Resisting the wave of progress
MANILA, Philippines - When I first arrived in the Philippines almost 6 years ago, one of the first things I noticed was the fact that there are a lot of people in this country. Just wow.
Practically everywhere I went -- on the street, at the beach, inside shopping malls or hospitals, one of the main throughfares in the capital -- the crowds overwhelm.
It is quite hard to find a deserted area in all of Metro Manila, as even the most isolated lot has kids roaming around and security guards prowling the area to make sure no one steals whatever is there. It is easy to stumble upon squatters in any location.
I asked myself, how can there possibly be so many Filipinos?
A taxi driver who was taking me to the airport chuckled and said, "It's because we make lots of babies!"
Also as a newcomer, I was wary about being Spanish in a country that was ruled, mismanaged and neglected by Spain for over 3 centuries, and wondered if Filipinos would still be resentful toward a Spaniard.
I soon found that that Pinoys are a forgiving bunch and I was welcomed into their country and their culture.
After that, I started to look for traces of the Spanish past, but aside from names and a few words and expressions in Tagalog, I discovered that our only enduring legacy here is religion and the Catholic Church.
But it is not a legacy I am proud of, especially when I know the role the Church has played in the Philippines having the highest maternal mortality rate in Southeast Asia and one of the highest population growth rates in the world.
The country cannot develop if it cannot feed its people, and this must stop.
Contraceptives are 'tools of the Devil'
When I started traveling around the Philippines, I noticed that in most poor towns in the countryside, the only two preserved buildings would always be the mayor's house and the church.
In one of these towns near Cotabato City, I met a 31-year-old woman with 11 children.
She told me she could have had even more but she had 3 miscarriages. She confessed she had heard of birth control but refused to take contraceptives because the local priest had made it clear that they are tools of the Devil.
The woman owned a tiny convenience store, a business from which she barely made enough to feed her offspring, while her husband, a rice farmer, had to support 3 other children from his mistresses.
I also met him and asked him if he had ever considered using a condom.
He thought for a minute, and replied he actually would, if he could afford them or they were readily available in the town.
Clashing with the Archbishop
Almost a year later, I requested to interview then Archbishop of Manila Gaudencio Rosales for a feature about maternal health in the Philippines.
What I presumed would be pretty straightforward matter dragged on for weeks, with the Archbishop's office asking for a list of questions in advance to determine if they would grant the interview or not.
Finally I got fed up and told them that if they kept giving me a hard time, I would just include in the story that they refused my request.
The public information officer I was speaking to then was enraged and in a threatening tone reminded me that the Catholic Church is very powerful in the Philippines.
That, unfortunately, is still very true, even if the 1987 Constitution clearly stipulates a separation between State and Church.
As the August 7 voting on the RH Bill at the House of Representatives nears, I ask myself whether the Philippines is ready to shed off the pernicious influence of the Church and push through with much-needed legislation in order to curb its population growth and embrace development like, for example, Thailand did many years ago.
One of Bangkok's most famous restaurants -- and not precisely for the food -- is Cabbages and Condoms, set up by Mechai Viravaidya, a former health minister and family planning advocate.
Mechai, known as "Mr. Condom," promoted the use of contraceptives in such a successful way that in a couple of decades he reduced the number of average children in Thai families from 7 to 1.5.
"Mr. Condom" started his work in the 1970s. Thailand then was considerably less developed than the Philippines. But look at both countries now.
Just a matter of time
Whatever happens on August 7, the Philippines needs a law that makes contraceptives affordable to everyone so that Filipinos can have the number of children they truly want and can support.
It is just a matter of time.
The wave of progress is historically inevitable, and no matter how influential the Catholic Church may be now, it will surely not be as powerful in the future, on top of the fact that the current RH Bill does not call for Catholics to use condoms, or legalize abortion as many have claimed.
Birth control should be a choice, and available to all so it is up to the individual to decide.
I honestly believe this country that I love needs a law like this so that someday it will be able to provide enough resources for its people and rid itself of most forms of extreme poverty that are tied to unbridled population growth.
Filipinos deserve it, and I just hope a majority of congressmen will agree. - Rappler.com