(My reflections on RH as published in the conference newsletter, January 22 2014)
I did not hesitate, not even for a minute, when I was asked to be part of the Media Advisory Committee for the 7th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights. I said yes right away.
That the conference that would be held here in Manila is regional in scope would have significant impact on the Philippines, grappling as we are with our own reproductive and sexual health issues. The Reproductive Health Law, which I have written about countless times, is now pending before the Supreme Court. In the meantime, women continue to die of pregnancy-related complications. First there were 11 in a day. Then it became 12. Today I learned that the figure had risen to 14. It is just so heartbreaking. And then we hear statements that RH is practically the work of the devil. How can we take our sweet time debating about this issue when there are real people in life-and-death situations every day? It should be enlightening to know how other countries have managed their RH issues given their own contexts.
It is also tragic that RH here has been reduced to a simplistic us-or-them issue: Us, being the advocates and supporters of the law, and them being the powerful Philippine Catholic Church. I wholeheartedly support the law because I believe it is just, but I am also a product of Catholic education – 2 years in kindergarten, 6 years in grade school, 4 years in high school, 4 years in college and 2 years in graduate school. Am I then a bad Catholic? I guess it would depend on who is talking.
RH is an issue very personal to me. I was 18 years old when I gave birth to my first child. I was also still a child then. Nobody talked to me about adolescent RH because these things rarely get discussed in families. I was lucky I was able to complete my studies, get a career, and assert later on the kind of life I wanted for myself and for my children. What about the others who are not even aware that they have a choice? In the end, RH is about self-determination, free will, and being empowered enough to achieve your human potential.
I am happy to be part of this conference and I look forward to learning and writing about similar stories from around the Asia-Pacific Region. I know that despite our differences in nationality, language, religion and culture, we have the same fundamental aspirations.