Human Face

An RH bill(board) I’d like to see

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Billboards from hell have been this column’s objects of ire for the longest time. But as they say, if you can’t lick them, you might as well join them. Anti-billboard advocates might as well put up their own to replace some of the unsightly and distracting ads that obstruct our view of the sky.

What’s this got to do with the RH (reproductive health) bill? More on this later.

Many thoughts have been running through my mind these past months that the RH bill was being debated in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and by the pros and the antis who have vigorously, relentlessly and heroically defended their respective positions according to the dictates of their consciences and hopefully not because of the urgings of their party, religious or industry affiliations.

Kudos to both sides. In the end only one side wins, though it is not necessarily winner-takes-all. There have been and will be more give and take, as exemplified by the last-minute amendments that a principal author, Sen. Pia Cayetano, accepted magnanimously. But not Sen. Tito Sotto’s proposal to strike out the word “satisfying” in the phrase “safe and satisfying sex” (that women are entitled to). Cayetano held her ground, with RH bill coauthor Sen. Miriam Santiago declaring that any man married to her must give her safe and satisfying sex. Knowing Santiago, I thought she would add that “satisfying” was an understatement.

Sotto’s feigning squeamishness and saying that “satisfying” ran against Filipino taste were laughable. How TH (trying hard), I must say. Come on, Filipinos are so openly libidinous in words and deed. Was Sotto playing to the gallery? I doubt if the clerics and nuns in the gallery—many of them perhaps well-versed in the theology of the body—were amused by Sotto’s display of “conservatism.” Anti-RH they may be like Sotto, but I don’t think they believe that they came into this world by immaculate conception and not as a result of the satisfying, pleasurable and pyroclastic physical—add spiritual and emotional—procreative union of their parents.

With the RH bill now passed in the two chambers and the two versions soon to be as one (The bicameral conference committee approved the reconciled measure yesterday-ED.), we expect both the pros and the antis to buckle down and make that piece of legislation work for the good. I have always thought that after all the arguments have been weighed in the sanctum sanctorum of each lawmaker’s conscience, the resulting votes should represent vox populi.  The antis who might insist that it is not vox Dei can either throw in the towel or be vigilant so that what they had opposed would not become the “evil” that they had warned about.

For example, a number of the anti-RH lawmakers have brought up the so-called demographic winter, or the alarming population decline in countries with legislated population control. Sure, that is a legit issue, but now that we have learned about the whys of it, we can avoid their path to the wintry horizon. The Philippines should be so lucky that those countries got to that “point of no return” ahead of us and so we can now make our own way and have a vibrant, healthy, sustainable—and not runaway—population growth. Note the word “growth.”

The word population conjures up faceless, nameless numbers. But real persons with names and faces make for the best arguments. All throughout the debates, I would think of poor urban families living under bridges, street families living in the bushes, couples copulating in pushcarts, mothers giving birth near slimy esteros, naked toddlers defecating as food cooks nearby. Persons I have met. And in remote areas in the countryside, appalling poverty in threatened mountain sanctuaries and places by the sea.

I have not been a fence-sitting journalist. I have seen for myself the other side of the railroad tracks. Though not the most unforgettable, doing a story on the poor families living along the riles in Pandacan gave me a front-row seat to their dangerous lives. Doing a series on the sex life of the urban poor was confounding, if not hilarious. How do they procreate in such miserable, deplorable ambiance?

Why am I now thinking of billboards instead of the bill?

Some months ago, I was at a gathering of Catholic women theologians and women “doing theology.” We discussed many burning issues, among them the RH bill and the sharp divisions it has created. I made an out-of-the-box suggestion that is nondivisive and thought-provoking.

I said, why not billboards with the message “Maghanda bago magpamilya”? (This can be translated into other Filipino languages.) This is neither pro- nor anti-RH, just a simple mantra that is laden with lessons and messages. It is for couples who are married or not married, with children or no children, and for single teens and adults of all ages. For philanderers who sow wild oats, childless couples who are considering adoption, and anyone, just anyone, about to start a family deliberately or accidentally. For teachers, counselors, religious, parents, health workers, who can expound on the what, when, where, why and how.  Add hotline numbers. Dot the skyline with it.

The suggestion was received with enthusiasm. I added that the anti-epal (who denounce shameless politicians who put up billboards and claim credit for projects funded by people’s taxes) can give plus points to those who will spend for such billboards (even with their names on them).

Maghanda bago magpamilya. You can count the ways. Let me know what you think.

May the peace of Christmas find its way into our hearts and into the lives of those who are laden with grief. Still, we celebrate with wonder.

(Send feedback to cerespd@gmail.com or www.ceresdoyo.com)

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