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Reproductive Health in Filipino Culture

As far as I have been exposed to the way of life and culture of Filipinos, we are a group of people who intensely value the family. Despite our exposure to western culture and practices via information technology, we genuinely value family bonds. Economic well-being comes second to a united family.  In my researches, I would often hear respondents say “Dai bale nang nagkukulang-kulang sa mga bagay-bagay, basta sararo kami sa pamilya.” In major stages of our life, we make it our personal obligation to seek the Church’s blessings, such as the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, including the Sacrament of Matrimony for couples who want to share the rest of their life together. Filipino households are likewise characterized by extended families – grandparents, cousins and even great grandparents all under one roof. We flourish in big rather than small households.

We are a group of people who love children dearly. Admittedly, family bonds for us are not complete without children. If married couples in Europe and the United States can carry on without children, for Filipino couples childlessness is a no-no. Wives and husbands go out of their way to have at least one child. Unlike westerners, Filipino children are always ever committed to their families. Ateneo scholars, for example, feel fortunate to be able to study in a university through scholarship grants. But their dreams do not stop on their personal enrichment. They make commitments to help their siblings finish college, notwithstanding the perfectly reasonable belief that it is the basic role of their parents, not theirs, to send their sisters and brothers to school. We hear of small boys who want to grow up like Manny Pacquiao or Phil Younghusband, not to promote boxing or football, or even become a popular athlete, but primarily to help their family rise out of poverty.   

Despite our utmost value for family, marriage, and children, why is it that 10 women die every 24 hours from almost entirely preventable causes related to pregnancy (Population Commission, 2000)? Why is it that for every 1,000 live births, 24 children die before they reach the age of 1, and 32 die before they reach the age of 5 (Family Planning Survey, 2006)? Why is it that 3 out of 10 women do not have the recommended number of prenatal visits (Castro-Guevara, 2008)? Why is it that over half of married women age 15-49 do not want another child? Why is that 82% of married women want either to space their births or limit childbearing altogether? Why is it that in every 3 births, 1 is unwanted and mistimed (National Demographic and Health Survey, 2008)?

The issue on reproductive health in the Filipino way of life cannot be relegated to just a matter of selfish intentions and sexual motives. Reproductive health services are not just to satisfy craving for instant gratification. In the Philippine context, reproductive health is a matter-of-life-and-death issue, a concrete response to an unmet need. It confronts serious health risks associated with mistimed and unwanted pregnancies and therefore essential to the life for married couples, women, girls and children.

Deaths of mothers, wives, babies and children plus the devastation such deaths wrought to their families could have been prevented if only there is open access to vital information on reproductive health. Women, men, girls and boys should be given the right to information about their bodies and reproductive functions. A survey showed that Filipinos welcome freedom from ignorance. Based on the Social Weather Station survey (2008), 71% favor passage of the RH Bill while 76% of adult Filipinos want family planning education in public schools. Support for the RH Bill is an overwhelming 84% among those previously aware of the bill, and a majority 59% among those who became aware of it on account of the survey.

We just have to try and trust fellow Filipinos, and ourselves, on our ability to use such knowledge and information, weigh the choices at hand based on our values and faith, and make decisions based on our free will. For the Church and educators like me, the big challenge is to continue propagating the teachings and values of the Catholic Church, hope and pray that we shall make the right decisions in response to God’s unconditional love.