By Marrian Ching, Mulat Pinoy Community Manager
“Ang reproductive health ay tungkol sa karapatan ng bawat isa.”
On paper, it looks like something lifted from a politician’s privilege speech, possibly written by a writer who mass-produces media-worthy sound bites for a living, but this line was not heard in the halls of Congress nor was it aired on primetime news. It was Doreen Murata who delivered this line, in the dimly-lit Conspiracy Bar and Cafe, shedding some tears as the words escaped her lips. The show of emotion wasn’t because there was a high-definition camera pointed at her, indiscriminately recording what could be every news networks’ highlight reel for the day’s news roundup. She spoke of the right to reproductive health not just because she knew what it was about.
Murata, along with other members of the youth sector who support the Reproductive Health bill (RH Bill), spoke of the reasons why they believed the RH Bill should be passed now, more than ever, in RH: Through the Eyes of the Youth, an event organized by the Do It Right advocacy group on May 28, 2011. Present at the event were various advocacy groups such as the Philippine Atheist and Agnostic Society (PATAS), the Alliance of Young Nurses and Leaders Advocates (AYNLA), MAKALAYA, Likhaan, BKP, SIKAT, PMPI, PilLaKK, and PAMAC-Q.
The event focused mainly on the youth’s perspective on the RH Bill, in response to the lack of attention on the youth sector’s stand on the matter. The youth is one of the major stakeholders of the bill, as statistics on teen pregnancies, the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, and maternal deaths among young women rise steadily year after year. The event’s speakers consisted of familiar names and faces among youth advocates who support not only the RH bill, but a number of different but closely related advocacies as well, such as gender equality, quality and accessible education, and better healthcare.
Alvin Cloyd Dakis began the discussion by outlining the pertinent provisions of the RH Bill in relation to the needs of the youth. Focusing on the proposal to integrate “age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education” in the curriculum of schools, he emphasized how it can help correct misconceptions about reproductive health and sexuality prevalent among the youth. This is important, he says, because not a lot of parents are open to discussing sex and sexuality with their kids. “Mga hutok lamang na guro ang papayagang magturo ng sexuality education, hindi basta-sinu-sino. Kasi ang sexuality education, hindi naman lahat ay komportable magturo o kaya may sapat na kaaalaman,” he says.
But aside from the openness that will be fostered by a program of sexuality education, Dakis emphasized the change in mindset that the program can give to the youth. “Alam niyo ba na maraming mga bading, lesbiyana, transgender ngayon ang pinapatay? 61 cases. Pinapatay bakit? Dahil sila ay bading, lesbiyana, o transgender. Bakit? Dahil merong homophobia, transphobia, o dahil lang ksi bading sila. Dahil sa kawalan ng sexuality education, lumaki sila na ang kabadingan at kalesbiyanahan ay di akma sa normal na society,” he says. Such a culture of violence can be prevented by raising a generation of children who respect each other regardless of gender and who know the difference between endearment and harassment, being comfortable in their own skin and in asserting their reproductive health rights.
Following Dakis was Noel de Guia of the Philippine Heroes League, who integrated the song “Next in Line” into his speech, emphasizing the importance of the RH bill for the next generation. “Sino ba makikinabang dito?” he asks. “Ang alam natin those who are fighting for the bill right now will not directly benefit yet from the bill once it is enacted into law. Ang magbebenefit ditto ay ‘yung henerasyon ten, fifteen years from now,” he told the audience.
After his talk, he called on Mary Therese de Silva, also a member of the Philippine Heroes League, to talk about her involvement in the fight for the immediate passage of the RH Bill through social media. “Information is worth nothing until you share it,” she said. Unfazed by criticism from people in her Facebook and Twitter network, she would continue to post links about the RH Bill and make clear her stand on the issues, “but never, never impose,” she said. “That’s where all the hate comes from.”
Marlon Toledo Lacsamana of LGBT Rights, on the other hand, spoke of what the RH Bill holds for those marginalized on the basis of their religion, political affiliation, and sexuality. “Pag ikaw ay marginalized, may nakaakibat na uri ng diskriminasyon, pagmamaltrato, takot, kaba, pati pagpatay, pwede ‘yan,” he said matter-of-factly. The different forms of discrimination trample on the rights and freedoms of everyone, especially the marginalized. The RH Bill, he said, has a direct effect on the exercise of these rights and freedoms, beginning with the capacity to make informed choices.
“Ang liham na ito ay para sa mga Pilipinong bakla, lesbiyana, bisexual, transgender, at kung anu-ano pang mga keme, ” Renier Louie Bona of TLF-Share began in his letter to his fellow Filipinos. He gave a brief history of the fight for LGBT rights in the Philippines and its links to the fight for the right to reproductive health. He pointed out the heightened vulnerability of the LGBT community to sexually-transmitted infections and diseases because there is hardly any existing medical literature, services, and policies that address the unique needs of LGBTs.
Yzak Vargas, president of Critical Thinking Filipinos, ended the event with a call to action. After asking the audience to clasp their hands in prayer, he then asked them to do a task as simple as picking up a fork. The message was obvious and the audience knew exactly what Vargas meant when he finally said, “two hands working can do a lot more than a million hands clasped in prayer.”