non-discrimination under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Magna Carta of Women, it is imperative that the Supreme Court accord gender justice to Filipino women. Under the leadership of Chief Justice Sereno, we look forward to a gender-responsive Supreme Court that will accord gender justice to women. – GMA News
Atty. Clara Rita A. Padilla is Executive Director of EnGendeRights.
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