Regulations Update: Magna Carta of Women

The Magna Carta of Women (Republic Act No. 9710) was enacted by Congress in May 2009 and it was signed into law by former President Gloria Arroyo in August 2009. This is probably one of the more significant pieces of legislation passed under the Arroyo administration but was not given much attention by the public or the media.

Pursuant to the mandate of the law for the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), in coordination with the Commission on Human Rights, to formulate the rules and regulations to implement the law, the PCW (formerly, the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women) promulgated Board Resolution No. 1, Series of 2010, entitled Approving and Adopting the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 9710, otherwise known as the Magna Carta of Women. The Rules were published in the newspapers on June 23, 2010.

The Rules reiterated the policies behind the law which are to ensure the substantive equality between women and men, promote equal opportunities for women and men and ensure equal access to resources. To this end, the State shall endeavor to develop plans, policies and programs to address discrimination and inequality in the economic, political, civil, social and cultural life of women and men.

The Magna Carta of Women establishes the basic principle that all rights in the Constitution and those rights recognized under international instruments which are duly signed and ratified by the Philippines shall be the rights of a woman, to be enjoyed without discrimination. It then proceeded to enumerate specific rights of women, among which are: the right to be protected from all forms of violence, the right to equal treatment before the law, the right to equal access to, and elimination of discrimination in, education, scholarships and training, the right to equality in treatment in sports, the right to non-discrimination in the military, police and similar services, the right to comprehensive, culture-sensitive and gender-responsive health services, the right to equality in the issuance of stewardship contracts and patents to land, equality under the agrarian reform programs, equal rights to land, water and other natural resources in ancestral domains, right to housing, decent work, credit, capital and technology and right to representation in policy-making or decision making bodies in the regional, national and international levels.

The Rules provide for the establishment of the Violence Against Women (VAW) Desk in every barangay. The VAW Desk shall assist victims of VAW in securing barangay protection orders and refer cases to government agencies and non-governmental organizations, as necessary. The punong barangay shall designate a VAW Desk person trained in handling VAW cases.

To implement the right to equal treatment under the law, the Rules provide that the State shall take steps to review and, when necessary, amend or repeal existing laws which are discriminatory to women within three years from the effectivity of the Magna Carta of Women. Among the laws that will be given priority for amendment are: (a) the provisions of the Family Code (i) giving preference to the father’s consent to the marriage of children between the ages of 18 and 21; (ii) giving preference to the decision of the husband, in case of disagreement with the wife, on the administration of community or conjugal property, the persons of their common children, and the exercise of legal guardianship on the property of their child; and (iii) on the requirement of repeated physical abuse and grossly abusive conduct as a ground for legal separation; (b) provisions of the Revised Penal Code on adultery and concubinage, vagrants and prostitutes, premature marriages and death inflicted under exceptional circumstances; (c) provision of the Labor Code on night work prohibition against women; (d) the Code of Muslim Personal Laws; and (e) RA 8353 on removal of criminal liability of rapist when the victim marries him.

As to equality in access to education, the Rules mandate that within three years from its adoption, the Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority shall develop and promote gender-sensitive curriculum and gender-fair instructional materials. The Rules also reiterate that expulsion and non-readmission of women faculty due to pregnancy outside of marriage shall be outlawed and no school may refuse a female student solely on account of her being pregnant outside of marriage during her term in school.

The law and the Rules recognize and implement many other rights of women. The challenge to the new administration is whether it will have the political will to enforce the law and devote the resources needed to ensure that the rights of women are respected not only in words, but also, and more importantly, in deed.