Filipino Catholics Speak Up for Reproductive Health


A
group of Filipino Catholics calling themselves a part of the "silent
majority," broke their silence and came out in support of pending
legislation on reproductive health. Launching the "RH Speak Out!"
movement, the group took a stand that proclaims reproductive rights
and health as consistent with Catholic social teaching.

Leading
the pack by going through a history of Philippine church and state relations,
Carlos Celdran (also known as the Pied Piper of Manila), opened the
launch with one of his famous walking tours around Intramuros. Lisa Macuja Elizalde, the Philippines’ famous Russian-trained
Prima Ballerina, also joined the group as a volunteer.

Helen
Orande clarified that they were not speaking out in defiance of the
Catholic Church hierarchy, but their group only wants to show that there
is another side to the story — that not all Filipino Catholics are
against the use of contraceptives for family planning and underscored
the need for information. The group managed to get a spot on the evening
news, but only one daily mentioned the group’s effort.

Unfortunately,
the local media is more used to featuring the reproductive health issue
as a contest between supporters of the bill in Congress and the outspoken
members of the Catholic hierarchy. Every now and then women’s groups
and NGOs supporting the bill get media coverage for an event or a rally
just as church backed groups against the bill do. Occasionally, a token
woman from the slums (pregnant and with her other children in tow) is
interviewed but for the most part, the media sticks to its formula.

Very
few in media seem to be able to pick up that the "conflict" of views
over family planning and reproductive rights is so much more than the
population control pundits versus
Catholic Church; or pro-life and pro-choice controversy. Roman Catholics
speaking out in support of reproductive health do not only break the
mold, they challenge the very stereotypes and familiar conflicts the
local media has come to rely on for a "sensational" angle.

In
fact, even from within its broad base of supporters, not all reproductive
health bill advocates necessarily agree when it comes to positions on
population management. In the 10th Congress, many of the
women’s rights advocates now supporting RH legislation came out in
opposition to previous versions of the population management bill. It
even took a while before the RH bill’s current supporters in Congress,
came around to a "rights-based framework," and eventually agreed
to drop the provision
dictating the "ideal family size."

Arguably, this is precisely the sort of information that can facilitate
an intelligent discussion on the issue. It seems media are not interested
in going beyond covering the purported "clash" of views. Indeed
these are not the stuff of news that "sells" or the kind that jacks
up the ratings.

This
is also why, despite the amount of media coverage the issue of reproductive
health has managed to garner (year in and year out), and not a lot seems
to come out of it. Whether the bill actually makes it out of Congress
or not, we are told that a number of things are already quite
certain
: some politicians
originally supporting the bill will eventually back out, buckling to
pressure from the Catholic hierarchy. Thus we are told by members of
media itself. The cycle continues and in the end, the church’s position
will prevail. But when public opinion is not really considered important
(by media and politicians), the public is reduced to mere spectatorship
and journalism, to entertainment.

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