Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Posts Tagged ‘RH bill’

For CBCP, sex education or abortion?

Posted by butalidnl on 8 June 2011

(This post was published in BusinessWorld on  5 June 2011, as an opinion column. )

The Catholics Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) objects to sex education because they say that it encourages promiscuity. In other words, if teenagers don’t have sex education, they won’t engage in sex before marriage.

In this era of speedy communication, mass media and Internet, it is naive to think that we can “shelter” teenagers from sexual knowledge by not teaching it at school. As things are, teenagers will learn about sex from the mass media, Internet, or peers — and this information is often incomplete and incorrect. It is better to teach teenagers about sexuality in schools to ensure that the information that they get is more balanced and complete.

The argument that sex education is mainly the parents’ task is also wrong. In the first place, parents find it quite awkward to teach their children about sex. And there is the question of what they will teach them. There would need to be sex education courses for parents for this to work. I think that parents have a role in sex education, but this will be secondary to the role of schools.

I believe that an information campaign on human sexuality for adults would also need to be undertaken, as part of the sex education campaign, since there are so many married adults who know too little about sexuality, especially on how to prevent pregnancies.

The CBCP says that the government proposal for sex education is more about the technical aspects of sexual behavior. They want sex education to teach “values” instead. They would rather have something similar to the US “abstinence-based” sex education program — which teaches about the ideal of abstinence before marriage, and which does NOT teach about how to avoid pregnancy in case you don’t abstain.

The US abstinence-based sex education and movements like “Say No to Sex” and “True Love Waits” and abstinence pledges simply don’t work. They may have the short-term effect of delaying the age of first sexual encounter, but when these teenagers do have sex, they won’t know how to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Studies show that their sexual behavior is the same as that of teenagers who have not had sex education. The US government poured $15 billion in the last 10 years to promote abstinence-based sex education; and as a result, the US has the highest rate among developed countries of teen pregnancies and abortions (combined rate is 86 per 1,000 teens), which is up to four times the rate of other countries.

It is all quite logical. If people are taught about sexuality, including how to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, there will be less unplanned pregnancies, and consequently, there will be less need for abortion.

Estimates of illegal abortion in the Philippines vary from 400,000 to 550,000 per year. And 1,000 women die every year while having abortions. Compare this with the Netherlands’ abortion rate (note that abortions are legal in the Netherlands) of 28,000 per year. If we correct for population size (and taking the figure of 400,000 Philippine abortions/year), the Netherlands’ figure is about 1/3 that of the Philippines. Comprehensive sex education is given in the Netherlands, and not in the Philippines.

If the Philippines had a comprehensive sex education program (but retains the abortion ban), there could be up to 270,000 less abortions, and that the number of deaths will drop to 330 from the present 1,000.

The Dutch system also teaches “values” together with the technical aspects of sex education. They promote the value of love and commitment in relationships, that teenagers who become mothers are ruining their lives, and that children should grow up in loving families. The Dutch have one of the lowest rates of teen pregnancies in the world, and have low rates for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

The question then comes: if the CBCP is really against abortions, they would be well-advised to promote comprehensive sex education. It would radically reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and thus the number of abortions. If the CBCP is against comprehensive sex education, then they have to accept that this would result in more abortions, and more deaths of mothers during those abortions. There is no middle ground, the church needs to choose.

I suggest that they agree to a program of comprehensive sex education. This way, they would indeed be decreasing the number of abortions. And if this is not being “pro-life,” what is?

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on Objections to RH Bill

Posted by butalidnl on 26 May 2011

The RH Bill debate is going strong. Anti-RH bill advocates are raising a lot of questions about the RH bill; some of which are valid questions (and some quite invalid).  I have listed down some of these questions, with some kind of response to them.

The RH Bill is against the will of God.
This is one of the more popular lines of attack of the CBCP. It is also the most flimsy. Because, if the RH bill is against the will of God, then why is it that it is supported by the Iglesia Ni Kristo and various Protestant churches? These groups even cite scripture as the basis for their position.  From this, we can say that the RH Bill is merely against the will of the CBCP, or at most the Vatican. This is much less than the will of God.

“Go forth and multiply…” This is supposed to be the basis for the Catholic position, if Manny Pacquiao and some others are to be believed. But if we look at the Bible, God only used such a formulation twice, both in Genesis. This was addressed first to Adam and Eve, and then to Noah’s family after the flood. In both occasions, the earth was empty, and needed to be filled in by humans. God did not repeat this statement at more recent occasions, particularly not during the New Testament.

RH Bill Won’t End Poverty.
Of course it won’t, it wasn’t meant to. The RH Bill addresses the problem of poor people getting even poorer because they bear too many children; or of families who become poor because they have too many children. The RH Bill is aimed at providing a basic service to society. It is similar to vaccination campaigns, or a firefighting service.

Too Expensive, No Money in Budget
The RH Bill is estimated to cost about P3 billion/year. This is not much, if compared to things like Congress’ pork barrel allocations, or GOCC bonuses. The RH Bill is only “too expensive” if your starting point is that it is not important. However, since reproductive health is a basic government service, money must be provided for it. In addition to RH being a basic service, it also protects basic women’s rights. It is essential.

It is actually cheaper, from the perspective of the national budget, to fund contraceptives and sex education, than to spend for having too many children. Children of the poor go to public schools (and some even go on to state universities); they would need health services, and some poor families get subsidies on rice and other things. These cost much more than the RH bill will.

Sex Education will Encourage Promiscuity
The experience in other countries show that sex education actually delays the age when a teenager has his/her first sexual act. Perhaps this is because if they have had sex education, they know the consequences of sex, and are less curious about it.  “Sex Ed” from porn is not sex ed; porn doesn’t explain sexuality at all. If we deprive teenagers of sex ed, they will resort to porn for whatever information on sex they can get from it.

Some parents are afraid that teachers would explain “too much” or be “to eager” when they give sex ed. I disagree.  In 1972, when I was at my 2nd year in high school in Cebu, we had lessons on the human reproductive system. I remember that our teacher taught it as if it was just another topic. For teachers, sex ed is just another topic – they will teach it in a matter-of-fact or even boring way. Parents have nothing to worry about.

RH Bill Promotes Abortion
This is easy to answer: it does not. In fact, the RH bill categorically states that it is against abortion.  Any abortifacient contraceptives (e.g. “morning after” pill) can be designated as such in the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the RH Bill and prohibited. And if needed, the CBCP could sue in court to remove a contraceptive from the list of approved contraceptives if they are proved to be abortifacient.

In a way, those who oppose the RH Bill are the ones promoting abortion. Because many women don’t know how to avoid pregnancy, about 100,000 a year abort their pregnancies. And 1000 Filipinas a year die of abortion-related complications. If  these women had sex education, they wouldn’t have gotten pregnant in the first place, and thus they wouldn’t have been forced to resort to abortion. Sex Education reduces the number of unwanted pregnancies, and thus of abortion.

Why not include a list of Contraceptives which are not Abortifacient?
Contraceptives in general do not cause abortion. Almost by definition, since they prevent pregnancies, they have nothing to do with abortion. If there are contraceptives that do cause abortion, these should be specified and prohibited, but in the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). Including them in the IRR would make it more flexible – so that the list could be expanded (or shortened) based on further developments and research, without having to amend the whole law.

Sex Education Should Teach Values

I agree. But the question is: which values would that be? In some places in the US, they experimented with teaching sex ed using the “abstain from sex” approach. In other words, they taught teenagers merely not to have sex. And since they shouldn’t have sex, they didn’t teach birth control. Well, the result was that these teenagers ended up having as much sex as those without sex education, and they didn’t know how to avoid pregnancy. This shows that a “no sex” approach to sex education doesn’t work.

On the other hand, the approach could be what is called the “ABC” approach. A, for abstinence. B, for “be faithful” (hopefully, referring to married couples). And C, “use contraceptives”, for those who can’t abstain nor be faithful. There are still values taught here: children are taught to abstain or be faithful as earlier options to having sex.


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How to Win the RH Debate

Posted by butalidnl on 26 March 2011

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) seems to be “winning” the RH debate. By cleverly manipulating the debate topic, by skilled political maneuvering (note: the threat to excommunicate PNoy, and the threat to support the burial of Marcos at Libingan ng mga Bayani), and by creative name calling, the CBCP is now calling the shots in the “debate”. Even though its pronouncements and moves may seem ridiculous, the net effect is that they DO steer the debate their way. And the pro-RH advocates, who are not “playing dirty”, are losing the fight for public opinion.

RH advocates are fighting from a disadvantageous position. Their opponent, the CBCP, is able to mount an organized and well-funded campaign. RH advocates, on the other hand, are an unorganized group of well-meaning citizens who have a lot less experience than the CBCP, and who seem to believe that the debate will be won by reasonable argumentation.

Unfortunately, public opinion campaigns are quite different from a formal debate. It is not the side who puts forward the best arguments who wins; but the side whose message predominates. Why is this so? Public opinion deals with the public – and most of the public does not have the time, inclination or access to information needed for making a well formed and balanced opinion. Instead, most people rely on images, impressions, the opinion of “authorities” that they trust, etc. for their opinions. This means that in the public opinion campaign, the key is to have good images and sound bites. RH advocates who are fighting with reason may win in the classroom, but lose in the fight for public opinion.

RH advocates are spending so much time engaging the anti-RH activists in debate; and too little time spreading the message to the broad public. The CBCP, on the other hand, is quite good at reaching out to the broad public, and in tying up the RH advocates in all kinds of minor battles.

I think that it is now the time for pro-RH advocates to turn the tables on the CBCP, and also reach out to the broad public. And to use images and sound bites to do this. Only by doing this, could they hope to “win” this “debate”.

Grab the Initiative on Topics
The CBCP, with all its ridiculous charges that RH bill promotes abortion, has actually succeeded in steering the debate to “abortion” and no longer the content of the RH Bill. The CBCP is winning this debate because of this.

RH bill advocates should grab the initiative in terms of the topics under debate. And there are enough of them:

Condoms Against AIDS. Point out that the most effective method of preventing the spread of AIDS is using condoms. And, since the CBCP is against the use of condoms, this means that it is indirectly responsible for the spread of AIDS. (No ifs, or buts, just push this line. After all the Pope himself has conceded on this issue.)

Abortion when Woman’s Life in Danger. While most cases of abortion are not that dramatic, this will present the case that abortion CAN be an option to consider. What will the church say to this: “Let the woman die, instead of the baby”? I think they will be in a bind on this question.

Sex Education saves Lives, Sex Ignorance Kills. This is actually quite logical, but it is also emotive if it is delivered well. Ignorance of sex leads to unwanted pregnancies, and illegal abortions, and probable death. Unguarded sex can lead to AIDS. Teenage mothers’ lives will be ruined, or worse lead to abandonment of babies.

Image Forming
It is a battle for images. The CBCP claims that their image is “pro-life”. And who could argue against that – are you “anti-life” then?  We need to develop images of the CBCP that will stick to them, and which they can’t shake away. When it comes to public opinion, the image is everything; so let’s hope our images stick (don’t worry about nuances – nuances are for people actually crafting laws, the rest of us are moved by images).

Damaso. This is the slogan popularized by Carlos Celdran, in which the CBCP is likened to the infamous Padre Damaso from Noli me Tangere. It invokes images of friars during the Spanish times, and how they abused their power. It is powerful, but doesn’t carry enough weight emotively, since most Filipinos don’t know and feel Spanish-era abuses.

Taliban. If we allow the bishops to fully get their way now, sooner or later our women will be forced to wear burqas. This is a bit dramatic, but it is actually quite truthful. The bishops are a Filipino version of the Taliban in that they claim to know the will of God, and interpret it in a socially very backward manner. And the Taliban are quite unreasonable people, just like the CBCP. And if they had their way, they will force women to cover up (there is already a dress code for churches), the more the better.

Sex-Starved Old Men. The CBCP is a group of celibates who since they can’t have any, seek to deprive the rest of us of SEX. All this pro-life talk is nonsense, the main thing is SEX. It’s a matter of the CBCP saying: “Since we can’t have it, the rest of you should get as little SEX as possible.”

SSOM evokes all kinds of images, none of which is positive. And SSOM goes well with Taliban – the Taliban imposes burqas on women, because otherwise they would be a temptation to men. SSOM also points to the fact that priests, who are not supposed to have sexual relationships, don’t have the right to impose their views of sex on others.

“Guerilla” Actions
Since pro-RH advocates have generally less financial resources than the CBCP, they have to be resourceful. Again, it is not a matter of projecting an image of moderation and reasonableness (these traits lose debates, actually). It is a matter of getting the message through.

The “Damaso” stunt by Carlos Celdran was a very good case of a guerilla action. As a result of Celdran’s stunt, the CBCP was forced to concentrate on him for a few days, and in the process merely popularized his message. The more they painted him as a bad person for what he did, the more Celdran, and the RH bill gained in popularity.  Celdran’s new stunt of taking down an anti-RH streamer could potentially do this again, although I think the CBCP will not be so stupid as to again charge him in court.

I think more people could do guerilla actions for RH.  If people hold up a small banner saying “Damaso” or “Taliban” whenever there is a homily denouncing the RH bill, and then post this in a blog or website, the effect will be quite big. And that if the one holding the banner is led away, another will unfurl her/his banner; so that during the whole anti-RH homily the attention will be on the Damaso/Taliban banners, and not on the homily.

If a certain color could be associated with these banners – I suggest to use lila (light violet) as the color, since this is the color of the women’s movement – eventually, people would no longer need to put up banners with words: a lila colored piece of cloth will do.

Or, people could simply stick the word “Taliban” “Damaso” or “SSOM”(Sex Starved Old Men) on anti-RH posters. This turns the tables on the CBCP; their financial weight lets them afford more posters, but opponents can easily (and cheaply) negate this advantage.

Pro RH people could even go on the poster offensive, with small stickers everywhere saying “Stop the Taliban” or “Stop SSOM” (reminds me of the successful “BMI Ngayon” – Batas Militar Ibagsak – stickers during Martial Law). This would get people talking; and this would end up as negative publicity for the CBCP and its anti-RH stand.

In the end, sounding unreasonable is not a problem. The idea is to force the issue (or a particular interpretation of it) on the public consciousness. And to put the CBCP on the defensive. The more they are forced to defend, the less they are able to attack the RH bill.

Call for Action
This blog post is a call for action. Let us take back the issue of the RH bill. Let us minimize the time we spend debating with anti-RH activists. Let us reach out to the people.

As few as 20 to 30 people could have a huge impact if they unfurl “Damaso” or “Taliban” banners (in Lila) in as many churches as they can reach, when the priest reads an anti-RH homily. Perhaps a team of 4 or 5 per church will do (holders of banners, and one to take photos).

Other people could maximize the use of Twitter and Facebook (and other social media) to spread the message of the RH Bill. A one or two sentence entry every day on Twitter/Facebook should do the trick – encourage your friends to do the same.

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Recovering from EDSA Revolution’s Hangover

Posted by butalidnl on 24 February 2011

The EDSA revolution was won by a combination of (among other things): the military (rebels and generals), the Catholic church, and Peoples Power. And as we all know, it was successful beyond our expectations, and it was relatively bloodless. While people 25 years later wonder what went wrong with the EDSA legacy; I would say that in a sense, things didn’t “go wrong”, but that what happened in the last 25 years was a natural result of the very nature of EDSA. And that it is only now that we are really in a position to work at realizing the dreams of EDSA.

Let us take a look at the various forces behind EDSA:

Military
The presidency of Cory Aquino was plagued by numerous coup attempts. Then came the presidency of Ramos (a former general), and then the role of General Reyes in deposing Estrada and installing Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as president.  The role of the military in Philippine politics was big under Marcos; but ironically, it probably became bigger AFTER Marcos’ fall. They were literally the kingmakers of Philippine politics, and even provided the “king” for a time – in the person of Ramos.

This political role of the military encouraged the idea especially among the lower ranks of launching coup attempts periodically. And these coup attempts, and other threats to the presidency (esp. that of Arroyo) made the support of the generals indispensable.  The military brass was so important to Pres. Arroyo, that they were given a free reign in terms of finances, they also got choice posts in government.

There was certainly corruption within the military during the rule of Marcos.  The “Reform the Armed Forces Movement” of Honasan was precisely the response of the AFP lower officers to military corruption.  But after EDSA, military corruption was more hidden, but did not diminish at all. The military also played a political role beyond national security.

It is only now, with the exposure of the Garcia case, and the implication of the entire AFP hierarchy of corruption, that we are starting to take a close look at the AFP. And this time, there is also the political will to do so. Because, for the first time since EDSA (strictly, it is the second time, Erap being the first, but Erap was overthrown), we have a president who is not beholden to the military (and PNoy is actually supported by military reformers).   And who is not averse to investigating corruption in the military.

So, now there is a chance that the military will be “returned to barracks”, and go back to their role of simply supporting the civilian authorities.

Church
Cardinal Sin famously called upon the people to gather at EDSA on those fateful days of 1986, in order to protect Honasan and the other military rebels. This increased the political clout of the Catholic Church, which had already grown quite significantly  under Marcos.  After EDSA, the church would, from time to time, threaten to call another people power revolt. And as politics would have it, threats are very powerful things.

The Catholic Church’s opposition to mining is a illustration of how powerful it has become. In the face of the government’s drive to promote mining investments, the church has successfully undermined this drive. Local priests have proven quite creative in opposing local mining companies;  and since they have the support of the hierarchy, they are doubly effective.

Now, we see that the church is plagued by various sex scandals. And we will see that the CBCP stance against the RH bill, though formidable at first glance, will end with the church’s moral authority severely eroded.

Ironically, this could turn out to be a good thing. The church has been a tremendous influence in the Philippine value system. And this has some very negative aspects (see Catholicism Impedes Philippine Development ) Thus, it will be a good idea to review the role of the Church in Philippine society, AFTER it loses the RH debate.

People Power
Business groups and the church, in the light of EDSA’s  easy victory, had been quite “trigger happy” in calling for People Power revolts. They called for “EDSA 2” which succeeded in deposing Estrada (with General Reyes’ help, of course). And then “EDSA 3” came, in an attempt by pro-Estrada forces to depose Arroyo, and reinstall Estrada. “EDSA 3” was a flop. And this was the end of the People Power revolts. People have grown tired of People Power mobilizations after this.

I think that “People Power” should have been used only once – against Marcos. And that both “EDSA 2” and “EDSA 3” were wrong. This is because these revolts are, in effect, (improper) shortcuts in democracy. They aimed to overthrow, with a few thousand people in Metro Manila, presidents who have been democratically chosen by the whole nation.  Notwithstanding all the shortcomings of the Estrada presidency, it didn’t really deserve to be overthrown – at least, not at that point, nor in that way. Another problem with People Power revolts is that they erode the stability of the country’s political institutions. Why should people bother with them, if there is a short cut with People Power.

So, now, the institution of People Power is thoroughly spent. We can concentrate on working within the established political institutions.

Today,  we find ourselves in a better position to pursue our “EDSA dreams” – end corruption, economic progress, etc.  The forces that helped win EDSA have turned out to have their “dark side”, and they have hindered our efforts these last 25 years, to build a truly prosperous nation. With their strength dissipated, we could now work on building a working democracy, and a prosperous country.

After 25 years, we are now recovering from the EDSA Revolution’s hangover.

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