As Congress opens, the only women’s party-list group in the House of Representatives continues to uphold women’s rights and welfare through legislation. The Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) shares with Bulatlat its priority bills and resolutions, which include scrapping the Value-Added Tax and the Visiting Forces Agreement, tackling human trafficking, working for maternity leave extension, legislating against violence against women, and for divorce.
BY RONALYN V. OLEA
Volume VIII, Number 26, August 3-9, 2008
The Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) is the only women party-list in the House of Representatives. Founded on October 28, 2000, the GWP aims to advance women’s interests by legislating bills, sponsoring resolutions and by voicing out women’s views on significant national issues.
Its two representatives, Liza Maza and Luzviminda Ilagan, were leaders of the progressive women’s group GABRIELA before they were elected as GWP nominees.
In an interview, Cristina Palabay, GWP secretary general, said that the GWP, along with other progressive party list groups, will push for the repeal of the value-added tax (VAT) on oil and other basic commodities.
As early as January this year, GWP has filed a bill for the repeal of the reformed value-added tax (R-VAT). She said that the GWP representatives will demand for a hearing by either the Committee on Ways and Means or the Committee on Revision of Laws.
The GWP will also actively support the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill and the bill for the legislated P125 across the board wage increase. Both bills were sponsored by the late Anakpawis Representative Crispin Beltran. Palabay said, “Being the most burdened in times of economic crisis, women are primary stakeholders in these issues.”
As women comprise 70 percent of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), the GWP takes on the issues of migrants.
A resolution was filed to conduct an investigation on the excessive collection of fees from OFWs by the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Assistance (OWWA).
According to Migrante International, OFWs are paying an average of P15,400.00 each ($348 at an exchange rate of $1=PhP44.23) in government fees, including $25 mandatory OWWA membership fee, $100 POEA processing fee, PhP 924 (more than $22) for Medicare, PhP 650 ($14.69) for passport and other charges including mandatory training and assessment even for domestic workers.
Human trafficking continues to be a major concern for the GWP. Maza is the main author of the Anti-Human Trafficking Act of 2003.
The GWP’s House Resolution 649 calls on the Committees on Women, Foreign Affairs and Overseas Filipinos to look into allegations of trafficking using consular privileges.
Palabay cited the cases of Filipino domestic workers Marichu Baonan and Arlene Gado, who were both employed by diplomats.
On June 24, Baoanan filed charges of trafficking, forced labor, peonage and racketeering against former Philippine ambassador to the United Nations Lauro Baja Jr.
Gado arrived in the US in 2005 after signing a contract in the Philippines to work for Anthony Mandap, then vice consul in the Consulate General of the Philippines in San Francisco. She was, however, transferred to the household of Angelita Reyes, Mandap’s mother-in-law where she served as the Reyes’ domestic helper and caretaker for two years, getting a meager $250 to $325 a month for her services. In May 2007, Gado was rescued by New Jersey labor officials from the Reyes’ household, while Reyes was investigated and subsequently charged with involuntary servitude. Reyes pleaded guilty to charges of third degree criminal restraint and was ordered by the courts to pay $78,000 in back wages to Gado.
Palabay said that the point of inquiry would be to investigate how government officials use their positions and privileges to “legally” traffic women.
Another house resolution filed by Masa, HR 643, aims to investigate the incidents of trafficking of women from Central Luzon to Sandakan, Malaysia.
At least 200 women went to Malaysia via the Diosdado Macapagal Airport in Clark. These women were allegedly taken to brothels and prostitution dens.
Palabay said that the GWP will also file a resolution to inquire on the government’s plan for undocumented migrant workers who are targets for deportation in Malaysia and European Union countries.
She said that while government officials say that they will ensure an orderly deportation and the protection of the migrants’ human rights, the experiences of deportees in Sabah prove otherwise.
Palabay said, “Many Filipinos in Sabah are languishing in jail. May nanganak pang babae sa kulungan.” (A woman delivered her baby inside the detention cell.)
The group would also want to investigate the alleged criminal neglect of government officials. The resolution is pending at the Committee on Overseas Filipino Workers.