Saturday, December 11, 2010

UP Will Show You How

(Statement of the Director of the UP Center for Women's Studies, on the plagiarism issue against Prof. Marvic Leonen, Dean UP College of Law)

December 9, 2010

News reports dated December 8, 2010 announced the offer of resignation of Dean Marvic Leonen of the UP College of Law on his admission that he had inadvertently left out two footnotes that contain the source attributions in his 2004 article titled "Weaving Worldviews: Implications of Constitutional Challenges to the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997."

"I had made that mistake. It's an honest mistake but one I should acknowledge, apologize for, and basically meet the penalty. And I thought that a huge part of it would be to offer to resign the deanship," Leonen is reported to have said.

In so doing, Dean Leonen has taken the first step towards showing our people what integrity means for lawyers, whether as professors of law or as officers of the court. In so doing, Dean Leonen honors his commitment to the restoration of the integrity of the law profession and the Philippine courts which is the subject of a statement of the faculty of the UP College of Law (UPCL) on the allegations of plagiarism and misrepresentation in the Supreme Court.

Many sectors of the UP Community, including the UP Center for Women's Studies, supported the statement of the UPCL on that matter. I call on our leadership and my colleagues to stand fast in our support and to build on Dean Leonen's example. Let us show our people and the Supreme Court how to honorably handle a case of alleged wrongdoing on the part of one of our colleagues.

First, let us look clearly at the facts. One fact that is important in both cases is the opinion of the person or persons who were plagiarized. In the case of Dean Leonen, Prof. Owen Lynch has already stated that he does not feel that he was the victim of intellectual dishonesty. This is in marked contrast to the statements of those authors plagiarized by in the Vinuya v Executve Secretary decision.

This makes Dean Leonen's offer to resign an act of integrity. That he does not equivocate about admitting his plagiarism despite it being an “honest mistake,” makes it even more laudable. This contrasts sharply with the actions of Justice del Castillo who ignored calls for his resignation and the finding of the Supreme Court that “malicious intent” is required in plagiarism.

Teachers know that there are degrees and degrees of plagiarism and misrepresentation. Without excusing Dean Leonen who does not himself seek to be coddled by colleagues, it is my belief that there is a marked difference between the level of the misrepresentation in “Vinuya v. Executive Secretary” and in “Weaving Worldviews.”

I suggest to the UP leadership that if it be necessary, any body formed to judge the issue of Dean Leonen's plagiarism, be composed of peers who have no personal interests in seeing him absolved or punished.

Dean Leonen has shown us that public accountability does not lie in not making mistakes, but in owning up to them and being ready to face the consequences. Those of us in UP who have supported the faculty of the College of Law in their efforts to restore integrity to government service should take this as an opportunity to show our people that collegiality and compassion are never incompatible with the demands of justice.

If it should be shown that those who revealed this “new” case of plagiarism are motivated by reasons other than truth-telling, then they have made a serious error in judgment. With his offer to resign, Dean Leonen has proven, yet again, his moral capacity to lead the College of Law faculty.

If those who revealed the plagiarism are doing it to cover up their own errors, they have miscalculated. As it has in the past, as it will continue to do now and in the future, UP and its College of Law will show our people how institutions can behave with integrity.

Signed: Sylvia Estrada Claudio

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Science and Philosophy Lessons for the Pro-Birth (who call themselves Pro-Life)

Several of my friends do not particularly like discussing the question of “when life begins”. I refer to this debate in relation to the reproductive health bills pending in the Philippine legislature. These friends would include non-Filipino veterans of abortion rights struggles in their own countries.

My friends, some of whom are philosophers by training, know that the “where life begins” question is really unresolvable. The philosophically sophisticated understand that a question like that is the stuff that has driven and will drive philosophy through the millenia. It is similar to other questions like, “does matter exist?”. The question is unresolvable. I am aware that the philosophy of natural science, (I love science!) merely assumes this without attempting proof: “matter exists”. I am also aware that the Buddha (love the Buddha) takes a different view: “all is illusion”. You have got to love philosophy for tackling the eternal questions and the calm philosphers bring to facing immense uncertainties.

Of course, the reproductive health bills do not change the punitive Philippine laws on abortion. So this “when life begins” debate should not be pertinent. But the pro-birth (I do not concede the term pro-life to them as my advocacy for the passage of RH bills is to save women's lives) opposition keeps insisting that contraceptives are abortifacient. They also insist that conception is equal to fertilization. According to the pro-birth people, contraceptives should be banned because the Philippine Constitution states as a matter of policy that the state, “shall equally protect the life of the mother and the unborn from the moment of conception”.

This argument alone is is more an example of the lack of scientific and philosophical training of those who espouse it. It is not an argument that should be dignified in the public debates. I know that certain advocates of this position are doctors, scientists and philosophers. But I have no fantasies about the guarantees that academic degrees confer. “Nil admirari”, my philosopher mother used to say. Admire no one. Certainly I am unhappy when people use their academic degrees to claim they are speaking the truth when they are not.

So let's see what science says and what logic demands. Science tells us that the argument that “contraceptives prevent the implantation of the fertilized ovum” is an unsupportable generalization. I cannot go into the scientific literature for purposes of brevity, but many lay people know that the condom prevents fertilization. Looking at the literature, there is SOME evidence that some contraceptives MAY prevent implantation of the fertilized ovum as possibly ONE OF SEVERAL mechanisms for their contraceptive effects.

But even if we were to concede this rather flimsy basis for their claim that modern contraceptives prevent implantation, it is a misrepresentation to say that these are abortifacient. There is a wide-ranging consensus in the scientific community that pregnancy begins at implantation. An abortifacient, by definition, terminates pregnancy prematurely. Thus, none of the contraceptives are abortifacients.

When pro-birth advocates like Rep. Anthony Golez claim that contraceptives are abortifacient they should at the very least specify that this is a minority opinion. When Rep. Golez states, as he did in the last public hearing at the House of Representatives, that he is giving his opinion as a medical doctor, he borders on the unethical. I am a medical doctor too and I am ethically bound to tell the public and my patients what the majority of experts are thinking on the medications I recommend or discourage. This is especially true if my position is that of the minority.

The last misrepresentation in this argument is that “fertilization equals conception”. As I mentioned in my intervention at the last hearings in the RH bill, conception is not a medical term. Terms like fertilization and implantation are scientific terms. But whether we can tie this to the term “conception” and the larger question of “when life begins” is a whole other matter.

Indeed advances in embryology show us that fertilization is not a “moment” but is a process that takes some time. Thus, to equate fertilization to “the moment of conception” is something of a fudge.

Pro-birth advocates, like ex-Senator Francisco Tatad, also take the line that “moral natural law” is a universal truth that should guide our personal and collective decision-making on this debate. Their version of this philosophical argument says that it is inherent in all of us to recognize a God. Additionally, their version of natural law states that it is inherent in us to recognize that we do not kill another human being, herein defined to include the fertilized ovum. I have no argument against the presentation of this philosophy. What is problematic is that they present this as if it is the only philosophical tradition that is pertinent to moral decision-making. The truth is it is a philosophy that tends to be overvalued in Catholic schools and largely relegated to a minor discussion in the secular University of the Philippines. Again, the point here is the misrepresentation. For philosophers like Mr. Tatad one wonders whether he was not taught other frames in the pontifical University of Santo Tomas; he forgot what he was taught or; he has failed to stay current with the changes in his discipline.

I agree with my philosophically sophisticated friends that debates around when life begins are probably futile in the determination of social policy. Constitutions of a number liberal democratic states inculcate this wisdom by working on a definition of “personhood”. But I do feel duty-bound to help increase our people's scientific literacy and to help craft social policies that are enlightened by the advances of human knowledge.

Yet I shall end this with a salute also to the wisdom of my philosopher friends who insist that we weigh the correctness of a political and philosophical premise on the basis of its effects. I always wonder why the pro-birth are blind to the unequal effects of their insistence that life begins at fertilization. To insist on this premise is to tie yourself to a position that allows you to argue for the control of women's bodies for your political purposes. Meanwhile, men's bodies remain free.

And so, I have been proposing to friends to think of the implications of a premise that states, “life begins at sperm production”. I doubt whether the pro-life religious men, philosophers and scientists would like the restrictions on their bodies such a premise would imply.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Support for the RH Bill

Intervention of Dr. Sylvia Estrada Claudio Director, University of the Philippines Center for Women's Studies at the Second Deliberation of the House Committee of Population and Family Relations on HB 96, 101, 513 1160, 1520 and 3387. December 1, 2010.

Thank you Mr. Chair, your Honors.

I have a prepared statement today but let me respond to the questions posed to the medical doctors by Representatives Biazon and Golez on the issue of when life begins.

I note that the Chair called upon me because Rep. Biazon also asked who does not believe life begins at fertilization. I do not, for two reasons. The first reason is that as an agnostic I do not subscribe to the beliefs of the Catholic Church. In this regard I would like to remind everyone that the Constitutional provision on religious freedom protects not just the right to belief but also the right to non-belief. But I will leave the representative of the Filipino Freethinkers who is also here today to elaborate this point.

The second reason I do not believe that life begins at fertilization has to do with my expertise as a medical doctor. Rep. Golez states that as a medical practitioner, he believes life begins at fertilization. He cites among other things the banning of Levenorgestrel by the government as proof that other experts believe the same thing. He implies that obstetricians and gynecologists may not be the best resource as to whether drugs like Levenorgestrel and other contraceptives are abortifacient. According to Rep. Golez, it should be those experts, like geneticists and biochemists, who do not prescribe these substances or devices who should be consulted.

With all due respect, I will remind Rep. Golez that the government reveresed its ban on Levonorgestrel. I was one of those who petitioned for a reconsideration of the ban through one of the organizations I work with. An expert committee composed of both medical and legal luminaries decided unanimously that Levonorgestrel was not an abortifacient. To be accurate there was one dissenting opinion and it was that of Rep. Golez. But at that time we protested the inclusion of his opinion because he really was not a member of the panel. At that time, he was merely the person from the DOH assigned to facilitate the hearings and panel deliberations.

As a medical doctor also, I would urge everyone here not to overvalue our opinions and expertise. Doctors should also be more humble. The question of when life begins is not a matter to be left to doctors or other scientists alone. Pertinent to this discussion I would like to note that “conception” is not a medical term. The terms fertilization and implantation are medical terms and we can describe and explain these processes to lay people. Any scientific discussion requires the precise use of terms. The Philippine Obstetrics and Gynecological Society is correct when it states that the mainstream medical and scientific community agrees that pregnancy begins at implantation.

As many of you in this room know, this is at the very least, the 4th Congress where an RH bill has been proposed. Many of us here have faced each other on this issue before. I do recognize though that there are people here who are new to the issue and their voices must be heard.

But perhaps before we continue our debates we should congratulate ourselves. Because of the engaged citizenship that the proposed RH bills have evoked, we are on the brink of enacting a social policy that has been understood by our people and crafted with their input.

So all I ask of your honors is to trust our people who have indeed come to a decision. Today's headline of a leading newspaper reveals that a high level of support exists for the enactment of the proposed RH bills according to a non-commissioned survey conducted by a reliable polling organization. This verifies an earlier survey showing the same results except that the newest survey shows higher levels of support for the bill.

Contrary to the claims of those who would belittle the survey results, it also shows that our people are aware of the major provisions of the proposed bills.

As an advocate for women's rights, I too must listen to our people. Like the Catholic Church I am against any form of population control either as a framework for an RH law and certainly not as a goal for its implementation.

Like the Church I do not think that lowering the fertility rate has any direct effect on poverty levels at the macro level. I disagree with the Church because I think that having less children does mitigate the burden of poverty at the level of the family.

My involvement with the women's health movement began because I felt there was a need to protect women from the population control programs of the past. This is the reason why I, and many other feminists, participated in the international actions that led up to the 1994 Program of Action of the ICPD.

I would therefore caution both sides who use demographic arguments like population density and replacement numbers to argue for or against the bill. Women have been hurt on both sides of this argument. Some would have us not give birth and others would force us into pregnancy. These are both violations of women's rights. Speaking again as a practitioner, I would caution against the use of any drug, device or technology for considerations other than a woman's well-being.

My support for an RH bill has always been because I am heartbroken by the harm and death that the lack of services brings to women and their families. No woman should die because of the lack of emergency obstetric services or due to violence from her intimate partner. No family should be left motherless because of preventable deaths.

I see the surveys. The Filipino people like the proposed bills. They agree with arguments for reducing population numbers in order to ensure the delivery services and national development.

Your honors, I accept the reasoning and judgment of our people. I hope you will too. Please pass a consolidated and comprehensive reproductive health bill as soon as possible.

Thank you.

NB Upon reviewing the decision of the technical committee that convened to hear our petition to lift the ban on Levonorgestrel, I realized I was mistaken in claiming that the committee was unanimous in its decision. There was one dissenting opinion. Anthony Golez also gave a dissenting opinion but I still hold the opinion that he should not have done this and that he acted beyond the role assigned to him in doing so.