Category Archives: RH Bill

Beyond the Pro-Life v Pro-Choice Debate

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC in the United States publishes an annual report on the birth rates of US teenagers. The agency whose corporate mission is “saving lives and protecting people” states, “childbearing by teenagers continues to be a matter of public concern because of the elevated health risks for teen mothers and their infants.”

In its most recent report dated April 2012, the Center finds that the birth rate recorded for 2010 hit “a historic low” for all ages and ethnic groups. At 34.4 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19, the figure for 2010 was down 9 percent from the previous year, 44 percent from the recent peak of 61.8 in 1991, and 64 percent beneath the all-time high of 96.3 recorded in 1957.

The figure below taken from their website tells the story. Birth rates across two age groups, legal aged 18-19 year olds and under-aged 15-17 year olds have been on the decline following the post-war baby boom era of the 1950s. The 2010 results should provide comfort to those worried about the “Juno effect” named after the movie of the same title which was said to have presented teenage pregnancy in a positive light.

The picture would seem even more encouraging if we viewed teenage birth rates as a proxy indicator for teenage pregnancy which is harder to measure given the number of unreported abortions. Religious education makes abortion unpopular among conservative circles, and movies like Juno have made it less so among liberally minded ones. If we assume that abortion rates among teens have remained steady or even declined in this time, then it appears teens are taking “proper precautions” to avoid falling pregnant.

When split by ethnicity, the story stays consistent albeit somewhat dispersed. We can see from the next figure also taken from the CDC website that from 1991 to 2010 black and Latino teens tended to have higher birth rates when compared to non-Hispanic whites and Asian teens (twice that of the former and five times that of the latter) even though these birth rates have been declining across all ethnic groups for the last twenty years.

What is startling from the chart is that non-Hispanic blacks now have a lower birth rate among teens compared to Latinos having seen their rate fall from 118.2 per 1,000 women in 1991 to 51.5 in 2010. Latino teens on the other hand, saw their birth rates fall from 104.6 to 55.7 in the same period. Among whites it went from 43.3 to 23.5 and among Asians and Pacific islanders it went from 27.3 to 10.9. Across the board, the rate went from 61.8 to 34.4 although in the Southern states upwards of 40 births per 1,000 women is observed compared to the Northern ones which have less than that figure. Without the decline, the CDC estimates that there would have been 3.4 million more births among teenagers during the period from 1991 to 2010.

We can tell from US census and labor force survey data that Hispanics and blacks generally have higher poverty and unemployment levels compared to non-Hispanic whites and Asians. In addition, Southern states which tend to have a higher concentration of Latinos tend to also have lower incomes on average per head of population.

If you correlate these figures, what you will probably find is that teenage birth rates (and by extension teenage fertility) are significantly higher among those ethnic, regional and income groups that are generally regarded as being socially disadvantaged. We can speculate as to the reasons for this of course—from the lack of education, economic opportunities, access to reproductive health services, the influence of media, and so on. Whatever the reason, these facts remain.

When we look across countries, the same facts would appear to be incontrovertible. The following chart was taken from the World Bank Development Indicators and generated through Google’s public data explorer. It shows teenage birth rates from different regions in the world as well as the Philippines. We find a similar pattern as per the American case.

The adolescent fertility rate across the globe has fallen in recent years from 67.5 births per 1,000 women in 1997 to 53.4 in 2010. Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America have the highest birth rates among young women at 108, 73 and 72 in that order. The Middle East (37), North America (31), Eurasia (27), and East Asia and the Pacific (19) have lower than world average birth rates. The Philippines bucked the world trend because it saw its teenage fertility rise from 49 in 1997 to 54 in 2007 before declining back down to 49.5 in 2010.

Compared to where it is situated on the map, the country has nearly 2.5 times the teenage fertility rate of its East Asian and Pacific Islander counterparts. Perhaps this would lend some credence to the notion that Filipinos are the “blacks of Asia” as their teenage pregnancies are comparable to African and Latino Americans who I have already said trail non-Hispanic whites and Asian Americans in reducing adolescent fertility.

Beyond Just Facts and Figures

I raise this point because in the highly polarized debate over reproductive health, the one thing I believe that opposing parties to the discussion seem to agree on is that teenage fertility is something that is to be avoided. Catholic Filipinos who are by inclination “pro-life” would wish for their daughters to delay having children until after they complete their education.

I recently attended a baptism/wedding celebrated by a tightly-knit group of devout Catholic families here in Australia. The bride and groom had in fact met at a Youth for Christ camp; the parents on both sides were from Couples for Christ. During the ceremony, I noticed how well this community supported the bride/mom and groom/dad both aged 18 with their prayers and “unconditional love”.

There were not a few tears shed by both family and friends when the traditional speeches were delivered at the reception. I began to get an insight into the way the community viewed what had happened. Although, they celebrated the coming into the world of a new person, the word “mistake” was bandied about in reference to the pregnancy. In fact I learnt that when the groom’s father initially spoke to the bride’s father to relate the news of the pregnancy, the word “atraso” (arrears) was used in describing it.

This is typical of the way I believe average Filipinos would deal with such a situation. Some in the community that I got a chance to speak with talked of the need to engage in responsible parenthood and, yes, make use of reproductive health services. Some blamed the lack of awareness-raising in the Catholic school in which the bride was enrolled. Suffice it to say, there is a greater openness towards the issue in Australia. In fact one Australian priest advised the parents of the teen couple not to force a quick marriage prior to the birth of the child.

What this tells me regarding the debate over reproductive health is that while the mouth-pieces for religious conservatism in the Philippines oppose any form of reproductive health education and services in schools and state-sponsored health clinics, their followers by and large are probably much more pragmatic and sensible. The problem of course is that they cannot come out, and neither can their politicians, to actually support this in public.

While an angry minority within the religious Catholic Filipino community will denounce the reproductive health bill for what they see is the alleged promotion of abortion and abortifacients that it embodies, I believe most of their adherents actually are on the side of a more balanced approach to the issue. The notion that Filipinos are either pro-life or pro-choice is really a misguided way to frame this debate.

Most Filipinos subscribe to the notion that to have a child as a teenager presents many disadvantages, including the inability to complete an education and get ahead in life. While most if not all would welcome newborns into this world, they also recognize that this comes with great responsibility. Yet, the radicals on both sides have managed to inflame the debate. The fact that there are risks associated with pregnancies among younger and older women and that the proper precaution has to be taken to manage these risks has been obscured by the name-calling and demonizing.

Our religious and political leaders have to join hands and recognize that the will of the majority of Filipinos has to be heeded, and a majority of them when surveyed express support for the enactment of laws consistent with promoting reproductive health. By restricting their view of the issue according to a very narrow lens, the pro-life and pro-choice camps are not only doing a disservice to their countrymen, they are sewing a lot of division in the community, creating a fissure that would not otherwise exist.

Philippine Senator Tito Sotto attacks Internet Freedom

Rappler published an entry. In that entry, Senator Tito Sotto alleged he was the first cyber-bullied Senator of the Philippines. In recent days he and his staff have come under fire for his alleged plagiarism of sources in his anti reproductive health bill speech. And ultimately raised that he was for regulating blogging in the Philippines. This means two things. First, it is meant to strike back at this critics, mostly who have voiced their objection online. It also doesn’t hurt that most of those critics of the reproductive health bill, are equally active online. Second, it is a classic case of the filibuster— mean to delay the vote on the reproductive health bill.

In many ways, Sotto is in the position of being a troll— Internet speak for someone who raises inflammatory talk, or injects one in the discussion. An Internet troll gets people rilled up and distracted from the core issue. Sotto seemingly is the real life equivalent of the Internet troll. He seems to be a natural at it, and has singlehandedly done a masterful job at delaying the vote on the Reproductive Health Bill.

The threat of course, of regulating the blogging community has always been a sword hanging over the Online community. It is a euphemism to regulate Internet Freedom. It neither should be taken lightly, nor sitting down. It is an attack on civil liberties. It is an attack on Internet Freedom. Blogging has become a euphemism for speech, for expression, and for assembly because it is so easy to use. Online tools have been useful in many situations, like the Habagat that struck Manila weeks ago. Our online tools can also be used in riots, as alleged in the “Blackberry riots” of London. Like any piece of technology or tool that humans have created, the Internet has been used for both good and evil.

Already in the Philippines a law has been passed by both houses of Congress determining that online libel is legal, and that it is equivalent to libel in real life. Simply put, Online libel is criminal. Not that libel per se is evil, but it has often been used in the Philippines as a weapon to silence critics.

Cyber-bulling is a problem in the Philippines. We’re not talking about some kid in Facebook being attacked by another kid, though that happens too. Trolls gang up and attack people who disagree with their point of view. Like the Tea Party does in real life, they are rapid. And like Fox news, often devoid of real discussion except to hear their own version of reality, and pompous ideas. Yet, their right to speak should be held sacrosanct. They absolutely have the right to assemble— at any place on the Internet and voice their disagreement with Government. These people have done so under the guise of anonymity, fearing reprisal for their outlandish ideas. And their right to anonymity, should similarly be held sacrosanct. Opposition to any idea or government is important in a flourishing democracy. Just as Al-Qaeda is branded an extremist terrorist organization for their militant radical view of Islam, just as the Ku Klux Klan is an extreme, and reactionary Protestant Christian movement, society should not tolerate violence, abuse, and hate. Isn’t that why we have equal protection of the law? We do not tolerate Al-Qaeda. We do not tolerate the Ku Klux Klan. It doesn’t mean that people should be denied the right to speak.

Senator Tito Sotto in his attempt to be framed as hurt dilutes the real people who are hurt, abused, harassed every single day legitimately by cyber-rules. How can he cyber-bullied when his words are protected by his parliamentary right to a privileged speech? How can he be bullied when his right to speak isn’t threatened to be infringe. As Senator, he has the ability to step in front of any podium, and people will hear him speak whether he speaks gibberish or not. As owner of Eat Bulaga— a daily noon time show that has run for decades, he can step in front of the camera and speak. How can one be cyber-bullied when his alleged plagiarism of a speech has reached The Washington Post, when an American blogger accused a Philippine Senator of lifting from her blog?

Senator Sotto’s right to speak, to express has not been infringed. Yet, he is, threatening to take that right, that same freedom accorded every citizen and threatens to regulate bloggers. Every single day, and every single moment someone posts a photo on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on Instagram. Someone “likes” that post or leaves a comment. It is the essence of blogging. So are you going to require ID cards for everyone who wants to get an email address?

Hilary Clinton beautifully, and simply framed the whole idea of Internet Freedom in easily understood words. She said, “The final freedom, one that was probably inherent in what both President and Mrs. Roosevelt thought about and wrote about all those years ago, is one that flows from the four I’ve already mentioned: the freedom to connect – the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate. Once you’re on the internet, you don’t need to be a tycoon or a rock star to have a huge impact on society.”

Of course, Senator Sotto sought to inflame the discussion. To divert the issue from the Reproductive Health Bill, and to delay the vote for as long as possible. It is a simple case of filibuster and one that real people are affected. Who then is the real bully, and the bullied?

Source: xkcd, some rights reserved.

Dear Normal People, This is what the Internet is…

Makati Skyline
Makati Skyline. Source: Toto Ong via Flickr

Senator Tito Sotto was recently criticized for allegedly plagiarizing at least part of his anti reproductive health bill speech, which he gave in the Senate. Sarah Pope, an American blogger whose work was allegedly plagiarized has come out to say, “Sotto is acting above the law“. Journalist Raissa Robles wrote that Sotto copied from five bloggers.

Attorney Hector Villacorta, Senator Sotto’s Chief of Staff told ABS-CBN News that the senator can not be sued because “The Internet is public domain.” @jojomalig over at ABS-CBN News has written an excellent piece citing law and reasons why the Web is not public domain. And Ms. Pope has gone on record saying there is a copyright notice on her blog ( way down on her footer it reads, (C) Astrus Foods LLC).

Villacorta’s apparent intellectual dishonesty or intellectually challenged on the issue reflects in someways how most people view the Internet or its content. Content even from sources like Wikipedia are lifted word for word by students for their assignments. Photos are simply re-shared without citation. Plagiarism is not new, nor is it a Philippine phenomena.

There are two things that people are talking about here. What the Internet is to most people, and what “copyright” law is on the Internet.

What the Internet is
For most people, those normal people who do not breathe and live on and off the Internet, they see this cyberspace as a place for fun and entertainment. It is just another entertainment channel for them. They see websites as the Internet. Which is so far from the truth.

You’re familiar with an office in a building right? Most of you reading this probably works in one. A building or facility is just part of the city. And a city forms part of a province or state, and that state or province form part of an even bigger entity called, a country. Well, the Internet is just like the Earth with so many countries, and so many cities in it.

A website is an office or space in Web server. For many companies, and for many people it is a front door to the world. That Web server is a building in a city. The Cluster (which is a group of servers) is a city, and the Data Center, which is a group of clusters is your province or state, and a federation of which forms part of a country, i.e. one owned by AOL, Amazon, Rackspace, MediaTemple and others.

And Facebook is just a gated community, that has sprawled into its own city-state.

The Internet is a network of networks. What you see— the websites? Like in a city, a building is just one of many layers of the Internet. Email works just like its real world counterpart the post office, or parcel service like UPS and FedEx, is very, very much distinct from the Web. And what makes these websites go? Like how do you go from Google to to Facebook to somewhere else? That’s Domain Name Service— an address of sorts that knits it all together, and is kind of like what roads, and ports are like and they link everything together.

So yes, just like the real world, there are “rules” on the Internet. The basic principles— which is kind of the constitution is called Request for Comments (RFC). These form the “Internet standard”, which describe “methods, behaviors, research, or innovations applicable to the working of the Internet and Internet-connected systems.” Yes, it even has a Glossary of terms. And the guys who make this up is the Internet Engineering Task Force, which is kind of the Congress or Parliament or United Nations of the Internet.

Behavior such as trolling– posting inflammatory comments or entries that seek to get a reader’s emotional response is often dissuaded, “Do not feed the trolls“. An in one instance, the law has stepped in.

Thoughts on copyright
Just like in the real world, there are ethos to adhere to, which mostly originated from Hacker Culture, and ethics. And one of the tenants of this is that “All information should be free”. By free, meaning people have access to it. Information or data shouldn’t be kept. Documents should be accessible. Music should be played. In the broader concept it does not preclude people from making money or attributing or giving a simple hat tip to the original work. Ideas like Creative Commons tell us yes, by all means, share, remix, but attribute to the source. Reblogging on Tumblr attributes the source. Sharing on Facebook attributes the Source. A retweet on Twitter attributes the source. So the Internet isn’t a lawless, free for all world that people can just take and take, without giving a simple hat tip gesture. And if you liked something on YouTube, or downloaded something on PirateBay or torrents, you are very much encouraged to pay for it, someway, somehow, if you can, or tell people how great it is so creators can make money, and make more stuff that you like. In fact, Creators like Neil Gaiman have interesting thoughts on Piracy and Copyright.

So to sum it all up, the Internet isn’t the web. The websites, the blogs you see? They are like office spaces in a building, which is part of a city (data center), and that city is part of an even bigger world called the Internet. There are “rules”, and behavior on the Internet. There is cultural norm on the Internet derived largely from Hacker Ethics, and natural outgrowth like “Do not feed the trolls”. Just because it is on the Internet, doesn’t mean it is public domain.

Image credit: Some rights reserved by toto_ong

Sen. Tito Sotto: The RH Bill violates Philippine sovereignty

Tito Sotto at Matnog, Sorsogon Municipal Health Office

Yesterday, Sen. Tito Sotto delivered the first installment of his four-part speech against the RH Bill, designated SB 2865 in the Senate. (Read Here)

He enumerated his 7 objections starting with this:

    1. The RH Bill violates Philippine sovereignty, the Philippine Constitution and existing penal laws;

The RH Bill violates Philippine sovereignty ????

I was waiting for the good senator to expound on it but he did not. Maybe someone out there knows what he meant by that.

Can anybody out there explain how the RH Bill violates Philippine sovereignty?

Image credit: source: Facebook.

Absent Sons and Daughters, Absent Parents

I’m the last person to be talking about absent sons and daughters. I’m not a parent. And I’ve often heard the expression that “No parent should ever bury their child”. So I can’t comment on the grief that Senator Sotto framed his opposition of the Reproductive Health Bill. I can’t imagine or relate to the Senator in that respect.

ABS-CBN described the Senator as “teary-eyed” in a news item. The news item quotes the Senator as saying, “The Makati Medical Center said he died because my wife used contraceptives.” The entire speech is summed up to be about absent sons, and absent daughters and in one message: “Contraceptives are to be blamed for my child’s death, so don’t use it!”

I hope that they did an autopsy. Science and all that. There is nothing like the certainty of the scientific method to get the cold hard facts, regardless whether we want to hear them or not.

Oddly enough, the Reproductive Health bill is about absent sons, and absent daughters. That is, if you frame children as objects and possessions. Sons and daughters are there to “lift the family up from poverty”. The translation being sons and daughters are born to make money to feed the hungry family. Sons and daughters are there to pay for their younger siblings’ education. To act as parents, because their parents can’t afford to send them to school. It is a common and vicious cycle of absent parents.

The parent is supposedly the one who should provide for their children. They should be the one to feed them. To put warm clothes on their back. To give them toys, and to play with them. To create happy children who are secure in themselves when it is their turn to be adults. You know? To prepare their children to be better than their parents.

You don’t have kids so they’ll take care of you when you’re old and sickly.

At least, that’s how I view it.

I’m not trying to say that being compassionate about your family is a bad thing. It is natural for Filipinos and family to look after each other. I’m saying the lack of family planning. The lack of parents being ready to be parents is the single biggest problem of our society.

How many of today’s crime is wrought by children doing drugs? Kids who fall to substance abuse because of family life problems? Or life problems? Or just because no one was there to help them out? How many of these kids are born when parents themselves are not yet ready to be parents? How many of these kids stop going to school, or parents unable to help with homework? How many kids are born, and parents resent them for it because they can’t go out and party, or have the time of their lives?

The Reproductive Health Bill, at its core is about choices. Choose the family planning method you want after the government or health professional gives you all the options. The health worker is kind of like the sales person in the mall. This one is natural planning… this one is using a condom, etc. etc. It is also about parents finding choices to help them decide on when you want to have kids. A time when you’re ready to be a parent. So the reproductive health bill is about absent parents. Like having fewer of absent parents.

It always isn’t foolproof. Nothing in life ever is. At least, nothing human hands have created. From time to time, something fails. Perhaps it is a manufacturing defect. Perhaps someone used a pin to put holes on that condom. You know, psycho girlfriend-style. I mean, life always would try to find a way to send you a curveball.

A senator’s son could have, or may have died from complications. Just because you have the money, just because you have the means, doesn’t excuse you when life throws a curveball.

Those against the reproductive health bill say this is a bill against having kids. Too much, or two many screws up people. That it makes people selfish so fewer kids translate to fewer mouths to feed. Yes, it is about fewer mouths to feed, particularly, in the first place, when you can’t afford to feed them in the first place.

Picture a man, who makes two hundred fifty dollars a month. That’s less than 10 thousand pesos a month. If he has three kids and a wife to feed, how in all the heavens can you give each child the opportunity to be better? How can you feed them, much less send them to school? Public school isn’t absolutely free to begin with. There are still expenses, and PTAs and stuff, correct? How are you going to feed them so they can actually go to school, to begin with?

So the reproductive health bill isn’t about cutting back on the kids. It is about being responsible parents. Don’t have children if you’re not ready to have them. If you can’t feed them. Do you know how much milk costs these days? If you can’t pay for their clothing. Do you know how much diapers cost these days? If you can’t pay for bringing them to the doctor during the middle of the night. Do you know how hard it is to see your child in pain, and not being able to buy medicine or giving them good health care? Do you?

I don’t, but I’ve seen friends and family pay exuberant amounts of money for their kids. Money that in my bachelor lifestyle would have gone on to other stuff, like machines, and toys.

What is happening right for the past decade or so is that parents– from teens and everyone of reproductive health have kids and they don’t have a clue that hey, eventually, I have to pay for my kid’s college. We actually live in a society where all grandparents aren’t loaded with money to you know, pay for their grandkids’ tuition. So we have absent parents. We have people who— they don’t know any better have kids because that’s what humans are programmed to do in the first place. You know: people have sex. Animals have sex, and just because we’re humans, doesn’t mean that base part of us doesn’t come out. Hormones, and you know, natural selection at play. Men and women have needs.

Reproductive Health care is about absent sons, and daughters. To create a world where sons and daughters can grow up to be human beings. And not merely to survive day in, and day out in the street like dogs, and cats do. We don’t go out and say it, but don’t you take pity on them, but hardly give a second thought? This is about a world of fewer absent sons and daughters who have fallen off the tracks, do drugs, do crime, or die, and be forgotten. It is about a world of fewer absent parents, and instead create a world where parents think about raising their kids, and preparing them for life—- for kids to be better than their parents. To live, not merely to survive. Why can’t we have that? Why can’t we put the reproductive health bill up to a vote because of life?

Image credit: Some rights reserved by SPIngram

Faith and the #RHBill

source Manila Cathedral
Free will. Choice. Faith. Science. Words easily uttered these days leading up to the vote in Congress of the Reproductive Health Bill. The most vocal opponent of the bill is the Catholic Church, led by the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines.

The bill, like many laws of the land is complex. The issue is not simple. So its proponents have distilled it into the salient point: maternal health, and a matter of choice. It is on these points that it has gained much support.

The bill is far from perfect. But what law is? The sad truth is that this bill is made even more imperfect because of the lack of learned debate between those for it, and those against it.

The sad truth is that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines sees this debate as about them. Passage of the bill signals a more secular society. The perceived power of the CBCP, to them dwindles. If on this moral issue, the CBCP fails, what on other issues of the day?

Another sad truth, because of the CBCP’s trolling behavior on this issue, real debate on the lack of, or the merits of this bill never came to pass. It’s a shame really.

On Twitter, @jeromegotangco points out, “Here is opinion. I agree with healthcare but I do not agree on subsidizing some else’s sex life.” Jon Limjap replied, “It’s a toss up between subsidizing someone else’s sex life or welfare of someone else’s kid. We’re doing the latter!” Both are valid points of view. And both should be part of the debate on the merits of the Reproductive Health Bill. Has it been?

The truth is, reproductive health isn’t about religion. The bill does not go against the prohibition on abortion. It does not prevent a Catholic from listening to church teachings on natural family planning. It doesn’t prevent a Catholic couple to plan their family, to spread their kids over a span of years, according to their capacity to take care of that child. It does prevent the Catholic belief on natural family planning to apply to everyone of different faith. It does try to prevent irresponsibility: that a couple can have kids, without giving a thought to the future of that person.

People are now rightly asking, “How will I feed my kid?” “How can I give this human being, proper education?” “how can I give this human being a good life?” If that is the case, how is this going against Jesus’ commandment of Love?

Without doubt, the reproductive health bill should be passed. Whether we argue or not on its imperfections, or the nature of the debate, the fact is, this bill will be better for everyone.

EDSA Shrine as a propaganda tool

EDSA Shrine

Today, anti-RH bill activists from the Church and suspicious politicians will gather at the EDSA Shrine and will form a mini People Power to show the undecided congressmen and senators that shutting down RH Bill is the way to go. The EDSA Shrine as their venue is significant because of its history and the positive associations connected to it. There’s nothing wrong in gathering there. It is within their constitutional rights. What I don’t like about it is how it will makes Catholics who are pro-RH Bill appear as if they are in the wrong path, even evil. That the Church is right and we are wrong. That the EDSA Shrine stands for the truth and the betterment of the country and it belongs to them. I want to see a gathering of pro-RH Catholics at EDSA Shrine too but its management will never approve of it. It is quite sinister how the Church turned the reproductive health into a battle between good and evil, forgetting that mothers’ lives are at stake, that women should have the right to choose whether to use contraceptives or not, that the bill will help the lives of the poor more manageable, and so on.

I won’t list down the statistics and studies which defend the passing of the RH Bill since it has been much discussed and they are freely available online for people to study. It is only my intention to put out there that the Church doesn’t have the monopoly on “goodness.” Goodness comes in different forms with some not apparent at first but will become the greater good in the end.

Image credit: some rights, reserved.

Avaaz Team for #RHBILL – Contraception is vital for women everywhere

"Convinced she can do everything she's ever dreamed of with just a little more space". Some rights reserved, by Helga Weber
“Convinced she can do everything she’s ever dreamed of with just a little more space”. Some rights reserved, by Helga Weber

I got this via email:

Dear friends across the Philippines,

 

In days, our Congress could take the pivotal step of securing universal access to birth control and maternal care for all Filipinos. But the powerful religious lobby and its political allies could kill it unless we act now.

 

Over 70% of the Filipino population supports the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, but politicians fearful of Church pressure have for years been ignoring public opinion. The tide, however, may be turning. Experts say President Aquino’s brave endorsement of the Bill last week could convince other lawmakers to do the same – let’s tip the balance in our favor by telling Congress we won’t sit by idly while they kill the bill for the 14th year in a row.

 

The House of Representatives votes in 5 days and it’s likely to be close – if it dies here, we’ll have to wait one more year to even bring up the subject. Sign this urgent petition now and forward widely – when we reach 10,000 signatures, we’ll deliver it straight to Congress before voting begins.

 

Passing the RH bill is crucial at this moment in history when birth control is out of reach for most women. The Philippines has one of the fastest growing populations in Asia, half of all pregnancies are unintended, and there are over 475,000 illegal abortions every year. Granting greater access to birth control could make all the difference in reducing abortions, improving maternal health, and even combating poverty.

 

But politicians and religious leaders opposed to the bill are distorting public debate by wrongly claiming that those of us who support the RH Bill are anti-life. The truth is millions of Catholics throughout the Philippines and around the world support access to birth control because it can save lives by reducing illegal abortion.

 

It’s time for our elected leaders to be fearless in representing the views of most Filipinos rather than cave in to pressure from outside lobbies. Let’s let Congress know where we stand. Sign the urgent petition now and send to everyone:

 

Contraception is vital for women everywhere, but especially where birth deaths are rampant, unplanned pregnancy rates are high and access to regular birth control is severely limited. Let’s stand together as Filipinos now and ensure our politicians vote for the future of our country.

 

With hope and determination,

 

Jamie, Laura, Ian, Dalia, Diego, Ricken, Maria Paz, David and the whole Avaaz team

Sources:

 

Congress urged to pass RH bill for the future (Manila Standard Today)

 

House to decide on RH bll next week (The Philippine Star)

 

Proponent unfazed, Palace appeals for support over RH measure (Business World Online)

 

Mention of reproductive health bill in Philippines’ president’s speech seen as endorsement (National Catholic Reporter)

 

Congress leaders push RH bill passage, Charter amendment (Sun Star)

Image credit: Some rights reserved, by Helga Weber

Spokes in the Wheels of Justice

Towards a Genuine Agenda for a Just Society

As the world of the blogosphere, twitterverse and mainstream media soak up as much as it can from the Corona impeachment trial, delving into the subtle elements of the rules of court, rules of evidence and so, on, one wonders about the long-standing issues related to injustice and impunity that slip below the radar as far as the public policy agenda is concerned.

The wheels of justice revved up so expeditiously in the lead up to the impeachment of Corona, but they grind ever so slowly in the case of so many others. To wit, I now turn the spotlight on them in the form of a Top 5 ranking. I ask the question, what is happening to these “five spokes” in the “wheels of justice” given the fact that P-Noy’s administration has placed “judicial reform” at the top of its agenda. I highlight the status of the issues involved, some history, current developments and provide some justification for including them in the top five list. Well, without further ado, here they are:

5. Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill.

The president sent to Congress his version of the bill on Thursday, February 2, 2012. It took at least eighteen months for his government to come up with its own version of the proposed law. At first, the Palace was rather reticent about endorsing any version of the FOI bill as urgent when it hammered out its legislative agenda. Finally, it relented after several months of mounting public pressure from concerned citizens on the issue.

Many elements of the law remain contentious which means that you can expect the debate in Congress to be fierce. The House of Representatives will need to reconcile the different versions of the bill. The question is whether the Senate will have time to deliberate on it given the proceedings currently underway there.

I include this in the Top 5 Spokes of the Wheels of Justice because an FOI law would allow for greater transparency. Greater transparency would be required in ensuring that government disclose to the public what it knows about certain issues that impact on people’s lives, safety and well-being.

This is just an extension of the freedom of the press, something that was uppermost in the mind of P-Noy’s father when he languished in prison and in exile and struggled to let the world know about his story. The FOI Bill needs to have safeguards, but the risks of greater accountability should not detract from the overall vision of having a more accountable, transparent, and just society.

4. Reproductive Health (RH) Bill.

After vacillating over whether to certify as urgent any of the reproductive health bills in Congress, the president finally gave his seal of approval by proposing his own version of the RH bill. The clock ran out last year though as Congress went into recess. The problem will be enacting the bill so close to an election year when the anti-RH adherents will be fired-up to go against legislators who vote in favour of it.

The longer the impeachment trial drags on, the greater the likelihood that the RH bill will not pass, considering where we are in our political/electoral cycle.

The reason why reproductive health comprises a spoke on the wheel of justice is that it directly affects the future health and well-being of at least half the population, and it indirectly affects every newborn child. Those who study women’s issues will tell you that the way women’s rights are treated in society is a proxy for how just and tolerant society is more broadly.

The question is will we have to wait until after the 2013 elections before this bill get passed?

3. Coco levy funds

If the FOI Bill is a carryover issue from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency, and the RH Bill goes all the way back to Fidel Valdez Ramos’, the disposition of the coco levy funds goes all the way back to Ferdinand Edralin Marcos’. The coco levy fund was administered by P-Noy’s uncle, Danding Cojuangco. The current Senate president had a hand in it too.

The Supreme Court recently ruled and affirmed the Sandiganbayan antigraft court’s decision which awarded to the government close to a quarter of the shares of San Miguel Corporation that Mr Cojuangco controls. It said that the funds should be used only to benefit the farmers who had contributed to the levy after it was mandated by Mr Marcos.

This prompted a farmer’s party-list organization to press for the president’s endorsement to the house of a bill that would facilitate the return of the fund to the farmers. The said shares in San Miguel are estimated to be as high as one hundred and fifty billion pesos (Php150 Billion) presently. If spread over five years, the annual disbursement could exceed the budget for the conditional cash transfers.

This is definitely a spoke in the wheel of justice since coconut farmers occupy the lowest rung in the ladder (sorry for getting my metaphors mixed up) in the agricultural sector. They constitute the poorest of the poor. While rice farmers continue to receive billions in subsidy from the grains program each year, no such assistance is extended to coconut farmers. Yet, the biggest growth in agricultural productivity can be had if this fund were used to assist them in making their fields more productive by introducing other crops.

With the appointment of a former aide of Mr Cojuangco to the cabinet, one can be certain that the views of the old man will be represented at the table when Cabinet decides on the issue. The longer it takes for such an anomaly to be corrected (the farmers have already waited a quarter of a century), the bigger the insult suffered by those who deserve just compensation. It is their money after all.

2. Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extensions (CARPER)

This problem goes back so long, I will not even bother to try to “date” it. The Huk rebellion in the 1950s following the war led to the election of President Ramon Magsaysay who promised to institute social reforms. What was applied though were band aid solutions. His popularity among the people which improved social cohesion and public trust in government and the availability of land in Mindanao made it possible to skirt the issue of land reform.

CARPER is just the last in a long succession of policies aimed at solving the land issue. Its immediate predecessor CARP was enacted by the late-Corazon Cojuangco Aquino’s presidency. The program was given a new lease on life at the end of GMA’s term. The current president promised to complete its implementation including resolving the Hacienda Luisita issue before stepping down in 2106. The Hacienda Luisita issue dates back to the time of Ramon Magsaysay when the government bankrolled its acquisition by the Cojuangcos by guaranteeing loans to P-Noy’s grandfather Jose Cojuangco.

Aside from the vexed issue of land distribution under CARPER, there is currently the issue of land grabbing allegedly taking place. An international fact-finding team recently investigated reports involving land covering three towns of San Mariano, Ilagan and Benito Soliven. At the heart of the problem lies Green Future Innovations, Inc which plans to put up a bio-ethanol plant that will cost $120 million. It was alleged that more than a thousand farmers and indigenous people were displaced by the project. The area involved is 2,200 hectares. The infusion of capital by a Japanese partner into the project was hailed as one of the positive developments coming out of the president’s trip to Japan last year.

Again, these are mere allegations at this point, but they are disconcerting given the context. They raise the question of whether the government has a land use policy in mind and how it plans to handle the question of foreign ownership of land. This is a sleeper issue. The same thing could conceivably be duplicated by China in its search for energy resources. At the root of this problem is the question of property rights. How are they defined and protected? What measures will the government take to ensure that land is used productively to benefit our national interests.

1. Compensation for Martial Law victims

I place this on top of the agenda. Why? Because in the others (save perhaps for the RH Bill and the case of Hacienda Luisita), people were deprived of either their property or right to information. Here, they were deprived of their lives and their liberty. The arbitrary use of police powers by the state to abuse its people, the very citizens whose rights they are meant to protect, well, no graver injustice can be said to occur.

Yet,  a quarter of a century has passed, and we are still awaiting some final closure to this issue. Even after the case was won securing money from the Marcoses to compensate the 7,500 victims, the orderly distribution of ten billion pesos worth of those funds is yet to be framed by Congress. A bill in the House has already made its way through the appropriations committee as of February 7, 2012. This paves the way for deliberations on the floor. Whether or not there will be enough time to hammer out the bill and enact it this year is another question. In March last year, victims started to receive compensation in the form of a $7.5 million award from a US court.

After waiting so long, the end is finally in sight. Each year, a few of the original surviving victims pass away without seeing their claims recognized. Honoring them and their loved ones through compensation would be the best way to bring closure to this dark chapter in our nation’s history.

Conclusion

In pursuing justice, the Palace has chosen to focus on the injustices that occurred during the last five years of the Arroyo presidency by going after her henchmen  whom she had left behind entrenched in certain sensitive positions. Last year saw a growing body count of individuals tied to the former regime. The latest target, the chief justice, is currently occupying the nation’s attention with live coverage of his courtroom drama unfolding daily.

Meanwhile, there are decades’ old injustices perpetrated by past regimes that remain unresolved. Indeed, if the Palace had pursued these cases with as much vigour and swiftness that it demonstrated when it filed the impeachment complaint against the chief justice, then perhaps its victims would be able to heave a heavy collective sigh of relief. The wheels of justice they say grind slowly. Justice delayed is justice denied. Let it not be said that this government turned its back on “the least of our brethren” whom it claims to be fighting for.

The genius of Sotto

The Inquirer reported that anti-RH vanguard Sen. Vicente Sotto III confronted RH-Bill co-sponsor, Sen. Pia Cayetano, on the ties of the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines to foreign lobby groups. REPORT HERE

“Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III sought to unmask on Tuesday local lobbyists affiliated with an international organization advocating for abortion and whose founder was a known champion of “eugenics.”

Eugenics refers to the ideology promoting selective breeding, thereby denying birth for the weak and the useless. Among its chief proponents, Sotto said, was the late Margaret Sanger, who founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).”

Sotto went on to say that the possible link FPOP to International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), an organization that offers “contraception, emergency contraception, (and) abortion-related services”, complicates the RH Bill.

Sotto added,

“If the only ones pushing for this were Senator (Miriam) Santiago (the other co-sponsor) and Sen. Pia Cayetano, I would have agreed to this bill as early as yesterday. But there are other groups behind it.”

SAY WHAT?