Jun 8, 2011

[Philippines] I Support The RH Bill

One of the major controversies that has rocked the local media scene is the pending Reproductive Health Bill(s) pending in both Congress and the Senate. As a country that is normally touted as a predominantly Catholic one, the Philippines is an odd mix of modernist Western thinking and values interlaced with rigid Catholic or Christian doctrine. The two sides tend to come into conflict with one another more often than not and this issue is a clear example of that.

Flickr: Simon Oosterman - Smokey Mountain II
Smokey Mountain II
by Simon Oosterman via Flickr.

Admittedly, I no longer identify myself as being Catholic. Instead I choose to state that I'm agnostic at best - I believe in the existence of a superior power (or powers) but I don't think that a human-defined religious organization can clearly speak for said power. In this light, I do not represent the statistical majority of the population of the Philippines. But as an individual, a Filipino citizen and a free-thinker in my own right, I thought it best to make a firm stand on this issue.

While people who know me and have discussed this issue with my in person or over Facebook know that I am in firm support of the bill, I feel it's important enough to take some time to document my stand, the reasons for it and my main arguments in order to add my voice to the many that continue to demand the passage of this bill.

First, the RH Bill is about our right to make an informed choice when it comes to reproductive health. It is not about forcing people to utilize one method of birth control versus another. Instead, it is about ensuring that everyone knows what all the options are and are free to choose which method works best for them in line with their beliefs and principles. If a devout Catholic decides to continue with the Rhythm Method after being educated in terms of all contraceptive options, then that's their right. But should they choose otherwise, then that is also their right as individuals. It also means avoiding misuse of said contraceptives given there is the option to find relevant expertise and support before making a decision.

Ironically it was in my religion class that I learned that education and laws are what help people to be truly free. How can people exercise their right to freely control their bodies without sufficient knowledge?

Flickr: Shemer - Forgetfulness
by Shimrit Abraham שימרית אברהם / Shemer via Flickr.

Second, the RH Bill is about equal access. Yes, the bill will inevitably include funding for government health centers to stock up on different contraceptives. But this is not for forced distribution to poor communities. This is to make sure these are accessible to those less fortunate people who do not have the necessary funds to acquire these contraceptives on their own even if they wish to do so. Some subsidization is required for these people who do not have the financial means to secure contraceptives and it is the right of the secular government to provide that support when possible. And more importantly, these need to be good, safe and reasonably priced contraceptives and not just whatever people can get their hands on regardless of quality or reliability.

Flickr: m kasahara - Condoms
by m kasahara via Flickr.

Third, admittedly the RH Bill can lead to reduced population growth once more people start to exercise full control over their bodies with regard to family planning. It is a desirable result but it is not the sole reason for this bill. Previous versions contained a recommended number of children within a family, yes, but this was never a requirement or a stipulation in any wording of the bill, especially the revised version now being debated in Congress and the Senate. This will not implement some kind of two-child policy on the Philippines nor will it penalize people who will have more than two children.

Flickr: crisispregnancyprogramme - BusyBodies Sex Education Resource for Parents of 10-14 year olds
BusyBodies Sex Education Resource for Parents of 10-14 year old
by Crisis Pregnancy Programme / crisispregnancyprogramme via Flickr.

Fourth, it's about proper education. Not teaching younger children about their bodies and what they are truly capable of is willful ignorance that results in reckless mistakes in the long run. It does not mean they need to learn various sexual positions in grade school. Naturally the curriculum will be age-appropriate and ultimately parents maintain control over their right to choose who sex education is handled for their children given an opt-out policy. Still this does not force everyone to attend these classes - again every family has the right to choose but not the option is there for the greater majority.

And lastly, this may be a predominantly Catholic country, but this is still a secular democracy. The government is obligated to ensure that the rights of all its citizens are fulfilled and not just the resounding voice of the CBCP as an organization. This means that the government must ensure that the services it provides factor in all denominations including the Muslims, the Buddhists and the other Christian sects. It means that it cannot favor one religion or interpretation of morality over all others. It must take the neutral path, one that shows due respect to all religions without letting the voice of any one of them supersede the others. Just because a lot of people are Catholics does not mean they get the final say in the matter. The country is a lot more diverse than that.

Yes, I hear the arguments that some contraceptives have a minuscule risk of causing what may be interpreted as an abortion when a fertilized egg is now allowed to come to term. But the bill does not for everyone to take the pill! It's up to the individual to choose. Teaching kids about sex does not automatically lead to sexual promiscuity. In fact, it'll stand a better chance of making sure children understand the changes they are undergoing in puberty rather than resorting to haphazard experimentation with their peers without sufficient knowledge.

We cannot continue to live in ignorance and pray for things to get better. We need to take the necessary steps to ensure that people have the true freedom to live the lives that they want, and this includes knowing modern family planning methods, understand the reproductive health services that they are entitled to and ultimately right-sizing our population to one driven by choice instead of happenstance accidents and to reduce the number of illegal abortions due to misuse of drugs or simply ignorant recklessness.

The Geeky Guide remains in full support of the Reproductive Health Bill and looks forward to the day that the Philippines takes that brave step forward into the light of knowledge.
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