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MANILA, Philippines – Advocates for the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill turned out for the evening of November 29. There were no fetus-filled dumpsters, anarchistic effigies, or wanton women. There was instead a ceremony, in a cozy purple-lit hall, where journalists who crafted articles or captured photos on population and development were recognized.
Members of congress, government officials, celebrities, businessmen and members of the intentional development community assembled for the 7th Annual Population and Development Media Awards, where talk turned to RH.
House Minority Floor Leader Edcel C. Lagman’s voice boomed, “Vox populi, the voice of the people is the voice of God” when addressing the audience.
He cited the 2008 Social Weather Stations Survey showing that 76% of Filipinos want family planning education for youth and that 71% support passage of the RH Bill. “The survey results also emphasize that the non-passage of such a law would be the ultimate disservice to our people and an extreme social injustice for mothers and children.”
The hall and speakers were a world apart from the thousands of children born to mothers too young and too poor to soothe their howling cries. The cold numbers according to a 2011 World Bank profile are that 31% of the poorest Filipinos aged 20-24 had a child before they turned 18. While those mothers may not be directly helped by the 30,000 peso awards given out, speakers agreed that the night was important.
Lagman pointed out that thanks to the awardees and their fellow journalists population facts are more accessible to the public, RH is a buzzword and the bill is a hot topic. He cited the 404 total blinded entries, 297 directly submitted and the rest searched online, as evidence of the information disseminated in the public sphere.
Ana Santos, a Newsbreak fellow, explains why she writes about these issues: “I believe in smart sex.” Her six reports, including, “Hot Sex & HIV: Growing but hiding” (http://bit.ly/dQDni9), “Sex and the workplace” (http://bit.ly/frfg2t) and “In the City of Angels, they use condoms” (http://bit.ly/h6dzne) were cited as runner-ups in Best Investigative Reporting.
Santos, in a shimmering curve catching dress said, “I think sex should be talked about in an intelligent manner, not just as this base carnal transaction of the flesh. There are issues related to it. There are too many interactions behind it and factors linked to it. The bigger picture is how it affects population growth, HIV, all these other reproductive and sexual health issues.”
If the RH Bill passes Santos sees a Philippines where “a women will be valued by what is between her ears- her brain, her dreams and her ambitions- not just what’s between her legs.”
What would a world with RH look like?
Patricia Evangelista, a reporter for Move.ph, a columnist for Inquirer and the Executive producer of ABS-CBN’s Storyline bagged the win for Best Opinion or Editorial Piece. Her satirical piece, ‘ Church of the Magdalena’ (which can be read in full at http://bit.ly/ba2dFE) imagines a Philippines on the verge of passing the RH Bill. In a white-dress with inlays of flower petals and a full black ponytail, she told the audience a story with excerpts from her column:
It was the beginning of the end. The church who before only threatened damnation to abortion supporters, finally overplayed its hand and announced its intent to excommunicate the President, his Cabinet, and a number of progressive leaders. There was no longer talk of proximate possibilities, the threat was clear. The public finally took to the streets, this time in support of its President, in defiance of the sons of holy mother church. I would hope that this is the future we will see very soon.
Asked about a Philippines after the passage of the RH bill, Former Department of Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral said, “Well it won’t be a perfect world because the Reproductive Health Bill is not a cure-all for every illness of society. But it will certainly be a much better world than we have now, much better for women better for their children and their families, even better for men.”
The Catholic Church has dug its heels in against the RH Bill and the debate over the bill drags on in the House of Representatives. Lagman said on the sidelines of the awards that he is certain if there is a vote before the house goes on recess for Christmas, the bill will pass before the Lentin break. Still publicly he called out for attendees and RH advocates to be patient this Lent.
7th PopDev Media Awards Winners
1. Best Text Blog
Winner- Mark Pere Madrona
Runner up- Christopher Ryan Maboloc
2. Best Single Photo
Winner- Erasmo M. Espiritu
Runner up- Joan S. Bondoc
3. Best News Reportage
Winner- Kara Santos
Runner up- Kara Santos
4. Best Investigative Report
Winner- Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
Runner up- Ana P. Santos
5. Best Opinion or Editorial Piece
Runner up- Juan L. Mercado
6. Best Feature or Magazine Article
Winner- Charlene C. Tordesillas
Runner up- Ma. Bernadette S. Reyes
7. Best Magazine Program or Talk Show
Winner- RH Bill the Grand Debate hosted by Mel Tiangco
Runner up- Bawal ang Pasaway kay Mareng Winnie hosted by Professor Winnie Monsod
8. Best TV Documentary
Winner- Reporter’s Notebook ‘’RH Bill: Sagot o Salot” hosted by Jiggy Manicad and Maki Pulido
Runners up – Krusada “Reproductive Health” hosted by Ces Oreña- Drilon and Front Row “Bente Dos”