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It was a humid August night in Manila years ago when I found myself walking on a muddy pathway in pitch-black darkness looking for a house in the slums of BASECO. The stench of human waste and death in the air was inescapable. With only the faint but distinct blinking red and blue lights of a patrol car as my guide, I walked carefully toward the lights but fast enough to catch my picture for the day. After a few dozen jumps around filthy puddles, I finally arrived in this house with a lifeless man on the ground bearing the numbers: SOCO 230-07 PHE 349-07. A crime scene–a man mercilessly murdered with a single shot on the head by an unknown assailant. But just a few steps away, as investigators and kibitzers huddled around the body, was a scene more brutal than the crime itself.
Silently staring outside the window of their very small house were 9 children. They are the family of the deceased, said a voice from behind me. I saw the eldest one, probably 13, sitting right next to a flickering lamp- the house’s only source of light. No words came out from them as they silently stared at me. With eyes loudly shouting sadness and despair, they quietly huddled with each other around the light while hearing the faint cry of their mother sobbing against the wall of their tin can house, like a lullaby in which they want to quickly fall asleep from. She looked pregnant with another child, with their youngest clutched around her arm. No words came out from me as well. I drove home stunned.
How will they survive now? I asked myself.
Such are the scenes that became a staple in my job, from the dark alleys of demolished homes to conflict ravaged lands; Scenes in which it is very hard to ignore the most vulnerable–the mothers and the children. No, they are not few. I can testify and prove that after having been around the country and having seen the dark side of the tourist billboards. Men, women, and children struggle daily for survival.
Fast forward to 2012, where in between the convolution of debates on whether to pass the Reproductive Health bill or not lies the fact that social injustice and grave inequality still prevail in this society. We need to fight for maternal health, it’s a step, but it must not stop there. Blaming population as the cause of why we are poor is not just plain irresponsible but outright dangerous. We are not that stupid.
After 14 years of dormancy after it was filed in 1999, and in between the convolution of debates on whether to pass it as a law or not, the Reproductive Health Law was finally enacted and signed by the Philippines President Simeon Benigno Aquino III.
The law, that would give funding for free contraceptives, requiring government hospitals to provide reproductive health services, and mandating sex education be taught in public schools, was met with strong opposition from the influential Catholic church in the only nation in Southeast Asia where the majority of its population are Catholics.
The issue of the country’s population, which is attributed by the law’s authors and supporters to the rising poverty level in contrast to the church’s moral discourse on abortion and contraception has been one of the widely debated aspect.
The Philippines is a country of 94 million people, where almost a third of the population live below the poverty line. With the majority of Filipinos still face rising commodity prices, record joblessness, low wages, and ever growing poverty, and with a lack of vital national industries, a declining agricultural output, and continued dependence on labor export and remittances, the question of wether this law can suffice to the plight of the everyday Filipino still remains.
How can the government of this nation that completely ignores the plight of the majority of its population make any step to help it?
I just read somewhere that in 2010, 20 million men, women, and children died of starvation. In the same year, Sex and the City 2 grossed $288 Million. Fucked up isn’t it?