IF we go by Pinoy standards, I grew up in a small family consisting of three children. I’d say we were products of both chance and choice.
While my sister came into this world even before I, the kuya in the brood, had the chance to celebrate my second birthday as an unico hijo, my brother, the family’s youngest, came as a welcome and much awaited “surprise” almost eight years after my sister was born. I was pushing 10 by then.
My parents, from what I gathered while I was growing up, didn’t expect my sister to arrive too soon. In the case of my brother’s rather late arrival, however, they purposely postponed not having children because my dad, by then, was already working for an American company in South Vietnam. I guess they were just being practical.
I don’t know how they managed to do it (like most Filipino families back then, we didn’t discuss such matters openly), but they had an understanding that it wouldn’t be wise to have another baby while my dad was working abroad. Although he’d come home yearly to Manila, he’d again be off on a return flight to Saigon in no time.
But when my dad’s contract finally ended in Dec. 1972, less than three years before the south fell to the communist north, he and my mom attempted and succeeded in making Baby No. 3. Less than two years after my dad came home for good, my brother Ronnie was born.
Like I’ve said in an old entry, my mom’s pregnancy with her third and last child was fraught with uncertainty. Since she was already in her late 30s, she wasn’t in tiptop shape to carry my brother to full term. But Ronnie was a tenacious fellow, and, with the grace of God, managed to survive and even thrive much, much later in the US.
No sibling No. 4
Personally, I would have wanted us to be four. But I’m thankful that I didn’t grow up as a lonely, dysfunctional individual because I have my two younger siblings who kept me grounded and, all right, responsible.
In this day and age, as we slowly but eventually shift from an agricultural to a manufacturing and service-based economy, it pays for families to keep the number of their children within manageable levels. That’s just me thinking aloud.
Manageable, of course, is a relative term that shouldn’t be based solely on the couple’s station in life. Such “intangibles” as the mother’s health and the parents’ disposition to raise children should also be considered.
Maturity doesn’t come with a price tag, as we’ve seen often enough. Being rich is no guarantee that one is capable of being a responsible and sensible parent.
In the wake of current developments, people living abroad probably find it odd that a supposedly modern country like the Philippines is still stuck in a debate, which ideally should have been confined to couples, that has long been resolved in their respective countries.
Of course, I’m talking about the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill or HB (House Bill) 4244, which, after 14 long years of being stuck in limbo, was recently passed on second reading at the lower house.
To people living abroad, the law, once passed, mandates the state to provide Filipino couples with universal access to both natural and artificial forms of birth control as well as affordable pre and postnatal care for both mother and child.
To a small predominantly Roman Catholic country roughly the size of Italy or Arizona, the Philippines has seen its population swell to 94 million people in 2012. Of this number, nearly 40 percent are said to be living below the official poverty line.
Although the law states that doctors and hospitals should not discriminate against women who seek their care after experiencing complications from an abortion (which is illegal in the Philippines), nowhere in the RH Bill is abortion legalized, encouraged or even condoned.
The law also requires schools to teach students “age-appropriate” sex education, a subject, which, believe it or not, is not officially part of the Philippine education department’s current curriculum.
Since the law was dusted off for further debates soon after President Aquino was elected in 2010, the RH Bill has divided the country, including lawmakers and even certain members of the religious, between pro and anti.
The official Catholic Church, from the start, has made its opposition to the law known, while Aquino has actively campaigned for its passage.
Pitted against majority of the population who are for it, according to surveys, the country’s bishops and several self-styled pro-life groups are moving heaven and earth to stop the law from being passed.
I will spare you from further details about the RH Bill, which, like an allergy attack, has flared anew and made front-page news, and instead go directly to why I’m all for it.
1. Couples, not the state or the church, should be the ones to decide on the size of their families. The state, for its part, is mandated to give couples free (read: unhindered) access to all forms or methods of family planning to help them achieve their respective goals.
Men of the cloth have made their opposition to RH known publicly in endless rallies, prayer vigils, masses and media interviews. After having argued their cause repeatedly through various means for decades, they should now give the issue a rest. The time for debates is over. It’s time to let the process take its due course.
Nobody is telling our good bishops and priests to stop preaching what they think is morally right within the four walls of the church, but to take their cause to the streets and within the halls of congress this late in the day is already an act of pure desperation.
Leave them alone
They should leave the faithful, including the country’s lawmakers, to grapple with their conscience as well as their desire and ability to responsibly raise their children.
Resorting to such tired tactics as lumping abortion with artificial means of contraception and calling them “abortifacients” even when there’s no fetus involved only succeeds in further muddling the issue. It’s an outright deception that no longer works.
2. Depriving people, especially the poor and marginalized, information and access to artificial means of family planning isn’t only being blatantly anti-poor. It’s also cruel, as it perpetuates a vicious cycle whereby the poor and their descendants are the ones trapped.
It’s the poor and not the rich who would directly benefit from RH. How come? The rich can readily afford artificial means of contraception—if they so desire—as well as the best pre and postnatal care. It’s the poor couple with almost no options, which always end up saddled with problems that could have been avoided had they been given a choice.
3. Delaying sex education to kids until they start having sex isn’t only foolish. It’s also downright irresponsible. In an ideal world, everyone should start having sex when he or she is ready and old enough to handle its consequences. Sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world.
Until that time comes, if and when it does come to pass, it’s better and more prudent to prepare our youth by simply making them aware of the consequences of their future actions. Trained and culturally sensitive professionals and not the kids’ parents, at least not in our culture, are the best persons to do this.
No earthly force
There’s no force on earth that could stop all teenagers and young adults from delaying sex until they’re married. Since a good number of them are already doing it anyway, we, as responsible adults, are duty-bound to remind them of the “laws of physics” before it’s too late: every action comes with an attendant reaction.
4. If we can show compassion for the unborn child, I’m sure we can allot space in our hearts to show more compassion to poor, neglected and/or abandoned street children right before our midst. Often exploited by society, including their own parents, these children are deprived of their rights not only as children, but also as decent human beings. If left to their own devices, they often grow up to beget more underprivileged children and turn to a life of crime.
Of course, as responsible and morally upright citizens, we’re duty-bound to help them in every way we can. But should we allow their numbers to continue to swell through a misguided and ineffective family planning program limited to natural birth control?
Or should we educate and give their parents all the options available to them? Again, the choice is theirs alone to make. One thing is certain: the situation is much more different and far more complicated in the slums than it is in the sacristy.
5. A country’s potential to grow isn’t based solely on the number of its people. That’s why I find it absurd when a certain bishop pounced on the argument advanced by an economist that the Philippines’ galloping population could save the country in the future because more people means a huge labor force as well as a steady and reliable market for goods and services.
That’s true except that the situation isn’t as simple as that. The good bishop conveniently forgets two things: the quality of jobs available to a burgeoning populace, and the kind of goods and services they can avail themselves of given their purchasing power. If businessmen pay people a pittance because of an oversupply in manpower, then what can these underpaid workers afford to buy with their minuscule salaries?
Why fear duplication?
6. The RH Bill according to its opponents already duplicates existing laws, including the Magna Carta for Women. Well and good. So, if it duplicates existing laws, why are they so alarmed to the extent of rallying in the streets against the RH Bill’s passage? Anyway, it will just be another duplication of laws in a land with already too many of ’em and not enough implementation.
Their real fear, I assume, is based not on the bill per se but on the institutionalization of such a bill. Once the RH Bill is passed, laws related to population management, including infant and maternal care, become binding regardless of the president in power. Since his or her hands would be tied, doing anything that’s politically expedient based on the dictates of certain groups, including the Catholic Church, would become a thing of the past.
7. Finally, fears of certain sectors that providing Filipinos with easier access to artificial means of birth control could lead to a spike in “immorality” are simply unfounded. And should that happen, it should be the individual’s and not society’s lookout.
We should not penalize the majority by depriving them with what they need just because of our fear that a certain minority would put on their fiesta hats by using these man-made devices in various ways other than what they were originally intended for.
That’s being malicious and cynical. Why, don’t we trust majority of our people to do the right thing given the amount of messages, sermons and words of encouragement they hear every day from our religious leaders? These men’s blanket rejection of any form of artificial birth control is a virtual admission that they have failed or are failing in their mission, and are finding scapegoats to justify their failure.
Like I said before, anything, even a sharpened pencil, can turn into a deadly weapon and, thus, become an instrument of immorality (unless you don’t consider hurting another person immoral) in the hands of someone with a sick or wayward mind.
At the same time, however, if its proponents think that the enactment of RH Bill is like a magic wand we can simply wave in the air to rid ourselves of all our problems—from education to job generation, brain drain to our inability to defend our waters from a greedy China—then we’re deluding ourselves.
If that were the case, we’re probably better off following the advice of certain people: let’s just pray ourselves to sleep and hope that our problems as a nation get solved by themselves in the morning.