KALUSUGAN NG KABABAIHAN

KALUSUGAN NG KABABAIHAN: Making Women Matter in the 2010 Elections

by Elizabeth Angsioco

National Chairperson

Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP)

Women comprise half of the country’s population and thus, experience all the problems faced by all Filipinos. Ordinary women, those in classes C, D, and E are the hardest hit. Poverty, inferior quality of education, lack of sustainable livelihood and employment opportunities, poor quality of education, limited access to social services, crimes – these are some of the issues affecting most of our citizens, including women. On top of these, women (particularly those in poverty) face specific problems by virtue of their being women such as: gender-based discrimination and abuse, violence against women (VAW), the very high maternal mortality and morbidity rates, lack of access to reproductive health (RH) information and services, and teen-age pregnancies. Poor Filipino women seek solutions to these.

The 2010 elections is deemed as an opportunity to effect significant changes that will make people’s quality of life better. This presumes electing into office candidates who will give paramount importance to the common good and address issues affecting vulnerable and marginalized groups in Philippine society – such as the women. An intelligent electorate is thus, needed.

Voters will be able to choose wisely if candidates focus on making known to people their platforms, credentials and track record. Beyond the propaganda, voters must understand what candidates stand for and the concrete programs they will implement once voted into office.

I.  FILIPINO WOMEN, POLITICS AND ELECTIONS

Filipino women have been politically active since they acquired the right to vote. They form a significant part of candidates’ and political parties’ machinery in every election. They actively campaign, do organizing work, serve as watchers, protect votes of their candidates, etc.

Studies show that historically, the past elections saw more women voting than men. Yet, specific programs for women are most often marginalized, if not totally excluded in candidates’ platforms. This is symptomatic of existing thinking that women are generally less important than men and that women are merely followers.

Women voters need to know what candidates plan to do to address their needs and interests.

II.  WOMEN’S HEALTH AS AN AGENDA FOR THE 2010 ELECTIONS

For decades, women’s organizations have been working so that their issues are significantly addressed by government. Women’s advocacy work has resulted in some success with women-focused legislations like the Anti-Rape, Anti-Sexual Harassment, Women in Nation-building, Anti-Trafficking in Persons, Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children laws. This shows that women are and can be effective advocates for candidates who will be proven to put women’s welfare in their agenda.

The potential of women’s vote has not yet been fully appreciated and tapped by politicians, especially the males. The late Sen. Raul Roco tried and was partially successful. He showed that women will work for those who are mindful of women’s issues and needs. Other candidates who are true in their intentions of looking after women’s needs should follow suit.

THE AGENDA – KALUSUGAN NG KABABAIHAN

A lot more needs to be done.  Putting emphasis on women’s concerns in the ongoing political debates is particularly critical in the urgent need to address health-related issues of women, particularly those on reproductive health (RH).

Women’s health is an urgent issue. This is not only a matter of right, it is a matter of life. The issue of Reproductive Health (RH), despite the strong opposition of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy is integral to women’s health.

‘No woman should die in giving life,’ is a statement that no one will disagree with. 11 Filipino women, many of them in poverty, dying daily due to pregnancy and childbirth-related complications is not a joke. These are senseless deaths that could have been prevented. This number represents the Philippines’ Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), which is one of the highest in Asia.

Surely, if candidates to the coming national elections are asked, all will say that this problem must be addressed. It is, therefore, reasonable for voters to expect concrete solutions from these candidates, especially those who are after the highest position of the land – the Presidency.

II.1.  REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH (RH)-  is a state of complete physical, mental & social well-being & not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system & to its functions and processes. (WHO & ICPD)

RH implies that people are able to have:

  • a satisfying & safe sex life;
  • the capability to reproduce; &
  • freedom to decide if, when & how often to do so.

RH necessitates:

  • Rights of women & men to be informed & to have access to safe, effective, affordable & acceptable family planning methods of their choice, as well as other methods for regulation of fertility WHICH ARE NOT AGAINST THE LAW;
  • The right to access to appropriate health care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy & childbirth & provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant.

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE

  • the constellation of methods, techniques & services that contribute to reproductive health & well-being by preventing & solving RH problems;
  • also includes sexual health, the purpose of which is the enhancement of life & personal relations, & not merely counseling & care related to reproduction & STDs.

PHILIPPINE RH PROGRAM 10 ELEMENTS (DOH AO 1-A s. 1998)

  1. Family Planning
  2. Maternal & Child Health & Nutrition
  3. Prevention & Management of Abortion Complications
  4. Prevention & Treatment of RTIs including STIs & HIV & AIDS
  5. Education & Counseling on Sexuality & Sexual Health
  6. Breast & Reproductive Tract Cancers & other Gynecologic Conditions
  7. Men’s Role & Participation in RH
  8. Adolescent RH
  9. Violence Against Women (VAW)
  10. Prevention & Treatment of Infertility & Sexual Disorders

II.2.  LEGAL BASES FOR RH

International Human Rights Commitments such as: The Convention Against all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); International Conference on Population and Development Program of Action (ICPD-POA); Beijing Platform of Action (BPA); and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) esp. MDG5.

Constitutional Provisions:

  • Art. II. Sec. 15. – The State shall protect & promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them.
  • Art. XIII. Sec. 11. – The State shall adopt an integrated & comprehensive approach to health development which shall endeavor to make essential goods, health & other social services available to all the people at affordable cost. There shall be priority for the needs of the underprivileged, sick, elderly, disabled, women & children. The State shall endeavor to provide free medical care to paupers.
  • Art. XV. Sec. 3. [1] – The State shall defend the right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions & the demands of responsible parenthood.

II.3.   RH: PHILIPPINE SITUATION:

MMR is just one of the burning issues related with RH. Consider the following data:

On marriage, pregnancy and childbirth:

  • At 19, 1 of every 5 young women is already married and 90% of them have already given birth (DOH, 1999)
  • Adolescent pregnancy is 30% of annual births (DOH/WHO/UNFPA)
  • Poor and uneducated women marry and give birth earlier in life, and have more children than women with higher education (2003 NDHS)
  • More than 60% of pregnancies in the Philippines is classified as high-risk (2003 NDHS)
  • The desired fertility rate of Filipino women is 2.5/woman but the actual rate is 3.5 or a difference of 1 child/woman (2003 NDHS)
  • Mean age at having 1st child is 19. (YAFS3, 2002)
  • Only about 25% of the poorest women is attended by skilled attendants upon delivery. (NDHS, 2003)
  • Almost 10% of young Filipino women aged 15-19 has already given birth. (NDHS, 1998)
  • Adolescent pregnancy is 30% of all annual births. (DOH/WHO/UNFPA Training Manual)
  • 11 Filipino women die daily due to pregnancy & childbirth-related complications (UNFPA, 2007) & over half (56%) of yearly maternal deaths are unreported.
  • The WHO indicates that more than 95% maternal mortality comes from developing countries.
  • Poor women have 3 times more children than the rich.

    • CLASS Desired Fertility Actual Fertility
      Lowest (Poorest) 3.8 5.9
      Second 3.1 4.6
      Middle 2.6 3.5
      Fourth 2.2 2.8
      Highest (Richest) 1.7 2.0
  • Population growth rate (PGR) is pegged at 2.04% which translates to about 2 million new Filipinos yearly.
  • Poverty incidence is higher among big families.

      • Family size
        1997
        2000
        2003
        Phils.
        28.1
        27.5
        24.4
        1
        8.36
        7.57
        4.44
        2
        11.76
        11.74
        7.81
        3
        15.86
        14.52
        11.45
        4
        20.44
        19.62
        17.05
        5
        27.38
        27.14
        24.31
        6
        35.59
        37.00
        33.48
        7
        41.22
        45.62
        41.44
        8
        47.81
        52.70
        46.55
        9
        52.41
        55.42
        52.27
        10
        48.99
        54.44
        50.63
        >10
        43.35
        50.74
        52.96

On sex and contraception:

  • Mean age at 1st sex for males and females is 17 and 18 respectively (YAFS3, 2002)
  • 16% of youth had 1st sex before age 15 (SPPR2, 2002)
  • 27% of males and 14.5% of females used contraception during 1st sex (YAFS3, 2002)
  • 60% of women source their Family Planning (FP) supplies/services from the public sector
  • Less than 1% of couples using Family Planning methods use Natural Family Planning (NFP) (2003 NDHS)
    • 31.2% of males & 15.9% of females had premarital sex. (YAFS 3, 2002)
    • The lowest rate of contraceptive use is among the 15-19 years age bracket. (NDHS, 1998)
    • The majority of women practicing family planning uses modern instead of traditional (calendar, rhythm, abstinence & withdrawal) methods. (FPS, 2006)
    • Only 0.4% of women uses natural family planning (NFP) methods (Mucus/Billings/Ovulation, Standard Days, LAM) & only 13.2% uses traditional methods. (FPS, 2005)
    • Almost 60% of women source their supply of FP services & supplies from the public sector. The government has been dependent on outside donors for its contraceptive commodities. USAID has completely phased out its donations.
    • 61% of currently married women does not want additional children anymore.  (NDHS, 2003)
    • 50.6% of the youth wants to have only 2 children. (YAFS 3, 2002)
    • 97% of all Filipinos believe it is important to have the ability to control one’s fertility or to plan one’s family. 87% of total respondents are Roman Catholic. (Pulse Asia Survey, February 2004)
    • FP can reduce maternal deaths by 32%. (DOH)
    • The unmet need for contraceptives is 23.15% for poor women (2003 NDHS) and much lower for those who are not in poverty.

On abortion

  • Unplanned/unwanted pregnancy causes over 400,000 induced abortions every year (UPPU-AGI, 2006)
  • About 16 out of every 100 pregnancies end in abortion (Perez, Aurora et al. 1997)
  • The big majority of women having induced abortions are poor (68%), married (91%), with more than 3 children (57%), and Catholic (87%) (UPPU-AGI, 2006)
  • Unwanted pregnancy causes over 400,000 induced abortions every year. (UPPU-AGI, 2006)
  • Some reasons why women have abortions:
  • Too many children
  • Birth spacing
  • Poverty
  • Rape/incest
  • Unstable relationship
  • Too young
  • (Safe Motherhood Fact Sheet: Unsafe Abortion, 1999)

On HIV and AIDS

  • Has reached an epidemic level. (DOH)
  • At least 30% of young people thinks that HIV & AIDS are curable. (YAFS)

II.4   WHAT FILIPINOS SAY:

About family planning:

  • 92% says FP important. (Ulat ng Bayan, Pulse Asia Survey, 2007)
  • 97% says it’s important to have the ability to plan one’s family. 87% of respondents is Roman Catholic. (Pulse Asia Survey, February 2004)
  • 89% thinks gov’t should provide budgets for FP including contraceptives. (Ulat ng Bayan, Pulse Asia Survey, 2007)

About pro-RH politicians:

  • 86% says that candidates for elective positions who advocate a program for women’s health should be supported;
  • 82% of the population says that candidates in favor of couples’ free choice of FP should be supported;
  • 82% considers candidates supporting a law on population issues worthy of their votes; and
  • 83% in favor of candidates supporting  allocation of government funds for FP.

Thus, within the context of the Constitutional provisions on women’s right to health and the State’s international commitments, the State is bound to address RH-related issues.

II.5.   NEEDED RH PROGRAM

To succeed in this, the State needs to implement a rights-based, comprehensive, and integrated national program that includes:

  • Training of more skilled birth attendants;
  • Upgrading of personnel, equipment, and services of public hospitals, clinics, and health centers particularly on obstetrics and gynaecology;
  • Periodic MMR and morbidity review;
  • A strong and age-appropriate RH education for the youth;
  • Prevention and treatment of: HIV and AIDS, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), post abortion complications, breast cancer and other reproductive track infections (RTIs);
  • Provision of ALL family planning (FP) methods especially to those who want and/or need these;
  • A massive and popularized information and education campaign on FP;
  • Mobile health clinics in all Congressional districts;
  • Strict implementation of RH-related provisions of the Labor Code and VAW-related laws;
  • Adequate financing;
  • Enactment of an RH law so that the government policy is not dependent on personal positions of national and local officials.

Poor Filipinos have the right to quality life. The youth have the right to a better future, and WOMEN have the right to life. An RH-responsive government will promote women’s rights & save thousands of lives. Healthy women beget healthy children & will result in healthy families. Make women matter….

MAKE RH MATTER IN THE 2010 ELECTIONS!!!

Edcel Lagman on the fate of the RH Bill

Last Friday, Beth Angsioco, Reproductive Health Advocacy Network (RHAN) secretary general, hosted a gathering of RH advocates. One of the reasons for the gathering was the recent withdrawal of support by a number of candidates due to the bullying of the CBCP.

In spite of the CBCP’s political meddling, there are still those who openly support the bill. Beth shared with us a list of pro-RH bill candidates).

Among the guests was one of the strongest advocates of RH, Albay 1st district Representative and author of the RH Bill, Edcel Lagman. Here are some of his thoughts on the fate of the RH bill:

Download Edcel’s short speech.

Ricky Carandang

If you haven’t read Ricky Carandang’s recent post, Thou Shalt Not Vote For… please do. Read through the comments as well and you’ll find that Father Melvin Castro tries to backtrack on what he said, but to little effect. He still finds supporting the Reproductive Health legislation and education more evil than graft and corruption. This “flabbergasted” Ricky, prompting him to write the said post, and even resign from the Church.

What did he mean by this? Is Ricky still a Catholic? What should be done about the Church’s meddling in legislation? I asked these questions and more in a brief interview with Ricky the other day. I’ll be posting the transcript soon, but till then, I’m sure you’ll enjoy listening to the interview itself. Especially if you’re as pissed at the Church’s anti-RH stance as we are.

Download Interview recording

Stop CBCP politicking now!

The CBCP is registered as a religious organization.

It is a misconception to think that any organization that participates in religious activities is automatically classified as a religious organization. A religious organization is actually a type of non-stock corporation. A religious group must apply for religious organization status with the SEC and BIR.

To register as a religious organization, an organization must participate exclusively in activities with the following nature:

  • religious
  • charitable
  • educational

This condition must be met to qualify as a religious organization and receive tax-exempt status from the BIR.

Participating in partisan politics is a political activity — not a religious, charitable, or educational activity. If a religious organization participates in a political activity, it no longer meets the condition above, and is disqualified from being registered as a religious organization.

It also loses its conditionally-given tax-exempt status.

By actively campaigning against pro-RH candidates, the CBCP is participating in partisan politics, which is a political activity. This disqualifies them from their previous classification as a religious organization. This also disqualifies them from receiving tax-exempt status.

Therefore, the SEC should revoke CBCP’s status as a religious organization, and the BIR should remove the CBCP’s tax-exempt status.

If the CBCP ceases to be a religious organization and loses its tax-exempt status, it may campaign against pro-RH candidates all it wants. It may even run as a party-list candidate.

But they should not be allowed to participate in political activities and receive tax benefits at the same time.

Yet they have been doing so for a very long time, and they will continue to do so until somebody stops them. Ideally, our politicians should, but they are too busy and too scared. Meanwhile, the CBCP continues its political meddling while enjoying tax-exempt status.

When elections are over and our politicians finally have time — not to mention guts, for they can finally stop worrying about the Catholic vote — it will be too late. The CBCP will already have done its damage.

The CBCP may not be able to influence the voters, but they can certainly influence the politicians.

Traditional media helps, but it is not enough, because they, too, are afraid of the CBCP. Some are willing to take a stand, but they are in the minority. Yet with the power of new media, there is something you can do:

Let’s not allow the CBCP to violate our constitution and make cowards of our politicians any longer. Keep the church out of politics and politics out of the church!

sinisterspark

I would never characterize myself as a religious person, but there was a time when I thought religion was an important part of my life. I have found myself a couple of times sobbing by myself in the church chapel and feeling better afterward; I have gotten hope and inspiration from words of a priest. I believed in the transformational power of the religious community in the lives of others. I had faith. I had not ventured to learn about what the Catholic Church has done in the past, but what I had known then, 10 years ago, was that in the most part, the Church was a force of good in the world.

I studied in a Catholic all-girls school that was, by most accounts, a feminist school. We had joined protests against the government. We (students and teachers alike) believed in equality of women to men and would have been the type to fight for it, tooth and nail. We were never the type of women who would cower in a corner. Never in my Catholic education did I expect that this brand of feminist values were against what the Catholic Church really stood for.

I mean, I should have seen the signs. We were made to think that condoms caused infections and pills caused cancer, never mind its effectiveness against pregnancy. Sure, we were shown an actual IUD (which looked like a fishing line or something, BTW). However, my whole sexual education and family planning class can be summed up as follows – ‘any sort of artificial or chemical means of birth control will likely give you cancer/permanent fertility damage/infection/allergic reactions’.

Nevertheless, I just assumed my teachers were somewhat misinformed. They can’t possibly really believe this right?

In the last 10 years I have witnessed the Church vocally protest against things that generally give women freedom, relief, equal rights, and empowerment.

Divorce. What was so wrong with divorce? Firstly, they can prevent Catholics from divorcing all they want, but why prevent the entire country from getting one? I think we are only one of a handful of countries not allowed to divorce, and this is mainly due to the Catholic lobby. A divorce can allow a woman (and a man) freedom from an abusive relationship. A divorce gives separated partners certain rights not available in a legal separation or annulment. Preventing divorce is not going to help families already broken in the first place. It just keeps unhappy families unhappy for the rest of their lives.

In addition, separation and annulment is not kosher with the Church either. When I was getting married in the Guadalupe Church just a few years ago, me and my husband were asked to sign a document promising that we are not to separate or annul our marriage even in case of (1) insanity; (2) infidelity and having children with another partner; (3) homosexuality; (4) physical and verbal abuse; (5) and fraud. Most of these are, by the way, legal grounds for annulment and separation that are allowed by the Family Code. Why should people force themselves to keep married under these circumstances? Why is this right? There is a reason why the law thinks these are reasonable grounds for separation and annulment. Why doesn’t the Church agree to the same?

Artificial means of birth control and choice, period. Why does the Catholic Church feel the need to ‘legislate’ on these matters when even other religious sects are keeping out of it? Why does this group of allegedly celibate people get to say when or how or why women have sex? Why do they choose to express their disapproval through misinformation instead of actual facts? Is it really that hard to say, “condoms are effective, but they are evil” instead of the lies that “condoms are not effective” and “women on the pill get cancer” and “population growth is not a problem”? Why are they using their mighty power to block reproductive health aid that is much needed in the Philippines and in Africa?

I wonder what they think the world would look like if women had the final say regarding baby-making. Women are capable of making a choice consistent with their religious beliefs without the need for an all-powerful institution to block their access to the ‘other’ options. Women can handle truth and facts and make good decisions and choices for themselves, thank you, if they’d only let them.

The role of women in the Church. In most Catholic churches that I have gone to, women were the most dedicated in fund-raising, community building, organizing and just plain worshiping Jesus and God and Mary and the Holy Spirit and all that it represents. It pains me to see that women are still treated as second-class citizens by the organization they so support. Why are these women relegated to these roles of servitude and prayer-power-powwows when they can do much more? Why does the church focus and prioritize merely the uterus of these women to the point that the lives of these women are mere accessories to the baby-making potential they possess? Why do women not have much of a say in the Vatican when setting Church policy on reproductive issues and family?

Homosexuality. I find it disturbing that the Church finds it so easy to condemn a group of fellow human beings just for being who they are. It is unkind and discriminatory to its core. If the Church can hide behind scripture on this, they should also condemn the rest of the human race because somehow, somewhere in that same scripture they have condemned those people as well.

I have mostly questions, because the Catholics I know and love would not stand for the values that these policies represent. There is no logical reason in this day and age for these policies to exist. I see the Church now as merely an oppressive organization of men in robes that through its bureaucracy has betrayed what it was supposed to stand for. If there is a God that stood for love and community and kindness, He did not intend to have his organization of worshipers to act like this. To have a set of beliefs arbitrarily imposed on a group of willing believers in a way that is illogical, misleading, and propagates inequality and poverty is already so wrong as it is; to impose it on a country that needs so much to think for itself and achieve economic growth and political and social maturity is something I could not stand for.

God may very well be a force of good in the world, but the Catholic Church is a destructive force that needs to be stopped.

John Paraiso

It was just fortunate for me to be invited by a friend to attend a razzmatazz sponsored by Pro-Life Philippines in St. Peter’s Parish in Fairview, Quezon City three years ago. I went there hoping to be enlightened about the issues on abortion; instead what I saw was an exciting and complex play intended to confuse (dazzle) the public.

I was surprised that the whole shebang was not even a dialogue but propaganda, run by the Roman Catholic church to ban the artificial birth control method and family planning. AY NAKU PO! Not again! There were even some foreign guests (I think from Canada) who talked about Philippine poverty, saying it must not be blamed on population growth. Now here we have aliens from another land who in a mere instant knew what was best for Filipino society. MY PAPAYA!

Fortunately I got some distributed literature which showed what this was all about. The article seemed to be a letter intended to be given to the Philippine Congress, urging our respective Congressmen not to support some bills regarding:

  • The Reproductive Health Bill
  • Anti-Discrimination Act
  • Integrated Population Management and Development Bill
  • Divorce Bill
  • Patients Rights Bill
  • Anti-Terrorism Bill (?)
  • Philippine Mining Act

And even the issue on Charter Change. Wait a minute there… I thought this is about the life of a child. Why are we dancing the cha-cha in here?

Now since this is a “Pro-Life” issue, I will just tackle the issue concerning Pro-Life. I’ll leave the issue of Anti-Terrorism and the Philippine Mining Act in a more “political” atmosphere.

According to this article, they claim that the cause of poverty is not overpopulation and the solution is not the use of contraceptives. Guess again? Well for your information, over-population is one of the causes of poverty and these entertainers are just keeping their eyes closed on the issue. Well some may use China as an example to justify over-population but let us examine the claim: We know that China is a very large country by territory compared to the itsy-bitsy group of islands called the Philippines.

So what’s the problem? Even with a billion in population, China can still manage their resources and their per capita income, compared to the Philippines. But why go to China if we can talk about reality in our own backyard?

Now the clamors in the issue about the Reproductive Health Bill are not even realistic. Maybe if we’re still living in the time of President Marcos, there is an issue. But today President Arroyo seems too hesitant to enforce the bill. Takot kasi si Ma’am sa simbahan eh.

The church still insists that the use of artificial contraceptives is immoral. Well think about this — there are thousands of sperm cells that leave a male body during coitus. Of the thousands, only one is needed to fertilized the egg cell. Now do you consider it murder, what happened to the unused sperm? It just doesn’t make sense. Here the Roman Catholics are into the sacredness of the sperm cell yet they don’t care about the child. A little common sense can shed some light on this matter. Just observe families around you and you’ll notice that most families that are a little well off have only 2 to 3 children, yet most families that live in depressed areas have a factory of kids. Most family whose parents have some college education insist on having few children with an interval of birth between 3 to 5 years, whereas family who only have an educational attainment of grade school have children as much as a dozen whose birth intervals can be compared to a stairway – every year mayroong birthday – WOAH!

And what happened with these children? Well maybe the staffs from Pro-Life Philippines should have a tour of Recto to Luneta at 1 to 4 AM and count the number of children sleeping in the streets, or sniffing rubber cement for dinner or breakfast. Now, I’m just thinking, these Catholic priests and their cahoots (like Pro-Life Philippines) preach to their adherents that it is a blessing to have many children, but where are they when these children , without the proper guidance of their parents, are now living in the streets, doing petty jobs just to survive or even worse, end up criminals? What is more moral, to save your so-called sacred sperm or to spare a life on misery because of tradition, superstition and ignorance?

Now on another issue, according to Pro-Life Philippines you mustn’t teach sex education to a 10-year old child. Hahaha! Now there is this speaker that says sex is God-given and will just go on naturally. Maybe if you’re still living in 18th century Europe, this is applicable. Before you talk, you have to consider the kind of environment you are living in. Just walk along the streets of Santa Cruz to Divisoria and you’ll be surprised how pornographic DVDs and VCDs are being sold in the streets like fishballs. AHA! And their packages are just lying there for the children to see. Pictures of a 12-year old child without any underpants being molested by a full-grown, pot bellied jerk old enough to be her daddy. Now what is more disgusting is to see this colored VCD label being held by a 7-year old grade school pupil from a nearby elementary school. Or how about this: a porno magazine that can rival Larry Flynn’s Hustler Magazine disguised as tabloids littering the streets of Manila. They’re only worth 15 pesos and can be bought by the average Filipino student. And let us not forget how pornography is now very easily downloaded from the internet and those novelties, double-meaning songs and some rap music being played by the radio, like this song about a lady’s rump. Last but not the least, TV shows and movies that suggestively displays men “beating their meat.”

So by not teaching your child about sex education, a craftier teacher is just waiting outside the gates of your house.

A recent study conducted by the Asian Development Bank, found the main cause of poverty in the Philippines to be:

  • Weak macro-economics management
  • High unemployment
  • High population growth
  • Weak agricultural production
  • High corruption and weak governance
  • Insurgency and violence
  • Physical disability

Notice that high population growth is included in the list. A friend of mine once said, “Do you notice that most countries with a high Roman Catholic influence seem never to progress?” I sometimes wonder if population issue is one of the causes.

According to government statistics, three Filipinos are born every minute. That’s 160 Filipinos born every hour; 4,320 every day; 129,600 every month or 1,522,800 new Filipino to feed. Without proper care and guidance, more than half of these new Filipinos will be like animals in the streets of our major cities. Another new batch of “blessed is the poor and the meek and the sinners, etc. etc. etc.”

Until today, the Roman Catholic stand is that the world is not overpopulated and that overpopulation is not the cause of poverty. But what do they know? Naturally, these “men of God” have always relied on fantasy. But reality is very hard to swallow. Just go to Quapo in Manila and see the number of street children that littered the pavement near the church gates. Children without clothes, whose bellies are bloated with parasites, beggars for money. These street children soon become teenagers, without the proper guidance of poor parents, becoming hold-uppers and pick-pockets on Quiapo’s busy intersections. Is this what the Roman Church mean by fixing the poverty problem? As the famed Filipino author, F. Sionil Jose said in an article in Business World in 1997:

The country’s massive problems, basically created by Marcos and an irresponsible elite would faze any miracle worker. First, there is the tremendous population growth – three percent annually, the highest in Asia; almost all the economic gains are eaten up by it. Fueling it is the Catholic Church insisting on doctrinal purity, opposing birth control programs.

Pro-Life Philippines are now telling the audience that the solution is more jobs and to produce more food for the masses. Wait a minute? More food? Or is it more mouths to feed? Which is which? Just make a simple stroll in the streets of Manila and you can see children digging for leftovers in the garbage dumps, a site never heard off 20 years ago. Today the streets of South Harbor in Manila is littered with families living in the streets. Ano ba kayo? Nagbubulagbulagan ba kayo?

The equation is quite simple. Our planet is in a balance. Too many mouths to feed means an over use of natural resources. There is no magic here! For our resources to replenish, it will need time. But our population is too fast for our resources to catch up. Soon population will outrun the resources. It’s that simple. Just take a good look on experiments concerning the rabbit population problem in the United State and Australia. If the resources dwindle, nature will take its course. The situation is uglier compared to the artificial birth control method, when disease due to malnutrition would take its course to control the population.

If this continues, instead of eternal salvation, the Roman Church will be responsible for the eternal starvation of the Filipino.

[Photo by Jonathan McIntosh]

Hieronymus

Losing My Religion

I began questioning my religion in high school. And lost it in college. I remained an agnostic for 20 years after that, and later, in my readings, on diverse subjects (the sciences, history, biographies, literature, philosophy), I happened by a book by a famous biblical scholar (JD Crossan). It was as if I had discovered the man behind the Jesus myth, and it was quite inspiring-almost like meeting Jesus again, but for the first time. This inspired me to try and see how lived (versus believed) Christianity might be. And so after 20 years of agnosticism, I re-joined a church (the Anglican/Episcopal Church).

The beauty of its liturgical style, and the intelligence of the way they approached their faith swept me along for about 3 years. While I participated in the services and dabbled in bible study, I never for once believed in the divinity of Jesus, though I thought I would open up my mind (and heart) to the possibility of God. Of course, I did not have in mind a concept of God as a person, but as an ultimate reality. So when I prayed with them, it was for me a symbolic act of attempting to connect with the “All-ness” of reality (whatever that might mean), rather than communication with a divine being or person. Plus the beauty of their liturgy helped me as almost a form of practical (or ritual) meditation.

That didn’t last long, because sooner or later it became difficult to go on fraternizing with people who felt “one-with-you” in spirit, when I couldn’t very well return the favor- I was not a “Christian” in their sense, but only in my own private, and thoroughly off-synch sort of way– which really wasn’t Christian at all.

I found that, at the end of the day, belonging to a church meant sharing a FAITH–believing in something was the point of it all. So while I thought that the revolutionary program and spirit of Jesus was what was significant, they felt that believing incredible claims about him was the whole point of church membership and fellowship. But I didn’t come to that glaring realization on my own. It took an honest conversation with my wife, who was an emerging atheist, to snap me out of church and back to reality!

So I left the church again. This time I was able to admit to myself that I was an atheist, and shed the label of agnostic.

[Image by Hans Musil]

Anna Gan

Anna Gan — Cafeteria Christian

I was baptized a Catholic, received my first Communion as a Catholic and even went through Confirmation as one -not because my parents were fervent believers, but because it was a requirement for the school they wanted to enroll me in. While I value and treasure the education given to me (and have a belief in a Supreme Being) , I do question why the Church has chosen to repress others of different faiths and chosen to push its own self serving agenda through the ages.

In an age where women have been acknowledged as equals and have become pastors to their community, the Catholic church still only admits men into the priesthood. Women who wish to serve God become nuns. That is sexism hiding behind a “holy” cloak, and if the Church bewails the shortage of men who want to become priests, they shouldn’t be surprised.

After many were persecuted and some made martyrs during the Roman era, Catholics went on to torture others in the Inquisition, trying to weed out witches and those who did not subscribe to their faith (a practice which predated the Jewish Holocaust). They persecuted fellow Christians (Protestants) during the time of Mary Tudor -and the conflict strangely continues in Ireland (a country with pagan roots before the arrival of Christianity). The Church also tried taking the Holy City (as if the Israelites and Palestinians needed more trouble) during the Crusades. How does one reconcile being part of that faith, when we’ve been told “thou shall not kill” and “thou shall not covet” -then turn a blind eye as people invent loopholes to justify their actions in the name of God?

Then you wonder about the donations you make when they pass that bag or basket during Mass. Does it help feed or clothe the poor? Educate novices on the path to serving God? Or feed the great coffers of the Vatican, whose treasures rival any kingdom’s? This Church whose influence and power has grown through the millennia, and strangely does not protect its churchgoers, but instead protects the false servants — those who have families on the side, the ones who rob from the coffers, or even the ones who molest their own church followers.

And now, when we are being told to avoid mass consumerism, to become less materialistic and more spiritual -the Church still says birth control is bad? Worse, it meddles with the affairs of a nation that also has people of other faiths that have lived here for centuries -and deems “bad” a law allowing better access to reproductive health materials. Uncontrolled population growth, especially among the poor who have the least access to information/resources has led to crimes, mendicancy, malnourished/illiterate children and malnourished/illiterate women dying from pregnancy/childbirth complications.

As blind as the Church is, its own members do fall from grace, and without birth control, may resort to the extreme measure of abortion -a form of murder. Or if they go through with the pregnancy, abandon the child (there have been cases of newborns left in the worst situations: trashbins, restrooms, places where no straight-thinking mother should leave a defenseless child) and in some cases repeat the cycle of pregnancy and abandonment. A morbid joke says that if men could become pregnant, abortion wouldn’t just be legalized but actually become a sacrament –ironic, when you consider that those in power are men. It’s actually amazing that castration/sterilization didn’t become a prerequisite for the priesthood, perhaps to acknowledge that one may be a servant of God, but still a whole human being.

In a country that also has other faiths, which has decreed in its revised Constitution the separation of church and state, politicians still allow themselves to be bullied by the clergy -thanks to 300 years of Spanish rule (mostly by the cassocked set). To preserve the sanctity of a family or the appearance of one, our convoluted laws do not allow divorce but offer as an alternative separation or annulment -probably one of the last dinosaur-minded nations to do so. With the recent party-list status of LGBT group Ang Ladlad denied by the Comelec for “immoral grounds,” one realizes that separation may have been declared on paper, but has yet to take effect in reality. Take note that for years, the Comelec has held office in Intramuros, also the homebase of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

The hypocrisy of being Catholic revealed itself when I enrolled for one year for college in a convent school. There, young ladies could smoke (in a designated area), could whisper about the boys they were going to meet (and the things they were going to do) – and students mysteriously vanished mid-semester for, ahem, health reasons. But other students who were not Catholics were prevented from practicing their faith. Despite being fellow Christians, they could not openly pray, and were told not to evangelize or proclaim within school grounds. There, a student with extremely short hair had to report to the dean of discipline and was given a choice between wearing dangling earrings and red lipstick -or not attend school at all (interestingly enough, there was a faculty member or lecturer who seemed to have trans-sexual leanings and was allowed to wear what s/he pleased as long as it was “decent”). The same student who was the target of ethnic ridicule, for some strange reason, by a religion teacher who declared that she looked like a drug addict (one supposes that prior to her becoming a respected member of the faculty, this educator had first-hand experience in the appearance and demeanor of substance abusers). Despite having above-decent grades, I chose to remove myself from this environment -for I had no wish to be molded by the half-informed or hypocritical set that proclaimed themselves enlightened.

Religion isn’t really an opiate of the masses, it’s the people who abuse it and make it a tool for propaganda who make it so.

Anna, part of a new generation of freethinkers, banding together to fight for a secular Philippines.

Anna, isa sa mga bagong Pepe na nagsalita na sapagka’t pagod na sya maging pipi.

[Anna, one of the new Pepe’s who has finally spoken up because she’s tired of being silenced].

Rona Co

Rona Co, 30, journalist, former Catholic:

I don’t consider myself a Catholic. Though I was raised by a conservative Catholic family and studied in a Catholic school, I’ve long decided that I don’t want to be one anymore.

I’ve always had so many questions about the religion which I felt was shoved down my throat while growing up. The first seeds of doubt came when one of my grade school teachers – a Dominican nun – told us a story about how the Virgin Mary stopped “God the Father” from literally axing the earth. She said, “God was so mad at everyone for being sinful that He decided to just end the world. But the Virgin Mary intervened, she said, and asked God to give us another chance.”

She told us that story to illustrate how powerful the Virgin Mary is and how we better stay as loyal and obedient minions of the Church. I was scared shit for several days after hearing that. But then again, I thought, “There’s no way she could have known about that story even if it were true.” Though her story does not reflect the entire teachings of the Catholic Church, that’s when the questions started pouring in.

In high school, I once thought that our barangay leaders in Tondo should help organize seminars on family planning because there were (and there still are) so many young teens getting pregnant, and parents without decent-paying jobs having more kids. But it was also during that time that many Catholic schools – including mine – actively mobilized their students to join protest actions against the UN Cairo conference in 1994. We were bombarded by posters and placards with photos of aborted babies, saying that abortion is what being pro-choice is about. I remember debating with myself on that issue, because even at that time I knew that family planning, population management, and caring for one’s reproductive health do not equate to abortion.

College was a breath of fresh air because things were openly discussed despite my university’s Christian leanings (DLSU). I began to seriously ask questions and formulate my own thoughts on issues such as the use of contraceptives, family planning, the absence of divorce in the Philippines, the correlation of our country’s economic development and overpopulation, the lack of respect of our society for same-sex relationships, and many other things.

After college, I decided that I don’t want to belong in a group that continually tries to hamper the growth of our country by blackmailing politicians for supporting causes/bills I support. And when I had my son in 2008, I refused to have him baptized in Catholic rites, despite my family’s protests. I told them that I want my son to grow up free from an oppressive belief system. Besides, I don’t want him added to the Catholic statistics in this country and be used as a convenient excuse not to pass the RH Bill.

I can no longer be an accessory to the Church’s crime of depriving the people – women especially – their much-needed reproductive health services. A new generation of Pinoys are growing up in my community in Tondo and the same things that happened to their parents – early pregnancy, not being able to finish school due to lack of resources, etc. – are happening to them as well. We cannot remain blinded by this cycle of poverty and ignorance because it’s something that we can prevent.

Lastly, I cannot stand by a religion that does not respect the rights, beliefs, and choices of human beings. Soon, our lawmakers have got to look at the possibility of passing laws on divorce and same-sex marriage without fear of getting blackmailed or – que horror – losing in the elections. And it will only happen if we – former Catholics, Catholics who support these causes, members of other religions, atheists, whatever – stand up for our beliefs and speak out.

We’ve got to be the balls for our lawmakers. And we’ve got to tell the Catholic Church that enough is enough.

Rona, part of a new generation of freethinkers, banding together to fight for a secular Philippines.

Rona, isa sa mga bagong Pepe na nagsalita na sapagka’t pagod na sya maging pipi.

[Rona, one of the new Pepe’s who has finally spoken up because she’s tired of being silenced].

Reproductive health bill – My Perspective And Thoughts

At only 24, my niece had already three kids. Her husband is jobless. They subsist on buying and selling anything for a day’s meal. Their kids are malnourished, and it is heart-breaking to see their pitiable conditions. They can’t even buy school supplies for their two grade-school kids. Being the only employed next of kin, I see to it that I give them some financial help, just to afford their kids to go to school. Sadly for me, that doesn’t end there. From hospital delivery to hospitalization of any sort, they will be running to me. But am I being so cruel for sometimes getting so pissed off by their nuisances? ”Why make so many kids when you can even hardly eat?” ”Because there is no more available contraceptives in the health center”, was her prompt reply. When the poor have only their stomach as priority, anything else would be a luxury-and buying the once free contraceptives are beyond what they can afford.

My piece of resentment however, is nothing in comparison with the condition of the poorest families with multiple children. But why did the government stop the supply of the once free-to-access contraceptives available in our local health centers? Has our national leadership been so indifferent and oblivious to the fact that over-population causes more economic misery to our country? Are the UN reports on the Philippines’ over population and all its encompassing ill effects on the society in general becoming irrelevant? Our government officials are presumed more knowledgeable on any issue, and therefore have more access to facts from any national and international researches on population growth in the country.

Few would argue with me that poverty is not a blessing, but it’s a curse. The evils in our society has its roots traced on poverty. Although it may be one’s choice to tread that evil path, his or her decision is one way or another influenced by poverty. Over-population as everyone knows is the main root of poverty. I myself am a living testimony to that. We are ten siblings. As a kid, I dreamed of becoming somebody. But how could I? I was just lucky to have finished high school. Were it not for my determination and untold sacrifice, I would have not graduated from high school. I even came to a point of cursing myself for having been born poor. Why not? How could my parents support us all when we are ten?

Poor families with multiple children can hardly feed their family. Sending all children to school would be a hard task resulting to some children having to sacrifice. And some who have started school, tend to stop and are forced to look for jobs just to help the family get by. But less education and less qualification do not equate with good job; and so the misery goes on. And the cycle continues. Sad to say, this cycle of poverty cannot be alleviated as our population continues to soar.

If our government is determined to improve the quality of life of its citizenry, it will do its utmost to enact and implement laws that would benefit its citizens. According to various researches, poor living condition is rooted in an over-population of a certain country. Our country has a distinction of one of the most densely-congested countries in the world per capita. But all the while, what is our government doing to address this compounding problem of over-population? On the video link below, you will be appalled at how the former Manila mayor Atienza gives his perspective and stand towards the issue of over-population. His confident talks and irrational viewpoint, in a way gave me a sense of embarrassment as a Filipino. And he is only one of those treading the corridors of power with the same stand on this issue.

So much has been written for and against the controversial Reproductive Health Bill. The debates are getting intense and personal in some cases. All media communications are never short of platforms in tackling this issue. Everyone seems hell-bent on getting their voices heard. It is noteworthy though, that even an average citizen is so in-tune with this issue, because so much is at stake- the future of our children and our children’s children. But would this collective voice by many turn out to be futile? A big yes, maybe! Not because of the poor being against it, but because of the sinister force that is behind the improbability of its passing into law. This force is the immensely powerful Roman Catholic Church. This influence-wielding church has dominion over peoples of the earth, and its heirarchy creates its own policies that dictates its church members to obey them.

The Philippines proudly distinguishes itself as the only predominantly ‘Christian nation in Asia’. Our country is a world-renowned bastion of democracy. The rights of every citizen is enshrined in and guarded by the constitution. This very same constitution that stringently commands the inviolability of the separation of the church and the state. But this is regrettably only on paper. The Catholic church for the last century, has been the driving force behind any setup in the country’s political landscape. They are being feared by our leaders. This fear stemmed from what this church is capable of doing. Most politicians would always seek its blessings in any election and therefore would do what pleases the church.

It is a sore truth that the Catholic church will exercise its power and influence to ensure that the Reproductive Health Bill doesn’t get enacted into law. This is the bill that would ensure a better future for an average Filipino family. This is the bill that guarantees a quality of life for each life-loving citizen. This is also the very same bill that would statistically increase the worth and productivity of every citizen, hence a big factor to improving the country’s economy. However pro-poor and pro-family, this bill as the Catholic church would contend is anti-life and in a sense, evil in its entirety. This church asserts that life starts from the stage of fertilization, and that it is tantamount to murder when a couple uses contraceptives, such as condoms or pills and the likes. The use of such contraceptions they further contend, is one way of encouraging pre-marital sex or perversion of any form. And I also contend that their reason is impeccably-dogmatic moronic form of reasoning, that defies any universal law of logical reasoning.

The impasse in Congress regarding this bill is so polarizing, that it is uncertain whether this bill gets enacted into law or not. This early, our legislatures who are vocal with their support of this bill, have been branded by the church as anti-life and are not good Catholics. The pulpit has become a powerful tool to admonish members, to be conscientious and not to vote for these politicians. In here requires a firm resolute, whether you are with them or against them. And this effective bullying has kept the president from interfering with this issue, because her political career is on the line.

Our population explosion needs to be addressed, for it is only a matter of time before everything gets out of hand. It is like a ticking bomb waiting to explode. And the underlying effects could be crucial to the survival of our country, economically and morally. It is the duty of every religious denomination to coax their flock into moral fortitude. And this duty includes instilling in them the virtues of moral propriety and self-control. Sex is a sacred thing that is a gift, meant to be enjoyed by any married couple. Therefore any sex outside of marriage is a sin. This is the domain where the church should be visible. But the choice of how and when to procreate should be dependent upon a married couples’ discretion. Many unwanted pregnancies have caused a family to break apart. Accidental babies have become burden to an already struggling big family.

This is not meant to be a novel. But my disturbed emotions get the better of me. And through this blog, I am able to convey my perspective, my thoughts and my sighs about an issue, not ordinary in scale, but is powerful enough to affect you, myself, and anyone who dreams of a better Philippines. It is high time that we band together, and exercise moral and pragmatic thinking, so that each of us impact one another in a productive way. Let us help support the Reproductive Health Bill pass into law. Contraceptions for married couples do not equate to being anti-life, but it is synonymous to a quality life. Your family and my family rightfully deserve a better future.

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