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.

Dear Normal People, This is what the Internet is…

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. Read more

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.

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.


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.