Damasos and ovaries (part 1)

by Elizabeth Angsioco

Re-posted from Manila Standard Today.

Damaso lives. He mingles with us exacting obedience even on personal matters, women’s ovaries included.

Damaso epitomizes the Spanish friars’ powers and abuses in Jose Rizal’s famous novel, “Noli Me Tangere.” Father Damaso’s powers went beyond the spiritual realm. He also dominated politics. Thus, Damaso controlled heaven and earth, the body and soul of Filipinos.

Centuries later, Damaso’s significance was made current by Carlos Celdran’s protest. His call for the Catholic Church to stop meddling in politics reverberated in the halls of the Manila Cathedral. If Rizal were alive today, he would have surely written about this as well.

Controversies surrounding the reproductive health bill are significantly because of present-day Damasos who vigorously oppose its passage. This despite the clamor of those who are primarily affected—the women whose ovaries they want to control.

Recent developments like the anti-RH ordinances approved by Barangay Ayala Alabang and the seven barangays in Balanga, Bataan, the ongoing black propaganda against the RH bill particularly using the pulpit, all these show us how modern-day Damasos and their allies work.

I received copies of minutes of meetings of the BAA Council and we gathered information from women’s groups in Bataan about the ordinances. I was also sent a flyer distributed in Our Lady of Consolation Parish in Tandang Sora, Quezon City. These places are far from each other BUT events there are clearly related. I highly suspect that Damasos are behind these.

The BAA documents are explosive. Thanks to the meticulous documentation of the Barangay Council, we see a clear picture of what could have transpired in its approval of the “no prescription, no condom” ordinance.

For instance, item 9.3 of the 13 December Notice of Meeting was “Ordinance on RH bill.” Moreover, item 8.6 of the minutes of the same meeting says, “In connection with the RH bill, Chairman AX Burgos instructed the Kagawads to start conferring with the BEC District Coordinators and get their approval/comments. This will serve as our basis in passing the ordinance prepared by Sen. Pimentel.” (itals and emphasis mine)

Note that the Council used “RH bill” and not the ordinance title in reference to it. Moreover, was former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel the author of the ordinance? Note that the former Senator defended it during the subsequent public hearing called after the ordinance became controversial.

The minutes of the 23 December Public Hearing on the ordinance are equally revealing. The document tells us how the minds of some of our rich citizens work. For instance, lawyer Luis Sison (who defended the ordinance in media) is quoted as saying, “…I am honored to be here today because it has been said… that, ‘Where Ayala Alabang goes, so does the country.’ So, today, I hope this Committee… will also uphold that tradition. We are embarking on a very historic bill or ordinance that will hopefully transpire across the country and be a strong warning against the RH Bill.” Remember that lawyer Luis Sison was the same man who said that the BAA ordinance was inspired by their parish priest.

The minutes also indicate that when the need for the City Council’s approval of the ordinance was discussed, the Chair of Committee on Women’s Rights Ma. Soledad Tugade (who was chairing the hearing) reportedly said, “…with all the people around here, members of the church will pray for it, and I am sure Mr. Chairman, it will be approved. Malalakas sila.”

Clearly, the BAA Council passed the ordinance as a reaction to the RH bill. Also, it appears like some of them thought themselves to be so powerful that they can make the city council, and the whole country, follow their dictates!

The minutes also show that council knew the ordinance would be questioned. Worth noting too is the fact that many of those present in said public hearing were either Catholic-allied groups or anti-RH personalities, including former Representative Edmund Reyes, Atty. Luis Sison’s son-in-law.

Very recently, we heard reports that seven barangays in Balanga, Bataan (Puerto Rivas-Itaas; Puerto Rivas-Ibaba; Lote; Tortugas; Cupang Proper; Cupang West; and Tanato) likewise approved ordinances similar to BAA. My organization’s chapters in the province were instructed to gather as much information as they can on the matter. Our discussions indicated that:

On March 25, the City Mayor Jose Enrique Garcia III (known anti-RH personality) asked barangay officials to attend a seminar on the RH bill. Seven barangays were present. The speaker was former Representative Edmund Reyes who was also active in the passage of the BAA ordinance. Note that Reyes was in the HOR with the mayor’s father (also known anti-RH) now governor. According to the participants to the seminar, the speaker told them repeatedly that the RH bill is abortion.

Except for said seminar, no public hearing was called to discuss the ordinance. All of the kagawads our leaders spoke with said that they were just asked to sign the ordinance.

The most alarming information however, is the plan to have all the 25 barangays in Balanga pass the same ordinance. This allegedly, is what the Mayor wants.

Lote Bgy. Chair Richard Sioson told our leaders that on 29 March, officials of barangays that passed the ordinance were sent to Manila. They went to the office of former Sen. Pimentel to consult him about the ordinance. After meeting with the former senator, they also allegedly visited BAA and spoke with Chairman Alfred Xerez-Burgos who informed them that the BAA ordinance is on hold.

Our women leaders, in the course of their talks with barangay officials, requested for copies of the ordinance. However, despite repeated promises that these would be released and their daily visits to the different barangays, no copy was given them. Instead, they were told that the copies were collected by the city government.

Is this not most interesting? We see the same people moving in different places so anti-RH barangay ordinances are passed. The plot thickens. There will be more next week.

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Condoms, costumes and Damaso

“I’ve got the costume and the condoms, sweetie. See you later. ;-)”

If it were any other person I was sending that message to, one could easily conclude that that person and I share a particular kinky fetish of sorts.

But since I was texting Carlos Celdran, I think that statement is somehow put into context.

Oh yes, long before September 3o, which will now go down in the annals of history as a day of infamy, when  Carlos Celdran dressed as Jose Rizal, complete with the drawn on mustache and hat, marched into the Manila Cathedral with a placard that yelled out, “DAMASO”, he already had – shall we say a predilection for costumes and condoms?

Actually, it’s also because of condoms that I met Carlos Celdran and have over the years, developed a friendship bound together by RH advocacy work and yes, fondness for costumes and satirical play.

I first read about him giving out condoms during his tours. Carlos would spend his own money (about P15,000 each year) giving out condoms to the slum communities of Manila.

I introduced myself to him and did a story about his efforts for Xinhua News, the largest news/wire agency in China.  During that first meeting, I found out that the City of Manila promotes only natural family planning methods, so in government hospitals and clinics (except those that still fall within the jurisdiction of the DOH), pills, condoms, tubal ligations and vasectomies are not available to residents.

When Mayor Lim came back into power, he still refused to allocate local government budgets for family planning, but he did allow women’s groups and other NGOs to hold family planning clinics using their own funds. Carlos would take advantage of these little pockets of opportunity and sponsor the Php75 cost of a tubal ligation for mothers. These were the mothers who had as many as 10 children and didn’t know how to stop getting pregnant.

When I met people from Trust Family Planning, the makers of Trust Condoms and I told them about Carlos’ condom giving advocacy, they were more than happy to give him boxes and boxes of condoms to give away.

Over the last two or so years since we met, condoms kept our friendship going. That sounds like a condom ad tagline, but it’s the absolute truth.

Of course, there were the rallies and email/Twitter blasts in between, but we were always looking for ways to hand out condoms, de-stigmatize their use and make more people aware about the need to practice safer sex and create a better understanding of the RH Bill.

Actually, that’s what the text message about condoms and costumes was about.

Carlos was planning Transitio 1945, an annual event held in Fort Santiago to commemorate the estimated 120,000 people who died when the City of Manila was completely destroyed in a battle between the Japanese Imperial Army and US Armed Forces during World War II.

We decided that we would again distribute condoms during Transitio 1945 and we were racking our brains thinking about how best  to do so considering that the event was a historical one.

We finally decided on Maria Clara, the paragon of virtue and decorum.

I dressed up as Maria Clara and handed out condoms and he was in a barong. People were more than slightly amused by the idea and started having their pictures taken with us.

We laughed to ourselves when we saw that our little stunt was featured in several newspapers with a headline: Maria Clara gives out condoms and talks about the ABCs of Reproductive Health.

Beyond that, we were hopeful that this was the start of more and more people were coming out to show their support for the RH Bill, seeing how it could only benefit people.

I was in a taxi when I got the text that he was arrested last September 30.

At the Ermita Police Station with Ryan Tani of Filipino Freethinkers. Photo courtesy of Giney Villar.

With our RH friends Beth Angsioco, Giney Villar, the Filipino Freethinkers and other supporters, we trooped to the Ermita Police Station and found him there still in his Jose Rizal outfit, and true to form, making friends with the inmates and sharing cigarettes.

Carlos interviewed after being arrested for "offending religious feelings". Background: Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP) Chairperson Beth Angsioco. Photo courtesy of Giney Villar.

But we also knew that he was tired, angry and frustrated. Weeks earlier, the city of Manila denied our request to host a family planning party for its residents. Hours before his arrest, Carlos tweeted about a report on the sexual abuses of Filipino Catholic priests.

When the DAMASO story broke out, Carlos made headlines — literally. There was an overflowing wave of support for Carlos. Yes, some did not agree with this methods (which he apologized for), but majority could relate to his message. After 300++ years of colonial rule and centuries after our supposed liberation, our faith was still being used to bully and subjugate us and control the way we view having and raising children.

In history, events like this were tipping points – catalysts that paved the way for change.

DAMASO put RH on the front pages of newspapers; people were discussing it, asking questions about it and craving for a better understanding of the RH Bill.

Let it not stop here – no one needs to get out a costume and shower others with condoms, but let us all make this the start.  The start of asserting our right to informed choice.

What was true centuries ago, is still true today: informed choice is everyone’s right; not a privilege.

In line with the times, we created a new look for the Sex and Sensibilities.com avatar, whose name is  appropriately enough, “Angel”, by the way. Our own sexy, SASsy version of a DAMASO protest.

Sexy, SASsy Angel designed by Michelle Marchadesch-Roxas.

Carlos, this one’s for you. : )