Monday, March 26, 2012

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

At a time when the country is supposed to be celebrating Filipino women and women all over the world, I was surprised to read an opinion posted by one of my Facebook friends about a consolidated enrolled bill pending in the office of the President --- waiting for Presidential approval, veto or inaction.

The consolidated enrolled bill seeks to amend Article 202 of Act No. 3815 (The Revised Penal Code), which defines "Vagrants and Prostitutes" and imposes a penalty for those who commit vagrancy and prostitution. The change introduced by the consolidated enrolled bill erases the definition of vagrants, in effect decriminalizing vagrancy, but retains its definition of prostitutes and the penalties. What is wrong with this or what worries me, you may ask?

First, what is the purpose of the law? Aside from favoring vagrants which mostly come from the poorest of the poor in our population, I see no purpose in the law. Why merely amend Article 202? Why not delete it entirely for being anti-poor and anti-women? Are our legislators preparing for the next election? ensuring that the votes of the majority (which come from the poor)go in their favor by including, as one of their accomplishments, the enactment of this law?

Second, to me, the law is a step back and erases whatever accomplishment our country had with respect to protection of our women. Have the legislators forgotten that we already have the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act? In said law, a prostitute has already been classified or described as a victim (not a criminal). In its repealing clause, the consolidated enrolled bill will repeal, modify or amend any and all laws inconsistent therewith. Clearly, the Anti-Trafficking Law's categorization of prostitutes as victims is contradictory with the criminal categorization found in the consolidated enrolled bill.

Third, the consolidated enrolled bill is discriminatory against women as only women can be prostitutes therein. It seems to me that our legislators did not even attempt to look at the definition of a prostitute in the Revised Penal Code and proceeded merely to "erasing" the portion of Article 202 that referred to vagrancy. Were they in a hurry? Why, are they not aware that even males engage in sex-for-money activities? Why single out women?

Finally, the consolidated enrolled bill is already pending in the Office of the President. If worse comes to worst, its passage into law may be the first and fatal example of "Noynoying" that our country will have. Under our Constitution, one of the ways by which a bill becomes a law is when the President does not communicate his veto of a bill to Congress within thirty (30) days. In said instance, the bill shall become a law as if the President had signed it.

PNoy has to veto this bill. PNoy has to act with haste lest the bill lapse into law. The crucial date is April 7, 2012. I hold my breath, cross my fingers and pray for a veto before that date.

To our legislators, I am disappointed. True, there is wisdom in amending an old law (especially an antiquated one like the Revised Penal Code which has been here since 1932) but in amending existing laws, legislators should take pains and strive to study and research the context within which amendments are to be made, i.e. whether amendments are proper or necessary, and if they are, what amendments should be done. In this case, an amendment is truly necessary but it was not a properly researched amendment. Congress should have removed the entire Article 202 for being anti-poor and anti-women. Instead, Congress showed its true colors, opting to dance the cha-cha (one step forward, two steps back) at the expense of women.

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