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Learn from the ‘kalyeserye’

SEN. Tito Sotto need only listen—and listen well—to the folks who make an appearance on the kalyeserye (street series) segment of the daily noontime show “Eat Bulaga” to understand why his recent “castration” of the Department of Health budget was such an injustice to Filipino men and women.

Acting in tandem with Senate finance committee chair Sen. Loren Legarda, and in secrecy at that, Sotto managed to convince his colleagues, sitting in the bicameral conference committee deliberating on this year’s budget, to excise P1 billion from the DOH budget. The P1 billion had been meant for the purchase of contraceptives as part of the family planning program.

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Other officials, including Legarda, said there is enough “remaining” money in the DOH from previous years’ budgets to cover the cost of family planning supplies. But in a press conference, former representative Edcel Lagman, who had led the fight for the enactment of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) law in the House of Representatives, said that only P157 million (about one-tenth of the P1-billion allotment) remains with the DOH for the purchase of contraceptives. This, said Lagman, is “grossly inadequate and smaller than the budget in previous years.” Especially since our population has been growing rapidly and developments like an alarming rise in teenage pregnancies and a runaway growth in the number of new HIV/AIDS cases have lent even more urgency to the need to meet our people’s reproductive health needs.

Others have said the DOH could very well re-channel money budgeted for other concerns, like childhood immunization and dengue control, to direct more money for contraceptive supplies. But this would, to use a hoary metaphor, be akin to “borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.” In the first place, Congress could have yielded to the wisdom of DOH officials who certainly know the proper priorities. And the legislators, like Sotto, could have simply listened to what the “little people” are saying.

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IN the kalyesere segment of “Eat Bulaga,” the “lolas,” (grandmothers) portrayed by three cross-dressing comedians, along with phenomenal new comedienne and Dubsmash “queen” Yaya Dub (Maine Mendoza), visit a recipient of the show’s charity in his or her home and shower the lucky viewer with gifts that include goods and cash.

Sotto, who frequently sits on a panel of the show’s hosts back at the home studio, oversees the proceedings and sometimes offers jokes, pithy comments and advice.

At a recent show, the “lolas” and Yaya Dub visited a housewife who had (if I remember right) eight children in nine years, with the eldest not yet a teenager and the youngest just a year old. Most of the hosts expressed shock at the fecund housewife’s reproductive prowess, with some even asking if she hadn’t consulted a health provider to limit or even space her pregnancies.

In the middle of the proceedings, out pops her husband, who, in the middle of the day, according to one of the “lolas,” already reeked of alcohol. For me, at least, the appearance of the husband—who was only employed sporadically, we were told—explained the woman’s—and her children’s—sorry state.

Male irresponsibility, female powerlessness, ignorance of the basics of reproductive health and family welfare—all combined to create the sorry situation that was the basis of this family’s sordid tale.

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I AM sure this is not the first time that Sotto, who has been a host of “Eat Bulaga” for nearly 30 years and has in fact parlayed his comedic career into political prominence, encountered such a couple and their children, or heard such a story.

But apparently, he remains unmoved by such a harsh reality, a reality that could, for the women at least, be relieved by any of the elements of reproductive health. These include family planning supplies and services that are timely, effective, safe and respectful; education for young people on the basics of responsible parenthood and how to prevent and avoid unwanted pregnancy; and services and supplies to prevent and cure sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Sotto’s supporters, including his fellow “Eat Bulaga” cast sitting on the panel, attest to his compassion, and even his personal charity. He may very well give away his personal wealth in the course of visiting the miserably poor recipients of the show’s charity, but that wouldn’t change a thing.

The lucky families may enjoy the one-time bonanza. But without more long-term help, including a change of mindset and habits, and an efficient and effective health and welfare system that “catches” the poor before they fall into desperate straits, we will be caught in a never-ending treadmill of misery from generation to generation.

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THIS is why it is so alarming that Filipino voters seem to choose their favored candidates based on rather flimsy reasons. Reasons such as familiarity with an entertainer whom they see giving away goods on a daily basis, indicating his “good” character, without looking into his capability as a legislator, or his role in thwarting socially-rewarding legislation.

Surely we haven’t forgotten that Sotto led the chorus of anti-RH voices while the RPRH bill was undergoing a rigorous voyage through the Senate and House. And surely, we must care that, failing to stop the passage of the RPRH law and to thwart its implementation through numerous legal challenges, Sotto resorted to underhanded, sneaky and secretive methods to render the RPRH law inutile.

If Sotto is returned to the Senate or, worse, ends up on top of the list, I wonder what we, Filipino voters, can say the next time another mother, with a drunkard of a husband, tells her sorry tale. Will she and her children forgive us?

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TAGS: AlDub, budget, DoH, Eat Bulaga, Kalyeserye, opinion, reproductive, reproductive health
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