Posts Tagged ‘RH bill’

pop goes the world: systems failure

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  21 March 2013, Thursday

Systems Failure

Our systems are killing us.

Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court voted 10 to 5 to halt for four months the implementation of Republic Act 10354, the “Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012,” otherwise known as the RH bill.

The 120-day status quo ante order is a setback for RH advocates, who have labored for nearly fifteen years to see this bill passed.  And it was passed by both Houses and signed by President Benigno Aquino III in December last year, but a slew of consolidated petitions filed in January this year led to this outcome.

Supreme Court spokesman Ted Te calls this order “preliminary” and says the highest court in the land may yet rule in favor of its legality.

The Roman Catholic Church, which prompted most, if not all, of the petitions against the RH Bill, hail this development as an answer to their prayers and “God’s will.”

The Department of Health had already marked last March 15 the signing of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the RH Bill.

DoH Secretary Enrique Ona said that the law “will empower women through informed choice and voluntarism…” as the IRR provides “improved access to family planning services…provision of mobile health clinics in remote and depressed areas, improvement of PhilHealth coverage on RH services especially for the poor,” and other support services.

Secretary Ona added, “This is just the beginning of our continuing effort to ensure that no woman will die while giving life.”

Statistics from womens’ rights advocate EnGendeRights say 11 women die each day from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Given that, 1,320 women might die during the 120 days of the SQA.

How many more women and children will die from botched abortions, miscarriages, complicated births, and the other risks and dangers of unwanted pregnancies?

Another system that needs revamping is the University of the Philippines’ tuition fee structure.

Because of glitches in the system that misclassified her fee bracket, placed her on leave of absence for non-payment of tuition, and took away her ID card, freshman Kristel Tejada took her life.

She could not bear to go on living when her best efforts to obtain a degree went to naught when, despite her academic performance and commitment to learning, the system failed her.

When I was a UP undergraduate in the days before STFAP, I paid around five hundred pesos per semester. It was a lean time for my family, so an uncle paid my way through college, my entire education costing him around five thousand pesos in tuition fees.

I would not have been able to finish my bachelor’s degree if I had gone to any other school, as it would have been too expensive and we might not have found anyone willing to shoulder a higher cost.

The STFAP was implemented after I graduated and since then no one can obtain a UP education for that little amount of money anymore.

And why not? Isn’t the government supposed to subsidize education in public schools, especially in the state university?

All Kristel wanted was a better life through learning, but the rules of the system made this inaccessible to her.

Education in the state colleges and universities should be made free or as close to it as possible, for the Iskolar ng Bayan to flourish and give back to Inang Bayan.

Government needs to see what’s important and what’s not – and should they need to be reminded, the youth and their proper education are important, for they are the future of the country.

UP failed Kristel, and failed in its mission. This is not the UP I went to. This is not the UP I love and am proud of. This is not the UP that it should be.

Various colleges of UP are holding a luksang pamantasan for Kristel with activities such as indignation rallies and candle-lightings to commemorate her tragedy and fight for change.

Perhaps we should also hold a luksang bayan for all the systems that have failed and continue to fail us.  *** 

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pop goes the world: not moving on

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  31 January 2013, Thursday

Not Moving On

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines news website carries a story headlined “CBCP chides Aquino for inability to address PH’s problems.”

The assembly of high-ranking clergy took three days behind closed doors to come up with their “Pastoral Statement on Certain Social Issues of Today,” a “long litany of storms” referring to the government’s failures, from its inability to stem corruption, poverty, and crime to the prevalence of political dynasties.

It was the first time, said some sources, that the Church lambasted the current political culture of making politics a family business.

Which brings up the question: why only now? What took them so long to raise all these important issues in a pastoral statement?

However, what was first on their list was “the promotion of a culture of death and promiscuity,” due to the “slavishness of our political and business leaders to follow practices in Western countries that promote…” divorce (“resulting in more break-up of families and the dysfunctional growth of children”), contraceptives (“leading to more abortions”), the use of condom (“aggravating HIV-AIDS infection”), and “school sex education” (bringing more promiscuity and teenage pregnancy”).

So this is foremost about the RH Bill, really, passed recently after years of struggle by rights activists. The Church is still sore about having lost that battle.

It is admirable that, going by this pastoral statement, the CBCP is deeply concerned about poverty and the lack of “inclusive growth” or “the huge gap between the rich and poor” that remains “despite the government’s much-flaunted idea of high growth and economic development.”

Aside from taking second and third collections from churchgoers and raising funds from private companies and government agencies for their various social welfare programs, one wonders how much farther the Church would go to do their part in helping the needy.

For one thing, they could measurably assist the government in reducing poverty by agreeing to give up their tax exemptions and privileges. That would raise many millions of pesos that would go a long way to relieving the suffering of many poor people.

Note that the Catholic Church in Italy has already been stripped of tax-exempt status and will start paying property taxes in 2013, generating projected revenues of 500 million to 2 billion euros yearly.

The pastoral statement was released last Monday, the same day Manila tour guide and pro-RH Bill activist Carlos Celdran was sentenced to two months to one year in jail for violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code, a law from 1930 which penalizes anyone who “in a place of worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony, shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.”

Celdran caused a ruckus during a Mass last September 2010 by holding up a placard with the word “Damaso” upon it in front of the Papal Nuncio, several bishops, and sundry other clergy. The words refers to the character of an abusive priest in Jose Rizal’s novel “Noli Me Tangere.”

President Aquino expressed his sympathy for Celdran, saying that while he did not agree with the “methodology of disrupting a Mass,” he “may sympathize with Mr. Celdran’s position,” adding “If our priests and religious leaders look at the Pope as an example, I believe they will find it in their hearts to show Christian generosity and charity and maybe they will be able to forgive Mr. Celdran and move on.”

Would the CBCP be able to forgive Celdran? The President? Can the CBCP move on from any of this?

In their pastoral statement they declared:

“Our position on the above issues is based on our faith…Faith is not only concerned with doctrine but applies that belief in all dimensions of life – social, political, economic, cultural, and religious.”

Based on that, the CBCP is not going to cease, desist, lay off, move on, live and let live. They will pursue their avowed agenda to the utmost because it’s in their job description.

It’s up to the rest of the country, Catholics and non-Catholics, to make their own moves and decisions to shape Philippine society in a manner that includes everyone, because it is unfair and unjust to base governance on the belief system of one religious group.  *** 

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pop goes the world: women’s reproductive rights

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  10 January 2013, Thursday

Women’s Reproductive Rights 

There’s a helpful flowchart on the Internet on “how to have an opinion on women’s reproductive rights”:

“Do you have a vagina?” “Yes.” “You may express your opinion.” If “no,” then “Shut up.”

women's reproductive rights meme

Image from Facebook here.

Too many men without vaginas have been controlling women’s reproductive rights throughout history, and one would think that in these technologically advanced times decisions that impact an individual woman would be left to her alone, and not meddled in by other people or groups.

For instance, with the recent signing by the President of the Reproductive Health Bill, which has already been published in the Official Gazette and will officially become a law a couple of weeks after, the Roman Catholic Church as represented by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has said that they will continue to fight against it by exploring options such as filing a case in the Supreme Court.

This was done recently by lawyers James and Lovely Ann Imbong, who are seeking to have the measure declared “null and void.”

The overpopulation of the Philippines is in fact beneficial to the country, at least according to Bishop Gilbert Garcera of the Diocese of Daet, Camarines Norte.

He said that the great number of Filipinos contribute to the influx of remittances from abroad, while caring for the elderly of other countries and spreading the Catholic faith, adding that Filipino women “would make good wives” for foreigners in low-population growth nations.

This is the thinking of the Church, at least of some prelates: that women are brood animals, and that Filipinos are fodder for the world’s economic mill. The OFW phenomenon is an artificial boost to the economy that sags when recession hits, and has brought many social ills besides, such as children growing up without one or both parents.

Here’s another example: Senator Juan Ponce Enrile was revealed to have granted P1.6 million in year-end bonuses to most of his fellow senators but only P250,000 to Senators Miriam Santiago, Pia Cayetano, Alan Peter Cayetano, and Antonio Trillanes IV.

Enrile had a spat with Trillanes over a bill to divide Camarines Sur province, while the other three are strongly identified for their support of the RH Bill, which Enrile fought against.

The passage of the Reproductive Health bill allows the state to grant women, who cannot afford contraceptives on their own, access to such means and methods that will permit them to limit the number of children they bear, if they so wish.

It is the individual woman who will become pregnant and carry the baby for nine months, with the responsibility of eating the right foods and taking the right supplements to ensure the health of the baby. Once it is born, she has to take care of her child’s basic needs and education until it is an adult, and, in our culture, even beyond. If the woman’s husband or domestic partner should leave her without support or be unable to support her, she shall have to find the ways and means to care for her child in all aspects.

mothers in the philippines

Mothers in the Philippines. Image here.

If a woman, after careful consideration of her resources and situation, deems that she can comfortably take care of only a certain number of offspring, or even none at all, is that not her choice? Not even her husband has a say, because she is not his property, and she is not livestock like a bitch dog or thoroughbred mare. Naturally, a couple must discuss this issue, with honesty and candor, before they enter into a permanent domestic relationship such as marriage.

So why do men of the church and men of politics still insist on controlling women’s reproduction, even their right to “safe and satisfying sex”? Why should only men be able to enjoy this?

Anyway, despite Church strictures against premarital sex and adultery, Filipinos still have a swinging good time, and have learned to cloak their sexual behavior with hypocrisy and various forms of compensatory social norms, cognitive dissonance be hanged.

Not only is the Church against contraception, it is also against divorce, and has vowed to combat any divorce bill that comes up for consideration. Being guided by blind faith, it is blind to the plight of desperately unhappy couples who have resorted tocohabiting with new partners because they do not have the chance of being able to legally cut ties and move on, hopefully to better and happier lives.

Life is too short to spend with the wrong person, and it will not do anyone any good who is forced to live in untenable situations that are for some marred by infidelity, violence, and abuse.

(To be fair, not all who belong to the Church think like this. A priest-psychologist who gave me counseling in a therapy session was actually the influence for my filing a marriage annulment.)

In 1993, during her confirmation hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee asked United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg justice ruth bader ginsburgabout her “thinking on equal protection versus individual autonomy, in relation to the issue of abortion:

“My answer is that both are implicated,” she said. “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself.”

Let the ones with vaginas decide on matters that concern them.  ***

Justice Ginsburg portrait here.

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pop goes the world: rh positive

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 13 December 2012, Wednesday

RH Positive

A front-page photograph in yesterday’s MST showed a row of solemn Catholic clergy – a cardinal and a brace each of archbishops and bishops – “watching the continuation of the deliberations on the [RH bill], which the Catholic Church condemns, at the House of Representatives.”

manila standard today front page 12-12-12

The front page of MST’s 12-12-12 issue.

Understandably, given their stature and eminence, these are grave, elderly men who have dedicated their lives to pursuing the interests of the Church. In their belief, by opposing the RH bill, they are trying to do their best for their adherents.

Among those clamoring for lawmakers to pass the RH bill are 23 medical groups, among them the Philippine Medical Association, Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society, the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Department of Health, Philippine College of Physicians, and others.

The groups combined represent around 267,000 health care professionals (physicians, nurses, and midwives). The PMA said in a statement, “As health care providers we cannot be reduced to being for or against the bill because our obligation has and will always be about saving lives, and the longer we stay quiet, the more lives are lost.”

pma website

Screenshot of Philippine Medical Association website.

Like the Catholic clergy so adamantly on the opposite side of the fence, these health care providers are also believe they are doing their best for those they serve.

There can be no compromise in this regard, because such a bill is all or nothing. A watered-down version would not deliver all the benefits sought by the bill’s authors and supporters.

But what do old celibate men know firsthand about having wives and children or raising a family in dire circumstances? By the very nature of their vocation, they are not allowed to have personal experience of this. They make their stand based on their faith.

Medical practitioners, however, themselves have families of their own and are directly engaged in caring for pregnant women, mothers, and newborn infants. They make their stand based on their knowledge, experience, and personal observation over years of medical practice.

This is how our lawmakers need to make decisions – based on science and facts, not on the dictates of a religious text or dogma that not everyone in this society believes in.

anti rh congress

Why some representatives voted against the RH Bill on 12-12-12. Image found on Facebook here.

That would be the logical and sensible way of doing things because in a society with a degree of diversity such as ours, not everyone is Catholic. Not everyone disagrees with the provisions of the RH bill. Merely because a traditionally powerful clique in society wishes to continue holding sway over politics as it did in centuries past does not mean that we should allow this to continue today.

Allowing one Church to have their way in this would make us no different from a religious state such as those in the Middle East. Doing so would negate the provision for the separation of church and state in the Constitution. Doing so would render useless the efforts made by many throughout history who championed science and the right to personal choice and suffered for defying the intransigence of the dominant ideology.

The inflexibility of the Catholic Church’s stand on the RH bill and other current events shows how stuck it is in the past. For some of the clergy to have blamed events as disparate as the devastation caused by typhoon Pablo and the devastation caused upon Manny Pacquiao’s face by Juan Manuel Marquez’s powerful right hand to the wrath of God is to impute a gullible credulity to the populace.

The RH bill should not be made a religious issue because it is a health issue. Let us hope lawmakers will see through the smokescreen of swung censers and make their decisions based on facts for the good for the many, not the few.

* * * * *

sire of sires in philippines graphic 3 dec 2012Thanks to Philippines Graphic magazine for publishing a short story of mine, “Sire of Sires” in their December 3 issue. The story is set at the racetrack, and might be interesting for those who like their fiction brewed black, no sugar.   *** 

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pop goes the world: house rules

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  11 October 2012, Thursday

House Rules

The September 30 editorial “Of lemons and cowards” published on the University of Santo Tomas’s “The Varsitarian” student publication website, assaulted the pro-reproductive health bill stance of some professors from two other Roman Catholic universities and in so doing did more harm to its cause than good.

The cliché-studded, grammatically-challenged, and logically flawed Varsitarian piece called the pro-RH Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University faculty members “intellectual mercenaries” and “intellectual pretenders and interlopers,” while contradicting itself by claiming that by joining “the bandwagon,” they are “dishonest and don’t have the courage of their intellectual conviction.” Does not the fact that these professors came out in support of the controversial RH Bill show courage and conviction?

I got a laugh out of this declaration: “It’s quite shocking that Ateneo and La Salle professors should harbor naïve and misguided thinking about health and social problems.” I can imagine an elderly maiden aunt with hand on breast saying this, but a student? Que horror!

Please go online and read the entire piece (if you haven’t yet) to savor the full flavor of its arrogance, fanaticism, and claim of moral ascendancy and superiority.

But then again, as the editorial pointed out, Catholic and all sectarian universities have their own house rules that, if broken, would merit sanction by the school administration, and UST professors do not have the liberty allowed the faculty of AdMU and DLSU to publicly declare their personal beliefs if these are against UST’s.

According to the Varsitarian editorial, “It is quite gratifying that UST has cracked the whip and reminded its faculty members that they’re members of a Catholic institution and should toe the line.

“UST Secretary General Fr. Winston Cabading, O.P. [said in a letter that] “In the light of recent events where some faculty members of Catholic universities have publicly expressed dissenting positions from the Catholic bishops on matters of faith and morals, we in the University would like to reaffirm our fidelity to the magisterium of the Church as the Catholic University of the Philippines.”

Cabading’s letter was also quoted as stating “all faculty members of the University are to refrain from teaching or expressing their personal opinions within the bounds of the University anything contrary to Catholic faith and morals.”

There you go. House rules. But those are UST’s, and thankfully, not AdMU’s nor DLSU’s, otherwise there’d be two fewer universities that allow scope for intellectual freedom and critical thinking. It is good to know that the Jesuits of AdMU and Christian Brothers of DLSU treat their faculty members as the professionals that they are, and not slaves that have to be made to toe the line with cracks of the whip.

Soon after the Varsitarian’s editorial was posted online, it drew many negative reactions ranging from furious comments to satirical blog posts.

With public outrage on the boil, UST administration then felt a need for some damage control by coming out with a statement on October 9 that while it supports the Varsitarian “in its stand against the RH bill…the University does not impose its will nor exercise prior restraint on the opinions of the school paper’s writers nor the manner by which they are expressed.

“Thus, the opinion expressed…insofar as it supposedly called the pro-RH Bill professors of the Ateneo de Manila University and the De La Salle University as “intellectual pretenders and interlopers” does not bear the University’s imprimatur.”

Save for that crack againt the pro-RH professors, then, the rest of the piece has UST’s support. This is not surprising, given that the letter of Father Cabading’s was no less than a directive.

The student publications of AdMU and DLSU reacted with their own editorials on October 9.

AdMU’s “The Guidon”, in its “Our duties as student journalists,” said, “Throughout its 84-year history, The Varsitarian has certainly had many moments of brilliance, but this most recent piece is an unfortunate stain on that record…

“With our conviction that a student newspaper must promote rational dialogue and the fruitful exchange of ideas for the benefit of the larger community, we find The Varsitarian’s willingness to employ a kind of dismissive language that verges on the fanatical as completely unacceptable.”

DLSU’s “La Sallian” came out with “With all due respect”: “In our opinion, however, the method of expression used [in the Varsitarian] to express the matter veered away from the real issue, while creating new and unnecessary ones…

“The RH Bill is an important issue that deserves constructive discourse. None of this constructive discourse, however, can come from ad hominem lambasting from any of the parties involved, whether Pro-RH or Anti-RH. We believe in sticking to the issues, and backing conclusions with substantial, objective arguments.”

DLSU’s “Ang Pahayagang Plaridel”, in its “Responsableng pagpiglas sa malayang pamamahayag”, chided The Varsitarian for forgetting the true spirit (diwa) of an editorial, and for putting down the AdMU and DLSU professors while crowing about UST’s superiority (pagbubuhat ng sariling bangko).

You do not need to emphasize the faults of others, Plaridel said, to raise and prove the truth of what you are fighting for, adding “Mas magiging lubos ang kahulugan ng mga pahayag kung may sarili itong pundasyong magpapatibay sa kredibilidad ng mensaheng nais nitong iparating.” (Any declaration would be more meaningful if it were built on a foundation strengthened by the credibility of the message it wishes to convey.)

Their editorial cartoon is the best I have ever seen in my entire life.

But UST has its own house rules. It can do whatever it wants, like waiving its own academic requirements by bestowing a PhD degree upon former Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona by accepting a public lecture in lieu of a dissertation. (Shocking!)

The Varsitarian said the pro-RH AdMU and DLSU professors should resign from those universities for their anti-Catholic stance.

In the same manner, students and faculty can take what UST’s dishing out, or leave it. They can choose to stay where whips are cracked or they can choose to belong to a school that values and encourages intellectual liberty, critical thinking, and freedom of speech – the hallmarks of a rational institution that promotes genuine education and edification.  *** 

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pop goes the world: whole lot of mansplainin’ goin’ on

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  30 August 2012, Thursday

Whole Lot of Mansplainin’ Goin’ On

When will men get off telling women what’s best for them?

From celibate priests to overbearing lawmakers to some of the men in our own lives, women all over the world are subjected to the unsolicited pronouncements of those who believe they are the final arbiters on issues that affect women.

It’s called “mansplaining.”

As far as I can find out, the term has been around since at least 2010. A post of February that year by “Fannie” at says mansplaining is a result of “males possessing the privilege whereby they are largely assumed to be both default human beings and automatically competent at life.”

Rebecca Solnit, award-winning author of 15 non-fiction books, in an article posted last August 20 at calls it “the problem with men explaining things,” that “billions of women must be out there…being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever.”

It’s not solely a male thing, she said, because “…people of both genders pop up…to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories…”

However, Solnit added, “…the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is in my experience, gendered.”

In the United States, just to provide one example out of a great many, Republican congressman Todd Akin recently said that women could not become pregnant in the case of “legitimate rape,” saying that their bodies “shut down” to prevent it. Apart from displaying an abysmal ignorance of basic science, this also shows a male-oriented notion that there are cases when rape – by its very definition an act of force – isn’t a crime.

I won’t even mention any local examples. Just open any newspaper on any day and read for yourself the abundance of conspiracy theories (that the RH Bill is a ploy to sell more contraceptive medicines and devices and prevent the poor from reproducing, etc.) and blanket pronouncements (such as that a secular world will promote all sorts of immorality, as if our present society isn’t already rife with it).

I wonder why some men believe they know what’s best for women, despite not having a vagina, uterus, nor a menstrual period. It’s what Solnit calls “men’s unsupported overconfidence” and the “archipelago of arrogance.”

Therefore there are some men who deride outspoken, opinionated women as “feminists”, like it’s a bad thing. How? Because feminism rejects patriarchal hegemony? Because feminists think for themselves? Because feminists see through the mansplaining and have decided to take their lives back?

Our society is still patriarchal; protection for women is inadequate and slow in coming. It wasn’t until 2004 that the Violence Against Women and Children Act (RA 9262) was passed. The Magna Carta for Women (RA 9710) wasn’t enacted until 2009, only three short years ago, after being delayed for seven years.

All women’s and minority groups’ rights are hard-fought. The struggle for reproductive rights is no exception. We now see the usual pattern in such matters playing out – the conservatives and reactionaries are up in arms, kicking and screaming against any change to their status quo, while the progressives are out there making themselves heard and felt.

But as in the issues of slavery and votes for women, in time we will get to a better place. Women nowadays recognize when they are being mansplained to, when they are being condescended to instead of being engaged in genuine dialogue coming from respect and love.

True manhood lies not in having as many children or wives and mistresses as one can, nor in control and aggressiveness, but in respecting other people and acknowledging their right to live their lives in the manner they wish, and in caring properly for the people one is responsible for.

I am grateful for the men in my life who are not mansplainers, who see me as an equal, as a fellow human being – friends, relatives, university professors, colleagues. First among them is my late father, who told me when I was a teenager, “Do not allow yourself to be limited by the double standard.” I asked, “What is the double standard?” He said, “You’ll find out,” and sure enough I did, and duly rejected it as unfair and demeaning.

Because beyond gender, we are all human. And it takes all humankind working together to make a world that is kinder, one that is egalitarian, just, and free.  *** 

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pop goes the world: freedom of choice

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  16 August 2012, Thursday

Freedom of Choice

My column last week, “Science and superstition”, where I declared my support for the RH Bill, drew over 600 Facebook “Likes”, a rarity.

However, there were a few people who badly misread my article, saying it was an attack on religion and that I was trying to persuade the Philippines to embrace science and turn away from God.

Nowhere in that column did I advocate a repudiation of religion. Freedom of worship is a human right. I have always been on the side of choice, and people should be able to make their own decisions when it comes to what God they obey and what they wish to do in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

What I said in that column was that superstition and the biases of one religion should not be allowed to influence legislation, because it has an effect on the lives of many people of different faiths and backgrounds. The State’s duty is to care for all its people, not just for one group.

I suppose I was misunderstood because I did not put my point as elegantly as did fellow MST columnist Father Rannie Aquino, who eloquently wrote in his last column, “We have no right to expect the public nor the legislature to accept Catholic premises. We then have no right to expect them to draw the peculiar Catholic conclusions that we draw…we have no right demanding of our legislature that it adopt our religious arguments.”

He also said, “When one insists that things be done as one reads his scripture (be these Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu scriptures), the one is immediately confronted by the fundamental conviction of modernity – that the State should be neutral towards world-views, that all enjoy equal religious freedom, and that science be emancipated from religion.”

Legislators, then, as statesmen, are in an unenviable position. They have to make impartial decisions for the good of everyone, but they are human beings swayed by their mindsets, experiences, and prejudices.

Take Senator Tito Sotto. He used a rare legislative tactic called turno en contro to air his lengthy anti-RH views. Among the reasons he gave in an effort to prove his point was a personal experience related to his baby son’s  death that was blamed on his wife’s contraceptive use.

I understand the senator’s pain. I have also lost loved ones and will never stop grieving for them. He receives our commiseration and sympathy. But the fact is this is just one person’s experience.

In our highly populated society, there are a myriad experiences, both positive and negative. In the same way that we should not allow one group’s biases to influence law, neither should we let one person’s experience be the basis for legislation that will impact the lives of millions of Filipinos for years to come.

If we’re talking about personal experiences, here’s the story of Mina Capote, who worked as my household helper some years back. She has 13 children by two husbands. She only had a third-grade education; neither her husbands finished high school. The first was unemployed. The second was a groom in horseracing.

The eldest daughter, “Fanny”, was, at 10 years old, tasked with caring for her siblings. Being only a child herself, she could not keep an eye on all of them, so “Sam”, eight, lost an eye in an accident, while others suffered various mishaps. They usually went hungry. I sent them extra food and used clothes when I could.

To augment the family income, Fanny worked as a helper when she turned 15. Her employer raped her. Later I heard she found work in a bar.

When I asked Mina once why she does not use contraceptives, she replied, “They say it’s bad for the health.” I asked her who “they” were. She shrugged. “Sabi lang nila.” (They just said.)

It is the height of irresponsibility to bring children into the world that one cannot care for properly, that one cannot adequately feed, shelter, send to school, and keep safe. No one disputes that educated women of means use various family-planning options such as contraceptives, sterilization, natural method, and so on. But these options are not available or even known to women like Mina, whose ignorance constrains them from planning a better life for themselves and their children.

But when knowledge and opportunity are available, women are able to make informed decisions for themselves to plan their family size. In the news recently was a report about how over 4,000 women in Tagum, Davao, have opted for the free tubal ligation offered in that city as part of its own reproductive health program since it was launched in 2006.

Over that same period, only 76 men availed themselves of free vasectomies. This is a clear indicator of social and cultural norms that place the burden of family planning on the woman, rather than on the man.

Kudos to Tagum mayor Rey Uy who has continued the program despite Catholic opposition to it. The program has allowed the city to exclude itself from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program (4Ps) cash transfer campaign, because poverty incidence in Tagum has dropped to 15 percent. The national average is 27 percent.

The RH Bill willl inform more Filipinos, especially women, about the planning options that they have. If they decide to have many children, or few, or none at all, that is their choice.

It is illogical, unfair, and selfish to let one person or one group decide for everyone else the choices that they may have. Freedom of choice is a human right; let us ensure that everyone in our society enjoys this freedom.  *** 

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pop goes the world: science, not superstition

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today9 August 2012, Thursday

Science, Not Superstition

Early in the morning of August 6, the global scientific community celebrated the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s spectacular achievement of landing their Mars Science Laboratory in the Gale Crater on Mars.

Nicknamed “Curiosity,” the $2.6 billion MSL treads in the tire prints of other Martian NASA rovers, the last launched being Spirit and Opportunity in 2004. Twice as long, five times as heavy, and loaded with ten times the number of science instruments, Curiosity is a roving science robot that will send back data that will pave the way for future human exploration.

Technicians work on Curiosity in a “clean room” at NASA. Image here.

“Ad astra per aspera” – “to the stars through hardships” – indeed, but the hard work of NASA and mission control handler Jet Propulsion Laboratory will pay off through the invaluable knowledge that will be acquired about our neighboring planet.

Curiosity carries 17 cameras. Image here.

There are at least two Filipino-Americans working in space flight and exploration in the US  – Gregory Galgana Villar III and Lloyd Manglapus.

Manglapus studied at the University of Santo Tomas and the University of Southern California, and has been a senior software engineer with JPL for the past eight years.

Villar is one of the youngest engineers on the Curiosity mission. According to a Huffington Post article by Anna Almendrala, he “attended…St. Louis University Laboratory High School in Baguio City, where his parents are from [and] has been working for NASA since he was a junior at [California State Polytechnic University in] Pomona. After he graduated, his internships turned into a full-time engineering job.”

The young engineer was quoted as saying, “…these types of missions are essential to our progress as humans. And I hope the youth are inspired.”

Inspiration is not a problem; achievements like these that “dare mighty things” (the Twitter hashtag made popular by scientists on the Curiosity mission) set fire to the imaginations of young people that they too can explore the final frontier.

For Filipinos to do so, we need to support education in the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We have more than enough nurses who can’t find jobs – let’s develop engineers and scientists.

Mohawked NASA engineer Bobak Ferdowsi served as flight director of the Curiosity mission and became an Internet sensation. Image here.

Meanwhile, what where we doing at around that same time Curiosity landed on the Red Planet?

In the Philippines, fierce debates swirled in Congress when the date for voting on the ending of debates on the Reproductive Health bill was moved up to the 6th from the 7th.

Fresh from the anti-RH bill rally led by the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines the day before, anti-RH bill lawmakers urged their colleagues to resist terminating the plenary discussions on the controversial bill, with one of them questioning the propriety of the change of date because it was an unlucky number.

That’s the Philippines for you. Is it more fun yet?

Others have put forth arguments for and against the RH bill which I shall not go into here for lack of space and to avoid redundancy. What I present is my own conviction that the country needs not only the RH bill, but also a divorce bill and secularism in government.

We need to truly and seriously implement the laws about the separation of church and state. Not everyone in the Philippines is Catholic. Islamic, Protestant, and Iglesia ni Cristo church leaders have opined that their faiths have no problems with accepting the RH Bill.

We are behind many of the developed countries not only in economic and scientific aspects but also in societal attitudes. Where logic, reason, science, and the rule of just and fair laws should prevail, we are instead swayed by some irate priests clinging to the last vestiges of their medieval power, and guided by lucky numbers and supernatural forebodings – a contradiction in beliefs that boggles the rational mind.

“Where religion is, there is peace,” is a sometime truism; more often than not, where there is religion, there is strife, especially when churches and politicians prey on the masses’ religious fears to advance their own agenda.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas said, “Contraception is corruption.” Excuse me. Corruption is corruption. That means things like vote-buying, padding votes, extortion, bribery, and misuse of government funds.

Contraception is a personal choice that has to do with whether an individual wishes to have a child or not. It hinges on whether that person has the resources to properly support a child in comparative comfort and provide him or her basic needs including a life free from abuse and poverty, for I believe these are inalienable rights of humans.

Let us support hard science education to develop engineers like Gregory Villar and Lloyd Manglapus. Let us pass laws like the RH bill that will safeguard the welfare of women and children. Let us release our fear of the Church and irrational superstitions and dare mighty things for the Philippines.

Let us reach for the stars.  *** 

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pop goes the world: mo and rhian – should we care?

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  8 December 2011, Thursday

Mo and Rhian – Should We Care?

With the populace still reeling from the revelations of actress/model KC Concepcion about her breakup from actor Piolo Pascual, now comes another teary scandal, this time from disc jockey Mo Twister.

A video of a crying Mo (his real name is Mohan Gumatay) was recently uploaded to Youtube. In it he alleges that his then-girlfriend, actress Rhian Ramos, had their child aborted last July 2010 in Singapore.

An image of Mo Twister from the video, here.

From his @djmotwister account, he Tweeted, “I have a question about abortion. Should the girl ask the guy what his thoughts are and should he have a chance to stand up for the baby?”

Image here.

He followed this with other, more controversial Tweets: “Because no amount of inconvenience could ever justify treating the supreme creation of God with murderous contempt.” “…even the dictionary defines it, in its 2nd explanation, as monstrosity.” “Young child, don’t ever think you were never good enough. You just had no choice in the matter.”

Finally, Mo posted a photo of what presumably was his own shoulder, tattooed with the words “to the wounds that will never heal, 08/07/10.” The skin was still reddened; the ink looked fresh. (Check out

Mo’s shoulder, presumably. Image here.

Rhian Ramos has filed a harrassment case against Mo. She claims that his insinuation that she had an abortion violates Republic Act 9262 (Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act). She has also asked for a temporary protection order to prevent Mo from making any more such statements.

We are merely spectators in all this and have no idea, at this point, what the truth is. Did she or didn’t she? Because he certainly did.

In any case, as I’ve said before, other people’s personal lives are none of our business. But since Mo (like KC) has made a private matter public, it is now fodder for all sorts of speculation and gossip.

Is Mo’s revelation vengeance, narcissism, or simply a man in pain lashing out like a wounded tiger, regardless of whom he hurts in his turmoil?

Can any good come out of this kind of exposure of private pain?

Rather than schadenfreudenly feeding off the suffering and misery inherent in the drama, let us deconstruct the concepts that arise and allow it to flow into the river of societal discourse: in this case, the topic of abortion.

Mo raises a good question – does the father of the child have a say in an abortion? The woman usually makes the decision to have an abortion, although it also happens often that it is instigated by the man. There are many reasons why the woman would have an abortion – youth, career, lack of finances, fear of disapproval and anger of parents and family, an unwillingness or unreadiness to be a parent, and the knowledge (or assumption) that the man will not be a good father and she’ll be raising the child on her own are just some of them.

In the end, what happens is that the woman makes the choice because it is her body, and it is her right to decide what to do or not to do with that body.

But why even have an abortion when contraception would have prevented the situation in the first place?

Given that the majority of Filipinos are Roman Catholics, and that the Church wields a strong influence in politics, and that the dominant ideology embedded in this culture is based upon Roman Catholic doctrine (sorry, other kinds of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and those of other, little, or no faith), prevailing attitudes toward abortion and contraception consider them abhorrent and sins against God.

In fact, so inflexible are the attitudes of some sectors of society that back-door influence has been brought heavily to bear against lawmakers passing the proposed Reproductive Health Bill, which in no way condones nor encourages promiscuity, homosexuality, teen – even child – pregnancies, or any of the other “abominations” ascribed to it by the paranoid.

Yet the behavior of teenagers – as opposed to attitudes – tells a different story. As of 2009, based on data from birth certificates, the number of teenage pregnancies in the Philippines was at 195,662, a 70 percent increase from the 114,205 in 1999. Of the 1.75 million live births in 2009, over 11 percent of those babies were born to teenage mothers.

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s 2011 annual report, the teenage pregnancy rate in the Philippines is at 53 births per 1,000 women aged between 15 to 19 – the highest among the six ASEAN countries.

A 2008 news article says the Philippines (where abortion is illegal) has a higher abortion rate than the United States (where abortion is legal), at 25 per 1,000 women compared to the latter’s 23 per 1,000 women. Consider also that the US has a much higher population – around 250 million in 2011; the Philippines has less than half at around 95 million.

The main drivers of the escalating teen pregnancy rate are poverty and ignorance. The RH Bill would try to minimize that, through certain of its measures that would provide sex education in schools.

The discussion of sex is still taboo in many sectors of Philippine society, even if as an activity it is frequently and enthusiastically practiced (see: Philippine population, number of offspring sired by Ramon Revilla Sr.).

But these are pressing issues that people face every day. Birth control, sex, abortion – they need to be discussed, they need to be faced, because people live and die over these matters.

We have a long, long way to go. We don’t even have divorce in this country – the only one left on the planet that refuses to let people start over.

So, should we care? Mo Twister opened up a can of squirmy things living in the dark. We need to drag this all into the light and let clarity, logic, and reason illuminate the important life issues we have long kept on the dark side of our collective soul.   ***

Teen mom image here.

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pop goes the world: gender, sexuality, and body image

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 14 October 2010, Thursday

Gender, Sexuality, and Body Image

So, what about reproductive health again?

The RH issue may have receded from the front page and editorials recently, but for a great many people in this country, it is still very much a focus of utmost concern.

First, let us give kudos where they are due. As the character Elle Woods in the movie “Legally Blonde” would say, “Snaps for President Aquino!” Despite pressure from the Catholic Church in the Philippines, the President did not flinch from his – the government’s – stand to disseminate information on family planning options as well as to give away condoms and other forms of artificial birth control as necessary.

With the word “excommunication” floated by some church leaders (not all of them, showing that the Church is in fact internally divided on the matter, though they present a united “corporate” stance), the President stood firm and asserted that it is best that the state adopt a policy of making available information on reproductive health, presenting it as “responsible parenting”.

Had he buckled under the pressure, we would have been dragged back all the way to the Middle Ages, instead of being only partially in them, considering how much influence the Church still has in society.

At present, the RH Bill that has been filed in Congress is still being debated.

Much has been said by others about the issue directly; let’s talk about the ramifications, the threads that hang off the woven fabric, because RH also touches upon the topics of gender, sexuality, and body image, among others.

In the United States, bullying of homosexual adolescents and young adults has increased in recent years.  Last March, Constance McMillen, an “out” lesbian student of Itawamba Agricultural High School in Mississippi, was forbidden by school authorities from attending her senior prom with her girlfriend. She complained, filed a case, and made global news.

Constance McMillen stood up for gender rights. Image from here.

In the face of public scorn, and a judge’s decree allowing Constance to attend with her date, the school set up a prom for her and other similarly-oriented students, while at the same time staging a secret prom for Constance’s other classmates.

At that same school in February, transgender student Juin Baize, born male, was sent home for wearing feminine clothing and makeup to school.

The school’s harsh treatment of gender variant students sends a very strong signal that in that place at least, homosexuality is not accepted. However, the larger, and frightening, concept that surfaces is that being different in Itawamba practically means social death.

In other cases, it leads to the real thing. Last month, Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate streamed his same-sex dorm room encounter on the Internet.

Tyler Clementi was also a talented violinist. Image from here.

In the Philippines, the culture shows more acceptance towards gay people, although bullying is not uncommon. “We didn’t let them pee alone”, said one graduate of a Catholic boys’ high school. His son, who goes to the same school, now says that a clique of gay students from different grade levels often walk together for “protection” and are assertive enough to stand up for themselves.

However, organized religion still looks askance at the LGBT lifestyle, and gender-variant people are often exposed to public ridicule. Entertainment culture often depicts male homosexuals and transgenders as objects of comedic fun, whereas lesbians go largely unmentioned.

In terms of body image, the Filipino standards of beauty are still largely Western-oriented and place greater pressure on women rather than men. Mestizas are still the rage, which is obvious in all the forms of mass media, whether print (models in fashion magazines and print ads), broadcast and film (actors and actresses in telenovelas, television commercials), even outdoor (billboards).

In addition, there is considerable social onus on women to become slim, even if this is not their genetic body type; to whiten their skin, stretch out wrinkles, lift their noses, gain big breasts, and, for those of Chinese heritage, to acquire eyefolds – again, all to achieve the mestiza look, along with a youthful ideal. This is why Dr. Vicky Belo and other “celebrity” plastic surgeons are famous and wealthy – because they cater to this distorted sense of beauty that is not about acceptance but about change.

It is women that get the raw deal when body image is discussed. With their attention focused on their looks and age rather than on their brains and character, their power in society is diminished and their potential contributions unrealized. A ploy, some feminists say, in a patriarchal culture, to repress women.

As for sexuality? There are few mentions of women’s right to sexual pleasure in the culture. Perhaps only in the ads for “men’s teas”, which still emphasize the importance of men’s staying power in bed to please his woman – not necessarily his wife.

Which again brings to mind the RH bill and the Church. Many Filipinos, even those who profess to be Catholic, are just doing what they want and enjoy sex using condoms and other kinds of artificial birth control, despite their religion’s frowning upon such. Preference often takes priority in a person’s life over dogma, especially when the latter is deemed impractical.

The discourse on reproductive health should make one think about not only birth control, but also about the entire issue of gender and sexuality. In other words, we must approach the RH issue from a holistic point of view. As business expert Peter Senge has advocated, “systems thinking” has proven successful for analyzing social systems. Instead of breaking the issue up into small parts and taking these one at a time, we need to look at RH as a whole, taking into account the complex and interrelated interactions, loops, and links that affect it.   ***

Orlistat billboard image found here, Rhino Tea ad here.

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