Friday, August 26, 2011
From pro-RH bill to pro-life: a public school teacher's conversion story
From Teresa Tunay's blog:
Following is the story of a public school teacher who went with friends to the Batasan to give moral support to the sponsors of the RH Bill. Here’s her account, as told to this writer:
“I am a public school teacher. I grew an interest in the RH Bill because of my friends who work in a Non Government Office (NGO) and are in favor of the bill’s passing. Ever since I learned that we women would have at last a law dedicated to our health and empowerment, I followed the developments in the news. I watched ‘Harapan’ and ‘Grand Debate’ on television. I rooted for the pro-RH side, convinced beyond doubt that I would be among the first to benefit from the RH Bill if passed. I voted online for the bill’s passing, and although I wondered why the anti-RH gathered more votes, I thought people voted against the bill because they did not know what I and my friends knew; or maybe they were nuns and society women who do not experience the same problems we lower class women do.
“I am still of reproductive age, I take the pill, and I am married to a brute. My children are aged 8, 7 and 5. When talking with my friends about the helplessness of women in our society and under the law, I would get mad and think ours is really a male-dominated society. Women who get to the top (like women in politics, business or movie stars) do so because they are born rich or beautiful and therefore have the support of men in power. They have the luck which we other women do not have, but I am not complaining. At least I finished college and have a good job; however, that does not put me in a much better place than my fellow Filipinas who never even got beyond Grade 6.
My NGO friends
“I first heard about the RH Bill when my NGO friends invited me to their meetings, and that’s where I became convinced that RH would really be good for me and the poor women in our country, the underdogs in our male-dominated society. I was thankful to have met also big names like Congressman Risa Hontiveros and Janet Garin, and for the first time in my life, I felt those lucky influential women do feel for us ordinary Filipinas after all. Somehow I felt that among my friends and those women of power I would find support in enduring a bad marriage.
“I was thankful that it was school vacation when my friends invited me to join them at the Batasan to give support to our pro-RH Congressmen during interpellations on May 18, 24 and 25 and on June 1 and 7. I met again Cong. Janet Garin who willingly posed for a photograph with us. I saw Congressman Manny Pacquiao but when I suggested we take a snapshot with him, my companions held me back and said ‘sa kabila iyan!’. I was frustrated but I did not mind. I was so excited to be there among valiant women pushing the bill to help our poor sisters.
Nothing prepared me
“On my third time at the Batasan, May 25, something happened in me that up to now I cannot understand. My NGO friends did not notice it but I knew I had begun to be less and less eager to join them, because I realized that nothing in my association or discussions with them prepared me for what I was to hear from ‘sa kabila’, like Congressman Roilo Golez and Pablo Garcia.
“I began to have this feeling that my friends had actually betrayed me although I could not pinpoint how. As I listened intently to the interpellations of the anti-RH Congressmen and the replies of the RH Bill sponsors, and overheard some remarks of the ‘purple people’ in our gallery, so many questions kept popping up inside of me but I did not have the nerve to ask my friends because I felt they would not know the answers themselves. Worse, I suspected that even if they did know the answers, they would not tell me the truth. It was a very strange feeling that came with every discovery. For example, I did not know about a ‘Magna Carta for Women’ until I heard Congressman Mitos Magsaysay interpellating, and I honestly thought she made sense in saying all RH Bill’s concerns about women’s health are already addressed in the Magna Carta for Women, making RH Bill practically a useless carbon copy. I also had that strange feeling when the interpellation revealed that the contraceptives to be dispensed freely by the government would be bought with the people’s money. However, I kept silent and tried to enjoy my time with my NGO friends, the burger meal we would share after each session, and I stuck it out with them up to the last date when the session was suspended.
“When the session resumes in July, I know I will tell them I cannot join them to Batasan anymore since I cannot be absent from my classes. My unasked questions simmered in my head, leading me to reexamine my own personal situation in the light of the new knowledge I have gained from the arguments of the ‘kabilang side’. For my own good and for the sake of my children’s future I believe such new knowledge should not be dismissed as propaganda as my friends believe.
“I take the pill, I told you, but nobody ever told me about the side effects that Congressman Carlo Nograles reported during interpellation. All I knew was what my doctor said when I asked her if I could take the pill. She assured me my monthly period would certainly come every 28 days for as long as I’d take them; I heard nothing about how it could ‘regulate my period’ or what the pill did to my insides. I would recall, however, that my doctor taught me how to examine my own breasts and be alert for lumps or a ‘palpable mass’ but she never mentioned about breast cancer, and I trusted her too much to bother reading the medical literature that came with the pill pack.
With Aling Marcia
“Then I thought, too, about the poor women who hope to benefit from the passing of the RH Bill. In one of those Batasan sessions I sat next to Aling Marcia, a woman from a depressed community in Metro Manila. She said she would welcome the free birth control pills because her common law husband maltreats her and she does not want to add to their three children. We are on the same boat: a brute of a partner, three children, and but I did not tell her. I was too ashamed to. She puts up with her partner because she has nowhere else to go, having reached only Grade 6 and having no skills to be on her own; I stick to my husband because in spite of my college degree I do not know any better.
“On the way home that night, I came upon the truth that yes, I take the pill, but not because I don’t want more children. I love children and am not really against having more, if only my domestic situation were not so bad.
“I realized that through all those five years I have taken the pill, no child has been added, true, but my husband grew even worse. He knows I am on the pill, so when he claims his ‘marital rights’ I cannot use the fear of pregnancy as an excuse to turn him away. He insists on those “marital rights” on demand, and because he has superior strength, I am helpless. Is that not rape? When he comes home way past midnight, his breath reeking of beer and cigarettes combined with a strange perfume, and then robs me of sleep as he forces himself upon me, it is hell! It must be the same hell Aling Marcia goes through, and I seriously doubt now if the RH Bill can really help us women who are poor and powerless and suffering in more ways than its sponsors can ever imagine.
True empowerment for women
‘Do they really believe that just because we’re using contraceptives, it would be right for men to use us when and as long as they want to? That we would enjoy unlimited sex simply because we are not afraid to get pregnant? There are many other reasons we would rather not have sex: when we sense infidelity in a husband, as when he takes his cellphone to the bathroom, comes home with lipstick on his collar, locks his account on the family computer, takes on too much ‘overtime’ without any explanations, so many other things.
“Anyone who wants to really empower women should give us true education, the kind that teaches us how to stand on our own, to esteem ourselves as anybody’s equal. They should implement programs to equip us to help out with family finances or become economically autonomous if need be. They should create more opportunities for our husbands to become better providers, and implement laws that teach them a lesson when they have been bad to their wives. The state should support our efforts at giving our daughters a well-rounded education that will make them explore their potentials and be fulfilled as human beings.
“I have discovered enough from those Batasan sessions to be able to say that life in our country cannot be improved by an extensive sex education program and free contraceptives for the poor. I have to thank my NGO friends who brought me to Batasan, but if I am fortunate enough to hear more interpellations in the next Congress, I plan do so from the side of the people who wear red. I may lose my friends in the process, but at least I will be true to the emerging new me.” (From the author's column, "And that's the truth", in the CBCP Monitor)