2 October 2011
Senate RH debates explore the extreme and the ‘unknown’
The Senate plenary debates on the Reproductive Health (RH) bill have recently unraveled deep-seated religious beliefs and gender biases being harbored by some senators, according to Senator Pia S. Cayetano.
The RH debates are about to enter its sixth week when session resumes on Monday. There’s no immediate conclusion in sight, as critics of the measure try to exhaust arguments on all sorts of issues, such as gender roles and origin of human life that sometimes would border on the extreme, and in the Senate President’s own words, the ‘unknown.’
But Cayetano has reiterated that the RH bill sponsors are up to the challenge and ready for the long haul. “Interpellation and debates are normal processes in the Senate. I have no problems about it, although sometimes the issues being raised [against the measure] are a little bit frustrating,” lamented Cayetano, the principal sponsor of Senate Bill No.2865, the proposed ‘National Reproductive Health Act of 2011.’
Expressing hope for the enlightenment of the male senators who dominate the 23-person chamber, she added: “I still have high hopes for the men in the Senate. I’d like to think that they are enlightened, and I’d like to think that they are listening to the debates and can see through what is important. And I’d like to think that the men that we put into office can see that women’s lives are important because otherwise, it [non-passage of RH bill] redounds simply as discrimination against women.”
At one point while pondering on the question, ‘Where does life begin?’ Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, one of two staunch critics of the RH bill in the Senate, argued that the human sperm and ovum are “alive” and that any activity or device that would obstruct their production inside the human body or prevent their meeting in the natural process of ‘procreation’ would already be equivalent to interfering with the production of life in defiance of the Constitution.
Excerpts from the Senate transcripts (21 September 2011):
Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE): “…We are dealing with an unknown. The question that must be addressed to us is: ‘Where does life begin?’ Because if we read the Constitution, what is protected is life: Life of the mother, life of the unborn. Now, who is this ‘unborn’? Where does it begin? And the Constitution says, ‘unborn from conception.’ And the question that bothers me is…I go further than the point where the sponsor is discussing and that is, is the sperm alive? Is the ovum of the woman alive?
“I have consulted doctors and the answer is yes. The sperm of a man cannot fertilize any egg, not the egg of a whale, or a lizard, or a bird, or a fish, but only the egg of a woman. And neither can the egg of a woman be fertilized by any other sperm except the sperm of a man, so that these two elements must be together to create life. But each one of them has life. There is no question about that because they have mobility: They move; they develop.”
“…The moment the sperm is out, there is a competition among millions, not thousands of spermatozoa gamete but millions, at least. According to the doctors that I have consulted, a cubic centimeter of semen should at least contain 60 million gamete to be able to attain a certain fertilization. And only one of these 60 million can fertilize the ovum.
“So, life begins at those points. Of course, the human life or the human being that will come will start the process of life when the two elements fuse to become one. And from then on begins the growth. Immediately there is a transformation which means that there is life. They cannot detach themselves to the uterus unless they have the life already at that point.
“Well as far as I am concerned, procreation starts from the act of the man and the woman to perform their assigned participation in this process of God.”
Sen. Pia S. Cayetano (PSC): “In other words, his Honor’s position is that when a man produces a sperm and a woman produces an egg – that already is an act that has to be protected?”
JPE: “There is life already.”
PSC: “Because there is life in the sperm and there is life in the egg?”
JPE: “But not yet a human life. Because a woman cannot produce a human being without the sperm of the man and the man cannot produce a human being without the egg of the woman.”
JPE: “But having said that, these two elements, on their own, have life. They have a life term. The ovum of the woman survives, I think, within 48 hours and the sperm of the man in 72 hours.”
PSC: “Yes. So, may I just…”
PSC: “Just to be sure. So, his Honor’s position is that the sperm produced by a man and the egg produced by a woman has life that will become a human life once they are joined.”
JPE: “Once there is a union and at a certain point there was a union – that is the point of fertilization.”
PSC: “Yes. And his Honor’s position is that there can be no interference with the production of the sperm and the production of the egg?”
PSC: “In that case… “
JPE: “If we interfere, we are not allowing the natural process.”
PSC: “So, if a man and a woman are sleeping together as husband and wife and a man avails of the withdrawal method and ejaculates outside the vagina of a woman, that is ‘interference’ in the same way a condom would be, because the man and the woman decided not to allow the egg and the sperm to meet, is that his Honor’s position?”
JPE: “Well, if the man wants to satisfy himself by manipulating himself alone, if it is only for pleasure, that is the same thing like using a condom.” [Laughter in the gallery]
PSC: “No, I am sorry, excuse me. I did not hear his Honor’s response because of the laughter in the gallery…”
JPE: “Well, what I am saying is this: That if a man wants to only enjoy himself and that is also true in the case of a woman, the man can manipulate himself for mere sexual pleasure, that is no difference in using a condom.”
PSC: “Yes. But my question to his Honor is that: Does his Honor equate now the ejaculation of a man outside of his partner’s vagina to interfering with the production of life?”
PSC: “It is?” [With tone of disbelief]
JPE: “Yes. That is my belief. That is a matter of faith to me.” [Note: Discussion would then shift to other topics.]
After this exchange, when Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago was later recognized to take the floor and was acknowledged by the presiding officer as visiting The Hague the following week to start her campaign as judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the senator known for her humor and wit, was not able to hold back her own take on Sen. Enrile’s proposition.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago (MDS): “I am still trying to determine whether the sperms and the eggs in The Hague in the Netherlands are alive or not, because if not, I do not want to go there!” [Laughter in the gallery.]
When the Senate debates shifted to the issue of gender roles and discrimination in society as among the main justifications for the passage of the RH bill, another interesting exchange took place between Senators Cayetano and Enrile.
A women’s rights advocate, Cayetano argued that the denial of reproductive health services by the government to its people is a form of discrimination against women, who have special needs for RH by virtue of their being women. On the other hand, Enrile, espousing traditional views, questioned whether gender discrimination really exists in Philippine society, even as he argued that it is not by law, but the ‘nature of genders,’ which assigns natural roles to men and women in various aspects of society.
Excerpts from the Senate transcripts (28 September 2011):
JPE (Selected quotes on his views on gender roles):
“In the coconut farm areas, I have yet to see a woman climbing a coconut tree to gather coconuts.”
“If we go to the case of our social structure, in the case of farmers, in the rural areas, the human beings plowing in the field – to plant rice, to plant corn, or to plant crops – are all men. Of course the women, they help in harvesting sometimes. But most of the time these are the functions of the farmers.”
“In the case of fishing, the fishermen are mostly men. In the case of lumbering, this is all the function of men…to earn a living for their families.”
“In the case of workers, most of our workers in the country are men, who feed their families, because that’s the nature of the genders: The women are supposed to stay at home and tend to the problems of the home and the children, and the men go out, risk their lives in order to earn a living. So one compensates the other.”
PSC (Selected quotes on her views on gender roles):
“His Honor’s [Enrile’s] view embodies the position that men have held for decades or probably for centuries: That the men’s work is the work that matters…Precisely why His Honor says men go out and risk their lives and women stay home and take care of the children.”
“Women’s work is invisible work…If you only consider the men’s work as that which provides for the family, then definitely, the woman is an invisible worker kasi wala nga sya sa radar eh.”
JPE (Selected quotes on his view on maternal deaths):
“I think I can venture to say that more men die going out to see or into the fields to earn a living than women dying because of giving birth to a child.”
“Every year we know of men who go out to sea, who go out to their farms and get bitten by snake. These are not counted by statistics.”
“What surprises me, in the rural areas, without the assistance of doctors, women give birth, hardly anyone would die. I do not know why they die in hospitals.”
“I am talking about the experience in my barangay where I grew up. I know everybody in that big barangay and during my whole time living in that barangay, I have not known a single woman who has died while giving birth. And yet this is the poorest barangay. I mentioned this again this morning, in the budget [deliberations] of the DSWD. Until now it is still the poorest barangay in the country.”
PSC (Selected quotes on maternal deaths):
“[Between] the chances of a man who is a seafarer, and a woman who is giving birth dying at home without the support of a professional…the chances of her of having complications that would require life intervention would probably be greater than her husband succumbing at sea…The women who die will not have their faces flashed [in the news] because oftentimes, this [story] would not be [considered] newsworthy…that women lose their lives in their own homes giving birth. It is not even as newsworthy as a fisherman who gets lost at sea.”
“Unfortunately other barangays are not as lucky as His Honor’s (Enrile’s) barangay. Women are dying and that is a fact.” #
PHOTO: How will senators vote on the RH bill? If the Senate ever gets to the point of voting at all, that is.