MANILA, Philippines – Flower? What flower? Even as a child, Reproductive Health (RH) bill sponsor Sen Pia Cayetano knew her sex education.
“I didn’t understand why my yaya (nanny) called my private part a flower because I’m like, ‘A flower? Is that a flower?’ ‘Coz my mom called it what it was: a vagina.'”
On Rappler’s #TalkThursday, Cayetano stressed the importance of sex education and responded to misconceptions on the RH bill.
Cayetano told Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa she is relieved that the RH bill hurdled the period of interpellations at the Senate this week.
The interview was conducted on Thursday, June 7, or exactly a year after the senator delivered her sponsorship speech on the measure. Cayetano is chairperson of the Senate Committees on Health and Demography, and Youth, Women and Family Relations.
“I’ve gone through one whole year – 9 senators interpellating repeatedly….And although I am a very patient person, I’ve had to explain many times the same thing over and over again,” Cayetano said.
“But at some point, we have to move on, just like the impeachment. People need to see that the Senate makes a decision. I feel the same way about RH. Take it to a vote.”
Cayetano agreed with the prediction of her co-sponsor, Sen Miriam Defensor-Santiago, that the Senate will pass the bill by August. It is now in the period of amendments. (Read: CONVERSATIONS: Will the #RHBill move forward?)
During the interpellations, Cayetano said she had to respond to many misconceptions on the RH bill:
1. The RH bill legalizes abortion.
“We have a provision in the bill that requires that a woman who goes to a hospital receive post-abortion care because a lot of women commit abortion by themselves or by whoever, a komadrona, and then they have complications.”
Cayetano said critics took the provision to mean that the bill legalizes abortion. She said this view is wrong.
“Here, we are saying that doctors need to be compassionate because we’ve had so much testimony provided to us where these women are really treated badly because of what they’ve done.”
Cayetano said, “They need medical attention. Don’t crucify them. They did wrong.”
“For people not to understand that made me feel like, ‘Do we really live in a society that’s inhumane now, that we’re taking it [in] our own hands to penalize this woman?’”
2. All Filipinos can pay for their own contraceptives.
Cayetano said critics do not understand the need for the state to provide contraceptives to the poor. In response, she cited the case of a mother who could not even afford a tricycle ride to bring her child to a hospital for a free cleft lip operation.
“So you’re telling me that this mother will set aside P3 for a condom? She won’t! She’ll feed her child.”
“We are at this level of poverty wherein we still have a few million people living at that level, they cannot pay for their own contraceptives, unfortunately.”
3. Contraceptives are evil.
Cayetano said critics also label contraceptives as evil “as if you were killing children by preventing them from being born.”
“[It’s] as if it was not a responsible thing to do to decide for yourself that with my income and my time, I will be a good parent to two children. How many people can be a good parent to 10 children?”
Photo from Senate website
4. The RH bill is redundant with the Magna Carta for Women.
Cayetano admitted that there are overlaps between the RH bill and the Magna Carta for Women. Yet, she said there are key differences.
“The Magna Carta for Women is basically for women. RH bill is for everyone and it touches on different things.”
She emphasized that the RH bill acknowledges that women are an integral part of society.
“Believe it or not...I’ve had to explain on the session floor how difficult it would be for a woman with 8 children to still earn a living and contribute to the family’s income.”
Cayetano illustrated the difficulty. “If the husband doesn’t have a job and the wife wants to contribute or never finishes college, she’s only 21, she has two kids and she says to her husband, ‘I want to go back to school but can I take contraceptives so that I don’t get pregnant?’”
5. Sex education promotes promiscuity.
Cayetano clarified that the Senate version of the RH bill does not mandate sex education for specific grade levels. She said it just supports the current education department curriculum.
She said sex education includes educating parents. “If they’re not comfortable talking about it, where are [children] going to learn it? On the Internet, porn?”
Cayetano also rejected the argument that sex education promotes promiscuity. She again drew from experience to show how crucial sex education and parents’ role in it are.
“I grew up having that kind of discussion with my classmates, will you get pregnant if you get kissed? The best lesson I learned is from my mom: ‘You’re not gonna get pregnant when someone holds your hand, but it’s gonna progress, you hold hands, you kiss, you’re gonna touch.’’’
Why push for RH?
After a year, Cayetano reflected on why she keeps pushing for the RH bill despite the repetitive questions, and strong anti-RH lobby from the Catholic Church.
“My dad made me a marathoner, an endurance triathlete. Some of my friends and supporters, they admire my patience. I said, ‘Yeah, I guess [that’s] why God made me a runner so I can wake up the next day and run again.’” – Rappler.com
Photo from Sen Cayetano's Facebook page
Read on for other views on the RH Bill debate:
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