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Recent struggles around SRHR in the Philippines

In this video, dr Estrada Claudio, of University of the Philippines, talks about the struggle to establish reproductive rights and services
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DR ESTRADA CLAUDIO: My involvement in the reproductive health bill, now a law, can be dated to 16 years ago, which was the first time that a bill on what used to be called population and development was filed that to us was more within the reproductive health and reproductive rights with a little bit of sexual health and sexual rights framework. Based on the 1994 programme that was adopted in Cairo by the United Nations at its international conference on population and development. So the 16 year struggle ended in 2012, when the law was finally passed by both houses of our Philippine Congress, and signed into law. Just to add though, that it was questioned in the Supreme Court.
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So it took another two years and a different battle, before the Supreme Court of the Philippines eventually declared it, and the words are very careful, it was not unconstitutional. The Philippines is in majority a Catholic population, but we do have a significant number of Muslim believers in Islam. We also have Protestant groups, churches, denominations. And so as I said from the point of view, for example, of Filipino freethinkers, one of the first things that we had to try to work out, is to say to the main opposition Catholic church, that there are other religious groups in the Philippines, so why should you impose your own religious and moral teachings on other groups or even unbelievers.
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That was one of the arguments that we made in terms of the faith group arguments. But from the beginning there were individuals, for example, in the Protestant churches and Muslim women, who were for the bill, and Catholics as well. So it was through the course of the struggle that many of these women also began to organise within their own religious traditions in order to sway the people within that tradition to support the bill.
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That Iglesia ni Cristo, which is a local Christian church, a Philippine Christian church, I don’t know if I want to call it local because it now has wherever there are Filipino migrants, you will find them an Iglesia ni Cristo church as well, had not been against the bill outright as the Catholic church had been. And eventually ended up supporting the bill. Some of the Protestant churches, including their coalition, such as the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, were not against the bill. Were not against, well maybe it shouldn’t be the bill, were not against the services contained in the bill, which would be several of them.
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Family planning services, or contraceptive services, sexuality education, reproductive tract, and sexually transmitted diseases, , violence against women, cancer screening, help for infertility. There were many services within the bill. But the idea of having families, women, and their partners, plan pregnancies, this was the most controversial part of the bill, the one that was most opposed by the church. And of course the idea of sexuality education. But the idea of what is a family, and what the people in the family, especially the couple, can decide on this was very difficult. This was the most opposed part of the bill.
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But the various faiths in the Philippines did not have a monolithic stand on the matter, so from the very beginning we had some allies in various faiths who then began to work and organise within those faiths as well so that their religious leaders their church, their churches could endorse the bill. The Catholic church was very much against the idea of family planning, or contraceptive service, and sexuality education. But the bigger question for the church was, it had actually come out with a couple of letters, pastoral letters, explaining what it called the Death Bills in Congress.
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So this would be bills on divorce, euthanasia, so that’s a d, divorce, e, euthanasia, a, abortion, t, total contraception, they had to get the t somewhere there, and h, homosexuality. So when you look at it from that point of view, the church the Catholic church had a more comprehensive view of the social policy that they wanted. Because they said they were going to impose these bills, that the reproductive health bill was just one of the first of the bills that would threaten the family through divorce through abortion, etcetera, through homosexuality. So in that sense, what was also behind a lot of the debates, what was the conception of family.
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And we really had us, in Cairo, a problem when the church would always try to point out that any of our attempts to extend reproductive and sexual health and rights services, for example, would go beyond married couples, would go beyond heterosexual couples. That was always, that had always been a big issue. For the church, when the bill initially had stated that, sexual orientation was not going to be an issue in terms of the giving services and accessing services, for example. So there is a social view that the Catholic Church was fighting for that to them was bigger than just fighting reproductive health.
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And this view of the family, I think, is viewed similarly, not just by many of those in other faiths, but also similarly by even the Philippine Constitution, or people in general. So that was what was also behind the cultural issues and struggles to have the bill passed.

Please listen to dr Estrada Claudio. She is Dean of the College of Social Work at the University of the Philippines, Diliman and co-founder of Likhaan. She gives insight into the history of the struggle to establish rights and services around reproductive health at the national level and the complexities of this process.

In this process, religious actors could be found on both sides of the struggle: although the Catholic Council of Bishops were plainly against the passing of this law, support for it was found among many religious groups (including Catholic) and the general population.

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Religion and Sexual Wellbeing: Pleasure, Piety, and Reproductive Rights

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