by Joy Icayan
Somewhere we got stuck in history. Condoms cause various diseases, pregnancies, the potential loss of your job, and an eternal life in hell, at least according to the leaders of my country. The Reproductive Health Bill has divided the Philippine population, made up of 80% Catholics into opposing sides, and muddled the conversation with statistics and sob stories, a crying politician, rallies, online appeals to the Creator so on, so forth.
It’s like being in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel.
The huge outcry, coming no less, from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines stems from some provisions of the RH Bill: first that the government would be mandated to provide contraceptives and related materials to its constituents, second that the RH Bill proposes age appropriate sex education for the youth. The purpose of the bill is basic enough: to reduce the significant number of maternal deaths in the country, to provide women a choice to plan their families, to educate people so they can become responsible about their choices.
To provide a context, more than half of the population is living in poverty. Most cannot afford contraceptives; pregnant women often do not get decent prenatal or postnatal care. Unsafe abortions are rampant—and daily news tabloids often feature pictures of fetuses in trash cans. When they get especially brutal, sometimes they feature pictures of wire hangers and women with punctured insides—sob stories of a failed abortion.
To provide a more personal context, we grew up fearing an unwanted pregnancy most of all. It was because you had no options—it meant your future was over. You couldn’t buy condoms because you weren’t supposed to know about sex. What we learned about sex, we learned from the crumpled magazines the boys managed to get from wherever and passed around. If you did get pregnant too early, it meant you were unchaste, dirty. Your saving grace was to get married soon. If you were the boy who got someone pregnant, it was your responsibility to ‘man up’ or marry the woman, regardless of your state of maturity. (There is also no divorce in the country.)