Culture Shock

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By Kristen Nicole Swafford

Nicole is a 3rd year high school student from Walnut, California. She is only 16 years old but is actively involved in social issues. She is also a Youth Commissioner of Walnut.

Nicole with her mom Joy Tecson Swafford

I have been to the Philippines a few times because my mom is Filipino. But my journey this year is not for a vacation. I wanted to do volunteer work for a non-profit organization, even if it was just for two weeks.

I was introduced to the Forum for Family Planning and Development, an NGO advocating policies on population and sustainable development and reproductive health rights. Coming to the Philippines, I didn’t expect that reproductive health would be such a hot issue in the country.

The Philippines is quite a different experience from my home in California. Not only are there large cultural, environmental, and economic differences, but there is also a huge difference in legislation. California is conveyed as a large melting pot containing many different cultures and ethnicities, forcing state legislation to be more sensitive to various faiths and beliefs and as such not allow itself to be influenced by a stronger religion or group. In the Philippines the exact opposite is apparent.

The distinction of the separation between Church and State is not as clear in the Philippines as it is in America. The Catholic Church hierarchy seems to hold a heavy influence upon legislation in the Philippines, stirring large controversy especially in the current debate of the Reproductive Health Bill.

Members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) believe the RH Bill is immoral and that it will set the stage for the legalization of abortion, that’s why they are against the bill. The CBCP and other conservative Catholic groups are also against modern family planning, saying that pills and other contraceptives are abortifacients. The Catholic Church is even threatening the President, that if he acts in favor of the bill, the result would be excommunication or civil disobedience. Scare tactics are also being used in order to lure supporters against the bill, declaring that anyone who supports the bill is a “terrorist” and has no problem with murdering unborn children.

Nicole with colleagues from The Forum

There clearly is a misconception about the bill itself. I have been here less than a week, and I have read the bill and learned that the RH Bill does not support abortion. Rather, it is an act that would prevent events leading to abortion. The bill provides information on family planning and allows the distribution of contraceptives to those in need or desire of them. Due to the strong influence that the CBCP has in the Philippines, these facts are left untouched and misrepresented to the community. The focus is instead put on the misconception that the RH Bill is a way to make abortion legal.

Because approximately 80% of all Filipinos are Roman Catholic, the Church leaders seem to think that majority of Filipinos share their views. But what I have observed is that this is not the case. Catholics become anti-RH because they are afraid of the disapproval of the Catholic Church and community.

As a result, the separation between Church and State remains indistinguishable. Because a majority of Filipinos are devoted to their religion, there is a difficulty in making the entire country happy. It still remains controversial to be completely pro or anti, but the most notable aspect of the entire debate is the surplus of influence provided by the Catholic Church. Their excessive badgering to stop the bill remains the largest disruption in the passing of the Reproductive Health Bill.

As a Filipino American and a Catholic, I hope that the country will be able to finally put the bill to a vote. I think that 13 years is more than enough, and too many lives of women and babies had been sacrificed.

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