MANILA, Philippines – “Masayang masaya ako na naipasa na ang RH. Mabibigyan na ng [RH] impormasyon ang lahat ng tao, lalo na’t ang mga kabataan at mahihirap, tungkol sa family planning,” said Michelle Custodio. (I’m very happy that the RH Law has been passed. Now, everyone will get [RH] information especially the youth and the poor.)
The 16-year-old first got pregnant when she was 14, but suffered a miscarriage. She got pregnant a year later and again suffered a miscarriage. Now she is taking birth control pills, which she gets for free from the Likhaan Women’s Health Center.
“Kung walang akong pills, baka mabubuntis ako uli. Ngayon nag-aaral ako,” (If I did not have pills, I would probably have gotten pregnant again. Now I am going to school.)
Now about to complete her senior year in high school, Michelle dreams of becoming an architect. In her spare time, she volunteers at Likhaan Women’s Health Center and gives talks to other women in her neighborhood of Baseco, Manila about family planning, sometimes using her own experience as an example.
Michelle shared her story with a larger crowd – sharing her story with those gathered at the Corazon de Jesus lying-in clinic where the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Reproductive Health Law (RH Law) was signed.
Holding the signing of the RH IRR in Manila was also seen as symbolic by some. Baseco, a densely populated slum area with an estimated 90,000 population, has been used many times as a backdrop to illustrate the need for an RH Law.
It is also in Manila where a 10-year contraception ban was in place during the administration of Mayor Lito Atienza.
With the signing of the IRR and the RH Law set to be implemented on March 31, there will be nationwide access to reproductive health information and services.
The road was long, but victory is sweet
“We never allowed ourselves to think this day would not come,” said Ana Maria “Princess” Nemenzo, founder of long-running feminist group, WomenHealth Philippines. “The opposition made us more determined.”
“We hope to see the impact of this law already this year and by 2016, we hope to lower our MMR (maternal mortality ratio) to 53 per 100,000 live births. Currently, we are at 221 per 100,000 live births,” said Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona.
As a signatory to the Millennium Development Goals, the Philippines has committed lower maternal death ratio to 53-55 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015. As far back as 2009, health experts already predicted that the Philippines would not be able to meet its goal to reduce maternal mortality.
RH for men, too
Alon Guialil, 39, is also grateful that the law was passed. The Baseco resident who has 11 children, ages 17 to 1-year-old shared, “Dapat mga lalaki mag-family planning din. Kasi hindi naman mabubuntis ang mga babae kung wala ang lalaki. Tulad na dito sa Baseco, malapit sa dagat kaya…alam mo na,” Alon Guialil said, teasingly. (Men should also take part in family planning. Women wouldn’t get pregnant without men. Like here in Baseco, it’s so near the sea…and you know.)
Turning serious, he shared that 4 of his 11 children died from measles. He and his wife couldn’t take care of them when they caught measles one after the other.
“Di na sana namin naranasan yun mabawian ng anak. Pero ngayon, naka-injectables na si misis, may pag-asa na gagaan na ang buhay,” he said. (Maybe we wouldn’t have known what it is like to lose a child. But now, my wife started on injectables, we have hope that life will be better for us.)
Junice Melgar, executive director of Likhaan Women’s Health and a member of the IRR Drafting Committee, is hopeful that the law will also have a positive outlook of women.
Hearing Michelle’s plans to be an architect, Melgar said, “It’s good that she has a dream for herself! You don’t hear many community women saying that. May this be the start of a new beginning of a new generation.” – Rappler.com