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Fierce debate over Philippine contraception bill

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By Kate McGeown

BBC News, Manila

In one of Manila's sprawling slums, Clarita is busy making lunch for her family.

She has 10 children and making sure they do not go hungry is a daily struggle.

Down a narrow alleyway another desperately poor woman has eight children. Another woman just round the corner has nine.

It is hardly surprising then that the Philippines has the highest birth rate in South East Asia. In 1990 there were 60 million Filipinos. Now there are more than 95 million.

Like her neighbours and more than 80% of the population, Clarita is a Catholic.

She regularly attends church and has a picture of Jesus Christ and a bible verse taped on to the wall of the one small room in which the family live.

But recently she has begun to think that, on one matter at least, the Church is wrong.

"I used to believe in the Church's teachings about having lots of children," she says.

"But now I really think we should have family planning."

 

In theory, it is easy to get contraception in the Philippines. You can buy the female pill over the counter at any pharmacy and virtually every corner shop sells condoms.

But for someone like Clarita, these options are far too expensive. A packet of condoms would cost her almost as much as her weekly food bill.

That is why the government has put forward a reproductive health bill that includes a provision to give out free contraception and family planning advice to couples that want it.

But the bill is facing fierce opposition from the Church.

"It's not the business of government to be promoting contraceptive devices," says Bishop Teodoro Bacani.

"It's like the government saying it will pass a law which will fund the promotion of pork-eating among the Muslims. Can you imagine what an uproar there would be among the Muslim population?"

While many Catholic countries are debating whether to allow abortion, that issue is not under discussion here. Everyone in this debate knows that a bill to legalise abortion would have little support.

This is purely about contraception, which according to many senior bishops is almost as bad as abortion anyway, because anything that prevents a sperm meeting an egg prevents a potential birth.

Bishop Bacani said he realised the Philippines was out of step with the rest of the world, saying: "We are… and happily so."

This is not a belief that is confined to the clergy. Many senior members of society - politicians, media commentators, businessmen - are openly siding with the bishops.

And every Sunday, churches are packed with people listening to the message from the pulpit - and frequently that message involves the reproductive health bill.

 

But supporters of the bill say you only need to go into a government-run hospital to see why the country simply cannot cope with so many births.

In the Jose Fabella Hospital, near Manila's seafront, there can sometimes be more than 200 women and their babies in a ward - and often two or even three women have to share a bed.

"Mothers just lie down alternately - one will sit, the other will lie down," says Christina, one of only three nurses on the ward.

It is understandable why, in October, the United Nations chose the hospital as one of several locations around the world to mark the birth of the seven billionth baby.

This is not an issue which has caught Philippine politicians unaware. The bill currently being debated in Congress is the fourth family planning proposal that has has been put forward.

The other three times, the Church and its political allies managed to block the plans from ever becoming law.

But supporters of the bill hope that, this time, the situation will be different.

In the past, the sitting president was either against contraception or tried to abstain from such a controversial debate. But President Benigno Aquino is one of the main backers of the current bill.

Speaking of his own Catholic faith, Mr Aquino said: "We're taught that when you come before the Almighty, you will be asked: 'What have you done to the least of your brethren?'

"I cannot in good conscience say we saw the problem and we refused to see it, we refused to talk about it, we refused to hear it. That would be criminal, against the oath that I subscribe to. That would be against the teachings of the Church I belong to."

It is a risky strategy for the president to take. He insists he does not want an argument with the Church, but he looks set to have one all the same. The bishops have vowed to fight the bill to the bitter end.

And they have an important, if slightly unexpected, ally in the champion boxer-turned-congressman Manny Pacquiao, who says contraception is against God's will and that it will not get people out of poverty - only stamping out corruption can do that.

His argument may have been undermined somewhat by his wife Jinkee's admission that she has been taking birth-control pills, but it is impossible to understate Manny Pacquiao's influence in the Philippines.

He is without a doubt the most famous person in the country - his face shines down from many of Manila's advertising hoardings, and some of his fans treat him like a demigod.

So the reproductive health bill is now dividing Church and state, and pitting the president against the most popular person in the country.

As every nuance is debated in parliament, Philippine Catholics know that somehow, they need to find a way to reconcile their faith with the reality of life for the country's poor.

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Cipro

"Giving away free" in a place as poor as PH seems a sticky issue indeed. I can see both sides of the argument.

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senseless

Keep a handful of condoms in your pocket whenever you go out. When a kid comes up to you or your car begging hand them a condom and say "Ibigay mo to sa nanay mo". Where do you think they're going to get the money to pay for condoms anyway? Begging US and EU for hand outs.

Edited by senseless

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smokey

well maybe if they get a better SS system or a welfare system having children to support you when your old will not be so important

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Stranded Shipscook

Keep a handful of condoms in your pocket whenever you go out. When a kid comes up to you or your car begging hand them a condom and say "Ibigay mo to sa nanay mo". Where do you think they're going to get the money to pay for condoms anyway? Begging US and EU for hand outs.

Actually the condoms are donated voluntarily through international Civic organizations,not requested by the government of the Philippines.

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Stranded Shipscook

well maybe if they get a better SS system or a welfare system having children to support you when your old will not be so important

That is the keystone and major change in our own history and attitude towards family support. The Governments took over the role of the family during and after the industrial revolutions.

Some nasty governments even went further in that. (USSR)

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Stranded Shipscook

Speaking of his own Catholic faith, Mr Aquino said: "We're taught that when you come before the Almighty, you will be asked: 'What have you done to the least of your brethren?'

"I cannot in good conscience say we saw the problem and we refused to see it, we refused to talk about it, we refused to hear it. That would be criminal, against the oath that I subscribe to. That would be against the teachings of the Church I belong to."

It is a risky strategy for the president to take. He insists he does not want an argument with the Church, but he looks set to have one all the same. The bishops have vowed to fight the bill to the bitter end.

 

Wow, Nonoy Aquino has read Rizal's teachings. Impressive. Puts him a point up on my scale.(Well, he is a Knight of Rizal...but so was Ramos and Marcos)

Edited by G....

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senseless

Actually the condoms are donated voluntarily through international Civic organizations,not requested by the government of the Philippines.

 

International civic organizations funded by whom? UN? WHO? Where do you think those civic organizations get their money? :rofl:

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Stranded Shipscook

International civic organizations funded by whom? UN? WHO? Where do you think those civic organizations get their money? :)

From their private members. But there are countless ones all over the world. And countless "fight poverty and overpopulation" programs all over the wealthy globe. Examples for known ones here are Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions Clubs. but also organizations like the Red Cross are involved.

 

The UN and WHO has their own distribution programs again. And they get their money from Governments and also from donations of private citizens. The ever present "Collection Can" at supermarket registers, right ?

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InternetTough

Foundations have always been heavily involved in all sorts of population control measures, including quite bloody ones.

 

The poor lady misquoted Church teachings when she said that having lots of children is one of them. Perhaps her bishop or local priest has presented the Catholic teachings thus, but natural methods of child spacing are approved by the Church, and always have been. They are also much better than they used to be, and are actually quite good. There is no need for the many failed "solutions" offered by the foundations, non-profits, Western governments, etc. If you don't want to have many children, you don't have sex with your wife at certain times, and modern science has a lot to say when those times are. This, being natural, is much healthier than the many technical forms of interventions proposed by various parties.This is generally not well known in the West, either. Unfortunately, this does require some self-control on the part of the people involved, and to actually give up on having sex for certain times is regarded as too hard for many people.

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