Passion For Reason

Miriam: Whoever says ‘darling, let us procreate’?


Yesterday Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Pia Cayetano returned to lecture at their intellectual home, Malcolm Hall at the UP College of Law, and addressed a standing-room-only crowd of students from numerous colleges of UP and other universities in Manila, and various NGO activists.

The forum was on “Reproductive Rights as Human Rights” and was organized by UP’s Institute of Human Rights to celebrate the centennial of the law school. I was one of the reactors, together with Dr. Esperanza Cabral, former health secretary.

With quintessential Miriam flourish, one of the promotional posters quoted her saying: “I can’t imagine going to the bedroom with my husband and saying, ‘Let us procreate’.”

To quote Miriam further, the forum demonstrated “the power of an idea whose time has come.” Senators Santiago and Cayetano showed the importance of putting the emotionally charged RH debate on sober and rational footing.

Senator Cayetano stressed: No, the RH bill does not legalize abortion. No, the RH bill does not impose any specific family planning method. No, the RH bill does not involve any coercion. On the contrary, it respects the liberty of husbands and wives to choose how to space their children and manage their family size according to their budget, the quality of life they wish to offer their children, their consciences and their religious beliefs. And, she noted, it is important to educate adolescents about reproductive health to halt the spiral of teenage pregnancies and sexual abuse.

Senator Santiago, my own professor in Constitutional Law when she was still a young lawyer working in the Department of Justice under former law dean Vicente Abad Santos, structured her lecture around the two foundations of the Bill of Rights, namely, liberty and equality.

The liberty of couples to manage the size of their families is anchored upon two kinds of privacy. The first is their “decisional” privacy to make certain choices, the “primacy of conscience” in the words of Senator Santiago, e.g, what they do when they “do,” without the government poking its nose into the kulambô. The second is their “spatial” privacy that commands the government to respect the sanctity of the marital bedroom.

The most dramatic example of this violation is the unlamented Ayala Alabang ordinance that required a doctor’s prescription for the purchase of contraceptives, and for pharmacists to record the names of contraceptive users in a “register book for abortives and anti-conceptionals.”

She also emphasized that reproductive rights must be discussed with secular arguments that are neutral to religion. Indeed, Senator Santiago even quoted Pope Benedict XVI for support: “Above the Pope stands one’s own conscience.”

Finally, another liberty aspect that Senator Santiago mentioned in her sponsorship speech was that access to information is indispensable to knowing and informed choice. In other words, for couples to make intelligent choices, they need to know what choices are available and what are the consequences of each choice.

At Malcolm Hall, the inimitable Senator Santiago so comfortably donned her hat as law professor. It must have been the scholar in her that prodded her to develop new themes in the RH debate. She contrasted the “vertical” and “horizontal” enforcement of human rights. “Vertical,” or protecting rights against violations by states. “Horizontal,” or protecting rights against violations by private persons, for instance, when women are left to fend for themselves against cultural biases, or when the poor are left to fend for themselves in the open market.

This concept is important because denial of access to RH is inherently discriminatory. It discriminates against women, who bear a disparate burden of the human cost of unwanted pregnancies, namely, hospitalization and possible death. Senator Santiago noted that 11 mothers die every day due to pregnancy—and childbirth-related complications. Sadly, this aspect is often silenced in the din of high-profile religious arguments. Sadder still, it shows a deeper disregard for women who are marginalized. Only women get pregnant, and yet as the two women senators reminded us, a bill on reproductive rights can be debated as if women were mere bystanders.

Denial of access to RH is also anti-poor. The claim for RH is a claim for social justice. To say that the rich and poor have equal access to RH is like saying of the poor, “Let them eat cake.” The couples who most desperately need RH support are those so desperate they can barely afford to secure three square meals a day for their children. To tell them to use their cash to buy condoms is both unrealistic, callous and heartless. To tell them that the only way to manage their family size is for them to refrain from having sex until they can afford to buy condoms is to ignore our basic human needs.

The RH debate in our country has thus far fixated on the liberty argument and glossed over the equality argument. Strategically, we must shift the argument toward equality and social justice, and demonstrate that anti-RH is not only anti-choice but also anti-women and anti-poor. To confine ourselves to liberty arguments is to remain in an arena where religion can plausibly insinuate itself. Whereas, by arguing social justice, we actually beckon the Catholic clergy to join hands in carrying out a “preferential option for the poor” that they themselves profess.

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  • Anonymous

    Replying to antonioluna, tristanism, Steven Zahl, WeAry_Bat

    antonio sabi mo –“..kabataang nakikipagtalik na pero hindi nila alam na yaon ay pakikipagtalik, hindi nila alam na sila ay mabubuntis dahil sa pakikipag-talik. ”

    sagot ko — sa aking pagsa-saliksik at sa maraming taon, na nakasama at nakaka-halubilo ko ang mga mahihirap sa ibt-ibang lugar;   ALAM  NILA na ang pakiki-pagtalik ay maaring mag-dulot ng pagbubuntis.  Maski alam nila ito, sila ay nakikipag-talik pa rin sa kadahilanan na ito ay masarap gawin.  Sa mailkling panahon ng pagniniig, nakakalimutan nila, at maaaring nag papabaya sila sa maaring kahihinatnan ng kanilang ginagawa; “bahala na” ang karaniwang nasa isip.

    Ang ‘sex’ ay isang napaka-lakas na ‘drive’ or ‘instinct’ at napaka-hirap kontrolin.  Ang tanong, pag tinuruan mo ba ang mga kabataan na ito na mag-contraception ng walang gabay ng magulang at sinabing dapat silang mag-contraception, at hahayaan mo silang maka-kuha ng contraceptive devices sa mga health centers, mahihikayat mo ba silang maging responsable sa kanilang sarili?  Posibleng oo ang sagot at mai-isip nilang kumuha ng contraceptive bago sila makipag-talik, pero posibleng rin na mas lalo lang silang matututong mag-engage sa uncontrolled at irresponsible sexual behavior dahil sa paghubog sa pag-iisip na ito ay isang casual activity lamang; “promiscuity’ ika nga ang magiging kasunod.

    Ano ngayon ang pagkaka-iba ng rh bill sa mga nakalipas na family planning programs? Sa aking opinyon , ang pagkakaiba ay ang pamamaraan ng paghubog ng kaisipan ng mga tuturuan ng mga konsepto ng contraception.

    Sa mga nakaraang family planning programs, ang paraan ay ‘pag-bibigay ng informasyon  at paghihikayat’ na maging responsable sa pag-buo ng pamilya. At ang pag-tuturo ng konseptong natural at artificial contraceptive methods sa paaralan ay sa paraang ‘academic’.

    Sa rh bill at sa maka-bagong family planning programs, ang paghihikayat ng gobyerno ay ang pag-hubog sa kaisipan na dapat  at mabuti lang na gumamit ng contraception ang mga tao, kasama pa ng ibang goals. (Siguro alam mo naman ang mga ginagawa ng mga DOH secretaries na nakaraan at other personalities at organizations na pagpapa-mudmod ng condoms sa lansangan at — hindi ang pag-tuturo ng self discipline.)

    Sa unang tingin ay parang pareho, pero kung susuriin mo ang mga lathalain, at ang mismong rh bill,  makikita mo na ang gusto ng mga advocates ng rh bill ay HINDI ang pagpapalaganap ng self-discipline at control, kundi ang pagpa-palaganap ng pag-gamit ng contraceptive devices at ang kaisipan na ang pag-gamit ng contraception ang makaka-salba sa kahirapan ng mga mahihirap na tao.  ‘ Contraception mentality’ – ito ang isa sa tinututulan ng anti-rh. 

    Sa pananaw ng anti-rh, itong rh bill ay hindi makakatulong na i-angat ang kabuhayan ng mamamayan, at lalo pang magpapa-hirap sa bansa natin, lalo na sa isyu ng moralidad at civil rights.

    Ano ang mas magandang solution? Ang pag-tuturo sa mga kabataang ito at pati na sa mga matatanda ng pagiging responsable sa kanilang sexual behavior tungo sa mahusay na pag-plano ng pamilya. Na siya rin namang itinuturo sa family planning sa mga nakaraang panahon, ngunit hindi lang siguro naiipapa-tupad ng maayos. Mas magiging mahusay siguro na turuan ang magulang ng mga tamang konsepto ng pag-plano at pag-papaunlad ng buhay pamilya (skills din at hindi lang contraception), at hikayatin ang mga magulang na turuan din ang kanilang mga anak.

    • antonioluna

      bro, ang isa sa pinag uusapan natin ay sex education na ituturo sa grade 5, siguro naman alam mo na ang binabanggit kong kabataan dito ay yong mga may edad na 15 pababa, katulad na mga inosente at wala pa talagang alam na biglang nagiging nanay dahil nakipagtalik na hindi nila alam na nakikipagtalik na pala sila. malalaman lang nila na ganon ang ginagawa nila kapag nagbunga na.

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