Thursday, May 12, 2011
My purple ribbon
published 18 May 2011, MST
Thank God for choices.
The irony that I attended a gathering of advocates of the reproductive health bill with my 17-year-old daughter Beatrice, whom I conceived when I was just 17 myself, hit me a bit too late.
After all, if there had been an RH bill back then, and if my family were vocal about such sensitive topics, if young, dreamy-eyed girls like me who were longing for their soulmates were armed with better decision-making skills, there probably would have been no Bea to begin with. I would have probably gone on to finish university with honors, head straight to law school or snag some fellowship in some European country, and begin the path to greatness with nary an obstacle in sight.
Would I have been happier? I don’t think so, but that’s another story. As it is now, I cannot imagine life without my kids Bea or Josh or Sophie or Elmo, as I cannot imagine being in another scenario apart from our warm, rough-and-tumble, cramped apartment. We are precisely where we are and how we are as a result of the choices I made in my youth.
Still it is sheer serendipity that we turned out okay, that we are happy despite my absolute lack of foresight and circumspection as a teen. I had been blessed with above-average intellect, access to education, extraordinary coping skills and the ability to find something good in adversity. Not everybody is like that.
Even so, when I was 17, brash and reckless, I never imagined that raising a child would exert an immense pressure on me – financially, psychologically. Try multiplying that by four.
Nine years later, at age 26, I knew what I wanted – or rather what I did not want anymore. Children. What parent does not want to give her children the best? Besides, one’s resources, presence and attention are finite. How can you give everything to four different people and ensure they turn out well without being a little depleted, yourself?
And so I put my foot down and told my doctor I wanted a tubal ligation. My ex, seeing me resolute and unyielding – a side of me he was not used to seeing – could not do anything but sign that document, concurring with my decision.
Again, I was lucky. I knew when enough was enough. I knew, period. Thank God for choices. That taken care of, I proceeded to try to be an even better mother than I already was. Other family crises came, and see, I am still standing.
The fight for RH has always involved cases of real women who have had to deal with abusive, philandering, good-for-nothing husbands, or simply those with no ability to provide for their needs. To me, the issue is basic. Just lay everything on the table. Nobody has the power to coerce another person to adopt a method inconsistent with her faith. But we have an obligation to keep as many people informed about the choices available to them.
This is why I support the RH bill.
Unfortunately, in the Philippines, the complicated, heart-rending, and, for some, life-or-death matter has been reduced to a fight versus good and evil. What a pathetic oversimplification.
Staunch Catholics are supposed to be the good guys, fighting to uphold the morals of society. Pro-life, they claim they are. But how can you love life if you live in a shanty, don’t have a bathroom, and don’t even know where your next meal is coming from? How to love life when you get so desperate that you try to abort the baby, posing great risks to yourself, to the detriment of your other children?
(I remember somebody very dear to me, who took something to abort her second baby because she and her husband, a laborer, could not afford to raise another child. Doing so, she put herself in great danger. She was hospitalized for weeks because she lost a great amount of blood. Had she known there were better ways to manage her family, that she could actually refuse to be simply washed out by the tide, she would now be healthier, happier, reaching for her full potential. She is not—she is hardly getting by, and I weep for her.)
The evil ones are the advocates of what is being played out to be a malevolent bill out to corrupt our souls. That includes me – my 16 years of Catholic education notwithstanding.
But if the country is really so much better without the RH bill, then why have we not been in a happy place all these years?
Last week’s gathering saw the unveiling of the so-called purple ribbon – a symbol of the fight to get the controversial bill finally passed at the House of Representatives. The measure will be put to a vote soon and even as the clamor has been getting louder, the Catholic church has put up a tough dogmatic front. It still fancies it wields a power over politicians – because they make or break people from their pulpits. Our President has said he supports the bill, but somehow I cannot really believe he does until he does something concrete to back up his pronouncements.
The guest list was impressive. In the ballroom was former President Fidel Ramos along with various members of the House of Representatives pushing the bill, some members of the Aquino Cabinet, former government officials, singers, artists, writers. Everybody was willing to lend his or her celebrity to the cause. The former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, a woman who’s probably got more balls than most men in government, chided a bishop for offering to adopt all the unplanned,unwanted babies. Tony award recipient Lea Salonga sang John Lennon’s Imagine in a way that brought tears to my eyes. Local musician Noel Cabangon exhorted everybody to be a good Filipino with his “Ako’y Isang Mabuting Pilipino”. My daughter had a field day and had her picture taken with The Dawn vocalist Jet Pangan and Carlos Celdran, who last year shouted “Damaso!” in the middle of a Catholic religious event.
It was a large room with many stars, but I was not blinded. I was happy that those stars, instead of outshining each other, championed a singular commonsensical, humane cause. If this isn’t loving life, I don’t know what is.
”Pass the RH bill now!” is not an empty battle cry, one that is designed only to make you feel good or give you a high for being part of something big and noble. No, it is more than that. The RH cause is MY RH cause. I have an intimate, personal appreciation of why our women need to be empowered—now. Enough bigotry. Enough getting carried away and being tossed by the wind. Because of this, I wave my purple ribbon as vigorously and as earnestly as I can.