Sex and Religion

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sayings ...

Theres The Rub

By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:17:00 04/22/2008

The way they're going, I wouldn't be surprised if more Filipinos turned Buddhist or Islamic or downright atheist. The Catholic Church is giving them every reason to. Except for luminous exceptions like Pope John Paul II and, nearer home, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo and the Association of Major Religious Superiors, the Catholic Church seems determined to preach only the new theology that God wants to reward the wicked and punish the good.

The Church's latest disincentive to faith is the letter of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Laity to Couples for Christ seeking to "correct" what is wrong with it. What's wrong with it presumably is that it is devoting its energies to Gawad Kalinga (GK), Tony Meloto's brainchild. Still more specifically, what's wrong with it is that GK is overemphasizing social work and accepting donations from pharmaceutical companies manufacturing contraceptives.

I know Meloto, we were both scholars at the Ateneo de Manila University and worked as porters at night to pay for our room and board at the dorm. I'm convinced that if the ranks of Catholics in this country have not gotten paper-thin, it's because of people like him. He is living proof that God works in mysterious ways and prefers his tribe rather than those who claim to be "close kami ni God" [“God and I are close”] who are Vatican's lieutenants and many of this country's bishops, to convey his truth to the world. I haven't met a more resolutely Christian person. Hell, I haven't met a more resolutely sincere person.

What on earth, or heaven, is wrong with accepting donations from companies that produce contraceptives? I leave the question of abortion to the usual suspects, but contraceptives? It's not as if they are weapons of mass destruction or toxic elements that cause cancer, like cigarettes. Condoms merely prevent human substance from exploding in the wrong places. Bombs induce inhuman substance to explode in the very wrong places, like public markets and hospitals. Particularly these days when the specter of famine sweeps not just across a few lands but across the world, courtesy of a runaway population outstripping food production, you've got to wonder if the Rock, which was what Christ called the Church, hasn't become a pebble.

Why shouldn't Meloto accept money from those companies to feed and house the poor? Tony himself cries out eloquently, and not without a trace of sarcasm: "Should all Catholics who work with pharmaceuticals resign? Why is it OK for many Catholic organizations to receive money from them and not OK for GK to care for the poor...? If loving this country, serving the children, is anti-life, then I need to be enlightened again as a Catholic because I only desire to be faithful."

What I myself find galling is that the Vatican should worry about GK accepting money from companies that manufacture contraceptives and be smug about its clergy in the form of the Filipino bishops accepting money from a patently poisonous source. That poisonous source, or cholera-producing well, being Malacañang and its milking cows, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. The latter two directly engage in gambling, an activity that, completely unlike safe sex, has been known to spread disease, if of the mind. Meloto merely accepts money from pharmaceuticals that promote contraception, the bishops accept money from someone who promotes the abortion of democracy. Meloto merely accepts money from pharmaceuticals to do nothing more than feed and house the poor. The bishops accept money from a hypocritical to do everything in their power to keep her in power just so they could fatten and gladden themselves.

But the more mind-boggling thing is the charge that GK is overemphasizing social work. You would laugh, except that it hurts. Again Meloto cries out: "My pain as Catholic and as Filipino is seeing our people suffer from poverty and our country labeled as corrupt. We have not done enough for our poor countrymen. Poverty in the only Catholic country in Asia is a failure in discipleship and Christian stewardship. My dream is for the world to see that it is possible for a Catholic country to rise from poverty because we practice what we preach." That makes him more Christian than Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales. Hell, that makes him more Christian than the Pope.

How in God's name is it possible for anyone to do too much social work in this country? That is like accusing a doctor of prescribing too much medicine to someone fighting for his life. At the very least that a lay organization like Couples should somehow betray the Christian spirit by moving heaven and earth to feed the hungry and house the homeless is batty. What, they get to be more Christian by spending their time attending Mass and avoiding de-coupling while living sad, sad lives?

At the very most, that even a religious organization itself, which the clergy represents, should somehow betray its Christian teachings by plucking the hungry from the claws of hunger and the homeless from the lash of wind and rain is battier. Didn't Christ say what you do for the least of your brethren you do for him? Didn't Christ say not everyone who says, "Lord! Lord!" will enter the kingdom of God? And didn't Christ spend his time on the road with fishers and a well-known prostitute rather than in the temple with the Pharisees who were better-known prostitutes? I do not claim to know the ways of heaven, but when St. Peter goes out one day to meet Meloto who has praised his God silently by doing the most for the least of his brethren, and the bishops who have praised their God loudly by refusing to condemn the most corrupt of their "sisthren," I have a good idea whom he will send upstairs and downstairs.

Christ did say one other thing. It wasn't that the sick shall inherit the earth, it was that the meek would.


A group of reproductive health advocates yesterday urged the government to immediately implement a stringent and long-term population program to minimize the adverse effects of the looming food crisis.

The Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc. (FFPDI) also called on the Roman Catholic clergy to rethink their opposition to artificial birth control methods.

According to the group, the expanding population will only undermine the efforts of the Arroyo administration to bring about economic development, especially in the countryside.

Population and food production are two intertwined factors. You cannot ignore the other and hope to solve the countrys woes, said Benjamin de Leon, FFPDI president.

By 2050, the Philippines would already be the 10th most populous country in the world based on the projection of the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), the group said.

2.1 percent growth

At the current 2.1 percent annual growth rate, the group said the population would have grown to at least 69 percent more from the current 80 million at the time.

Millions of Filipinos suffer from poverty due to large and unplanned families. Unless we give priority to the problem of ballooning population, every effort to counter poverty would be pointless, De Leon said.

He added, Unless the government implements a serious population program and the Church abandons its strong opposition to family planning, rice and food crises will continue to plague the country as demand for food increases.

De Leon said statistics from the Department of Agriculture showed that the national daily consumption of rice was currently at 33,000 metric tons, about 4,000 metric tons more than the countrys rice consumption a few years ago.

In only a year, he said, the countrys per capita consumption of rice rose from 103.16 kilos in 2007 to 134 kilos this year.

He said the data indicated that 21 percent of children under 5 years old would be underweight in the next few years.

Shrinking land

De Leon said that as the population increased, land devoted for food production decreased as arable and agricultural lands gave way to industrial, residential and commercial use.

He said the problem of diminishing agricultural land was further worsened by the rising demand in biofuels.

The PRB data likewise projected that by 2050, the country will have only 28 percent natural habitat, or land that has not been converted to human use, he warned.

By that time, he said, at least 296 Filipinos will have to share with each other every square kilometer of land in the country.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer
Date: Saturday, April 19, 2008
Author: Marlon Ramos

Birthrates Help Keep Filipinos in Poverty; Contraceptives, Rejected by Government, Are Unaffordable for Many in Majority-Catholic Nation

Maria Susana Espinoza wanted only two children. But it was not until after the birth of her fourth child in six years that she learned any details about birth control.

"I knew it existed, but I didn't know how it works," said Espinoza, who lives with her husband and children in a squatter's hut in a vast, stinking garbage dump by Manila Bay.

She and her family belong to the fastest-growing segment of the Philippine population: very poor people with large families. There are many reasons why this country is poor, including feudal patterns of land ownership and corrupt government. But there is a compelling link between family size and poverty. It increases in lock step with the number of children, as nutrition, health, education and job prospects all decline, government statistics and many studies show.

Birth and poverty rates here are among the highest in Asia. And the Philippines, where four out of five of the country's 91 million people are Roman Catholic, also stands out in Asia for its government's rejection of modern contraception as part of family planning.

Acceding to Catholic doctrine, the government for the past five years has supported only what it calls "natural" family planning. No national government funds can be used to buy contraceptives for the poor, although anyone who can afford them is permitted to buy them. Local governments can also buy and distribute contraceptives, but many lack the money.

Distribution of donated contraceptives in the government's nationwide network of clinics ends this year, as does a contraception- commodities program paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development. For years it has supplied most of the condoms, pills and intrauterine devices used by poor Filipinos.

"Family planning helps reduce poverty," President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in a 2003 speech that detailed her approach to birth control. But she said then and has since insisted that the government would support only family planning methods acceptable to the Catholic Church.

Women not wanting to get pregnant, Arroyo advised, should buy a thermometer and recording charts and abstain from sex when they are outside the "infertile phases of the monthly cycle."

Arroyo, 61 and a grandmother with three grown children, said in 2003 that when she was a young mother, she took birth control pills. She said that she later confessed to a priest.

Opposition From the Catholic Church
At the Manila garbage dump, Espinoza said she has been lucky.

A nongovernmental organization with health workers who regularly visit the dump told her that an intrauterine device could prevent her from having another baby. She plans to visit a clinic this month to get an IUD.

The organization that is helping Espinoza agreed to introduce this reporter to her on condition that it not be named. The group's health workers said they fear retaliation and harassment from officials in the national and city government, as well as from the Catholic Church.

In 2005, Catholic bishops in the southern Philippines announced that they would refuse Communion to government health workers who distributed birth control devices.

In the past two weeks, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines declined repeated requests for comment on its family planning policies. The church leadership made its last major statement on birth control last fall.

"Chemical agents and mechanical gadgets that make up the cluttered display of contraceptive methods of birth control have caused serious damage in family relationships, disrupting the unity and openness that build family life by the effects that accompany the contraceptive culture which include extramarital relationships, adolescent pregnancies, and even the hideous murderous act of abortion," said Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, chairman of a bishops' commission on family life.

Aggressive Family Planning in Thailand
In recent weeks, public alarm in the Philippines over the soaring price of rice has focused attention on the fast-growing population and its dependence on rice imports.

Despite steadily increasing rice harvests, farmers here have been unable to keep pace with domestic demand. Economists here have calculated, though, that the Philippines would not need imported rice if it had managed to control population growth -- like its neighbor Thailand.

In 1970, the population of each country was about 36 million people and growing at about 3 percent a year. But with an aggressive family planning program that provides the poor with free contraceptives, Thailand has since reduced its population growth rate to 0.9 percent. In the Philippines, the rate has declined sluggishly to about 2.1 percent.

There are now about 26 million more people in the Philippines than in Thailand.

"It's a no-brainer," said Ernesto M. Pernia, professor of economics at the University of the Philippines.

The Philippines now produces 16 million metric tons of rice a year -- and needs to import 2 million tons more to meet local demand.

"If the Philippines had pursued what Thailand has done, the Philippines would be only consuming 13 metric tons of rice per annum," Pernia said. "We could be a net exporter of 3 million metric tons."

Besides increased food security, the Philippines could have lifted 3.6 million more people out of poverty if it had followed Thailand's population growth trajectory, according to Pernia's analysis.

"Even when there is widespread corruption, insurgent violence and other powerful reasons for poverty, the evidence from across Asia is that good population policy by itself contributes to significant poverty reduction," he said.

Strong Public Support for Contraception
There appears to be widespread public support in the Philippines for modern contraceptives.

Public opinion surveys in recent years have consistently found that about 90 percent of respondents supported government funding of contraceptives for people who cannot afford them.

Surveys by the government also show that poor families have significantly more unwanted pregnancies than richer families -- and much more difficulty finding affordable contraceptives.

The problems the poor face in finding contraception products will increase sharply this year as the Philippine government and USAID end the distribution of donated contraceptives, according to Suneeta Mukherjee, country representative for the U.N. Population Fund. "The poor cannot afford to go somewhere and buy contraceptives," she said. "Many cannot even afford the transportation. By the time they go, they are already pregnant."

The government's plan for "contraceptive self-reliance" anticipates that market forces will make condoms and other products available in shops or that they will be given to the poor by local governments.

But Mukherjee predicted that these new sources will not keep up with demand. "Access to contraceptives will be restricted for most of those who cannot pay and for many who might be willing to pay," she wrote in a February report.

A reduction in the use of contraception -- which is now about 33 percent among women of childbearing age -- will lead to an increase in abortions, Mukherjee predicts.

Abortion is illegal here, but a 2006 study found that there were about 473,000 a year, which accounts for about a third of women with unwanted pregnancies. The study also found that 80 percent of abortions had complications requiring medical treatment.

As for the efficacy of "natural" methods to control population growth, Mukherjee said "it does not work."

At the U.S. Embassy in Manila, an official confirmed that USAID would soon end all donations of contraceptives, after having phased out the program over several years.

But this does not mean less U.S. money for family planning. The official said that USAID has increased its budget, from about $12 million to about $15 million a year, to provide technical assistance to 700 local governments and "to help the private sector to grow the market" for contraceptives.

"We are working in a devolved setting," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I am not saying it is a perfect situation."

'I Don't Want Any More Children'
In the garbage dump on Manila Bay, Espinoza said she is nervous about getting an IUD. But she sees no alternative. "I already have so many kids I have trouble looking after them," she said.

Until her fourth child was born in October, Espinoza, 26, had time to work as a scavenger in the dump, collecting plastic bottles. On a good 10-hour day, she said, she could collect enough bottles to earn $1. Her husband sells salt and sometimes makes $4 a day.

Espinoza is the oldest of nine children and left school after fifth grade. She grew up in another Manila garbage dump, where her parents also worked as scavengers.

"I don't want any more children," she said. "Life is hard. Rice is expensive."

Source: The Washington Post
Date: Monday, April 21, 2008
Author: Blaine Harden

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

DepEd to launch sex education in public schools

Despite persistent lobbying by the Catholic Church, the Department of Education (DepEd) is bent on teaching sex education in the public high schools.

The DepEd is awaiting the go-ahead from the Presidential Council on Values Formation (PCVF) which is currently reviewing the secondary teachers' “adolescent reproductive health manuals,” according to Education Secretary Jesli A. Lapus.

"The new draft modules which are subject to PCVF review and approval are purely health and science angles on reproductive health... They are not sex educational materials at all," Lapus told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The DepEd furnished the Philippine Daily Inquirer with copies of the revised modules, titled "Secondary Teachers' Toolkit on Adolescent Reproductive Health" and "Patnubay sa Pagtuturo ng Araling Adolescent Reproductive Health para sa Alternative Learning System."

Lapus stressed that the revised modules were "products of nationwide multisectoral consultations."

The preparation of the 2006 manuals were jointly funded by the Australian Aid for International Development and the United Nations Fund for Population Awareness.
Asked about the sex education program's timetable, Lapus said it all depended on the PCVF. "We await the council's resolution."

The council was created on April 30, 2004, by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo under Executive Order No. 314.

The body, attached Office of the President, is tasked to "serve as the lead agency by which government may work hand in hand with civil society and the private sector in the establishment of a strong foundation for moral value formation in the government bureaucracy."

The PCVF, chaired by President Arroyo, counted "members of the clergy and ministers," among others, as those seating in the council, Lapus said.
With regards to its composition, separate checks by Inquirer Research and the DepEd communications office with the PCVF yielded negative results. /Inquirer

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 1, 2008