Sex and Religion

Finding Religion and Spirituality in Population, Gender, Sexuality, and Reproductive Health Advocacy in the Philippines.

Monday, May 24, 2010

New materials from HAIN

Keeping the Faith Alive : A Slimbook on Responding to the Challenges Posed by the Catholic Church Hierarchy on Reproductive Health. (by Giney Villar and Corazon dela Paz) aims to contribute to the work of Catholic RH advocates as they bridge the gaps between their personal faith and the work they do—through a series of exercises on real-life situations that require advocates to effectively communicate with facts, composure and with their faith in place.

Bagong Pag-asa, Bagong Buhay (comics on RH for the community). To help raise the awareness on RH at the community level, HAIN produced a comics in Filipino which covered topics on violence against women, sexually transmitted infections, and family planning methods. To complement the discussions given by the barangay health workers, it is hoped that this resource material could help the people make informed decisions about family planning and other RH concerns.

Bulong ng Panahon (Whisper of the Times), produced by Celso Espaldon of Tubig Kanlungan, is a 15-minuter educational/advocacy film discusses the link between climate change and reproductive health. It focused on the experiences of a selected community in Botolan, Zambales, and how a big calamity and the women’s reproductive health are affected and experienced. It is targeted to raise the level of awareness of women and girls in communities, policy and decision-makers, health workers and program managers.

Tungkol kay Olivia (About Olivia) is , produced by Maricar Vallido (The Forum), is a short film documentary which aims to draw attention to the very alarming maternal mortality rate in the country. The film focuses on the lives of the 11 children whose mother died while giving birth to the 11th child. The video aims to raise awareness on the status of poor urban dwellers that will result in better health and services particularly RH services for women, and establish support from the local government and other key decision and policymakers.

Health Alert Special Anniversary Issue highlights HAIN's 25 years of health advocacy.

These materials were made possible through the support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. To request copies, please email


Monday, May 03, 2010

Puso, Puson, Pananampalataya at Pulitika

With the upcoming 2010 national and local elections, candidates are being asked of their position on the issue of reproductive health. Apparently, there is a veiled threat that the Church will use the pulpit to campaign against candidates who will support reproductive health programs and services. Catholics who comprised the majority of the voting public must then be given a chance to hear other progressive voices in the Church. In an article, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J. has written a thoughtful and balanced opinion on the danger of the Church’s direct interference in the elections. Other RH advocates who are also Catholics also have a stake in the issue and must make to make their voices heard so as to have an influence on the electorate in this very important issue.

The Catholics for Reproductive Health (C4RH) conducted series of fora from February to April 2010 entitled “Puso, Puson, Pananampalataya at Pulitika” or P4RH.

The objective for conducting this series is to help Catholics make an informed decision on choosing national and local leaders in the coming May 2010 elections. The forums presented a layered and multi-faceted perspective on the issue of how Catholics in good conscience can vote for candidates who are supportive of reproductive health.

The forum served as a better way of reaching out to people around the country, bringing other alternative voices and perspective on the issue. We invited speakers who could enlighten the audience to become more critical of their faith and in choosing candidates to vote. In each of the area, the set of speakers included a respected community leader who talked about the RH situation in the community. A local politician was also included to contextualize the experience of local advocates in championing reproductive health in their locality. Maricar Vallido of the Forum for Family Planning and Development presented facts and figures about how Catholics have been voting in the past elections as well as the latest survey results of how Catholics view RH as an electoral issue. Fr. Percy Bacani presented an alternative perspective from the religious sector on how Catholics can be guided by their conscience in making their decisions.

The forums were held in the cities of Davao, Cebu, Iloilo, Legaspi and Tagbilaran. The group tapped local partners in conducting these forums such as the Development of People’s Foundation (Davao), College of Social Work of the University of Southern Philippines Foundation (Cebu), Office of Student Affairs in University of the Philippines (Iloilo), Bicol Integrated Reproductive Health Alliance or BIRHA (Legaspi, Albay) and Process Foundation (Tagbilaran, Bohol).

Earlier in 2007, the group also conducted the first series of this kind of forum in Quezon City, Cebu and Davao. It was then called “Puso, Puson at Pananampalataya.” This 2010, in time for the national elections, we added another concern (Pulitika) to stress the importance of RH in Filipinos lives, hence, it should be part of the political platforms of the candidates.

Core members of the Catholics for Reproductive Health Speakout Movement consist of the Institute for International Education-Philippines, Health Action Information Network (HAIN) and The Forum for Family Planning and Development.


Friday, April 30, 2010

Filipinos defy Roman Catholic church and back birth control

Seven out of 10 Filipinos in this predominately Roman Catholic country of 92 million would defy the Church and elect a president who supports birth control, an opinion poll by the Manila-based Social Weather Stations found.

In the Philippines, where more than 80 per cent of the population is Catholic, the Church still wields considerable political influence – especially when it comes to such issues as birth control.

The poll found that 68 per cent of voters agreed that “all of the legal means of family planning that a couple might choose to use should be available from the government health service”.

Before campaigning began in February for the May 10 elections, the Church managed to have killed, through political pressure, a reproductive health bill that had been before the House of Representatives for two years. The bill would have required the government to provide comprehensive family planning, including the distribution of contraceptives.

The Philippines has one of the highest birth rates in South East Asia, at about two per cent annually.

Date: Thursday, April 29, 2010
Source: The National
Author: Karl Wilson

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


News about Sec. Atienza saying that 92% of Filipinos are against the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill was received by the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP) with a lot of questions. Elizabeth Angsioco, DSWP National Chair asserts, “Before we believe Sec. Atienza’s allegations, we want to know a number of things: 1. Is it credible? Who did the survey? Does the firm that conducted it have the credibility and objectivity that are very important in such an undertaking? Why did Atienza’s group choose this firm over those used by all politicians and organizations such as the Social Weather Station (SWS) or Pulse Asia? 2. What was the methodology used? How were respondents chosen? What were the questions asked? We would like to know whether these were leading questions or not. And, 3. Why not publish the full results?”

“We believe that Sec. Atienza’s motivation at this point is political in nature. It is election season. The RH Bill may not be passed by this Congress. However, Atienza fully knows that survey results in his City, Manila, showed a huge 86% support for RH among his constituents. He wants to come back as Mayor and needs to be in the limelight and at the same time counter the results to put him in the right side of the fence. He knows that despite the possibility of non-passage, RH is now a mainstream national electoral issue and candidates are measured by voters significantly based on their position on this. He also knows that the popular position despite his and the Catholic hierarchy’s protestations is to be supportive of RH. He knows that more and more candidates are coming out as pro-RH. These may very well explain his actions”, Angsioco added.

“If Sec. Atienza thinks that doing this increases his chances of again being elected as Manila Mayor, he should think again. We, in the DSWP have decided to only support pro-RH candidates. This is the first of our 8-point criteria for selection of candidates. We have thousands of members in Atienza’s City and they will NOT vote for him. More than this, we will campaign against him. Our members, together with the other women in Manila have had enough of the problems brought about by Atienza’s anti-women, anti-poor and anti-RH policies as exemplified by his EO 003. We will fight for our rights and will support Manila candidates who will address our needs. This is NOT Atienza,” Angsioco concluded.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Religion, Gender and Sexuality National Conference

Anchored on the theme “Reclaiming Our Bodies, Voices & Spaces”, HAIN organized the national conference on Religion, Gender and Sexuality (RGS) last November 12-13 at MMLDC in Antipolo City. About 70 reproductive health advocates graced the occasion, most of whom were training graduates of RGS workshops which HAIN has been conducting since 2005.

The Conference’s overall aim was to provide a stage for further examination of the complex relationship between reproductive health, sexuality and religion. It also provided a forum for an exchanged of each other’s experiences in program implementation and advocacy in the context of RGS.

Rep. Edcel Lagman (District 1, Albay), a staunch RH advocate and author of the RH Bill in the House of Representatives, gave the keynote address. Lagman stressed on the need to counter Church oppositions to advance RH programs in the communities and not be undermined by their issues on morality.

HAIN’s executive director, Dr. Edelina Dela Paz, and a representative from the Provincial government of Rizal gave the welcome remarks.

Resource speakers of the RGS workshops also joined and served as speakers in the plenary which included Fr. Percy Bacani, of the Missionaries of Jesus, Sr. Helen Graham of Maryknoll Sisters and Prof. Yasmin Lao of Al Mujadillah. Other resource speakers who shared about the current issues in reproductive health were Rina Jimenez David (Philippine Daily Inquirer), Ana Victoria Simon (form the office of Quezon City Vice Mayor Herbert Bautista) and Atty. Claire P. Luczon of Womenlead Foundation, Inc.

Some of the RGS fellows also presented their experiences in RH and RGS advocacy and how they have shared the learning in their respective communities. At the end of the conference, each of the delegates has shared their commitment in advancing RH advocacy amidst the continuing oppositions from some members of the religious community.

To date, HAIN has conducted 10 RGS workshops producing more that 200 fellows from different parts of the country. The RGS workshops were held to give RH advocates some tools for discernment to make informed decisions about gender and sexuality-related issues, including family planning, abortion, and homosexuality. The workshops also serve as venue for RH advocates to be able to reconcile their personal faith with their work.

With pride, we can say that many of the RGS fellows, have become champions of RH as we now become resource persons ourselves in forums and discussions on various RH and RGS issues. Many of us also engage in regional and national campaigns to push for the passage of RH bill and implementation of a comprehensive RH program. The knowledge and experience we have gained from the workshop enhanced our capacity and confidence in facilitating community educations, community organizing and in handling RH advocacy activities.

At the conference, we have reclaimed our bodies, voices and spaces. RGS fellows are now more confident to argue and defend their faith vis-à-vis RH advocacy.

The conference was made to happen with support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Am Zygote, Hear Me Roar

A new generation of anti-abortion activists pushes for laws that define personhood as beginning at conception.

Just about a year ago, volunteer pro-life activist Kristi Brown's life revolved around Amendment 48. The amendment, if passed, would have revised Colorado's state constitution to define a fertilized egg as a person, thereby outlawing abortion. While activists in other states had pursued similar initiatives, Brown (then Burton; she recently married) was the first to collect the requisite number of signatures needed for a spot on a state ballot. She worked 12-, 16-, sometimes 18-hour days and collected nearly double the 76,000 signatures she needed. In the days leading up to the vote on Nov. 4, 2008, Brown had 2,000 volunteers in 500 churches working to pass Amendment 48.

But Amendment 48 did not come anywhere near passing. Coloradans voted definitively against the measure, 73 to 27 percent. Which makes it surprising that, a year later, Brown describes herself as "very happy" with the outcome. She remembers the atmosphere at campaign headquarters on the night of the loss as optimistic, almost unfazed by a 46-point margin of defeat. "When we saw the final numbers and realized that we had lost," she explains, "the main thing going through a lot of our heads was: this is a start, and now we need to keep going. One defeat isn't going to stop anything. This isn't the end."

When you survey the landscape a year later, Brown's prediction seems spot on: despite Amendment 48's failure at the polls, it triggered a national push for personhood ballot initiatives. There are now seven state-level personhood groups gathering signatures for 2010 ballots, compared with three in 2008. New campaigns kick off regularly, many with leaders who cite Amendment 48 as their inspiration. They're working under the umbrella of a new anti-abortion- rights organization, Personhood USA, founded a year ago, the day after the Amendment 48 vote, to coordinate all the personhood activism happening across the country. Even in Colorado, there's now a 2010 initiative moving forward with full force. "We have to do it again here because Colorado was a catalyst for the country," says Gualberto Garcia Jones, director of Personhood Colorado. Brown advises the campaign but is mostly focused on finishing her law degree. "If we just gave up after one try, it would be discouraging to the rest of the country."

The idea that life begins at conception has always been at the center of anti-abortion- rights ideology but rarely pursued as a legislative goal. Instead, activists set their sights on smaller, more obtainable restrictions on abortion, such as requiring ultrasounds or parental consent for minors. The personhood amendment can be understood as a backlash to that approach. "We're saying let's get down to business," says Cal Zastrow, cofounder of Personhood USA. "We don't want restrictions. We want to abolish the murder of children, and a personhood amendment does that." The rise of personhood as a political strategy reflects a rising frustration among activists, who say the incremental approach has done little to reduce abortions in the United States.

The personhood strategy grew out of a line in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court decision legalizing abortion, in which Justice Harry Blackmun responded to the argument of the state of Texas that a fetus is a person under the Fourteenth Amendment. "If this suggestion of personhood is established, " Blackmun wrote, "[Jane Roe's] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus' right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the amendment." So if personhood begins at conception, the thinking goes, Roe falls apart.

In the early years of the pro-life movement, this interpretation influenced the policy approach: nine versions of personhood bills (then termed human-life amendments, or HLAs) were introduced in Congress between 1973 and 1983. But only the 1983 version made it to a full floor vote, and when it failed by an 18-vote margin, the strategy largely dissipated, save for a few activists introducing similar bills in state legislatures. The large, Washington-based groups turned their attention to laws restricting access to abortion. Personhood reemerged as an issue in 2005, when activists in Mississippi pursued signatures for a ballot initiative, followed by Michigan in 2006 and Georgia in 2007. All three failed to gather enough signatures to land on a ballot. By 2008, three more states had active personhood campaigns, and Colorado became the first to land an initiative on a ballot. Now, just one year after its founding, Personhood USA has 37 state-level affiliates, seven of which are already gathering signatures for potential 2010 votes. One recent report estimates that the leading personhood groups have raised nearly $60 million in the past five years.

What caused the recent swell in personhood activism? A generational shift within the movement, experts say. "This is a transition moment," says Ziad Munson, a sociologist at Lehigh University who studies the pro-life movement. "The people leading the mainstream groups started in the 1970s as young activists and are essentially reaching retirement age. As a new generation of leaders comes into the movement, that introduces the possibility of new ideas." In studying the movement, Munson has seen a general shift in power from large groups with powerful connections in Washington, such as the National Right to Life Committee, to grassroots activists, generally younger and less inhibited about pursuing less tested methods. Or, in the case of personhood, a method tested two decades ago but largely new to a fresh generation of leaders.

Among this new generation of activists, there's a sense that the movement has sacrificed too much and gained too little with its pragmatic, incremental approach. Roe has stood for 36 years without any major changes or scaling back. "I think we're one of the most failed movements in the history of movements," says Garcia Jones. "To claim a huge success for going from 1.3 to 1.1 million abortions is ludicrous. After you fail long enough, I feel like it is pragmatic to start something new." He says it is time for the pro-life movement to start demanding exactly what it wants: human rights beginning at conception.

Younger activists have also come of age in an era of increased use of ballot initiatives. Between 1998 and 2006, the number of voter-run ballot initiatives shot up by nearly 30 percent. With more than half of ballot measures approved by voters, they are an appealing option for activists. Barack Obama's strong ground game in 2008 reinforced the notion that grassroots organizing is a force to be reckoned with. "You see Obama people who still have stickers on their car, even after he won," says Garcia Jones. "They feel a personal investment. That's what we want."

Personhood amendments are a gamble; they could take years to pass. But if they eventually do, the payoff is big: a challenge to Roe that those in the movement believe could outlaw abortion. So activists are apt to compare their mission to those of civil rights and women's suffrage, both of which endured through decades of failed attempts to change the law. "It's the moral principle that it's a person," says Zastrow. "The preborn child is just as much a human being as a middle-aged adult. So why would we compromise on its rights?"

While personhood has excited grassroots activists, the mainstream, established groups have been unenthusiastic, generally declining to support the amendments. They view personhood as an imprudent overreach that could hinder the movement's progress as a whole. Some question whether defining personhood at the state level would actually create a challenge to Roe. And, even if it did, the Supreme Court could just as well reaffirm the decision, rather than overturn it. A recent statement from the Florida Catholic Conference, which represents the state's bishops—a group that declined to support the personhood effort there—argues that "the unintended effect would very likely jeopardize current protections in state law and cause a loss of momentum."

As the senior counsel at Americans United for Life, the country's oldest pro-life group, Clarke Forsythe has repeatedly questioned the personhood strategy, promoting a more prudent approach to pro-life activism.. He, like many other pro-life leaders, finds himself torn by the amendments: supportive ideologically of declaring a fetus a person, but unsure whether that's the best approach. "Personally, I too would like one all-encompassing solution that we could focus on like a laser," Forsythe wrote in the conclusion to Politics for the Greatest Good: The Case for Prudence in the Public Square, published earlier this year. "But ... the political and social obstacles clearly prevent such a solution in the foreseeable future."

Activists admit that the lack of support from mainstream groups is a challenge. "Unity in the pro-life movement would have helped," says Brown about the 2008 Colorado effort. "There were Colorado groups that didn't actively support us. I think if other states can do better at that, it'll help them.." All the personhood ballots are still in nascent stages; signatures are not due until early to late 2010. And activists in multiple groups NEWSWEEK spoke with insisted that even if they don't pass a personhood amendment this time, they will still have made progress. Brown holds on to the same optimism she had a year ago. "You can't get discouraged, " she says. "You can't give up. Someday it is going to change. You just don't know which effort will change it."

Find this article at

Date: Monday, November 02, 2009
Source: Newsweek Web Exclusive (U.S.)
Author: Sarah Kliff

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Cairo to Calatrava

Last Saturday, the tabloid Bulgar carried this most sordid headline: “4 Anak Nilunod ni Mommy” (4 Children Drowned by Mommy).

I’ll give a brief summary of what happened, omitting the names of the people involved. A 35-year-old woman told her husband she was taking her four children, aged 12, 6, 5 and 6 months, to the river. Two hours later, she returned alone and told her husband she had drowned all the children. The husband rushed to the river but was too late to save the children.

The woman said she had drowned the children because of poverty. Reading about the incident, I realized poverty is so much more graphic when it’s described in Tagalog: “wala na siyang maipakain”—she could not feed them anymore.

I’m going to return to this incident toward the end of my column, but I want to be very clear here that I’m not zeroing in on Calatrava. It could have been any other town in the Philippines, or some other country. My column title, “Cairo to Calatrava,” gives a broader context in which such tragedies happen....


Source: Michael Tan, Pinoy Kasi column, Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 9, 2009