Baseco, Manila — The Implementing Rules and Regulations for the Reproductive Health Law (IRR-RH Law) were signed today in Baseco, Manila. On March 31, the RH Law will officially take effect.
As you can imagine, the event was a celebratory one. It took 14 years of relentless lobbying from supporters of the women’s rights movement to get the law passed; a law that would allow every Filipino equal access to reproductive healthcare services and information.
(When you read it that way it almost seems like a no-brainer. Why shouldn’t every Filipino have equal access to reproductive healthcare services and information?)
The atmosphere in Baseco was one of triumph and joy, as you can expect. As for me, I was overwhelmed by another emotion: Gratitude.
I was once told that if I had a daughter, I wouldn’t want the RH Bill to become a law.
Actually, it is precisely because I have a daughter that I support RH Law. I cannot imagine passively allowing an institution–whether it be the Church or the State–deny her her right to reproductive self-determination and her right to make decisions about her body. It’s the least I can do to show my profound gratitude to the generations of women who came before me and fought for the many liberties I enjoy today and sometimes take for granted.
From the time of the revolutionary Katipuneras, to the pioneers of the women’s rights movement in the Philippines, to the fearless women in legislation who dared to say every woman has a right to a “safe, satisfying sex life”, the Filipina has always been waging a battle for her rights.And though the road may been long and arduous, she has always won.
MANILA, Philippines – “Masayang masaya ako na naipasa na ang RH. Mabibigyan na ng [RH] impormasyon ang lahat ng tao, lalo na’t ang mga kabataan at mahihirap, tungkol sa family planning,”said Michelle Custodio. (I’m very happy that the RH Law has been passed. Now, everyone will get [RH] information especially the youth and the poor.)
The 16-year-old first got pregnant when she was 14, but suffered a miscarriage. She got pregnant a year later and again suffered a miscarriage. Now she is taking birth control pills, which she gets for free from the Likhaan Women’s Health Center.
“Kung walang akong pills, baka mabubuntis ako uli. Ngayon nag-aaral ako,” (If I did not have pills, I would probably have gotten pregnant again. Now I am going to school.)
Now about to complete her senior year in high school, Michelle dreams of becoming an architect. In her spare time, she volunteers at Likhaan Women’s Health Center and gives talks to other women in her neighborhood of Baseco, Manila about family planning, sometimes using her own experience as an example.
Michelle shared her story with a larger crowd – sharing her story with those gathered at the Corazon de Jesus lying-in clinic where the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Reproductive Health Law (RH Law) was signed.
Holding the signing of the RH IRR in Manila was also seen as symbolic by some. Baseco, a densely populated slum area with an estimated 90,000 population, has been used many times as a backdrop to illustrate the need for an RH Law.
“We never allowed ourselves to think this day would not come,” said Ana Maria “Princess” Nemenzo, founder of long-running feminist group, WomenHealth Philippines. “The opposition made us more determined.”
“We hope to see the impact of this law already this year and by 2016, we hope to lower our MMR (maternal mortality ratio) to 53 per 100,000 live births. Currently, we are at 221 per 100,000 live births,” said Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona.
Alon Guialil, 39, is also grateful that the law was passed. The Baseco resident who has 11 children, ages 17 to 1-year-old shared, “Dapat mga lalaki mag-family planning din. Kasi hindi naman mabubuntis ang mga babae kung wala ang lalaki. Tulad na dito sa Baseco, malapit sa dagat kaya…alam mo na,” Alon Guialil said, teasingly. (Men should also take part in family planning. Women wouldn’t get pregnant without men. Like here in Baseco, it’s so near the sea…and you know.)
Turning serious, he shared that 4 of his 11 children died from measles. He and his wife couldn’t take care of them when they caught measles one after the other.
“Di na sana namin naranasan yun mabawian ng anak. Pero ngayon, naka-injectables na si misis, may pag-asa na gagaan na ang buhay,” he said. (Maybe we wouldn’t have known what it is like to lose a child. But now, my wife started on injectables, we have hope that life will be better for us.)
Junice Melgar, executive director of Likhaan Women’s Health and a member of the IRR Drafting Committee, is hopeful that the law will also have a positive outlook of women.
Hearing Michelle’s plans to be an architect, Melgar said, “It’s good that she has a dream for herself! You don’t hear many community women saying that. May this be the start of a new beginning of a new generation.”
That was the question I asked my audience of call center students during the interactive game portion of the sexual health workshop that I was conducting.
This question is set in a lively game of question-and-answer where I gave out anything from condoms to baller IDs and notebooks for correct answers to similar questions like: True or false? A condom is like a diamond, it lasts forever. (In case you’re wondering, a condom has an expiration date, proving once again that only a diamond lasts forever.) Think “Bring Me” with a sexual twist.
The sudden silence and the shrinking in their seats said it all. They were stumped. What do you do if your condom breaks?
This is what usually follows. At some point, someone will venture guesses like, “Put on another one?” or “Isn’t that why you double bag it?”
Most vivid in my mind is when one gentleman’s hand shot up in the air and he said, “I know! I know!” in an eagerly desperate manner similar to how kids raise their hand in a grade school classroom waving, “Pick me! Pick me!”
When acknowledged to give his answer, he beamed triumphantly, “You pray!”
Keep your (sex) questions coming
It’s a response I have gotten every so often in the course of conducting this workshop over the last 3 years. For the most part, it breaks the ice and signals to the rest of the participants that no question is too basic or too dumb to be asked, it’s okay to be confused, and most importantly, it is perfectly fine to ask and okay not to know.
It’s an environment that allows us to discuss misconceptions like how jumping after having sex will not prevent pregnancy. Again, there is laughter at this ludicrous thought, until I tell them that I was seriously asked that question by a young graduate who wondered why his girlfriend still got pregnant when they made sure she jumped after sex and even took a shower after.
One participant was particularly disturbed when I advised using a condom during oral sex to protect against STIs. Indignantly, he interrupted me, “Wait, wait, wait. So you mean to say you can get an STI from oral sex?” When I confirmed this, in shock and disbelief, he muttered, “Oh sh*t.” It was almost a whisper, but it was enough for the rest of the class to hear it and make them laugh.
Some men will say they don’t want to use condoms because none are big enough to fit their size to which I always quip, “But they weren’t meant to go over your testicles.”
Candid talk, banter, humor and games like a race to put on a condom make up the merry mix of activities in this sexual health workshop that is meant to show, not tell.
For many, it is the first kind of workshop like this for them to attend and the only kind of sex education they have received.
It is not unusual for girls to open up in private later about how they tried to see a doctor about going on the Pill but were told to “just abstain since you’re too young to be having sex anyway.”
Some will say they’re too embarrassed to buy condoms. One participant cited an instance when he was in line in a convenience store and a guy in front of him bought a handful of condoms. Once he was out of earshot, the cashiers looked at one another and said, “Grabe! Ang libog naman nun!” [That guy must be really horny!]
The judgment, thinly veiled as condemnation, was enough to deter him from buying condoms.
There were many other societal prohibitions so deeply entrenched in our culture that people just accepted them. When it came to birth control, it was easier to practice withdrawal and hope for the best, but to expect the worst. And in between periods, to pray.
Prayer as birth control?
For a larger part of the population, prayer is the only available form of birth control.
Some women do not have negotiating power and feel it is their partner’s entitlement to use their bodies as they wish (Read how “gamitin” is a euphemism for sex.) They risk a beating if they don’t agree to sex.
For others, the choice is a matter of daily survival. If you make P100 a day, it’s not hard to decide to forego buying a condom or a pack of pills. And still others feel it’s simply God’s will that they continue to be blessed with many children.
Education is a great equalizer. But so is ignorance — at least when it comes to proper information about sexual health. As seen in my classes, being educated doesn’t mean you’re informed.
Much has already been said about the RH Law and I’m not going to belabor the point, but I will say that it signals the start where education can be the equalizer that it truly is meant to be. It will hopefully secure the education young people need to make the right choices that will affect their future.
Which brings me to another point. The RH Law also recognizes the one argument that really matters: respect for one’s personal choice. More than religious, moral and scientific, the RH Bill was hinged on safeguarding everyone’s individual right to choose when to have children, how many, or to even have them at all.
Even with the bill now a law, it’s not the time to sit on our laurels and pat ourselves on the back. Already, the petition before the Supreme Court shows that the fight has just begun. The second phase of this fight will require vigilance to ensure implementation, scrutiny of budget appropriation, and continuously fighting for our right to take control over the decisions that will affect us most.
It sends out another sign: science and empirical evidence will always trump religion when it comes to biology. It confirms that prayer is not a form of birth control. And with the RH Bill now signed and enacted into law, prayer doesn’t have to be the only form of birth control available.
The President met today with members of the House of Representatives to discuss the Responsible Parenthood Bill. The President began his remarks by telling the gathered representatives that, if he were still a member of the House, he would vote for the Responsible Parenthood Bill. He shared with the gathered congressmen and women the discernment that led to his taking this position.
The President recalled a visit to the Baseco compound in Manila, during which he met a 16 year-old mother who had just given birth to her second child and whose husband had no stable source of income. The President reflected on the sobering realities the young lady’s plight represented: instead of being able to have a normal adolescence, here was a young lady already struggling with the truth of having two children. He asked the representatives to consider, too, the circumstances surrounding the child born to such a young parent: what kind of a future would such a child have, in terms of basic needs like nutrition, and other future prospects down the line?
The President said that confronted with the girl’s story, he had to ask himself, whose failure was it for the young girl and her children to be so disadvantaged? The President said that such a situation posed a challenge of conscience and leadership to all those who have put themselves forward to serve their constituents. Can you, the President asked, in good conscience, consent to the perpetuation of this state of affairs?
The President discussed with the congressmen his belief that genuine leaders cannot postpone a decision on what is a divisive issue. It should be resolved at the soonest possible time. Leadership comes not just with perks, but also with responsibilities, and among those responsibilities is that of making a choice. He asked how anyone could oppose offering parents the opportunity to make informed choices about the number of children they have, and about having the fullest opportunity to understand the requirements for raising healthy offspring.
The President also pointed out that the House must act on the pending bill sooner rather than later. The issue has been divisive for too long; the time has come to put the matter to rest. He suggested that a week should be adequate time to consider amendments that genuinely improve the bill – in contrast to “killer amendments” – and that at the end of that period, it is incumbent on representatives to vote.
There are material issues that we need to address – and we must address them in conscience, the President said. He further told the lawmakers that we are taught that our conscience is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong – and that at the end of the day, we will all be asked: What did you do to the least of your brethren?
The President closed his remarks by stating that to do nothing is to exacerbate the problem. Our responsibility is to craft the best possible measure, to offer the best possible opportunities for our children to grow and prosper.
MANILA, Philippines–Family planning makes good business sense, both for employees and employers.
At the Family Welfare and Business Productivity Summit on Thursday, November 15, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Employment Confederation of the Philippines (Ecop), Makati Business Club (MBC), Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) and Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), along with other business groups and development agencies, shared their experiences in the implementation of family programs in the workplace.
University of the Philippines economics professor Benjamin Diokno presented the case of 5 textile companies who implemented a Family Planning and Maternal and Child Health Program in the workplace for one year.
These companies employed mostly women whose contraceptive use was between 31-56%. The women were likely to get pregnant and experience lost days in work due to illness or childcare.
Work place initiatives under this program included information dissemination, counseling and the subsidized cost of contraceptives, which included the gamut of family methods: hormonal pills, condoms, injectables, and standard days method beads. Taking the most expensive scenario, costs for running such a program amounted to more than P100,000.
Post-program analysis showed awareness and knowledge about family planning and its economic and health benefits boosted contraceptive use, which increased to as high as 60%. Savings in medical insurance, hiring of temporary replacement employees also amounted to as much as P20 million.
“Benefits included increased profitability of the firm since benefits exceed costs, improved labor productivity and better quality of life of workers and their families,” said Diokno.
Family planning for national development
According to Diokno, improved business productivity is just one aspect of family planning; there is also an aspect of national growth and development.
Comparing the Philippines to its ASEAN neighbors, Diokno said, “We started with the same population as Thailand, some 4 decades ago, now we are 30 million more. Thailand has become more successful.”
“If I had to prepare a budget for 30 million less Filipinos, I would probably have a budget surplus instead of a deficit,” said Diokno who served as budget secretary during the Estrada administration.
“With less people to budget for, money can go into public infrastructure which is badly needed for national growth,” Diokno added.
“We are not simply talking about employer-employee relationships here. Family planning is key to nation-building,” said Donald Dee, vice president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce.
Dee who has long been advocating access to all forms of contraceptives said that he was once condemned to hell by one bishop, who he refused to name.
“I simply said that for those who are poor and cannot control the size of their families, this life is already hell on earth.”
FP works at work: Case studies
Some big businesses have taken it upon themselves to implement similar family planning initiatives in their workplace.
Dr Riza Relova, company physician at Ford Motor Company Philippines, provided family planning supplies through their onsite pharmacy, and also reimbursed or made salary deductions for pharmacy purchases, maternal and child vaccines. Ford Philippines, employs close to 600 employees, mostly men.
Central Azcucera in Batangas, trained employees to be volunteers called “kaugnay.” These volunteers provide family planning counseling and information dissemination to both male and female employees.
Both companies reported less medical costs for both the company and the employee, less absences due to sickness, improved health and satisfaction of employees, as well as improved attendance and productivity.
But not all companies have the capacity to provide or subsidize such programs for their employees.
This was the concern raised by Ramon Certeza, director for education of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP). “The big companies comprise only 2% of businesses. 98% of businesses are small-medium enterprises (SMEs) who may not be able to afford family planning initiatives.”
“Before bawal yun. You cannot use government money to fund a private sector initiative. But under this framework, we can share costs of a shared goal such as the delivery of family planning services, which will all go to the bigger goal of reducing maternal mortality and improving the lives of mothers and their children,” said Herbosa.
Emphasizing the need for collaboration between the public and private sector, Herbosa said, “We were able to eradicate polio and malaria through partnerships with the private sector. There is no reason why we cannot do that for reproductive health.”
The business groups gathered at the summit signed a manifesto to signify their commitment to invest in the implementation of Family Planning programs within their organizations and to initiate family planning programs for the poor as part of their corporate social responsibility programs.
The business groups present also expressed their support for the passage of the RH Bill. –Rappler.com
“When you’re wet, a baby you will get. When you’re dry, the sperm will die.”
That isn’t a spiffy campaign slogan. That is the summation of the sex education that I, together with my other classmates, received in high school.
The class was taught by a nun and, if my memory serves me right, the lesson was taught not under Biology, but under Family Life and Christian Living.
The wet and dry pertained to measuring cervical mucus; the thicker it is, i.e. wet, the more fertile you are. Hence, a baby you will get.
Other methods of birth control, the dangers of catching a sexually-transmitted infection were not discussed. Neither was HIV, even though that was the early 90s and the first case in the country was discovered back in 1984. By then, AIDS-related deaths had already claimed many lives in the United States.
We were not taught how not to get pregnant (although a video showing us a child birthing class was quite effective in convincing us) and it was emphasized that we were to be good wives and doting mothers.
It was expected that women with our education only had decent relationships, which meant we were only to hold hands, give chaste kisses with our mouths closed (French kissing was a sin) and to leave the oral sex to the prostitutes. I remember that last part quite distinctly because when we were being taught the importance of keeping our hymens intact, I — half sarcastic and half inquisitive — asked my teacher about the practice of oral sex, which would keep our hymens intact. Quite mortified by the question, she answered by giving the prostitute analogy saying that girls like us only engaged in sex “the proper way.”
If our education seemed tight-lipped, conservative and quite rigid, it only served to mirror what society was like — only the oxymoron of society was more evident.
We saw more motels than condoms.
We valued relationships and what others thought, but not ourselves first and foremost.
We loved, but failed to remember that it was not to be equated to surrender.
We stopped at the present and let the future take care of itself.
In school, we were educated, but not informed. At home, we were provided for by our families, but often not prepared for the risks and responsibilities of adulthood.
So people engaged in sex and withdrawal was the preferred method of birth control, without knowing how effective it is. Many classmates, friends and acquaintances got pregnant and then got married. Apparently, marriage wasn’t a requisite to the baby in the baby carriage.
Things haven’t changed
Except for condoms now being available in 24-hour convenience stores and in gas stations, things haven’t changed much in the last 20 years since high school. Sex education is still not being taught in schools (where would we be without the Internet and social media?) and young people still don’t know enough about their own bodies. Access to reproductive health information and services is also limited, even from medical sources.
One girl sent me an SMS saying that a doctor she consulted said she couldn’t prescribe her pills because she was only 21 and too young to be having sex. The good doctor may not have been aware that the average age for first sexual encounter in the Philippines is 15 and that one in every 10 teenagers will have given birth to their first child by the time she’s 19.
One boy asked me why his girlfriend still got pregnant when she had dutifully jumped after sex and they even bathed right after.
And in one heartbreaking story, a 15-year-old girl was slut-shamed in her school when her boyfriend bragged to his buddies that she was an easy lay. She wasn’t even sure if they had sex. “We were just supposed to study at his house and started kissing and kind of got carried away. I wasn’t sure if ‘that’ was doing it,” she told me.
In all these cases, these were kids from middle to upper class families and were going to school. They were supposedly educated and supposedly knew better.
But without adequate and judgment-free information about reproductive health, these young people are left guessing and groping in the dark about how their bodies work and how to deal with their burgeoning sexuality that marks the onset of adolescence.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), over the last 5 years, babies born to teenage mothers in the Philippines increased from 39 per 1,000 live births to 54. The 2011 Family Health Survey shows that while childbearing is decreasing among women 25 years old and up, it is increasing among the 15-19 and 20-24 age groups.
Various sectors have cited the lack of information and education about their bodies and how they can prevent unplanned pregnancies as a problem among young girls, especially those who come from poor families. It is not a problem of the poor and marginalized alone.
The youth from middle class families are no different and are sometimes overlooked; because they are able to go to school, they are educated and should automatically know better. It is a dangerous assumption to make. Because to know better connotes comparison, and right now, these young boys and girls just don’t know.
On Friday, September 14, the Philippines will hold the first National Summit on Teen Pregnancy to identify strategies and programs for sustainable interventions on the rising number of teenage pregnancies. The program is a joint initiative between the UNFPA and the National Youth Commission. –Rappler.com
Ana P. Santos is a freelance journalist who focuses on women’s sexual health rights.
MANILA, Philippines – Dory Sucaguing was 19 when she gave birth to her first child. “It was very hard. We are not rich and even though I could go to the health center it’s not totally free. You’re still asked to give a donation of say, P20. Sometimes you are obliged to donate,” said Dory, speaking in Filipino.
“I didn’t have enough money to buy pre-natal vitamins, and that was before the baby. When the baby came, my husband and I had to ask our relatives and friends for clothes.”
Now, 24 years old, Dory is a mother of three.
Dory’s sister, Angeline, was 13 when she found out when she was pregnant. “I was scared. Some friends even told me to get an abortion.”
Now 19 years old, Angeline is separated from the father of her child and raising her child on her own.
These were some of the stories shared at the country’s first National Summit on Teen Pregnancy yesterday.
The summit, which was organized by the First National Youth Commission (NYC) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), is a response to the alarming increase in teen pregnancy in the Philippines.
About one-third of all pregnancies in the Philippines occur between the ages of 15 and 24.
“Compared to ASEAN neighbors, the Philippines is the third highest in teenage pregnancy, next to LAO PR and Leste,” said Josefina Natividad, University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI).
More alarming, Natividad pointed out, is that it is only the Philippines, among its regional neighbors, that experiences increasing teen pregnancies.
Changing lifestyles, shifting norms and an earlier onset of menarche (first menstruation) are contributing to the rise in teen pregnancy. “These factors are further compounded by peer pressure and early sexual engagement,” said Natividad.
In her presentation, Natividad explained that education and economic status have an impact on teen pregnancy.
“The risk of early childbearing is not equally distributed among all women within this age group (15-19). Women with higher education level and belonging to a higher wealth quintile at less risk,” said Natividad.
Teen pregnancy an epidemic
“Teenage pregnancy is an epidemic,” UNFPA Country Representative Ugochi Daniels said. “We all know that a young girl, pregnant in her teenage years faces a lot of risks. Her body is not yet fully developed and ready to carry a child. It puts her at risk of complications, even death. Aside from health complications, in most cases, the girl is forced to drop out of school.”
“It (teen pregnancy) is not a choice she makes for herself, it is a consequence she has to live with out of lack of information and options. If no one takes action, this cycle will go on and ultimately contribute to the long standing issue of poverty that affects most young Filipinos,” Daniels added.
Though no longer a teen, Eigenmann shared that she went through the same feelings as Dory and Angeline. “I was scared. Being in show business, I was working already at the time, but I was still living with my parents.”
Andi’s older sister had her first baby when she was 17. It was to her that Andi turned to for help.
“I know I hurt my parents and disappointed them, but they knew that at the time, what I needed most was support. Not all girls in my situation are that fortunate,” said Eigenmann.
Urgent national response needed
During afternoon workshop sessions, the different government agencies (the Department of Social Welfare, Department of Education, Department of Health and the National Anti-Poverty Commission, among others) and NGOs agreed that times are changing and old solutions are not enough to address the problem of teen pregnancy and a collective effort across all groups was called for.
“Sinusuportahan ko ang RH Bill dahil ito ay karapatan. Maninindigan at di matitinag ang NAPC na suportahan ang pagsabatas nito,” said National Anti-Poverty Commission Undersecretary (NAPC) Florencia Dorotan. (I will support the RH Bill because this is a right. The support of the NAPC will not waiver and we will see to it that this bill is passed.)
“It’s time to have a national conversation about the issue of teen pregnancy,” said Percival Cendana, NYC Commissioner-at-Large. “Tama na ang pagbulong-bulongan sa mga sulok sulok ng pagbubuntis ng kabataan.” (Enough of the whispering in corners about teen pregnancy.)
“Across all sectors, classes and even agencies—DSWD, DepEd, DOH, TESDA and UNFPA, rising teen pregnancy was identified as a major ASRH (adolescent reproductive health) issue. And we need an urgent response to this issue,” stressed Cendana.
Speaking to the estimated more than 600 people who attended the summit, Cendana said, “But all is not lost. The many people in this room who are here today to discuss this issue and possible solutions show that there is hope.”
QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION WITH MEDIA immediately after the
Experts’ Roundtable Discussion (RTD) on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health on 29 August 2012, from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon, at the Dusit Thani, Makati. Said RTD aims to find common grounds among Philippine experts on evidence-based and effective strategies to implement Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health that would help reduce teenage pregnancies and sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV-ADS.
WHEN: 29 August 2012, 12:30 to 1:30 pm
WHERE: Boardroom 3, Dusit Thani, Makati
WHO: 25 Philippine Experts in the fields of Education, Adolescent Health, Law, Demography, and Social Sciences led by former DOH Sec. Esperanza Cabral, Dr. Margie Holmes, UP Professor of Law Elizabeth Aguiling-Pangalangan, National Scientist Dr. Mercedes B. Concepcion, etc.
In light of the growing incidence of teenage pregnancies and HIV-AIDS among our young people, 25 Philippine experts from the fields of education, adolescent health, law, and social sciences call on the Executive and Congressional Leaders to implement long overdue appropriate, evidence-based and effective Adolescent Sexuality and Reproductive Health programs.
For one, they noted that the life-changing consequences of teenage pregnancy — dropping out from school, maternal deaths and morbidities, induced abortion — impacts negatively on their education and employment opportunities, and worst, on the lives and health of our young women.
As pointed out by former DOH Sec. Esperanza Cabral, “As we recognize the role of youth in nation-building as indispensable, we have yet to fulfill our obligation to address all their needs that include sexual and reproductive health. While legislators and policymakers continue to debate whether to provide our young people access to sexuality education and RH services or not, incidence of teenage pregnancies continue to rise. As responsible adults in-charge of their future, we must act now.”
Comparing the Family Health Survey in 2006 to 2011 alone, teenage fertility (number of teenagers who begun childbearing) increased from 39 to 59 live births per 1,000 women aged 15-19. While the unmet need for family planning among teenagers aged 15-19 was at 37%. Given that the young comprised half of the country’s population, appropriate effective interventions must be set in place now.
Dr. Junice Melgar, Likhaan’s Executive Director, added, “We can no longer afford to deny the fact that more young people are engaged in sexual activity yet bereft with sufficient information about their sexuality and reproductive health, particularly the consequences of unprotected sex. The time to act is now. The generation of today is responsible for the lives and future of our next generation.”
REQUEST FOR MEDIA COVERAGE. Interview with the Panelists and other Experts will be arranged. For additional information, please contact the following Advocacy Officers, Likhaan Center for Women’s Health, 926-6230; 411-3151 or at [email protected], or via mobile phones: ELLEN SAN GABRIEL — 0916-602-5203; or JOMARIE OLIVA — 0912-305-9182.
Last year, I sponsored Senate Bill No.2865, otherwise known as the Reproductive Health Bill. It went through the process – we had hearings, then we made our committee report , which embodies SB 2865. Since then, there have been many questions raised by the public and rightly so, given that intelligent debate and discourse are essential in crafting the best version of any bill.
In fact, it took almost a year before the RH Bill hurdled the interpellation period (debates where I answered questions posed by my colleagues) at the Senate, where every provision was explained, rehashed, and clarified until it was blue in the face. I am not exaggerating. Finally, the bill has moved on to the period of amendments during which the Senate can incorporate changes to further improve the measure.
My co-sponsor Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and I defending the RH bill on the Senate floor
However, it is unfortunate that intelligent discussion is overlooked, sometimes even abandoned altogether by those who mean to distort the meaning and purpose of the bill. Many people are misled by these ill-informed notions. They pass judgment on the RH bill based on misinformation. Don’t take it from the grapevine and learn the facts before taking a stand. Here’s the real deal about the Senate RH Bill.
FACT 1: #RHBill gives a person freedom to choose what family planning method to use, or NOT to use any method at all.
Once and for all, if you do not want to use any family planning method, if you choose to use an artificial mode of family planning or natural family planning, that choice is yours and yours alone. This is made very clear in the following section of SB 2865.
FACT 2: #RHBill does not legalize abortion. In fact, it explicitly adheres to the penal law on abortion.
As I repeatedly explained during the debates, the provision below is meant to ensure that every woman, like every Filipino, deserves optimal health care which includes compassionate care.
In fact, during one of our debates on the Senate floor in September last year, Sen. Vicente Sotto III, who is vehemently opposed to the RH bill, conceded and even agreed with my position that women with post-abortion complications seeking emergency attention in any medical facility should not be treated like criminals. Instead, they must be treated humanely and given compassionate medical care, which is precisely what Section 3 (i) calls for. For more details on that discussion, click on link here: ‘RH Bill won’t legalize abortion’ on my official website.
Sen. Pia Cayetano [explaining Sec.3 (i) and (j) to Sen. Sotto] : ’It shocks me that there are people who believe that women who have gone through an abortion need to be treated like criminals because they have committed an act which is defined as a crime in our country.’
‘…In fact in many hospitals they are treated badly, they are pushed around to the side. In fact, some of them will bleed to death because they will not even be attended to, to punish them for that crime. And I will fight for the right of this woman to have the care that she needs because the emotional, psychological trauma that goes through to have an abortion is something that we, who have not been through an abortion, can never understand and she deserves that from the State.”
Sen. Vicente Sotto III [agreeing with Sen. Pia’s remark]: ’Yes, Mr. President, I do agree. As a matter of fact, I will be by the Sponsor’s side in defending that woman.’
Sen. Pia Cayetano : ’Then we have no problem.’
Source: RH plenary debates (September 5, 2011)
FACT 3: #RHBill does not impose an ideal family size and leaves this decision to couples.
The provisions quoted below is self-explanatory and puts to rest any misconception there may be on this matter.
FACT 4: #RHBill respects the religious convictions and cultural beliefs of all.
I am aware that certain religious groups are anti-RH. I respect their position. But I cannot adopt their position because it would be depriving other Filipinos who have other views on reproductive health and on the reproductive health care and services that they need and want. As I said in my sponsorship speech, it is my job as a duly elected public official to represent every Filipino, not just one religion. Having said that, I repeatedly clarify that those who do not want to use contraceptives are not being forced to. Each person is at liberty to decide for his or herself.
FACT 5: #RHBill will not teach a 10-year-old how to use condoms. RH education is age- and development- appropriate.
Time and again, sex education has been taken out of context. As I explained in my sponsorship speech, sex education shall be age-appropriate. It includes a child using the proper name for their body parts. It includes understanding the biological function of their bodies, such that they know that babies grow in mommy’s tummy and do not come out of bamboo trees.
FACT 6: #RHBill promotes BOTH natural & artificial methods.
Again, there is so much disinformation spreading that only artificial family planning shall be promoted under the RH bill. This is false.
FACT 7: Contraceptives are safe and effective family planning tools
Anti-RH advocates repeatedly raise the issue on the safety and effectiveness of contraceptives. That is a valid concern. But like any medicine or medical device, all contraceptives shall be approved by a government authority, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). And like medicines, there will be respect for choices. Couples must decide what is best for them with the advice of their health care provider. Clearly, vasectomy or ligation will not work for a young couple who may want to have more children in the future. On the other hand, some women prefer to use the pill or the IUD. These choices are personal ones. Contraceptives is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.
FACT 8: #RHBill will not indiscriminately distribute condoms to all.
During the Senate RH debates in October last year, Sen. Ralph Recto repeatedly stated that “Parang nagtutulak tayo ng contraceptives!” (It’s like the government will be ‘pushing’ or peddling contraceptives) in connection with the bill’s principle of “universal access” to reproductive health care services (Section 2) and the provision mandating mobile health care services (Section 12).
In response, I explained that reproductive health care is not all about contraceptives, but addresses real and unmet needs of women and families. The need for a mobile health vehicle in particular is important to reach far-flung areas where health care is inaccessible. These services may not only save a mother’s life, but will help couples plan the number and spacing of their children. I clarified that minors and the youth also have RH needs, which we should address primarily through age-appropriate RH education and counseling. But we should also not turn a blind eye to the alarming problems of teenage pregnancy (we have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Southeast Asia) and numerous cases of young children being sexually abused, sometimes by members of their own family. These are real issues which we should not trivialize by irresponsible statements that the government would freely give away contraceptives to the youth under the RH bill. As I emphasized on the floor, the mobile health care unit is not a ‘contraceptive ice cream truck.’
FACT 9: An average of 11 mothers die daily. That’s a fact.
During the Senate debates, Sen. Sotto kept questioning official figures on our Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR). He claimed that the figure of ’11 mothers dying per day’ had no basis, and was merely being exaggerated in media reports.
“Eh alam naman natin siyempre kung papaano dalhin kasi ng media iyong ’11 mothers die a day.’ Eh, hindi, eh.. This cannot be accurate.. So, may I ask the Committee to furnish the Senate a copy of how this survey was derived at.. If they can furnish us, I will try to urge 13 Senators to vote for this bill tomorrow on third reading…” – Sen. Vicente Sotto III, Senate RH debates (Aug. 22, 2011)
I explained that the figure is an average generated from data provided by official sources, such as the United Nations (UN), the National Statistics Office (NSO) and the National Statistics and Coordination Board (NCSB). I also provided my colleagues with a copy of how this number was derived, as illustrated on the table below:
Column D calculated by dividing Column B by 1000 and multiplying result with Column C.
Column F calculated by dividing Column D by 100,000 and multiplying result with Column E.
So ngayong meron naman po tayong naibigay na paliwanag, pwede na ba natin asahan si Sen Sotto to call on the majority of senators to act on the RH BILL?
But regardless of whether there’s just one woman or 11 women dying daily, the fact remains that mothers are dying from a highly-preventable cause. If there were only 10 women or 3 women dying, is that one life not worth saving? Who are we to deprive them of access to information and supplies that can possibly save their lives?
FACT 10: #RHBill will not force anyone to act against their ethical or religious beliefs.
Anti-RH advocates often state that people are being forced to adopt a certain type of family planning method. Or that health care providers will be forced to recommend certain kinds. Fact 1 above already clarifies that each person is free to make their own choice of family planning method. Sec 18 below further provides that a heath care provider can make a conscientious objection.
You know how some girls look at a penis and wish they had one?
That’s the way I feel about birth control. I wish there was more access to birth control options in my country, the Philippines.
I first felt the pangs of birth control envy at the not-so-tender age of 24. I had been living in the Philippine for 12 years and returned to the Bay Area to re-connect with some girlfriends in grade school.
We were talking about life in between those dozen years and inevitably, the conversation turned to men, past and present, serious or otherwise. I asked if they were on the Pill. Of course, they were, they said, since high school when they got them at a subsidized cost from a health clinic.
At 24, and not quite making the pay grade, I wished I knew how to get my hands on subsidized birth control pills back in the Philippines.
Years later, birth control envy again took over me, at times, making me so green that I would put other green eyed creatures from Shrek to Kermit the Frog to shame.
Especially when I would meet women like Rosalie.
Rosalie lives in Baseco, Tondo, one of the poorest communities in the Philippine capital of Manila.
Like any mother, when speaking about her children, she would say how much happiness they bring her. That is, until they look for something to eat and she and her husband have nothing to give them. Her husband’s daily wage of $5 wasn’t enough to cover their living expenses.
Rosalie gave birth to her first child when she was 16 and has been pregnant a total of twenty two times. She and her husband have 17 children. (some of the children died, and some were still born.)
Rosalie didn’t want to have that many children, but she didn’t want to take birth control either. She couldn’t afford birth control pills and was afraid to take them because her friends told her they would make her sick. And her husband, she said looking downward, blushing profusely, “My husband and I do not want to use condoms, they’re gross.”
I felt birth control envy wash over me when I met Mary Jane. She said she wanted to be a scientist someday, but let her wistful voice trailed off as she looked to her newborn son, whom she gave birth to when she was 15.
Until late last year, the city of Manila where Rosalie and Mary Jane live had a contraception ban.
It was implemented in 2000 by a former mayor who issued an executive order calling for the city to be “pro-life”.
On paper, it read that only natural forms of contraception would be encouraged. In practice, it meant that public health clinics under the local government of Manila could not offer condoms, pills, IUDs and other forms of modern contraception to its residents. It meant the closure of several women’s NGOs offering reproductive health services and the harassment of their health workers.
And to women like Rosalie and Mary Jane, it meant not having the option to control their fertility and not having enough knowledge about pregnancy.
There are many other women like Rosalie and Mary Jane. In the Philippines, 35% of women aged 15–49 who are poor account for 53% of unmet need for contraception.
A Reproductive Health Bill that would have equalized the matter of contraception, paving the way for equal access to reproductive health services and information has been lagging in legislative debate for the last 15 years. The Catholic Church has staunchly opposed the passage of the bill, calling it tantamount to legalizing abortion (which is illegal in the Philippines), and all those who support it as heretics and unpatriotic.
If the Reproductive Health Bill is passed, there will finally be national legislation that will prevent local governments like Manila from create their own laws like the contraception ban. [There is a similar contraception ban in the province of Bataan. Click here to read more.
In the coming weeks, the House of Representatives is set to vote on the Reproductive Health Bill.
It means a lot for the Filipino women and their families who live on $2 a day and would rather spend on food that contraception.
Let’s not just give the estimated 5.2 million Filipino women who do not have access to contraception a chance, let’s give them a choice.
May birth control envy never again befall them and may they never wish that they had a penis instead of a vagina.