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Monday, April 25, 2011

The Media's RH Bandwagon

By Antonio J. Montalvan II
Philippine Daily Inquirer

THE LENTEN fare on national television was the most contrived ever. All of a sudden, episodes focused on the charity works of famous individuals and the humanitarian undertakings of a large Catholic lay organization; shouldn’t these be regular fare, instead? All of a sudden, Catholic Church-bashing came to a halt.

With the Lenten holidays over, we can expect the church barrage to resume. As the Congress recess comes to an end, one resurrection is clear: expect media to take up again the issue on the Reproductive Health Bill. But do not expect it to contribute to a healthy discussion. Media, generally, have never been on the side of the church on the RH Bill.

One of the greatest recent ironies we have seen in media is how a statement of a new thespian in bowler hat ala Rizal (“The Church’s pronouncements on the RH Bill are all lies!” or words to that effect) is never matched by the whole stock of scientific studies proliferating in the open about the ills of contraception.

Nor was there fair coverage when Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel was said to have been singled out from a Baguio pulpit. News anchors of Baraquel’s sister’s television network (where she is a perennial guest, naturally) were quick to the draw. Immediately, Baraquel was on the air. It had taken a few days later to air the side of the Baguio priest, and not before he had already been vilified, his arrogance taken to task for a wrong use of the pulpit (as if a correct theological use of the pulpit had always been part of media knowledge).

It is not enough to say that the RH Bill has received popular support, as the so-called surveys are said to have shown. Popularity will never ever erase the ills of contraception. It may be popular to say that the Church is lying or is meddling in the bedroom, a quip that easily lands a prominent place in media headlines. No matter the so-called popularity, it will never remove the fact that the efficacy of contraception will always be a false perception. We only have the tell-tale data from countries after many years of contraceptive use. All that data are not to be sought in musty libraries.

Media have had the propensity to ignore that data. That is incredible in a wired age where data are at our fingertips. And we are not even talking about Wikipedia.

Why the selectivity? Campaigns for contraception have never been a free lunch. There is money in the lobby. Congress and money are the wrong partners, as they always have been. Congress is the wrong place to dictate on something that should be left to personal preference.

The arithmetic is simple. Who stands to gain if government starts buying contraceptives from tax money? Who also stands to gain from the travel perks dangled to some media writers? Naturally the slant for the favor is understandable.

But it is a slant where the deciding public turns out as the victim. Pro-contraceptive activists have always cried out for women’s rights and that great euphemism “informed choice.” But 61-percent use of contraceptives by women aged 15-49 in both marital and consensual unions worldwide has not improved the worth of contraceptives. Commercial interests and ideological fervor notwithstanding, the world’s abortion rates continue to be alarming. The growing number of the young who are contracepting has not reduced the startling rates at which sexual diseases are being transmitted. Where divorce in the West stood at only over 300,000 in the 1960s, when contraception was first introduced, today the rates stand at the millions. Clearly, “informed choice” appears to be non-existent.

Studies have repeatedly shown that contraceptive use has not improved the quality of marriage. Counselors often cite the wife as commonly saying: “During intercourse I am only an object, a thing, a means, at the service of my husband’s pleasure.” These are factual data coming from countries that have had long years of contraceptive use. Obviously, “reproductive rights” are not confined merely to the woman’s side of the issue. If data on such institutions being eroded scream at our face, it becomes more astonishing how they can be ignored.

Worst, I have not heard anyone from the pro-RH side admit the connection between contraception and cancer. There the data are supposed to be profuse. Is the omission deliberate? We shudder to think that even the board of the Philippine Obstetrics and Gynecology Society (POGS) has sidestepped that issue, they who are supposed to be at the forefront of responsibly protecting the health welfare of society.

It is not difficult to see where the Philippines is headed with the eventual passage of the Reproductive Health Bill. Yet these issues are not being discussed openly. It becomes more dreadful to imagine that our legislators, many of whom may easily be swayed by media as the gauge of how their constituents think, will eventually decide on the matter. Once the floor debates progress, we can easily judge how much knowledge they have gained from their readings on the issue, or the lack of it.

Interference in religious freedom will always be a thorny issue for legislation. To begin with, it should never be legislated at all. The Constitution guarantees that. But even that aspect of the RH Bill is being ignored.

We may be off to a bandwagon for the RH Bill. But that will never erase the fact that much of our people wallow in ignorance about the issue. In fact, we are only continuing to guarantee that the ignorance is invincible. No one can beat, at this point, media’s failure in shaking us out of that unshakeable ignorance.

As Guyito, the Inquirer mascot, tries to make it out lightly, even Malacañang is ignorant. How much more for ordinary mortal Filipinos?

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