The next step in Philippine RH Law: attitudinal change

In case the world missed it, the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that the Reproductive Health law is not unconstitutional, announced a week before Lent, in Baguio City.  Monumental, given that the country is predominantly Catholic (although this justification is actually irrelevant) and that leaders of the Catholic Church here exert quite a heavy hand on the country’s policy makers (who are mostly Catholics).  The decision came at a time when the nation has lost hope in the branches of government, a result of a long, dramatic, and at certain times violent history of elected authorities letting the people down.   

Three years of community-based work in RH among native women and men taught me that for RH services to be sought as intended, attitudinal change in the providers and targeted users must first happen.

Take spitting in public.  LGUs maintain ordinances and fines for this behavior, many of which are plastered on structures to inform and forewarn the public, but how come despite these disincentives, people go on spitting on streets?  Because, attitudes relative to this matter haven’t changed.  And it’s plural — attitudes — because there are layers to the spitting behavior.  It could be, one, people don’t give a fuck for the ordinances and fines, which may be because the authorities have a history of repeatedly failing to follow through their own enactments.  Another layer could be cultural, that is, the public’s regard of private and public space and boundaries.  My observation (which I’ve written about in a few articles here) is that Filipinos consider the street as an extension of their home or private space, used as a playground, drying platform for their crops, where stalls are put up (without business permits) a convenient way for households to sell their produce straight off their gardens or kitchens, where sample finished products are displayed, or as if a boudoir where they comfortably pick out lice from each other’s head.  To be fair to the authorities, weeding out the behaviors is… shall I just say good luck on that one? 

Following the logic in the above example, Catholic Filipino women and men, beginning in their childhoods, are taught, maybe bombarded is the apt word, a great deal about sin, God’s wrath, meekness, humility, and the like, producing a mentality riddled with fear, guilt, and a lot of misconceptions, misinterpretations, or convolutions of the truth.  In other words, quite the heavy baggage we carry there.  Just this Lent, the faithful, during a Mass, were extolled to be like lambs, like Jesus during His human life was.  There’s nothing wrong with the message, per se, but, if I’m correct in reading the average Filipino Catholic, I feared that the message will be misinterpreted. 

The truth behind the message is, Jesus, the symbolic Lamb, did not go through with His death like He didn’t have a choice.  He did, in fact He made choices every step of the way up to His death. The Lamb in the Bible had a choice and He made His choice freely (although there’s that pressure from His Father, naturally, to choose well, which He did, of course).  But, ‘be meek as a lamb’ is interpreted by many Filipino Catholics in its literal sense.  Consequently, many Filipino Catholics, the poor, especially, go through their public life literally as lambs – unaware of their superior intelligence, independent thought, freedom to choose.  The priests are also to be blamed, for failing to take time to know and prepare for their audience and expound on the Biblical readings accordingly. 

The regard of sex education has similar undertones. The opposition says we’re in effect giving the nod to our children, to have sex after having been introduced the sexual body.  But, a public speaker cannot be effective when he or she doesn’t know the audience.  In fact it’s disastrous for a good public speaker to go in cold.  The sexual self is an integral, vital, part of the human being.  On the same note, young women and men entering into relationships and ignorant of the capacities of their bodies could end up experiencing the fright of their lives, and unnecessarily scarred and derailed from their full potentials.          

Reproductive health therefore is an outcome of a positive outlook of one’s body, mind, and being.  The task of changing attitudes and behaviors is a collaboration among all members of the community, although let’s not discount the power of the individual to initiate his or her own change process given the correct and right mix of information, teaching, and support.  The popular notion that one can’t teach old dogs new tricks is a grand challenge to be overcome.  So we can start with the young, who by the way make up the bulk of the population, teach them to regard their bodies positively, the care of their bodies, because they’ll be the adults (i.e. old dogs) tomorrow.   


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