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‘Int’l RH conference a reminder to SC justices’

Youth delegates say their advocacy for reproductive and sexual health and rights extends to their harshest critics

UNIVERSAL RIGHT. Jeross Aguilar (L) says the international conference is a reminder for the Supreme Court to 'move a little bit faster' when it comes to the RH law. Photo by Jee Geronimo/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – After 13 years, the Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSHR) returns to the Philippines Tuesday, January 21, amid a pending Supreme Court decision on one of the country’s controversial measures – the Reproductive Health (RH) law.

Pro-life advocates rallied outside the Philippine International Convention Center a day before the main conference was set to begin to protest against what they called “the conference of death.”

But for the youth delegates, their advocacy for reproductive and sexual health and rights extends even to their harshest critics.

“It’s their right to advocate for what they believe in…[But] as much as debating and talking about this helps us make better ideas, it also stalls us, it delays us from forwarding reproductive health as an agenda,” Jeross Aguilar, chairperson of the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines’ Youth Steering Committee told Rappler on Tuesday.

A youth conference opened the 4-day international conference attended by thousands of delegates from different countries. 

The conference, Aguilar said, is also a reminder to Supreme Court justices that the issue at hand is universally recognized by community leaders and young people from other countries. (READ: RH law: The long and rough road)

“So when they recognize it’s a universal, fundamental part of what makes us human, it’s a fundamental part of making sure we live happy and fulfilled lives, maybe we can convince them to just move a little bit faster.” (READ: RH law now!)

The Supreme Court stopped the implementation of the RH law in March 2013 or less than 3 months after President Benigno Aquino III signed it into law. Oral arguments followed, with both camps of the law’s critics and supporters presenting their arguments to the High Court. (READ: SC ends RH law arguments; what happens now?)

PRO-LIFE. Pro-Life Philippines gathers outside the PICC building to protest the ongoing 7th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights attended by delegates from different countries on Tuesday, January 21. Photo by Jose Del/Rappler

Starting young

On Tuesday afternoon, Aguilar led the young delegates in drafting the Manila Challenge, a call to action for government, non-governmental organizations, partners, and ordinary citizens to address reproductive and sexual health problems that are intrinsic to, and universal among young people in the Asia Pacific. 

Young people are the organizers, community leaders, advocates, policy-makers, volunteers and health professionals whose voices are still not being heard enough, Aguilar said.

“We occupy more or less every part of the system that advocates, implements, [and] monitors reproductive health. It’s important that young people’s voices are heard, because we’re such a big group, so we’re often ignored and sometimes, we forget that we have these rights that need to be exercised.”

More importantly, starting young means agenda-setting begins even before gender expectations are imposed and other preconceived notions set in.

Aguilar admitted it is already hard to implement policies among the Filipino youth, so bringing in more viewpoints from other countries is really a challenge.

But after 13 years, the goal of the conference remains: for countries in the Asia Pacific region to work together for sexual and reproductive health rights.

Aguilar looks forward to the day when the region comes to a point of agreement, proving that sexual rights is fundamentally uniform despite cultural differences. – Rappler.com

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