Filipino pregnant women during a protest rally in Quezon city

(Via Feminists For Choice)

Welcoming our guest blogger Alessandra Tinio who is originally from Manila, Philippines and went to college in London. She has over 5 years of experience in PR as well as a master’s degree under her belt. She sat down with us not long ago and revealed all about her experience with birth control in her homeland. We felt that more people needed to know about this and she gladly agreed to share her story.

This has not been an easy blog post to write, I’ve felt the weight of the world on my shoulders as it’s something I strongly believe in and it’s a decision that could affect the lives of millions of Filipina women, change social perceptions, and upset the dodgy seat of power from which the Catholic Church has sat atop for centuries. That being said… Whew… Deep breath… Here it goes…

The Reproductive Health Bill, or the RH Bill as it’s more commonly referred to, has been discussed, debated and battled bitterly in Filipino society for the last fourteen years. But with the bill currently the closest it has ever been to being passed, this year it has been a topic of heated dispute from those that are for it and those that are against it. It has been a dramatic few months with Catholic condemnations, plagiarizing senators and some seriously dodgy misuse of facts from the church to mislead and convince people of some insane ideas (ie, Contraception will spread AIDS and destroy the agricultural industry… I know, right?)

In a nutshell, the RH Bill is a set of proposed laws aiming to guarantee universal access to methods of contraception, abortion, fertility control maternal care, family planning support and sexual education. The bill seeks to bring down the country’s unusually high birth rate by requiring the government to make contraception widely available and would also require officials to provide information on family-planning methods including helping families determine how many children to have and it would also enforce classes on reproductive health and sexuality in schools.

While lawmakers have debated reproductive-health measures in the past, supporters of offering wider family-planning options believe the issue may now be coming to a head as the current President, Benigno Aquino, openly supports the backing of the bill and is pressing for a resolution to the issue. In my eyes this is a pretty brave stance that no other president before him has had the courage to do so openly – the man has cajones.

While the RH Bill policies might seem like run of the mill, basic human rights in other countries, in the Philippines it has been greatly opposed by the Catholic Church, which openly condemns family-planning programs as it believes that the passing of the bill will encourage promiscuity and lead to weaker moral values. And in a dominantly and devoutly Catholic country – their opinion matters. This topic has long been one put on the back burner because the Church in the Philippines strongly influences politics in the Philippines and they have warned devout Filipino church goers that using family planning methods will land them in a tough spot in the afterlife.

What breaks my heart is that they don’t seem to consider the kind of hardship poor Filipino families are having to endure NOW. To paint a picture for you, there are so many nameless families with the same problem – too may children they can’t feed, send to school, clothe or house. There are people in Manila’s slums that are unemployed and have 13 children, living in a makeshift shack of reclaimed GI sheeting and disposed wood with no idea of how they are going to make ends meet from one day to the next, starving, uneducated and hard pressed to make a living. The RH Bill aims to change this.

I am going to take this moment to tell you, that I am PRO-RH BILL. I feel that people need to know as much about the debate as possible to understand the whole situation, but as a woman, and as a Filipina, I am ashamed that my fellow country women do not have the freedom of choice over their own bodies, their futures or their lives.

I have a lot of harsh truths and anger at the Church developed from my own unsavoury run ins with Catholicism and its priests… Notably, hearing a Catholic priest condemn my soul for my sexual choices. I don’t have any issues with god for this, but I quickly learned after being judged… By A MAN… That he didn’t understand in the slightest what its like to be a woman. My faith and belief in most priests was totally gone after this.

I’ve also seen everything that’s happened to people I love and I feel sick thinking about the amount of women who die having illegal abortions, or who have children with men who hurt them and their babies, and I want to cry because I know every Filipino woman who gets pregnant feels like she doesn’t have a choice, and we deserve the same choices that women everywhere in the world do, and I hope that I see this change in my lifetime.

Should anyone in the Philippine Catholic Church see what I’ve said in this post I may a) have my right to wed in a Catholic church in the Philippines taken away b) never get to have any children (if and when I have them) baptized in any Catholic Church in the Philippines c) never allowed to step foot in the same church my family has been going to for years. But you know what, fuck it. I’ve had all these pent up emotions boiling to the surface for too long not to say anything on the subject.

As a Filipina living in a modern world, I’m tired of bearing guilt the church has tried to put on my shoulders for years and I’m tired of them telling me everything I find within my natural urges is a moral sin and I sure as hell cannot abide by as they say my being responsible and accountable for my sexual decisions is sending me to hell.

The Catholic Church fiercely opposes the bill with such ferocity you have to wonder why? What do they stand to lose? Why do so many conservative politicians stand in the way of the bill? I wish I could answer all the questions but I can’t. All I can say to the Filipino politicians that hold the future of so many Filipinas in their hands is come on man, pass the bill.

I’ll leave you with some words that got me thinking, my uber sarcastic, genius and always honest uncle and I were discussing the RH Bill. After many rounds of debate, he simply closed the conversation with this… “Alessandra, you know why all these rich Pinoys and the church are so against the RH Bill… They’re worried their kids and successors won’t have any domestic helpers. Ayun.” All I can say, is enough said.

Loved this post? Follow Aless on Twitter @alesstinio. If you feel as strongly as we do about this bill and want to help in some way, then please sign the petition at Avaaz.org (we have!). You can also show your support on Facebook.

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