Examining “Reproductive Health” In the Philippines

TalkimOn June 12, Attorney Jo Imbong gave an insightful presentation on the controversial Reproductive Health Law (RH Law) in the Philippines, which was signed into law by the Philippine President last December 2012. The venue for the presentation was the World Youth Alliance (WYA) Headquarters in New York City, with staff, interns and friends of WYA attending the lecture. After an introduction by WYA Founder Anna Halpine, Attorney Jo commenced her presentation by discussing the history and details of the RH Law. The Law’s implementation has been halted due to numerous petitions filed against the RH Law in the Supreme Court. On July 9, oral arguments will be presented to the Supreme Court by the petitioners against the RH Law. For a predominantly American audience, the talk was particularly interesting, since it provided a look into the same reproductive health issues facing the United States, but under a different national context.

The lecture outlined the push for contraception, sex education and coercive family planning strategies that sought to change sexual health and education in the Philippines. In many respects, the law revealed a Western perspective on these issues, which clashed with core aspects of the tradition, culture and religion of the Filipino people, according to Atty. Jo. The law’s paradigm of individualism and self-determinism clashed with the Philippines understanding of the importance of family and social responsibility. Specifically, Atty. Jo warned that the government’s involvement with contraception and its widespread promulgation would lead to a shrinking of the family, threatening the large family tradition that defined much of Filipino culture. Furthermore, it would threaten the sacredness and dignity of human life as an enshrined value of Filipino culture through the subtle implication that a human being is a burden rather than a gift. Additional threats to the protection of conscience and religious freedom would inexorably emerge as well, something that especially clashed with the rich religious heritage of the Philippines. Indeed, Atty. Jo presented some cases of how this was already so.

Atty. Jo did mention that there were some commendable portions of the RH Law – namely, the continuing restriction on abortion. This led to the second phase of the presentation, which dealt more with an understanding of human rights. Particularly, the lecture became more philosophical and religious in nature, as Atty. Jo outlined ways to distinguish between genuine and ‘false’ rights. She referred to shared morality, natural law, human experience and social responsibility as compasses for determining the existence or non-existence of a particular right.

Through her lecture, Atty. Jo shared key experiential knowledge of a real-life case of defending human dignity and cultural values. Her presentation of a flawed legal system, dangerous understanding of human sexuality, and diplomatic, secular and faith-based approaches to defending human dignity was an example, inspiration and learning experience for WYA members. Most heartening of all was that, despite the ‘loss’ signaled by the passing of the law, Atty. Jo emphasized that there is still hope and much to be won in the political arena.

By: Carlos Garcia, intern at WYA Headquarters in New York