The confession by Senator Sotto implicates seven points on reproductive rights and health:
First, his voice (and experience) is not representative of the 80M men and women in this country. I do sympathize with him (and his wife), now that I know about what happened, but. The Senate should not be treated as an expanded shrink’s office where the added feature is an audience of 80M people (not to mention international audience). It should not be where unresolved deep-seated issues in Senators’private lives are confessed. In practice, there’s no stopping the good Senators to tell their personal stories. And so it is up to self-regulation: Am I using the Senate floor and time (which is paid for by the people) for my own motives and agenda? Are my words (on my duty time as Senator) the voice of the people (who elected and are paying me)? We talk of institutional reforms in the sectors and the Senate should be included. A good start is going back to what ‘Senate’ means. In ancient Rome (or was it Greece?) where the Senate had taken form, it essentially means apolitical, a place in which public issues are intelligently discussed, political meanderings shunned. The Philippine Senate should amidst corruption and deteriorating values be a rock on which what is good and true and worth following in the Filipino is preserved and built on. It should stop being a marketplace of short-sighted hagglers.
Second, the good Senator said he had always wanted a son. Isn’t that what everybody else in the world wants? Death to daughters, good life to sons. (And who is there to defend the father, but the daughter?) In his confession, perhaps he wasn’t aware that these words revealed a lot – too much of the traditional views that have and continue to hurt the human female.
Third, we see at play here the real world connection of quality of information to the attainment of reproductive health and rights. Men and women can effectively decide to the extent that the information they get is fact-based, relevant to their situation, cost-effective, and timely. There are medical practitioners and there are medical practitioners. In fact, doctors (those who’ve lost the values promoted by their profession) will advise their pregnant clients to go under the knife when in fact there’s no clinical reason to do so (apart from for instance parents wanting to have more control over the birth dates of their child), because now caesarian section is just like any normal medical procedure wherein risks can be managed by the practitioner (more so if the client is healthy). In this sense there’s not much difference between giving birth naturally and artificially only that the latter is far more expensive (and profitable to the practitioner). My point is, when facts point to the effectiveness of contraceptives to be 95%, that one mishap (part of the 5%) may be the exception rather than the rule which is why to prevent adverse situations researchers in contraceptive development recommend that contraceptives be prescribed on a user-to-user basis after he or she has undergone some form of medical assessment (which is why in contraceptive use it is critical to establish an effective doctor-client relationship). My initial reactions to the Senator’s story were, who was it who said that the mishap was because of the contraceptive, the medical practitioner? How so? What was the health status of the user before or on initial use – was she compatible with that particular pill? If not, did the user provide feedback and seek alternatives from the medical practitioner? Was there monitoring of initial use from the medical practitioner? These are the information left out of the good Senator’s confession. When information given is partial (as with an incomplete road sign), either because of ignorance of consequences or purposefully done, men and women can’t be expected to make good decisions.
Fourth, we also see at play in the information exchange (above) the power play between the dispenser and recipient of the information. The dispenser of information regarding contraceptives is an expert (e.g. medical practitioners) or someone who is trusted (e.g. barangay official, friend, Senator). Men and women put their faith on the information given – fact or not, complete or not – because it is expert advise. In the relationship, as with trust-based relationships, the potential of abuse – taking advantage of the seeker’s shallow or incomplete knowledge of the thing – by the expert/one who is in possession of the facts is not far from plausible. The tragic thing is, if such abuse is played out in the Senate, what hope is there in villages where often “experts” can say the earth is flat and the poor villagers (only having completed two years of elementary education and nothing of intellectual exposure) will go to the extent of cutting their throats when the “fact” is contradicted.
Fifth, the talk on reproductive health in this country has been too focused on women. We forget that men and the LGBT community come with reproductive systems too. Framed within gender equality arguments, this reinforces the belief and attitude that women are Eve – the cause of the fall of men. We who are Catholics forget that there is the other woman – of the new time (New Testament) – Mary, who as the dogma goes was taken on equal footing with her God-Son in the work of redeeming the world, thus redeeming the fallen Eve in Mary. If God can put a woman of earthen origin on equal footing with His/Her Son, who are we Catholics not to do the same on earth for all women? The tragic thing is, we’ve gotten ourselves stuck in the humiliation and faults of Eve, long after God and heaven have moved on. In reproductive health issues, it is often that the finger is pointed at the woman – it is she to be ligated, put on pills, etc. as if the “problem” of ‘high fertility’ is entirely her fault (faulting one or the other to have high fertility doesn’t make sense). There are few good men who volunteer to be vasectomized. What then can we describe the feelings of women over ligation? In my time facilitating reproductive health discussions between men and women, I find that men suffer their own deep-seated issues concerning their reproductive system (not to mention sexuality). They are constrained by societal norms from bringing these out in the open and because these remain unresolved these (naturally) seek outlet and one is through projection of these onto their women partners in particular and women in general, as if the women are the problem. As with poverty, the cycle is pernicious – Philippine society restricts men into a certain image-men close in on/fail to discover their real selves-men take their issues out on women-women are abused and looked down on-etc. In the end, everyone – men and women – loses out.
At the global scale, the continuing bias against women is reiterated in the research and production of contraceptives which largely have in mind women as users. What’s keeping us from massive research on producing contraceptives for men as well? How come such research has not been as quick as those done for contraceptives targeting women?
Sixth, while reproductive health is both a woman’s and man’s issue the national debate starkly reveals the dearth of women’s voices/participation in an issue that significantly affects them (because family planning is largely placed on their shoulders). While it is good and refreshing to listen to men dissecting (coldly, to my observation) women-also issues such as birth control, their voices do not necessarily reflect the minds of women. I – and the rest of us surely – would also like to listen to what women have to say on the issue. Not just from one or two women but at least 70% of women in this country. The debate has been going on without reference to solid research on Filipino women’s views and experiences of reproductive health. Arguments in the past 15 years are largely biased on personal and incomplete views of politicians. Because it is politically-charged, exchanges had become cocky and amnesiac such as the most recent one – “is population control good for the economy and how?” I empathize with NEDA Chief Balisacan because I imagined that his silence in the face of this question to him was not because of the absence of intelligent things to say rather I imagined that he struggled internally to keep a smile on while imploding with disbelief – god, how many Chiefs had gone ahead of me and still this is the question? Resounding evidence the world over says yes it is – just look at the economies of world powers – and it is now up to the Senate to, as what my professor in undergrad law bellowed to a male classmate, “stand up and have the balls” to make the goddamn decision for the Philippines. Fifteen years are plenty time doing foreplay. If the decision was made then this generation will have been now reaping some benefits but if the decision is made after another 15 years it will be the 10th generation who will benefit and by then do we even know that given the changing climate now the earth as we know now will be the same in that time?
Seventh, population control (as just one of the components of reproductive health) is to developing countries as what carbon emission reduction is to developed countries. Each refuses to budge. But each knows that not to budge is a decision made toward a bleak future for all. As Northern countries “pressure” their Southern counterparts toward embracing population control in RH, they need to also think about their responsibility over global carbon emission and its limiting effects on struggling countries. The UN has introduced good terms in its current development assistance framework – One; Equity. In this sense, the pressure is also on Northern countries to be models of the change we all want to see in our world.