Sex and Religion

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

MDG Music Video (Tayo Tayo Rin)

Talking about sex and religion is relevant and necessary as we relentlessly advocate in a country such as ours, [claiming to be "80% Catholic"] national and local policies providing universal access to RH care and services; and other Gender and Population Development issues and concerns. All these are part of the so-called MDGs (Millenium Development Goals). However, the recent MDG Midterm Review showed the country lagging behind achieving the said targets.

In lieu thereof, posting the MDG Music Video in this blog for the benefit of RGS trainees and all its other visitors might prove fruitful. =)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Church and the State

Encouraging news for RH/PopDev advocates...

Reproductive health bill tries to address Church concerns

By Christian V. Esguerra
Last updated 11:20pm (Mla time) 08/26/2007

MANILA, Philippines--There’s some bad news and good news for the Catholic Church and pro-life advocates.

An administration lawmaker has resurrected a piece of a legislation previously criticized for allegedly trying to control population growth in the country.

Mindful of the dispproving views of the Catholic hierarchy, Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin said her Reproductive Health Care Act, omitted contentious issues that led to the demise of similar bills in the 13th Congress.

Gone was the provision which encouraged couples to stop at two children in exchange for a government scholarship and other benefits, according to the lawmaker.

Garin’s bill made optional sex education and the provision of artificial family planning methods such as the use of pills, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and Depo Provera injectables. Many of these techniques were described as abortifacients by pro-life advocates.

“I hope this (new bill) will now be acceptable to the Church,” Garin told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of in an interview. “We excluded the contentious provisions so there should be no problems.”

Garin, a physician, said her bill was centered on educating the public on reproductive health and allowing couples to choose between natural and artificial family planning methods.

“The point here is to educate people on what method is most suitable for them,” she said.

The information-dissemination approach was not exactly new in the protracted debate between pro-life and pro-choice advocates.

In the government’s previous “Ligtas Buntis” program, the Department of Health went around the country to educate the public on reproductive health. But government health workers were criticized for allegedly selling only the idea of artificial methods.

“That’s because they’re easier to teach than the natural method,” one former health worker told the Inquirer newspaper.

Garin initiated the debate on an effective reproductive health measure by delivering a five-page privilege speech.

“My dear colleagues, I am very much aware of the differing views on reproductive health,” she said. “However, I believe it is the responsibility of Congress to discuss and debate the matter in plenary. Only through a comprehensive and deliberate discussion can we determine the truth, and achieve a consensus on such an urgent matter for our people.”

The lawmaker cited several studies which drew a correlation between poverty and family size, an old formula consistently debunked by the Church and pro-life advocates.

During interpellation, one male lawmaker suggested that Congress do some “preparatory work” to deal with “stumbling blocks” to the new measure. He proposed a series of dialogues with the Catholic Church and President Macapagal-Arroyo to ensure that the bill would be passed this time.

He expressed fears that Ms Arroyo, an avowedly devout Catholic, would eventually succumb to pressure from the Church.

Garin shot down the proposal, maintaining that the House of Representatives was independent from the executive branch.

Sex, lies and the Catholic Church

By Patricia Evangelista
Last updated 02:35am (Mla time) 08/26/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- There was an old woman of great virtue, she had 26 children and didn’t know what to do. She dressed them and schooled them and fed them their bread, bellowed at them soundly and put them to bed.

In a newspaper article, Christine Herrera reported that Gloria Junio first gave birth at 15 and popped out a bouncing Junio baby little more than once a year. She was, between births, pregnant for the majority of 20 years, alongside some of her daughters. Three children died young, one child after falling off the dinner table. She has forgotten some names, is uncertain who is still living, and now has a grand total of 96 known grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

This year, the country’s population hit the astounding total of 88 million, and is expected to reach 94 million in 2010. Gloria Junio’s story is just one of many. Population estimates from the Philippine Minimum National Social Data show that this country’s population is a population of young people. With an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent, the ballooning birthrate renders null any of the much-trumpeted economic gains claimed by the government. The need to address the issue of overpopulation seems ridiculously obvious.

Just recently, in Olongapo City, councilor John Carlos de los Reyes was disturbed by the Reproductive Health Code’s policy statement, a portion of which reads that “Unmet family planning needs due to shortage of supplies may contribute to the looming surge in the city’s population in the near future.” He claims that “We are poor not because we are many, but because only a few wittingly or unwittingly deprive our kababayan of opportunities to prosper,” as if a few million more mouths to feed will make it easier to spread around “opportunities to prosper.”

In 2003, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines successfully blocked legislation that would have authorized the use of national funds for condoms and other contraceptive supplies. In 2006, the government backed off from its trial run of a sex education program in two areas of Metro Manila. The bishops objected that the introduction of sex education into public schools would encourage teenagers to try premarital sex rather than remain abstinent.

The argument is interesting. A teenager’s choice to have sex is not made because a teacher dangles a condom in front of students and runs down the colorful menu of possible sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Blame it on raging hormones, on television, on the alignment of the stars, or simply on choice. At the risk of excommunication, it has to be said: People do have sex before marriage, and have done so long before MTV and the World Wide Web. They will continue to do so long after this generation goes geriatric. To preach abstinence in a vacuum is not only ineffective, it is irresponsible.

The 2003 National and Demographic and Health Survey shows that the problem revolves around lack of information and access to family planning services. Sex education is not sexy; when done correctly, it is clinical, scientific and brutally honest. It explains what can happen after the wham, bam, and thank you ma’am, and what to do to prevent repercussions if the choice is to be made. Sources also say that nurses in government health clinics in Manila teach that condoms have holes in them, a myth that has also been articulated by Vatican spokesmen.

It would be wonderful if all conversations about birds and bees and what happens when watering pots meet flowers can happen between parents and children. That is rarely the case in a country where most of the parents, themselves poor and without access to correct sex education, cannot reliably transmit information. Information about sex comes from whispered conversations between friends, and it is easier to say yes to the boy who promises eternal love if there is no mention of STDs or condoms. Even with media taking up the responsibility of educating the public, the average Pinoy teenager cannot afford to buy condoms, much less the latest issue of Cosmopolitan.

Studies conducted by the UP Population Institute and the Alan Guttmacher Institute states that 473,400 cases of induced abortion were recorded in 2000. The Department of Health has put complications related to abortion as the fourth leading cause of maternal deaths in the country. Ninety-one percent of the recorded cases are of married women, and it is reasonable to assume that there are thousands more cases of young girls who bleed in dark rooms because of fear and ignorance, and more cases of fetuses found in the college toilets. Perhaps with better education programs, and greater access to contraception, none of these would have been necessary.

A bill (introduced in the 13th Congress) “providing for reproductive health care structures and appropriating funds” still sits in the back burner. According to Rep. Fergenel Biron of the fourth district of Iloilo, many of the representatives who initially supported the bill pulled out in fear of a Catholic backlash.

There are several concessions that must be made by a modern democratic country. Foremost is the right of an individual to choices he believes are beneficial to himself. It is that right that protects a leftist from being tortured because of his ideology, the same right that enshrines the value of the ballot box, and the same right that permits the publication of this column today. For the Catholic Church to claim it is immoral for a gay man to copulate with another is fair, but when the government tosses a homosexual man into jail because of that claim is to violate the principle of pluralism by which the government stands. The same goes for a man’s, or, in most cases, a woman’s, sovereignty over her body—it is her temple, not the Church’s.

That the Church continues to campaign against contraception should not be held against the priests, it is their right. It is the government that must take responsibility for allowing that Catholic lobby to decide against the welfare of the people. At the moment, the DOH has put reproductive health and population issues at “low priority,” while a P180-million budget for artificial family planning is still being delayed.

The saying goes that in a democracy, the voice of the people is the voice of God. Vox Populi, Vox Dei. According to a United Nations survey, in the Philippines, two out of five women who want to use contraceptives don’t have access. The 2006 Family Planning Survey reveals that the unmet needs for contraception remain high, with one in six women wanting but not able to practice family planning. The 2003 National Demographic and Health Survey shows that the problem of overpopulation revolves around lack of information and access to family planning services.

In a situation where the voice from above clashes against the voice of the people, even God has to learn how to compromise.

more articles on the PhilMADE site.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Church's Gain in Population Policy is Women's Loss

Jaileen Jimeno, PCIJ

DATU PAGLAS, MAGUINDANAO — Prayers echo from the minaret of a mosque through a vast banana plantation. Owned by a company called La Frutera, the 1,000-hectare land used to be a “killing field.” At the time, men in the area wound up either as members of secessionist groups or in the middle of a “rido” or clan war.

But since 1997, when La Frutera set up shop in this town, men have ditched their guns to help grow the Cavendish bananas the firm exports. Benefiting from the peace that has taken over the land, many of them now own houses, and most of those houses have TV sets. Those among the men who are married also practice family planning.

“Parang tao rin ang saging, pag masyadong marami, maliliit lang ang bunga (Bananas are like people, when there’s too much, the fruits are tiny),” says a farm supervisor, in explaining why they limit the number of “hands” in each plant.

La Frutera runs a family planning-education program for its 2,000 employees, 95 percent of whom are Muslim men. As a result, the community it calls home has become a pocket of hope in Maguindanao, which is one of the country’s poorest provinces and where many girls are still being married off at an early age and giving birth at home. In 2005, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) placed the province’s maternal mortality rate at 300 per 100,000 births.

In Muslim Mindanao, family planning was endorsed by the Assembly of Darul Iftah (Religious Leaders Assembly) on November 23, 2003. The assembly produced a document that said, “Islam has encouraged its people to increase and populate the earth with the proviso that their quality should not be compromised.” Stressing the principle of non-coercion, responsible parenthood, and informed choice, the assembly adopted family planning as a method to birth spacing. It also endorsed all methods of contraception.

Muslims make up five to nine percent of the Philippines’ population of about 88.7 million people, who are all covered by a Constitution that guarantees freedom of faith and the separation of church and state, among other things. But since 2002, Filipinos of all faiths have been subjected to a national family planning policy that pushes only natural methods — a policy that echoes the beliefs espoused by the Roman Catholic Church, which claims some 80 percent of the country’s population as its followers.

The government, of course, stresses that those who want to use artificial contraceptives are free to do so. Health Secretary Francisco Duque says, though, that it is up to local government units to procure such supplies for their constituents. Those who are short on funds “can go to the USAID (US Agency for International Development),” which, he says, has a supply that is “good up to the end of 2008.”

The USAID has been providing contraceptive supplies to the Philippines since the 1970s. But it has been scaling down its donation in recent years; by the end of next year, it will shut down the program completely. A recent study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that the country needs at least $2 million a year to fund its contraceptives requirement to plug the vacuum the USAID would leave behind.

Cash - Strapped Local Governments

For sure, some local government officials, especially those in the poorest regions, know they need to provide their constituents a good range of family planning methods. But many of them apparently do not have enough resources. Dr. Junice Melgar, head of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Linangan ng Kababaihan or Likhaan, says that in one forum, a provincial governor complained about the DOH’s lack of support in this arena. The DOH officials present, however, could only repeat Malacañang’s line of giving natural family planning a chance.

This, say observers, has been a tremendous setback for the poorest provinces mostly in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, where the highest “unmet needs” in family planning have been recorded.

Mary Catherine Sumapal, who mans La Frutera’s health clinic, recalls that when Datu Paglas was a killing field, girls would usually be married off by the time they were 13. They would then proceed to have children almost every year. “It was common then to see ‘do-re-mi’ children,” she says.

But now Sumapal says that with the Muslim religious leaders’ edict and La Frutera’s family planning program, which was launched early this year, there is at least a bigger chance for their workers to have planned pregnancies. In fact, the program’s first year supply of contraceptives worth P200,000 is now in the pipeline.

Rose Sira, La Frutera’s personnel department head, says the family planning program will help ensure that each farm worker’s child has health coverage. The company’s health service covers a maximum number of four children per worker. Sira adds, “The workers know that if they just keep on having wives or children, and they get sick, they spend a lot of time away from work, and they lose income.”

In a sense, La Frutera itself is already the most effective family planning tool in the province. As more heads of the family and young people begin to have financial independence, many are reluctant to be weighed in by raising a big family; young people delay marriage in favor of an education and a career.

Nevertheless, Ustadz Abdulwahid Sumaoang still counsels farm workers on family planning, especially the men, who have grown accustomed to a culture of having more than two or three wives, with their number of children often unplanned. He often tells them, “If you are God-fearing, you will plan your family.”

A Muslim professor, Sumaoang has been La Frutera’s values consultant since 2003. He says that he often had to mediate in couples’ fights, mostly because the men did not secure their wives’ permission before getting a second or third wife, as stated in the Holy Qur’an. Some also strayed from the Islamic ideals of choosing “widows and orphans” as second or third wife. “They have forgotten that it is a responsibility, an effort to provide sustenance to a disadvantaged woman,” he says.

Sumaoang says that Muslims also place emphasis on natural family planning. But he says that since this method is not 100-percent foolproof, they have made artificial contraceptives available should couples have the need for it.

La Frutera clinic’s records show that two percent of its clients have chosen natural family planning. The rest rely on artificial methods.

This may well reflect the general attitude toward family planning nationwide. In a Pulse Asia survey conducted just before the May 14 polls, 92 percent of the respondents said it is important to control and plan one’s family. Nearly nine in 10 also said the government should allocate funds for family planning measures other than natural methods.

Ateneo Drops Population Management Course

But advocates of natural family planning have become stronger in recent years, having clinched seats in various levels in government since Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became president. Recently, their influence has been felt even in schools like the Ateneo de Manila University, which is run by the Jesuits, who are considered to be mavericks among the Catholic orders.

This year, the Ateneo would have offered an MBA in Health, with emphasis on strategic population research management. But pro-life and several similarly aligned groups protested, saying that “as a Catholic university, the Ateneo should not be receiving funding support from an organization that openly espouses abortion, population control, and reproductive health.” Ateneo has dropped the course.

Dr. Napoleon Juanillo, program director of Ateneo’s Leadership and Managerial Excellence in Health Systems, says that being a “transplant” from Cornell University, he was surprised at the level of discourse on the issue of population in the country. “It’s pushing us back to the medieval period,” he says. “It is an affront to science, on the rights of women.”

He says the course, which was to receive a $250,000 funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, would have elevated the discourse on population management to a “more intelligent, scientific level.” Yet while he expresses disappointment over the scrapping of the course, Juanillo says he takes his hat off to the Catholic Church and pro-life groups like the Alliance for the Family Foundation Inc. (ALFI) for having “a good war tactic.”

ALFI wrote letters to Ateneo officials and demanded that the course be pulled out. Says Juanillo: “They merely did what they had to do, since it is part of their advocacy.”

He admits that the university was unprepared for the negative reaction to the course. In the end, he says, the university was left all alone carrying the flag. He says NGOs should have backed the school, adding, “This is a wake-up call to the RH (reproductive health) groups. They should fight and join the sphere. The NGOs did not do their job.”

That may be because they were busy trying to convince local and national officials to fund family planning measures other than the natural methods. As some NGO workers tell it, they would rather not have a repeat of what happened to Manila under Mayor Joselito ‘Lito’ Atienza, who ended a nine-year run in City Hall just recently and is now the environment secretary.

Atienza banned contraceptives in Manila from 2000 to May 2007. Women interviewed earlier this year by Likhaan, the Reproductive Health, Rights and Ethics Center for Studies and Training (ReproCen), and Center for Reproductive Rights told tales of financial, physical, and emotional difficulties when contraceptives totally disappeared from Manila’s health centers.

Some of the 67 women interviewed for the NGOs’ study said they wanted to have two to three children, but ended up with more than double their ideal number of offspring when contraceptives and ligation at government-funded facilities were banned. All of them belonged to the poorest bracket of society, where a P35 packet of pills is an unbearable monthly burden.

Women, Doctors Tell Tales of Woe

One 32-year-old mother of seven said she had wanted just three children. She wanted to be ligated after her fifth pregnancy. But the public hospital she went to would not perform the procedure, citing Atienza’s Executive Order 003, which was already in effect. In language, that EO pushed for natural family planning, but in practice, it worked against any artificial method.

Then there was a 36-year-old mother of eight who had dreamed of having only two children. She said that she was unable to get her regular supply of pills. She wanted to undergo tubal ligation after her fourth child, but the public hospital near her home no longer offered the service. By then, she said, her family’s daily meals were already consisting of just three sachets of coffee and a few pieces of pandesal for breakfast, rice and soy sauce for lunch, and bread for dinner.

Officials of the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital also observed many high-risk cases among women patients, because of “anemia, too-frequent deliveries, very short spacing, and sometimes no spacing at all,” said the NGOs’ study.

An official at another government hospital told the NGO interviewers that the ban resulted in many unwanted pregnancies, prompting a greater “tendency to have an abortion.” One hospital director, in fact, said that abortion complications, including deaths, were “the second largest cause of admissions in his hospital, and a leading cause (of admission) in most hospitals.”

Other women interviewed post-Atienza told of marital spats, physical and verbal abuse, and being abandoned by their partner because of their refusal to have sex to avoid getting pregnant.

Government health workers agree with those from NGOs that Atienza’s EO 003 should be revoked. But they say that with the national government policy on family planning similar to Atienza’s, a legal victory is unlikely.

Big Population an Economic Plus?

Indeed, Jose Sandejas, President Arroyo’s consultant on family matters, downplays the report by Likhaan and company. “There are studies by people who have an agenda to push,” he says, “so you really have to look at who funded it.”

He adds that there are groups in Manila’s slums promoting natural family planning “and they will be the ones to tell you most men are responsible, even in the slums.” He argues that the urban population growth will go down even without contraception. Urbanization, he says, will leave couples naturally wanting smaller families because of the higher cost of living, as compared to living in the provinces.

Sandejas, however, would rather focus on the positive effects of keeping the population growth robust even though 2006 figures show this may be causing a downtrend in major education indicators like elementary enrolment and survival rate in schools.

“Even if you are not able to educate them as well you would like,” he says, “in the end their capability to quickly learn skills in the health services, in construction, as seamen, is going to save the Philippines.” Sandejas says that even the current generation, “where we have low levels of education, our overseas Filipino workers are saving us at this time.”

It’s a line that could well upset people like medical anthropologist Michael L. Tan, who writes a popular column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. In a 2003 column on Arroyo’s policies, he observed the president, being an economist, should know better than “arguing that a large population is good for the economy because it means more consumers, more business, even more workers to export.”

“There is just no way government or the private sector can cope with the demands for jobs, housing, health, education and other social services, not with the present rate of population growth,” Tan added. “As for exporting Filipinos as caregivers to the world, I find it terribly immoral that we can think of producing children mainly because we see them as possible exports to bring in dollars later, even as we export their parents today.”

Interestingly, Arroyo’s stance is nowhere near that of Ed Panlilio, a Catholic priest who is the new governor of the president’s home province, Pampanga. According to Panlilio, he will pursue the family planning program already in place at the capitol, and that includes providing artificial contraceptives to those who ask for it.

“As governor and a public official,” he says, “the reality is I cannot impose my Catholic stand on the issue. Otherwise, I will be violating the human rights of my constituents.”

Panlilio says he will ask health workers to offer the whole range of family planning options to couples so they can practice a method based on the dictates of their conscience. He admits this may make him a target of attacks by Catholic hardliners. But he says he is confident Church leaders will understand the position he has taken.

“Nobody should dictate the choices couples should take,” says Panlilio, “not even the Pope, not even the president.”

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

New face of hope for HIV and AIDS

Last updated 07:48am (Mla time) 08/08/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- This man of God found life and love despite a dreaded malady.

South African Reverend Christo Greyling was a hopeful 23-year-old seminarian who was to marry his girlfriend in six months when he tested positive for HIV, a retrovirus that can lead to the deadly acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

It was 1987, and South Africa, which then registered a less than one-percent prevalence of HIV, had yet to acknowledge the creeping epidemic.

Greyling thought he had lost not only Liesl, the love of his life, but also his dream of becoming a pastor who would inspire people with more than the usual songs and sermons.

But 19 years later, he is alive, happily married, and a father of two healthy daughters --Anika and Mia.

He is also the new face of hope for HIV/AIDS victims, who continue to suffer in silence.

“God has an excellent sense of humor. Indeed, I turned out to be a kind of reverend different from [what I wanted to be]. I am an HIV-positive reverend,” said the 43-year-old pastor during a dialogue Tuesday with various government agencies, churches and media groups in Quezon City.

Greyling and his wife are in the country for the four-day launch of an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign of the World Vision Development Foundation-Philippines.

The program taps Philippine churches and faith-based organizations in starting community-based HIV programs to help avert a “hidden and growing” incidence of AIDS and HIV in the country.

Read the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Population Question, Again

By Bishop Teodoro Bacani Jr.
Manila Standard Today/ July 31, 2007

IT is reported that the Philippine population is now nearing the 89 million mark. The very mention of our population numbers triggers thoughts about our “population problem.” This in turn leads our thoughts to the conflicting position of the Church and many concerned people in the business and political world regarding the proper approach and solution to this concern.

For all the talk in the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines about “critical collaboration,” the population question is one area where the CBCP has not been able to, precisely, collaborate critically with the government in approaching, assessing and solving the “problem.” In fact, in this matter, the CBCP and the government have long had an adversarial relationship, dating back to the Marcos times. I am one of those who believe that there can be some kind of collaboration between the CBCP and the government in this matter.

Here, what I want to do is state clearly what is non-negotiable and what is negotiable in the positions taken by the CBCP. Then, I want to suggest how there can be some sort of limited but helpful collaboration between the CBCP and the government.

The non-negotiables: (1) The Church teaches that direct abortion, direct sterilization and direct contraception are wrong in themselves and should not be resorted to. Hence, there is no way that it will say yes to the promotion of these immoral practices. (2) The Church believes that the decision regarding the number of children the couple should have lies with husband and wife themselves. Hence, the Church will object to any coercive type of birth control. (3) The Church considers truthfulness a basic moral consideration in any activity. Hence, the Church cannot accept and propagate deceptive information and will demand that full and truthful information be given regarding birth control methods.

These are the only non-negotiable points regarding the Church’s position on birth control.

It is not the official Catholic position that there is no population problem in our country. It is not the official Catholic position that we should not decelerate our population growth rate. A good Catholic may hold the position that there is a mismatch between our population growth rate and our resources to meet the needs of our growing population. A good Catholic may hold that we should slow down our population growth rate to a manageable level.

Again, while the Church advocates only natural family planning in order to implement a responsible parenthood program, the Church does not reject as immoral any method of birth control that is not directly abortifacient, sterilizing or contraceptive.

So, in what ways can the Church and the government collaborate? Personally, I think it will be a waste of time for the Church and the government to try to come to a consensus that there is indeed a population problem, and that our population growth rate should be curbed. Within the Church itself, that question has not been settled. And I believe that it need not be settled in order to achieve effective collaboration.

But the Church and the government can still collaborate toward improving our economic and social condition as a people. They should agree on promoting responsible parenthood. They should agree to project this message together: “Couples should bring into the world only the children whom they can raise up as good human beings.” There will be no objection from the Church to this message, which expresses part of the meaning of responsible parenthood according to Catholic teaching. If all couples get this message and put it into practice, we will arrive at the optimal population growth rate.

In addition, the government can offer to subsidize (without strings attached) the natural family planning program of the Church. Again, there are no insurmountable obstacles for the Church to receive such assistance for a thoroughly moral natural family planning program.

It will be more difficult to effect collaboration if the Church should be asked to take part in government programs of birth control. Bishops have some reservations about being co-opted and being made a part of a government population control program with morally objectionable components from their point of view.

With such beginnings, the Church and government may later on develop other forms of collaboration beneficial to our people.