Friday, October 12, 2012

Prayer1 Delivered at the Forum entitled “Academe and the Nation, RH Bill and Academic Freedom”.2

By Sylvia Estrada Claudio, MD, PhD3 My friends, in honor of our guests, let us pray. But since this is the University of the Philippines you may remain in your seats and choose not to make the sign of the cross or other ritual gestures. Dear Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of Ateneo and La Salle; Guarantor of the CBCP and editorial writers from the Varsitarian; BFF of the Vatican; the alpha and the omega of everyone except for those billions of others who have other beliefs; you whose Sacred Heart bleeds for the Filipino Freethinkers and others of their ilk, hear us Lord. Guide us today so that we may have peaceful and collegial discussions as true scholars who are committed to serving our society with our expertise. Bless this coming together of the faculty members of three universities who have chosen to speak out for the reproductive health bill. Reach out to the hearts of other members of academia who disagree with us that they may understand that we would never call for the suppression of their right to free expression. Please click the tab "superlike" that we are reaching across institutions for the cause of academic freedom. We offer up this effort to you in the belief that this struggle will help other universities, including pontifical ones, to remain as institutions of higher learning, discovery and progress. We thank you for blessing the Ateneo basketball team last night at the time they needed to prove that not everyone is a coward and a lemon in that school. Please enlighten the community of La Salle to the truth that if they had reached the finals, many RH advocates from UP would have found it difficult to find a team to side with. We the older people here, also known as professors, thank you also for the most wonderful responses of the students of Ateneo and La Salle to that Varsitarian4 article. It made some of us weep because we have fantasies that we somehow contributed to the greatness of these students. Please prevent UP from feeling superior because it is a secular university and no one seems to be upset whenever we say things against religion. As You know, Lord, this doesn't mean UP's freedoms are always secure and that we are not called upon to constantly to re-examine the parameters of ethical academic discourse. Besides, UP was at the bottom again in the basketball standings this season. Please bless the UP College of Law for this venue, the College of Social Science and Philosophy for its co-sponsorship, the faculty members and students from Ateneo and La Salle who are here, the media people whom you will inspire to file stories about this event and the audience herein gathered to hear our most distinguished panel. We beseech You and all the other Gods that people believe in to make this a safe space for the free exchange of ideas. Lord, we beseech You to pass the RH bill. Lastly dear Jesus, if I am to get in trouble for this prayer, let it not be because I exercised my generic freedom of expression; not because as a teacher of women's studies I exercised my academic freedom to talk about an issue within my expertise; but because this is being done in a government facility and my praying here violates the Philippine Constitution. Amen.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Confessions of an impeachment and RH bill fiend

Published February 12, 2012 in Business World.

Sin number 1: My productivity is much diminished these days because I am addicted to watching the impeachment. Every boring detail. I seethe at every bone-headed move by the prosecution, at every legal victory of the defense. I think Juan Ponce Enrile is a vampire. He can't be that good. Especially as I hated him during martial law. I think Serafin Cuevas is brilliant. But I don't like his bombastic oratorical style. It reminds me of all those men thundering at us during the dictatorship, chief among them, macho Marcos himself.

And so, I am now in search of my ideal man, one with the soft rhetorical style of Niel Tupas and the competence of Cuevas. My ideal man would have argued that nothing prevents the Senate from conducting the impeachment more like a fact finding mission or a truth commission and less like a court.

Sin number 2: I am obsessed with the reproductive health (RH) bill and see connections between the impeachment efforts and the effort to pass the RH bill. I may have imbibed the conspiracy theory paranoia of the religious fanatics who keep claiming pro-RH people are drug company and imperialist lackeys.

I hope that Renato Corona is convicted. (Parenthetically, those who accuse me of not abiding by the rule, “innocent until proven guilty” are to be condemned to 20-minute tongue lashings by Miriam Defensor Santiago. That rule is meant to regulate the police power of the state. It was not meant to substitute for individual discernment and not meant to prevent the social disgrace of scoundrels. Taking that rule out of context would mean that citizens should not be concerned with graft and corruption since very few people get convicted anyway.) I believe Corona is an ally of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who would uphold all her leanings including her refusal to pass an RH bill during her term. It was during GMA's term that the Supreme Court junked the petition of 20 affected women to invalidate Lito Atienza's egregious order banning contraceptives in Manila. From the anti-RH camp, even from some of the legislators we hear it often: “if the bill passes we will take it to the Supreme Court”. They say it with confidence.

So, long before the impeachment, I knew something had to be done to uphold the independence of the Supreme Court. It must be freed not just from GMA's influence, but also from the unholy alliance of the Catholic Church and GMA.

The GMA-Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines connection on the RH bill has bothered me endlessly. Ricky Carandang decided to resign from the Catholic Church when he was still a journalist. He had interviewed CBCP's Melvin Castro who, in so many words, said it would not condemn a corrupt politician as much as it would condemn a pro- RH one.

Thus I was not surprised when the Bishops agreed to mediate the escalating war of Pres. Aquino against Chief Justice Corona. The rest of the nation was going, “go, go, go Pnoy!!!!” while the CBCP was admonishing towards dialogue.

And so, while the CBCP called rallies against the corruption of Pres. Estrada, the Pontifical University of Sto. Tomas gave Corona a PhD in a manner I would describe as “wala lang.” Asked whether the CJ had earned his degree properly like the rest of us plodders, the public got less than satisfactory answers, and an argumentum ad hominem against Marites Vitug.

“To everything there is a season” according to Ecclesiastes. Except that while most of us are in the season of justice and retribution— the CBCP is in the winter of contradictory morality.

I am thinking, if the RH bill finally comes to a vote, all this tension between Pnoy and the CBCP would lessen. I am thinking, that for the sake of my Catholic friends, perhaps the Church no longer needs to go on its moral fugues once we can unstick the RH bill from its craw.

Sin number 3: I am guilty of extreme pettiness. I am upset at Corona's cooptation of the color purple. Those who consider him innocent him are asked to wear purple. He just made my wardrobe defunct. My cabinets are full of purple things because, dear Chief Justice, THAT HAS BEEN THE COLOR OF PRO-RH ADVOCATES. As my friend and colleague Jonas Bagas says, “kung dilaw ka, dapat purple ka rin.”

Sylvia Estrada Claudio is a fellow of AER. She is a medical doctor and a PhD in Psychology. It would be her pleasure as an official of the University of the Philippines to show to Marites Danguilan Vitug the written rules and guidelines for attaining these degrees at the time these were conferred in order to remove any doubt that she earned them on her own merits.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pambungad na Salita sa Pambansang Balitaktakan ng Mga Lider Kababaihan Ukol sa Kalusugan at Karapatang PangReporduksyon ng Kababaihang Pilipino

(Oktubre 11 -12, 2011, Bulwagang Tandang Sora, UP Diliman, Q.C.)

Magandang umaga sa ating lahat at salamat sa inyong pagdalo sa Pambansang Balitaktakan ng Mga Lider Kababaihan Ukol sa Kalusugan at Karapatang PangReporduksyon ng Kababaihang Pilipino.

Nag-uusap tayo sa isang makasaysayang panahon. Makasaysayan dahil malapit ng matapos ang 16 taong pakikibaka para sa isang panukalang batas na magseseguro ng mga serbisyo sa pangreproduktibong kalusugan. Sa loob ng mahigit isang dekadang pagsisikap, nakakaseguro tayo dahil sa paulit-ulit na siyentipikong survey, na ang karamihan ng Pilipino ay sumasang-ayon sa ating adhikain. Sabi nga ni Dr. Junice Demeterio Melgar, ang taumbayan ay nag-desisyon na, Kongreso na lang ang hindi. Ang ibig niyang sabihin siguro ay marami-rami rin sa Kongreso ang hindi makapgdesisyun dahil hindi pa yata nababalitaan na trabaho nilang dinggin ang boses ng taumbayan.

Kaya't makasaysayan ito—kapag pumasa ang bill sasariwain nito ang maraming pang ibang adhikain natin para sa bayan---ang demokrasya, ang pananagot ng mga kinatawan sa kinakatawan, ang hindi pagbibigay pabor sa iisang relihiyon—marami pang iba.

Makasaysayan din ang panahon ito dahil ito'y ambag sa mga tagumpay ng kilusang pemista na sinimulan ng ating mga ninuno. Halimbawa nito ay ang mga babaeng nagtatag ng Assosacion Feminista Filipino nuong 1905 (AFF). Matagal din ang kanilang pakikipaglaban sa mga machong kongresista at kaparian para mapanalo ang karapatang bumoto ng kababaihan. Pipitsugin nga ang 16 na taon—sa kanila 32 years, 1937 nang naipanalo ang karapatang bumoto para sa kababaihan. Idinaan nila sa plebisito, hindi lamang sa paghain ng panukalang batas.

Nguni't alam niyo ba na ang mga ninunong peminista ay pro-RH din? Tinatag ng AFF ang Gota de Leche nung 1909, na itinataguyod ang papapasuso, nutrisyon at iba pang usaping pangkalusugan ng mga nanay at sanggol.

Kaya't mga kabaro, huwag ninyong pakinggan ang mga nagsasabing impluwensyado daw lamang tayo ng mga Kanluraning kaisipan. Aba, nauna pa tayo sa maraming kilusan ng kababaihan sa Europa at sa US na bansagan ang sarili na feminista at lumaban para sa RH!

Higit pa, huwag ninyong pakinggan ang mga nagsasabing labag sa kultura at kabihasnan nating Pilipino ang pag-usapan ang sekswalidad at karapatan nang malaya at hindi magpapa-kahon sa baluktot nilang mga pananaw tungkol sa pagkababae at pagkalalaki. Sila ang magsasabi sa atin kung ano ang pagiging Pilipino? Sila, na tinatalikuran ang kasaysayan at kasalukuyan?

Tayo din ang mga Pilipino. Tayo din ang mga relihiyoso. Tayo din ang may moralidad at espiritwalidad. Hindi nila nabili yan na para sa kanila lamang tulad ng pagbili nila sa mga malalaking bahay, kumbento, seminaryo. Sana nga makinig sila sa usapan natin ngayon ng makita nila na may daan tungo sa reproduksyon at sekswalidad na mapagpalaya para sa lahat—kasama na ang mga pari at relihiyosong sinserong naghahangad ng kabutihan.

Sa loob ng 2 araw, tatahakin natin ang mapagpalayang daan na ito. Pagkatapos ay magsasanga ulit ang ating landas. Nguni't dahil nagkasama tayo muli ngayon, uuwi tayong masaya dahil alam nating magkikita tayo ulit at baka naman sa susunod, pasado na ang RH bill.

Maraming salamat, magandang umaga at mabuhay tayong lahat!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The International Women's Health Movement in The Era of Globalization

(Plenary address delivered at the 11th International Women's Health Meeting, Brussels, Belgium, September 15, 2011)

Sylvia Estrada Claudio

Permit me a moment of personal sharing. Before I left the Philippines, Senator Vicente Sotto, during his interpellation of a proposed bill to ensure reproductive health services in the country, projected the website of the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR). He chose particularly that part of the website which discusses abortion. He added that Dr. Sylvia Estrada Claudio is the Chair of WGNRR, and that she has been seen frequently with the authors of the reproductive health bill.

The proposed legislation does not, in fact, change the Philippine's restrictive law on abortion. The proposed law however, will mandate humane treatment of women seeking post-abortion care. It will also assure access to sexuality education, emergency obstetric services, modern contraceptives along with a range of other services such as those which treat and prevent reproductive tract infections.

I will add that Senator Sotto and other legislators who oppose any legislation related to reproductive health, divorce, LGBTI rights, are open about the fact that they are doing the work of God. Many advocates also state that they are doing it out of obedience and respect for the Bishops of the Catholic Church. And yes, in case any of you were wondering, the Philippines is a secular republic. But in the Philippines, as well as in other countries, legal guarantees on secularism have not restrained the fundamentalists from violations.

Perhaps I should move to assure you that I do not yet perceive myself in danger. I should also add that the rabidness of the religious fundamentalists at home is related to the strength of our efforts for the reproductive health bill. Two weeks ago, Philippine President Aquino certified the bill as a priority measure.

I mention this because this is the 11th IWHM, we are on our 34th year of the contemporary women's health movement since the very first IWHM was held in Europe in 1977. On the one hand we have achieved much as a movement. And yet on another, whether it be in Asia or Europe we are experiencing backlash and the continuing control of our bodies.

In 1977 and today regimes of control determine the way we work, love and live. Then and now, women have resisted. As long as there is a need for resistances there is a need for a movement. Where women work together to free themselves from class, caste, race, colonial, neo-colonial, heterosexist, and other regimes of control, there we shall find our movement.

In a paper of mine that has been put in our conference kits, I have mentioned a few reasons for our success. Permit me now to state where I think we must go. Why, despite our success, we are facing increasing poverty and control whether we be in Europe or Asia, or any other region of the world.

My dear sisters, I open my eyes and see that the world is poorer. There are large gaps between exist between the rich and the poor and the gap is ever-widening. Apart from this, the world is at war, led by a nation which reacted to the aggression of a few by punishing whole peoples. But big wars are not the only threats. Small wars are waged everywhere and the streets of our communities and the bedrooms at home can also be places of violence.

In places of worship, in the academe, in newspapers and websites, in village halls and international convention centers, whether these be in progressive democracies or known fascist regimes, women are experiencing serious attempts to roll back the gains of freedom. These are often led by religious groups but any type of group and individual may be the source of this.
In the meanwhile world organizations such as the UN, which we have invested in so that they may reflect our resistance and solidarity, have become increasingly bureaucratized and impotent. On top of the previous institutions of control like the Vatican, we see the rise of minor despots or major power institutions like the World Trade Organization.

In the meantime the environment is suffering and we are threatening the life of the earth itself.
Whether through militarism or environmental degradation we are being brought to the brink of destruction.

Please, I do not wish to raise a panic. Whenever there is a panic it is the women and children who are trampled in the stampede. Women are likely to be blamed for overproducing people causing poverty and environmental degradation. This is one reason we are told by some to stop making babies. Or, we are told the breakdown of our communities is caused by our licentiousness and that we had better go back to our homes to produce babies.

Shall I be honest now? As if I have not been honest before? Shall I have a small tantrum? For the last 21 years that I have been working with IWHMs I have watched as those of us coming from the global South had to speak louder when we said we wished to oppose the imperialism of the World Bank which made our governments cut down on health spending and impose user fees. I have also heard the criticism of lesbian women about their marginalization. And we may go on about others: the disabled, the women from various indigenous populations, etc.

I have seen how organizers has succeeded or failed to root our the very elements of the oppressive structures which the movement wishes to change. And as it is with the IWHMs so it is with our social movements.

But I am tired of recriminations and guilt. They are the power tools of the despots and the messiahs. We are a movement that understands that life means pleasure and that those who wish to create our lives for us will end pleasure for us, and that is where poverty starts. So resistance means an insistence on food, housing, health, but also pleasure.

And why is this so? Because I have come to understand that in the era of globalization control is not merely political it is also biological,

In magazines conceived in London but sold in the corner store in Bombay or Prague, people are told what bodies to have----what kind of hips, what kind of lips, what kind of sexual aspirations.

Fast and global systems of market surveillance all over the world make the gestures rebellion or alienation by people in any part of the world today, tomorrows chic and latest consumerist trend. Fashions are designed in New York, cut by women pattern makers in Manila and rolled out as clothes in Shanghai.
The extraction of profit at very moment of our human need to communicate or create has never been more efficient. Indeed, life itself is being patented for a profit.

This profit taking is so frenetic and so efficient that in capitalism's boom and bust cycles, trillions of dollars are lost or gained over very short periods of time.

We cannot delude ourselves that this efficiency in profit making is not resulting in global poverty.

We cannot delude ourselves that this enslavement of our human capacities to capitalist extraction happened independently of gender, race, class, cast and other dimensions by which they wish us to perceive our humanity.

Let me be clearer: class, sex, race, heterosexist and caste systems are not separate entities. There is no such thing as a less racist capitalism or a less heterosexist caste system. The feminist insight that brought us to reproductive and sexual rights has been validated by the evolution of the world's economy. Productive and reproductive systems derive from the same human creativity. When wealth is extracted from the poor, it begins by making us accept that these two moments of life, production and reproduction, can be separated. When power moves it dictates what we think of ourselves and our world. It does so only because it has to—because our lives are not like this and we resist.

But to understand the our own envelopment by hegemony is not a call to stop noticing the race, class, caste and other differences that cause divisions among us. I have no wish to excuse myself from my own shortcomings. I have no respect for those who would use political theory to excuse their own bigotry.

However, my ability to be bigoted is not the problem. Bigotry is the default option that biopolitical mechanisms of control instill in us. What is the problem, is my ability to accept the world according to their making. Where I exclude myself from others and their struggles, there is where I fall into error. Where I conceive of the women's health movement as not also a movement against globalization; where I conceive of the movement against sexism as not also a movement against heterosexism, where I conceive the movement against racism as not a movement against caste—that is where I fall into error.

Where I conceive that my ability to love can be stunted so that it stays in the confines of my home or tribe or nation, instead of allowing it to expand towards solidarity with all the world's poor, there is where I fail.

We cannot be blind to the fact that the world's economy is in trouble. Everywhere people are insecure about their futures and their jobs. In the meanwhile, the world financial crisis has not brought an end to capitalist greed because it cannot help itself. It falls to all of us to deal with this crisis.

It is wrong to think that world poverty comes about from the lack of democracy and equity in the area of production and not in the area of reproduction. The women's health movement must not feel itself out of its depth when it engages the movement against globalization. At the very least we must recognize that the medicalization of the bodies of women who can afford the expensive drugs and procedures, something I have seen discussed well in this meeting, comes from the same logic that denies life saving drugs to those who cannot afford to pay.

War, militarization and fundamentalisms are not distinct from the economic crisis. Wars have become police actions against leaders, nations or groups that would challenge the expropriation and concentration of wealth. But wars and intimate violence are never only about the free flow of goods and capital, it is also about how women must behave. Let us not be fooled by the rhetoric that those who would liberate us from our usual despots because these puppets can no longer to serve capitalism effectively, will also protect women's rights---as if our sisters from advanced capitalist economies were so liberated. We cannot throw off one set of dictators for a set of liberators who will instill the same norms for women's being. If real democracy is to be had it must be radicalized to extend to freedom for women as well.

Similarly do not let the urgent need to protect our environment blind us to the fact that it is not the world's majority poor who are the main polluters. The solution cannot be to lessen the population of a country by imposing sanctions on women's fertility.

But I do not wish to make a list of huge tasks addressed to some anonymous group called “”us”. Rather I would like us also to think how easy it is to work on all these issues because we are already in resistance. The movement for sexual rights and freedoms is everywhere. We can begin by refusing the identities that oppression wishes to impose-- “us”, “other” and “others”.

There is after all no need to submit our political actions to any unifying principle or hierarchy. As if our desires and our creativity have not always been polymorphous and unregimented. To ask a any woman to prioritize only this struggle or that is to say a woman is a good Muslim when she fights prejudice against Islam but chastise her when she criticizes the fundamentalists in her religion. Or it is asking a woman to be solely a lesbian and fight against heterosexism while denying that she is also a worker fighting against contractualization. We cannot fall into the these dichotomies.

In the Philippines, the Catholic spokespersons accuse us of going against Philippine culture and identity when we refuse Catholic norms for sexuality. Our response has been to insist that those among us who are not Catholic, and/or do not subscribe to their views on sex, must have equal citizenship rights and not be forced to live under their norms. To put it succinctly, I am a feminist and a freethinker and very much a Filipina. All women, as citizens, have a right to participate in social institutions and culture so that they may work to change the patriarchal norms embedded within them.

Second, we need not submit to any geographical hierarchies of struggle. Let me appeal to you that the local struggle in the Philippines maybe as important as larger regional and international struggles. Our struggle in the Philippines is important because we are one of the last bastions of Catholic fundamentalism in the old colonies. Here, the local is global. Similarly, the struggle of Dr. Agnes Gereb, imprisoned in Hungary for providing home births is of equal importance--as are a thousand other individual struggles.

At the same time I would not make boycotting or attending UN activities a litmus test for our alliances. As we go to the UN for the review of the ICPD for example, my question is whether those who go will speak of all our struggles. My question is whether those who will go to the UN will still do so out of a sense of joyous struggle rather than gloomy obligation. Because, as we grapple with the bureaucratization and isolation of the UN, we shall see how the global can be extremely parochial. Cairo and Beijing are not supposed to be the maximum, they are supposed to be the minimum. And we cannot forget what was not won in Cairo but knew we wanted. Sexual rights are not a matter to be compromised this time around.

Whereas the enemy prefers us to think of homogeneous and stable identities and institutions, we are actually a heterogeneous and nomadic movement. Whereas the enemy would divide the world into distinct arenas of struggle, we make the linkages, the confluences and the synergies. This is not a way of saying we must respect the diversity in the women's movement, as if diversity was a difficult but unavoidable condition. I am saying that it is only through diversity that we subvert the sterile homogeneity of fundamentalist prescriptions.

Lastly, we must trust our immense power to create what is positive. The first-ever IWHM did not speak of rights it spoke of self-help, the capacity of women to help themselves. Indeed, the regimes of power and control that envelope us survive only on our strength. This is why they lock us in their death embrace. As the world stands on the edge of increasing misery we must counter-pose a new regime of life enhancement for all the world's population. Universal health care, jobs for all, housing, clean water, food security these are not mere words, they are attainable social projects.

Thank you and good morning.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Stop the Witch Hunt of RH Bill Advocates

Sen. Vicente Sotto’s interpellation of the RH Bill at the Senate has deteriorated into a witch-hunt of organizations supporting the bill that, in his opinion, have an agenda to legalize or promote abortion in the Philippines. The organizations that he has named so far are the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP), Likhaan Center for Women’s Health (Likhaan), the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), and the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP). More could follow as the senator has asked for a list of all organizations that have expressed support for the bill.

Instead of arguing about the content of the RH Bill, Sen. Sotto has shifted to attacking advocates.

This crude antic is an implied admission of weakness in conducting a reasoned and respectful debate with fellow senators who are, in the final analysis, the authors and sponsors of the measure. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are formally invited to public hearings on proposed laws and asked to present and argue their position. This engagement of CSOs is a key feature of democracy, of governance through dialogue. Unfairly using the immense powers of the Senate to attack CSOs for their different points of view is the act of a bully and violates the tenet of responsive governance.

Some RH Bill advocates—like the organizations maligned by Sen. Sotto—are truly concerned about the harm to women and their families of unsafe abortion. Because of our work in very poor urban and rural communities, we know firsthand of women who have suffered severe complications—hemorrhage, infection and perforated bowels—some of whom survived, while others died. We know of women survivors who were subjected to verbal abuse, maltreatment, and neglect in hospitals by the medical people who were supposed to help them. We know too that the reasons that push women to have an abortion are desperate, that the decision to have an abortion is never easy, and that if women could prevent abortion, they would.

Beyond the RH Bill, we stand for openly and soberly discussing the impact of abortion in the Philippines and finding humane and workable solutions. Last time we heard it, discussing abortion is legal in this country. A century of criminalizing abortion has not stopped its widespread use, but only made it dangerous.

The RH Bill has at least three features that can substantially reduce abortions without even changing the law. Family planning—whether through natural or artificial methods—can address the root of abortion, unintended pregnancy, by enabling women and couples to plan the timing, spacing and number of pregnancies. Post-abortion care, including medication, surgery and counseling, can save women’s lives, preserve their health, and help them to use family planning that will prevent repeat abortions. School-based sexuality and RH education can address peer pressure and sexual coercion and violence, delay sexual experimentation, and promote responsible behavior so that unintended pregnancies are reduced.

Those who obstruct family planning while exulting in the Philippines’ extreme anti-abortion law—which has no exception even when a woman’s life is in danger—are morally responsible for the vicious cycle of unintended pregnancy and abortion that continues to kill and maim masses of women. If government-supported measures to reduce abortion or to treat and counsel women with post-abortion complications are denied, where else could women go? What else could women do?

Sen. Sotto, if he has a modicum of sympathy for women, should find solutions to the problem of abortion instead of maligning organizations that support RH. If he is against RH, what is he for?

Anyone concerned about the health of women and the families that they care for will find it unconscionable to object to the RH Bill. If Sen. Sotto is worried that the bill will legalize abortion, then he needs to simply study the text and accept or reject it based on what he actually reads, not on what he reads of advocates’ intentions.

Released 7 September 2011 by:

Roberto Ador
Executive Director,
Family Planning Organization of the Philippines

Junice D. Melgar
Executive Director,
Likhaan Center for Women’s Health

Sylvia Estrada Claudio
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights

Elizabeth Angsioco
Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Demeter and Persephone

Like many feminist psychologists, I wonder why Freud was so fascinated by the tale of Oedipus that it became the predominant metaphor of his theory of psycho-sexual development. To make a Greek tragedy short, Oedipus unknowingly took his mother as wife. Upon learning this, Oedipus suffered from such guilt and remorse, that he blinded himself.

There are less male-centric stories from the Greek classics about sexuality and innocence that Freud could/should have considered. At the very least it would have balanced his theories of sexual development and women would not have had to suffer decades of damaging psychotherapeutic advice.

For example there is the myth of Demeter and Persephone. A myth I prefer for reasons I shall explain shortly.

Demeter is the goddess of the earth, agriculture, growing. Her daughter is Persephone. Persephone was kidnapped by the god of the underworld, Hades. It is a classic case of kidnap-rape. Having lost her daughter, Demeter grieves. The earth turns barren and cold.

Soon the other gods must intervene. In the end, despite having eaten of the pomegranate fruit that condemns her to the underworld, Persephone is released by Hades to go home to Demeter for half of each year. Upon her return, Demeter rejoices, sunlight and warmth return, things begin to grow again, the flowers bloom and the world sings. It is a return to joy, where the earth is able to bring forth that which will nourish itself and humankind.

Patriarchal elements aside (personally I would have preferred that Hades be condemned to prison, but he is after all, already in the Underworld), the story has tremendous value as a metaphor for an egalitarian sexuality that would liberate men and women from the pathology of current heterosexist and patriarchal disillusions.

The story can be read in ways closer to female desire, passion, nurturing, joy and power. For one thing, the story of Demeter illustrates what neo-Freudian and feminist icon, Karen Horney states is primordial female power: we give birth, we nurture new life, we see to its growth. It is this that men envy and which is the psychic underpinning of men's need to control and dominate women's sexuality.

It is the full recognition and valuation of this primordial creativity, rather than its denial, that is the first step towards towards men's embrace of child-rearing and other forms of nurturing. It is also a necessary element towards understanding the centrality of sexuality to political theory and emancipatory strategy.

To understand this delight in the fruits of our sexual bodies and to embrace it without fear, is to understand the path to joy without guilt. See Demeter and Persephone's happiness and how the whole world participates in this revelry! It is a joy so marvelously free of the hate that the religious fundamentalists bring to any earthly and embodied pleasure. And here I would agree with Freud. Unless this misogynistic self-loathing is brought to light, we shall never get to the bottom of predatory sexuality. Here I agree with those social psychologists who say that the impulse to fascism (religious or political) is rooted in psychic structures of control and repression that begins with how we construct the sexual self.

The myth of Demeter and Persephone validates what decent men and women feel about their children, even the girl children that many societies try to convince us are less valuable. There is no heterosexual reconstruction of maternal love for the male child in this story—something Freud would do repeatedly in his Oedipus-based readings of female sexuality; something repeatedly underscored by patriarchal readings of the story of Mary and Jesus. There is no degradation of the daughter who has lost her virginity to the unwanted male.

To the rape victims in my clinic, I try to be Demeter. There can be no stigmatization that is attached to their ordeal. I require nothing more of them but to return to the light and to eventually learn again to dance and sing. There is no shame in having survived, no question as to whether they had anything to do with the rape and kidnap. No degradation that accrues to the victim. Only gratefulness that they have survived and the promise of a return to self-nurture and growth.

Some of my counselees are women coming home from overseas. They bring with them tales of abuse and loneliness. But they also tell me that they have eaten the pomegranate seed—the good salaries they appreciated; the child of their employer they had nurtured and learned to love; the intimacies of friendship and romance they found there; the release from the parochial values of small towns; the sophistication that comes from having encountered a different horizon.

Demeter and Persephone are a metaphor for the homecoming of Filipinos to Inang Bayan. It is especially appropriate for those who, for whatever reason, left the country unwillingly or at great cost. We must welcome them all, particularly the the trafficked, the raped, the kidnapped, the abused. We must continue to work for a society that will allow them to stay home for good. Meanwhile, when they return, the earth must sing and dance and welcome them back, with joy.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Apology NOT accepted

(I stand with the new PCSO, Marge Juico and the President)

There is something wrong with the universe. A group of Bishops have sought moral absolution from a bunch of politicians, in a gallery crowded by the Catholic supporters, after some heavy lobbying with the politicians beforehand. Does it surprise anyone that the absolution was given? The CBCP is economically powerful. Church and affiliate Catholic groups are the top stockholders in companies such as the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), Philex Mining Corporation (PX), San Miguel Corporation (SMC), Ayala Corporation (AC), and Phinma Corporation (PHN) according to the latest data submitted to the Philippine Stock Exchange. Apart from its economic power the Church remains a powerful social institution.

The Senate Committee hearing, looking into the unconstitutional use of charity funds in the grant of vehicles to 7 Bishops, was a clinic in sycophancy, hypocrisy and farce.

The day before, the CBCP issued the same apology I hear erring husbands give to their wives. These are the similarities:

Firstly, most erring husbands address the apology to the smallest number of the people hurt by their abuse: the wife. Not the wife and the children, not the wife and the friends and family who love her who have borne her pain and suffering with her. And so the Bishops address themselves only to “the people of God”. Reading the letter it would seem that the more accurate phrase is: “the people of the Catholic God”. But let us say, that they mean also the people of the Allah, the Buddha, Shiva, and so on. They certainly have not addressed it to me and the small but growing band of Filipinos who have no religion.

They owe me an apology for participating in the violation of our Constitution. (And yes, they have. With all due respect to Senator Santiago who I admire for many reasons. But her interpretation is not the only expert one in the area and other constitutional experts including UP's Raul Pangalangan says the Constitution was violated.)

They owe me an apology for their hypocrisy that has affected my life and the lives of countless women and men seeking to exercise our sexual and reproductive rights. How often have they told me that we don't need a reproductive health bill because the more important measure the nation needs to progress is to stop corruption? Define corruption please? Is it corruption only if persons other than yourselves presume on the resources of the nation?

How often have I heard that it is the CBCPs duty to speak out against immorality, and that is why they interfere in the nation's politics? They have intoned against the RH bill like people who have a franchise on moral perfection. It is on this basis that they have run roughshod over all my appeals that they do not impose their single standard of morality on all Filipinos. Noooo. I must obey them whether I like it or not. Or to be accurate, the poor women who cannot afford to buy contraceptives must obey them.

In the meantime, such rigorous discipline is only for us, the spiritual orphans standing at the CBCP gates. Even before the apology the CBCP had stated that it was not up to the them to decide what the 7 would do with the vehicles. They were answerable only to the Pope and themselves.

And, it would seem that our spiritual development as a nation still awaits the first holier-than-thou person to hook us into belief. Even the intellectual Randy David says he welcomes the Church's incursions into politics because the standard of perfection is not a bad standard to strive for. Perfection? With all due respect to David, feminist agnostics like me strive for perfection too. It is a function not left only to religion. But I do not arrogate unto myself moral superiority as a basis for my advocacies. I claim a bit of non-Christian humility in this regard. I only ask that I too be given recognition as a moral actor. Not a moral paragon, just an equal moral agent. It is called secularism, this democracy of the moral.

But the parallels to the erring husband do not end here. Often too, the husband apologizes for the pain and suffering he has caused the wife without exactly telling her what he thinks about the events that caused the pain and the suffering. There is no definitive statement here about whether wrong was done only that there was an “apparent inconsistency in their actions”. And in the light of this apparition of wrong-doing, there is an appeal “to be slow in judgment and to conscientiously seek the whole truth.” Indeed, indeed. We have been hurt but only because we have allowed ourselves to be hurt by an illusion.

“And you know,” says the husband, “remember all those times when you thought I was at my mistress when I proved to you I was actually at my office? See? You are too suspicious and jealous.” Sounds like, “well you know, many times, the vehicles were used for real charity work.”

Nonetheless, like real men they are ready to face the consequences of an infidelity they are not certain they committed. “We assure you that the bishops concerned are ready to accept responsibility for their action and to face the consequences if it would be proven unlawful, anomalous, and unconstitutional.”

And like the erring husband, they assure us that IF there was abuse, it was done without malice. It was done because they had the urgent desire to serve the poor. “Honey, I am sorry I hurt you, it is just that I love you so much.”

As I tell my grieving counselees, it is the rare and lucky woman who walks into a room where the mistress and the husband are in flagrante delicto. I am sorry Philippine nation, I can give you no taped conversations that prove that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo granted those vehicles to Bishops who stopped the Church from condemning her when it was revealed that she talked to an election official seeking assurance that she would win by at least a million votes. If this is the kind of certainty you need, then do get back to the arms of the Bishops as those senators at the public hearing did. But perhaps you should take the Bishop's at their word on this and conscientiously seek the truth.

And so it has been with our poor political system. It has become the subservient chattel of the macho Church. The Senate hearing proves only one thing, we are not a democracy, we are a theocracy.

But oh, how quickly our erring husbands have cycled back to abuse after their remorse. At the very hearing the Bishops ask where the information about “Pajeros” comes from and refuse to accept Marge Juico's apology and explanation. This, while the pro-CBCP people still debating me on twitter have been tweeting links to me about Juico's public corrections long before the hearing.

And now a few Bishops have asked Juico and Pres. Aquino to resign. The President, has has hardly made a public statement on the matter. In the meantime, a friend in media tells me that those Bishops critical of the “donations” are no longer giving interviews. Marge Juico, Aleta Tolentino and the new PCSO are seeking to clean the augean stables of PCSO corruption. Someone, maybe Juico (though she denies it), may have said “Pajero” when she should have said “Montero”.

What is this sense of moral privilege that allows them to think that absolution by a bunch of politicians; that a half-apology; that the return of the vehicles over and above the call of the sycophants that they should keep them; is sufficient cause to pat themselves on the back? The morally righteous have tweeted me after the hearing as if I have been on the losing side of an arm wrestling contest. What is this sanctimoniousness that allows them to be so easy on themselves and so harsh against those who they think have wronged them? This is prophetic?

I have my own sense of prophecy. There can be no forgiveness until there has been a full acceptance of wrong doing. There can be no forgiveness until there is genuine remorse that does not minimize the hurt that has been done nor the number of people who have been hurt. There can no real remorse if the rebound to harsh judgementalism has been so quick.

I condemn the CBCP and the Senators at that hearing for this farce. That was unconscionable. There are righteous people here. They are Marge Juico and her people at the new PCSO.