Building a Sense of Hope in the Philippines

Author: Nina Yuson (Philippines)

Photo Credit: The Developing Foundation

Photo Credit: The Developing Foundation

I have been postponing my article for the English blog for many reasons. I can’t pinpoint what would make me want to write an article. That I’d have to be very strongly agitated to write. And there are several things that do make me agitated these days. I know that these are part of the fibers of life that I have to deal with. This includes the controversial Reproductive Health (RH, in short) bill that is being heatedly discussed in our Philippine legislature and should either fail or pass the Lower House or Congress, which have congressional representatives from all over the country and the Upper House or the Senate. What makes this bill stalled is the strong opposition from the Catholic church. As you know, our country has a strong and opinionated Catholic church especially if it has to do with ‘morality’. This RH bill has become their ‘moral’ issue as they claim that the contraceptive pills and educating people about this is like aborting life. The rationale they give is that we are teaching our kids too early in school (grade 5) about ‘sex’. The pro-RH advocates have shown through medical studies, United Nations World Health Organization statements and even some opinions from more vocal catholic priests that these contraceptives are not ‘abortifacients’ and that life in fact will be saved.

Think of the hundreds, thousands of infants born daily to mothers who have over 5 children and can no longer feed or care for the newborn. These are the many poor whose lives are greatly ignored by the Philippine government. The bill in effect is not for those who can afford to buy contraceptives over the counter and these are the ones who live in gated communities (about 20% of the total population). It is the poor and the poorest who cannot purchase this contraceptives because they would choose to buy food for their family – a fish costing a pack of pills. And many of the poorest still do not know how to do ‘family planning’.

I have marched with these women who voice their rights. The last one I joined was about 3 or 4 years ago. We were rallying against the grievous corruption in the government led by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The women’s groups are from the poor sectors, made aware through a lot of meetings and discussions on the need to speak out. This was an opportunity for our own group of women to be in solidarity with them. Our motley group of women came by car and joined the bigger crowds at the meeting point. We walked through the districts of Manila in the blazing mid morning sun until we reached the rally stage in front of a big church. It felt good to be with these women, knowing that they came to the venue by walking or taking public transportation. Many of them live in crowded ‘informal’ dwelling areas in Manila.I didn’t think I could last the rest of the day, listening to speakers on stage, so I hailed a taxi and went home. I fell asleep and woke up a few hours later realizing that I hardly moved, my whole body ached. Think of those women who had to return home by walking and still had to wash clothes,cook and feed their families…if they had food on the table.

It is a daily awakening here. You drive and see pockets of poverty all around. Children running and playing scantily clothed, men just sitting outside doing nothing and the women pregnant and carrying her baby or washing clothes by the streets. Many of them are originally from a province and have come to Manila, hoping that they could earn a living. Many are unemployed. A saving grace is the compassion they have for one another, sometimes sharing whatever they have, though little it may be, with each other. But how far can this go?

If a member of a poor family finds a job, everyone depends on him or her. Those who are luckier and have jobs abroad (they mostly work in construction sites, are domestic helpers or caregivers or sea farers) are able to help their families here. They faithfully send home their earnings to their families here. These ‘remittances’ is what keeps our country afloat. The biggest setback of our overseas filipino workers is the loneliness they experience, being away from their loved ones. There are also reported cases where the filipino women are abused and raped by their employer, a few have returned to our country in a coffin. Is money the answer to happiness, one asks?

I ask myself, who can help our Filipinos? So many have tried, including ATD in Manila. Poverty will remain, as long as we are too busy to notice it and do something, even small to help raise awareness that something needs to be done, not tomorrow, but today.

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