At Large: BBL, Shari’ah and respect for women

Rina-Jimenez-David-(PDI)-14At Large: BBL, Shari’ah and respect for women” was first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Aug. 2, 2015

By: Rina Jimenez-David/Philippine Daily Inquirer


Women's Voices

Whatever P-Noy’s reasons for not mentioning the SAF 44 (why is no one bemoaning the nonmention as well of the 17 Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters and the three civilians?) in his State of the Nation Address, criticism of his “sin of omission” is directed against the wrong people.

In the course of his two-hour speech, the President found time to thank his colleagues and advisers in the government, the members of his Cabinet, the Senate President and House Speaker, his security force, his office and household staff, and his own family.

But the most scathing criticism was directed against his mention of his personal support staff, including fashion designer Paul Cabral and hair stylist Cherry Reyes, even making humorous references to his own (lack of) fashion sense and (lack of) hair, comparing Reyes’ accomplishments to that of an economist making the most of scarce resources. Particularly coming in for harsh and uncharitable remarks was his long-time housekeeper Yolly Yabes (some mistakenly referred to her as P-Noy’s yaya or nanny), whom he singled out for her care and unstinting service, even toward his colleagues.

The implication of much of the criticism was that Yabes was somehow undeserving of mention in such an important speech as the Sona, the last in P-Noy’s term. Or that somehow the President had trivialized the exercise by including such a lowly personage as a household helper in his farewell speech.

Excuse me, but I think Yabes deserves as much credit for P-Noy’s continued service to the nation as any Cabinet member or official. It is she and her companions, after all, who see to it that he eats healthy meals, is ready to face the world each morning, and brings the right outfits in his travels. It is their efforts, their perseverance, their loyalty that allow him to face each difficult day in office. And by discounting the importance of their work and their character, P-Noy’s critics are betraying their own biases against those they deem lowly and menial, many of them women, who serve even from the sidelines and even in obscurity.

I’m glad Yabes—and all the household help she represents—got their two minutes in the limelight, courtesy of P-Noy.

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Some of my friends, including those I respect and admire, are adamantly against the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law because of their fears that the Muslim Code of Personal Laws, or Shari’ah Law, would be applied to all Filipinos.

Of particular concern for them are the purportedly “antiwomen” provisions in Shari’ah, a legal system derived from the religious precepts of Islam, which in some countries have been used to curtail women’s rights, particularly its harsh provisions regarding punishments for adultery and sexual misbehavior.

In an “encounter” between MILF chair Murad Ebrahim and a group of media representatives, he was asked about this perceived fear of Shari’ah Law among non-Muslim Filipinos.

In the first place, said Murad, Shari’ah has been in place for many years in the Philippines, but is applied “specifically for Muslims alone.” Shari’ah courts and laws coexist with general civil laws and with the court system, he added, and even when a Shari’ah court rules with finality on a case, “it does not prevent the Supreme Court from reviewing the decision of a Shari’ah court, especially if there is abuse of power in the part of the Shari’ah judge.”

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As for respect for the rights of women under the BBL, Murad assured that women’s rights are “guaranteed” in this draft law.

“The BBL calls not just for the inclusion and active participation of women,” Murad noted, but also for “meaningful representation” in all aspects of public life, “including [the pursuit of] political power.”

Key to my own appreciation of the BBL, despite apprehensions on the impact on women of Shari’ah Law and other Islamic legal precepts, is that women in Mindanao, including those living within the proposed Bangsamoro territory and not just Muslim women, say they have little to fear from its application.

And if they, who will live under such a legal system and know intimately how it works in their own relationships and family life, are open to it, then who are we to hold back our support for the BBL purportedly for their own sake?

Should we not instead, if we are all that concerned about the welfare of our sisters in the South, push for the passage of a “meaningful” BBL if this will guarantee progress and development in this long-neglected part of the country? Poverty, after all, and all its implied conditions—ignorance, powerlessness, violence—is the greatest form of oppression, for women, men and children.

* * *

Serious points have been raised by Moro scholars and members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission against the changes made in the substitute BBL measure passed by the House. And judging by Senate committee chair Bongbong Marcos’ timeline, it seems he has no intention of pushing for the passage of the BBL before P-Noy’s term draws to a close.

But then, we are reminded time and again, this administration has managed to pull off surprises in terms of getting legislation passed despite perceived stumbling blocks and determined opposition.

Nobody is closing the door yet to a BBL in place even before the 2016 elections. But the people’s minds will have to stay open, and room for contrary views made. No law has ever been passed intact from the time it is filed to the time it is signed. But let’s hope and pray for the timely passage of a BBL that holds sense and meaning for every Filipino.