Bagong Simula sa Bayan ni Juan

Breaking News

For other news and information, scroll the links found on the sidebar. Links to other relevant sites and media blogs are located on the lower right portion. - RAFS76

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Rescuing Morality

Opinion / Dr. A.G. Romualdez / Health News and Views

Rescuing Morality
Malaya / 2 October

‘Allowing such a situation is not just amoral, it is downright immoral.’

Last Saturday, a group of women’s rights advocates launched a publication entitled "Imposing Misery: The Impact of Manila’s Contraceptive Ban on Women and Families". Linangan ng Kababaihan (Likhaan) is based in Quezon City and is a non-governmental organization devoted to the promotion of women’s reproductive rights.

The Reproductive Health, Rights and Ethics Center for Studies and Training (ReproCen) is a multidisciplinary, multi-professional academic entity based in the UP College of Medicine devoted to the study of social, ethical and legal aspects of gender and reproductive health issues. The Center for Reproductive Rights based in New York City collaborated with their two Philippine counterparts to produce a remarkable document that hopefully will convince people that the atrocities committed by the Manila city administration from 1998 to 2007 should never again be repeated.

The publication confirms the fact that whenever extremist religious beliefs are allowed to dominate public policy, the burden of suffering falls mainly on the poor who are in fact already disadvantaged in so many other ways. For nine years, the city government actually imposed a ban on all methods of "artificial contraception" throughout the city but particularly in the slums whose inhabitants were completely dependent on government for family planning information and supplies.

By issuing Executive Order Number 003, the then mayor of Manila, Jose L. Atienza, coerced city health officials and frontline workers into denying their poor constituents any access to effective family planning methods. While pretending to recognize that "natural family planning" (a method requiring abstinence from sex during a woman’s fertile period) was a religiously acceptable practice for the purpose of spacing births and limiting family size, the city government did not have a systematic program to promote even this method – one which is extremely difficult to implement in urban poor communities whose residents are less educated than members of higher income groups.

But the city government at that time was not satisfied with merely withholding information and services on family planning; it actively promoted antiquated and discredited notions that accentuated the misery of poor city dwellers. During visits to these poor neighborhoods, it is reported that the mayor distributed monetary rewards to mothers who had produced the most number of children, promoting the absurd idea that big populations translate into more workers to further enhance the economy.

What is worse is that non-governmental organizations that attempted to fill in the void left by City Hall’s abandonment of family planning were in fact driven out of the city by a number of coercive means including harassment and intimidation. Even the national government was kept out of the picture by preventing any contact between the Department of Health and the city’s health units. Attempts by the DOH family planning program to share what was left of donated contraceptive supplies were rejected by cowed city health workers who were not even allowed to cooperate in surveys and other demographic exercises conducted by national agencies.

The medieval thinking on which the mayor’s executive order was based is illustrated by the fourth operative paragraph of the issuance:

"That the various activities geared on moral rejuvenation shall be encouraged to equip its people against amoral influences brought about by the excesses of modernization."

"Imposing Misery" is actually an indictment of the lack of a firm national reproductive health policy that created an environment allowing one man to impose his narrow view of morality on the country’s largest and still most important city.

The different tales of woe told by the poor women in the document revolve around a recurring theme where women, deprived of access to services and information about family planning, continued to get pregnant, despite being informed of the dangers of multiple unwanted pregnancies. Allowing such a situation is not just amoral, it is downright immoral.

"Imposing Misery" illustrates the urgent need not just for population advocates but for all those who profess concern for the poor to rescue morality from the hands of narrow-minded, unthinking and heartless religious fundamentalists who believe that non-procreative sex is the gravest of sins that should be prevented at the cost of human suffering and even death. Such people are convinced that lying, cheating and stealing is justified provided it is done in the name of their distorted moral sense.

The Appropriations Act of 2007 contains an allocation of P180 million for "artificial family planning supplies." Of this amount, P30 million has been released for the operation of the Department of Health’s family planning office. The balance of 150 million is to be released through DOH to local governments in need of family planning supplies based on conditions and guidelines approved by Malacañang. Optimists among population management advocates think that this will happen sometime soon. There are pessimists, however, who believe that the releases will be delayed past the December 20 deadline for the obligation of budget allocations so that they can actually be spent for intended purposes. There are now 79 days left.