Kay Isberto

FIGHTING WORDS - Celebrating 2013 - The Freeman

We enter 2013 with the Reproductive Health Bill already signed into law. Republic Act No. 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 was signed by President Aquino on December 21. The law will take effect 15 days after its publication in at least two newspapers of general circulation.

I love the choice of December 21, 2012 as the date the law was signed. For several years, it was promoted as the date the world would end. The movie “2012” played on those fears and showed us what we were supposed to expect. Other “New Age” groups claimed that the date was the beginning of a more spiritual era, the “resurgence of the Divine Feminine.” Maybe they were right. The new law can certainly make a difference in Filipino women’s lives. By the way, I use quotation marks on “New Age” simply because I do not have a better generic term to describe these beliefs.

Section 4 (p) of the law states: “Reproductive Health (RH) refers to the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes. This implies that people are able to have a responsible, safe, consensual and satisfying sex life, that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so. This further implies that women and men attain equal relationships in matters related to sexual relations and reproduction.”

It is difficult not to grin when I remember how the macho members of the Senate squirmed when the concept of “a safe and satisfying sex life” were discussed. The idea is not new and has been part of the standard language of the World Health Organization for a time. I suppose they prefer the language of the Family Code, which uses euphemisms to describe sexual relations even between husband and wife (“conjugal life”).  While I do not believe that a single law can change the way we view and treat women’s bodies overnight, having these words as part of our laws will mean a better chance of changing our paradigms about women and our rights over our bodies.

Certainly, this provision will encourage debate and I look forward to the filing of petitions to question the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Act if only to discover just how patriarchal Filipino society and institutions could be. It would be interesting to see how members of the Supreme Court would discuss sexuality and sexual rights. I expect the debate before the court to be carried out more intelligently, with no shrill protests about moral beliefs as Catholics and no crazy claims about exporting Filipino OFWs for world domination. Maybe we will see some macho lawyers blushing.

A recent survey said that nine out of ten Filipino welcomed the New Year with hope rather than with fear. Had I been asked to participate in the survey, I would have chosen hope if only for the passage of the Reproductive Health Act. When a bill seeking to give Filipinas the right to make decisions over their bodies becomes a law over ten years after it was originally filed, there is every reason to celebrate and be hopeful.

Happy New Year!


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