MANILA, Philippines—Aurelio and Erlinda Galicia live in a tenement housing beside the former Smokey Mountain. Aurelio, fondly called Buboy, is 43 years old—a pedicab driver by day and a security guard at night. Linda, also 43, does odd jobs—sewing rags, making handicraft jewelry or sorting trash for recycling.
The Galicia family
They’ve been married for 21 years.
Buboy and Linda had 11 children. Nine are alive: Angeline, JR, Arnel, Ailyn, Angelica, Analyn, Aaron, Audrey and Ashley. The eldest is 21, while the youngest is 2 years old.
Nicholas and Christine Tenazas, on the other hand, live in a middle-class Mandaluyong apartment. He’s 30 years old, an economics graduate and an educator; she’s also 30 and works as an executive assistant in the Department of Education (DepEd). He’s from UP; she’s from Ateneo but took up her masters in the state university and met Nicholas there.
The Tenaza family
Nicholas and Christine have one child, Justin, 4. Christine has stopped using the pill because they plan to have their second baby.
Both fathers wanted 4 children. Both were terribly off target. One family went well beyond its mark, the other came short.
Linda claims that Ashley, the two year old, will be her last child. She uses natural birth control methods, but considers abstinence as her best bet. “Kapag nag-umpisa nag menstruation ko halimbawa petsa uno, hindi po kami magtatalik hanggang twenty days, payag naman po siya (pointing to her husband).
Linda comes from a big family and her mother had sternly warned her against ligation. She’s certain that ligation would eventually take its toll on her body.
Linda is also convinced that contraceptives are harmful to her.
Talk of pills, condoms and IUDs quickly segues to abortion. She reveals she almost had an abortion once, when she found out she was pregnant with JR, their second child.
TV news jolted her out of that decision. She had gone to an abortionist one morning two decades ago but the hilot was away. That night, she watched a TV report on abortion that described in detail how an instrument is inserted in a woman’s vagina and how the instrument mangles a fetus into pieces.
Now she shudders at the thought, seeing how JR has grown up into a responsible, intelligent young man. To her, JR is a gift from God.
Unlike Linda, Christine does not see anything wrong with contraceptives. She calls herself a modern mom, noting that she herself had come from a “planned family.”
The gap between her and her sister is 8 years. “I believe that using pills as a family planning method is a good option, depende sa health ng babae.” Before she used the pill, Christine researched its proper use and possible effects on her body. She’s convinced it’s safe.
The Galicias from Tondo don’t just talk about their faith; they live it. The time away from work and school is devoted to the Church. The two eldest males are altar boys while the younger girls are active in church groups.
The kids are caring and attentive toward each other. While always short of money, the Galicias are able to send their children to school, provide them clean clothes, and feed them three times a day.
They move around with a lighthearted sense of purpose. At home they laugh, giggle and tease each other—a picture of a happy family.
The middle-class Tenazas are young and upwardly mobile. Thoughtful and analytical, they know their politics and their country’s history. They say they love the good life but unlike most Millenials, they are far from apathetic.
Nicholas and Christine’s only boy, Justin is four years old. He doesn’t go to daycare or pre-school. He’s home schooled, with his parents integrating learning into every aspect of his young life. Reading, writing and counting to him is play.
The Galicias and the Tenazas live in the same metropolis—both God-fearing and devoted to their families. That’s about as far as they have in common.
They have drastically different lifestyles, motivations, and points of view. One is masa, the other is effortlessly bourgeois.
Their stand on the RH Bill is consistent with their way of life.
Buboy is not just masa, he’s a reformed drinker and drug-user. He credits his wife and the Couples for Christ for his rehabilitation. Now he’s a model father and lay minister.
Having explored the excesses of youth, Buboy says “mapusok ang mga kabataan” (Young people can get reckless.) He believes that making artificial contraceptives available to the public will further corrupt the youth.
Nicholas does not think the bill will promote promiscuity. “If people can’t control their urges, at least do it safely.”
Nicholas is a teacher, and he has thoroughly studied the controversial bill. During our pre-interview he declared he’s pro-reproductive health but not necessarily pro-RH Bill, pointing out some of its flaws.
Christine welcomes the RH bill provision that seeks to standardize its services in proportion to the population. Nicholas says it’s also good that the law does not compel anyone to avail of these services. “Walang pilitan”. (Its not compulsory.) “But there are penalties for practitioners who prevent information dissemination. It’s good that the bill has a lot of safeguards.”
The best aspect for Nicholas is the educational campaign on reproductive health.
Christine adds “I like that the bill doesn’t prescribe a mandatory family size.” Nicholas interjects “Add to that the declaration that abortion is illegal.”
Nicholas and Christine go into the “point-of-conception” debate. From the expression on their faces, they find the debate slightly ludicrous.
Nicholas though has second thoughts about governmental purchase and distribution of artificial contraceptives—he sees it as a window for corruption. He recommends going into public-private partnerships for this and prioritizing reproductive health services.
The night before the interview, Nicholas and Christine spent time talking about whether or not to support the bill. They decided that despite its shortcomings, it is a piece of legislation that this country needs. Reproductive health needs to be legislated, they say. The DepEd may push for it, but gains traction when a law mandates it.
During Sunday mass, Buboy and his family read a prayer led by lay leaders: “Hiling naming ang kalinawagan para sa bawa’t mambabatas na maunawaan ang di kanais-nais na pagbabago sa lipunan kung maisasabatas ang “RH Bill”. (We ask that our legislators be enlightened to the negative effects of the RH Bill to society should it be passed.)
Nicholas, too, is a devout Catholic and even headed Church organizations. But he thinks that the Church is using the pulpit for a one-sided fight over the RH bill. “We understand the context of the Church and the Bible but in the end we have to decide for ourselves.”
He adds, “Baka mas maganda na dapat tigilan na yang mga scare tactics.”
Nicholas laments how the debate has been framed. “The poor is being pitted against the people who supposedly “understand”. We don’t want it to become an elitist concept, when in fact it’s a universal right.”
Is poverty related to population growth? Nicholas sees a correlation but asks, which causes which? Are we poor because we are so many or are we overpopulated because of our poverty?
He thinks that linking poverty to population is what alienates many people from the pro-RH Bill campaign. Nicholas says it is important that people with many children are not made to feel like they are social pariahs—as if they are to be blamed for this country’s poverty.
The Galicias and the Tenazas are two faces of the debate surrounding reproductive health.
The Galicias represent a large part of the Catholic faithful—full of trust in Church dogma and set in their beliefs.
The Tenazas are middle class and self-aware. They decide not just on the basis of their beliefs but sift through the issues to arrive at an informed decision.
But both families share a common need to be respected for one’s choices. “Gusto ko lang respetuhin nila ang karapatan kong magkaroon ng maraming anak,” says Buboy.
Nicholas and Christine couldn’t agree more.—Newsbreak
Newsbreak’s coverage of the RH Bill debate is in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung
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