Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Support for the UP College of Law

The University of the Philippines Center for Women's Studies endorses in full the statement of the faculty of the UP College of Law titled “Restoring Integrity” on the allegations of plagiarism and misrepresentation in the Supreme Court in connection to the case, Vinuya v. Executive Secretary.

As a research center concerned with promoting gender equity in the UP System and the larger society, the UPCWS lauds the statement of the College of Law upholding the quest of Filipino “comfort women” seeking redress for a decades-long injustice. A Supreme Court decision in their favor would have added to recent gains in human rights standards that recognize rape and other forms of sexual violence as war crimes.

We are disappointed with the Court in its decisions related to this because we have worked with the Supreme Court in its efforts to integrate gender-sensitive perspectives in the Philippine Judiciary; in fact, through this work, the UPCWS received the Justice Davide Justice Reform Award. We believe that if the Court had taken into consideration the women’s experience of sexual slavery within the context of prevailing international standards on human rights and state responsibilities, it would have recognized the merits of the case for our government to pursue the claims of the women against the Japanese government.

We find it disturbing that the Supreme Court has not only rejected the points of the supplemental motion filed by the petitioners, alleging that the decision promulgated had plagiarized sections, but it even upheld, in the process, this decision that was made on less indisputable grounds, at the cost of another injustice to the women. To make matters worse, the Court had to display “judicial muscle” and sought to punish the faculty and dean of the UP College of Law for their declaration of the paramount importance of integrity in the decisions of the Court.

Furthermore as a university research center, we are with the College of Law on its assertion that plagiarism is unacceptable and unethical. Issues of plagiarism and misrepresentation are serious violations of academic ethical standards. Ethical standards are sacred to the academe because they are a foundation on which the claims and strength of our work stands.

Yet caveats against plagiarism and misrepresentation do not merely apply to the academe. They apply as well to professional and governmental institutions, especially the Supreme Court, which undertakes the research, analysis, interpretation and application of social policy that governs our lives.

In choosing to make its statement on the issue, the faculty of the College of Law fulfilled their ethical duties. As professors of law, they are duty-bound to remind practitioners of the ethical standards of the discipline. As practitioners of law, they are ethically bound to speak against what they perceive as threats to the honor and integrity of the practice of law. Various ethical codes for professional disciplines both locally and internationally uphold this principle of speaking out against what one perceives as unethical behavior on the part of professional colleagues.

Government institutions in democracies, by character, must be transparent and accountable to the people. Criticism and dissent from the people should not be taken as an affront rather these are indications of our engagements in governance and the vibrancy of our democracy. Criticism may hurt. But those who wield government power must understand that openness to criticism is central to the wise use of power. We hope that the Supreme Court can view the statement of the UP College of Law in this light.

25 November 2010

Sylvia Estrada Claudio


Odine de Guzman

Deputy Director for Research and Publication

Ma. Theresa Ujano-Batangan

Deputy Director for Training and Outreach

Friday, November 26, 2010

Welcome Remarks* for “If supporting the RH Bill means excommunication, then excommunicate me!”

(An excommunication party organized by the Filipino Freethinkers, November 26, 2010.)

Welcome, everyone—atheists, agnostics, deists, humanists, Wiccans, Catholics and all other religious friends.

Let me start by qualifying the word, “Catholic”. Last week, Mr. Eric Manalang, President of Pro-Life Philippines, said to those of you who went to the Manila Cathedral that you are not “Catholics in the sense of real Catholics, you are dissident Catholics, what are you freethinkers?”

By this reasoning the majority of Philippine Catholics, who according to reliable surveys support the reproductive heath bill, are also bogus. If such is the case, the Roman Catholic religion has just become a minority religion in the country.

But lest I be accused of disrespect, I want to wish our Catholic comrades well in their fight to democratize their Church and return their faith to values truly worthy of Christ. I doubt very much that Christ would approve of Manalang's taunt from the steps of the Manila Cathedral, “You tell your mother to abort you!”

While I am on this topic, the Roman Catholic Church is in an uproar over Pope Benedict's remarks that condoms are now acceptable if the intent is to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. I hope that this concession that real problems happen outside the fantasy land of religious dogma on sexuality, can be brought to a logical conclusion. If the goal is to protect from infection, then all men should just use a condom. Given what we know of human sexual behavior, few of us can be certain of our partners' HIV status.

Permit me now, a moment of confession. I find making opening remarks somewhat wearisome. Recently, I have had to do more openings than I prefer.

Yet I insisted that I open tonight's festivities. During the preparations for this party, I was a shameless publicity hound. It is an honor to open the very first excommunication party ever. I want to claim ownership of this idea. The idea of requesting excommunication as a sign of support for the RH bill, had been thought of by several people independently. But I may be the first to think of “party”. I am tickled pink that I will now have a new image---from nerd to party animal.

Many of you know that I am an agnostic. When I was born, my parents were both agnostics. This is my identity and moral tradition. Unfortunately, pushy relatives prevailed upon my parents to baptize me. I used to think of my baptism as a trivial matter, not even of real interest to me. Yet it has become a burdensome truth each time the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines claims to speak for millions of Catholics. Those of us gathered here know, that which Mr. Eric Manalang wished to imply. Millions of those counted as Catholics are nominal Catholics.

I will no longer be spoken for by the bigoted. I seek excommunication and welcome it!

I stand to be counted with you here tonight and with those who wanted to come but could not (as we seemed to have filled the place, among other things). I will be counted among the tolerant, the thoughtful and the moral. I will stand for human rights including sexual and reproductive rights.

In behalf of the Filipino Freethinkers, particularly its Diliman chapter, I thank you for being here and formally open this party.

*Revised and edited prior to posting.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Academic Travelogue: Seoul, Korea

I walked on the right side of the main pathway of Seoul's Gyeongbok palace. It is the first palace compound built by the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), which established Seoul as its capital.

Normally, when walking though ancient imperial sites, I take a childish delight in taking the emperor's path. No woman would have walked the sovereign's path, unless she was to marry him. In all likelihood she would have walked her way to permanent incarceration inside the palace.

And so with vengeful glee, I would skip down the emperor's path, a gawking and irreverent tourist. I am a woman footloose and free. I have no intention of being incarcerated within any man's palace.

It is almost a cliché to talk of the transient nature of pomp, power and glory. But I still amuse myself with these thoughts when confronted with the monuments of patriarchal power.

In Gyeongbok, the main pathway leading through the gates and courtyards of the imperial palace is divided into three. The central path, slightly raised, was reserved for the emperor. To its left, the path taken by his ministers and other members of the bureaucracy. To its the right, the pathway for the scholars. I am told also that when the emperor sits on his throne, he is slightly oriented to face away from his ministers and towards his scholars.

I am aware of my dislike for feudal patriarchies and yet I am happy to find an ancient tradition that reveres scholars.

I am in Gyeongbok, a day after speaking at a women's studies conference in Duksung Women's University. My task at the conference has been to share how I think we may establish scholarly cooperation in the Asian region.

I started my presentation at the conference by saying that I teach postmodernism by taking a Buddhist framework. I quote the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn: “Nothing in itself contains an absolute identity. This means a rejection of the principle of identity, which is the basis of formal logic.” And then I quote the feminist postmodernist Judith Butler: “Identity is a culturally constructed principle of order and hierarchy, a regulatory fiction.”

When I teach, I explore the main tenets of postmodernism through Buddhist sayings and practices. It helps even my Christian students grasp the difficult concepts better. Certainly my Asian colleagues who are more steeped in Buddhism, seem even more amused by my approach. Like any nerd, I could just go on about this , but that is not the point of my lecture.

My point is that there is a different set of histories and traditions that mark the Asian academes. The point is that Asian women's studies must begin with the understanding of the power dynamics in global knowledge production. It remains true up to this day, that the questions asked, how the questions are to be answered and who decides what are the good answers, remains a matter of power that skews knowledge production along race, class and gender dimensions.

Women's studies began with such a power analysis. Women studies scholars understand that women's knowledge and experience is often devalued in the academe as well as in society. Women's studies therefore. is about bringing balance to the knowledge of men so that we arrive at human knowledge.

We cannot engage in a dialogue without being aware of the differences in our histories, in our traditions, in our epistemologies and in our relative power positions within different academic settings.

One of my colleagues in Ateneo believes that Western society took a wrong turn when it took on the trappings of enlightenment and modernity. This is an argument for postmodernism, but it is also an argument for Eastern philosophies that lie outside the Western traditions. Thus, I engage both East and West dialogically by teaching postmodernism through the way of the Buddha. And yet I understand that I am making a dangerous proposition, this banging two philosophies around like that.

During the entire conference, a young student from Duksung University is assigned to help me. She picked me up at the airport, waited patiently to escort me to the conference room the following morning, carried my backpack when she could beat me to it, asked about exchange rates and tours, walked me to the restaurant for meals.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I asked her whether she did not feel like we were betraying the youth movement. I felt like one of those older activists making the young ones do menial work.

She was aghast. On our way from airport to hotel she had talked about how happy she was to volunteer for the conference. How she had looked me up on the internet and was happy to have been assigned to me. She answered by reminding me of these things and by adding that respect for one's elders was part of her culture even in modern and wealthy South Korea. I felt trapped between the two poles of ageism---was I treating this young person with disrespect and being ageist or was she treating an older person with respect and being non-ageist? Once again I am confronted with another Asian nuance to ponder.

I have come to realize that in the global social movement and the universal academe, we are unable to escape the hegemony of the colonial traditions and neo-colonial ways. Those in the margins need to work double time to recover our own modalities and transform them, while engaging with the mainstream within and outside our social movements.

Thus I walked the scholar's path in Seoul, wondering about the old and the new, thinking about traditions and transformations.