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Valuing Technical and Experiential Knowledge in Advocacy

Updated: Jul 27, 2023


Pagdaop ng Teknikal na Usapan at Karanasan (Interface of Discourse and Practice on SRHR)

On May 29-30, 2023, Likhaan Center for Women’s Health Inc. organized the National Conference on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights on the theme of “Pagdaop ng Teknikal na Usapan at Karanasan (Interface of Discourse and Practice)” at Novotel, Araneta City. The conference was attended, on-site and online by 177 participants from 99 organizations nationwide including healthcare providers, researchers, educators, LGU officials, NGO leaders, and community activists.

Dr. Esperanza Cabral, Chairperson of National Implementation Team and Former DOH Secretary delivered her welcome remarks that set the tone for the conference: “Knowledge is Power”. She highlighted the need for evidence-based information and interpretation and cautioned against fallacious data-gathering, such as “cherry picking.” As an example, she cited a press release by a national government agency in 2022 stating that the Philippines projected the biggest population growth rate (PGR) decline in 75 years between 2020 and 2021. This was allegedly because Filipinos remained “prudent” during the pandemic, delaying childbearing and continuing to avail of family planning services and commodities.

Another factor later cited was “unusual fertility behavior.” She decried that other factors such as under-registration of births and the significant no. of deaths during the pandemic were not considered by the government explanation. She likened population growth rate projections as “mere predictions, as in fortune telling from a deck of cards or from a crystal ball.”

Dr. Esperanza Cabral delivered her welcome remarks via Zoom.

She advised participants to base advocacy efforts on the latest and most accurate data available, including robust data on communities’ vast service experiences.

Following Dr. Cabral, Senator Risa Hontiveros of the 19th Congress emphasized the significance of discussions on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) for Filipno women’s health and wellbeing. This is contrary to some perception that SRHR is a “niche” subject.

“Malaki ang papel ng SRHR sa buhay ng mga Filipina, nang bawat babae and yet we do not talk about it nearly enough. Women’s health must be in every conversation about health, equality, and every conversation about our very basic and fundamental rights.”

She further asserted that unless women's needs are prioritized, the attainment of genuine universal healthcare will remain elusive. She noted that even though ten years had passed since the RH Law was enacted, there remains pervasive social stigma that impedes the full realization and implementation of this important legislation.

Session 1: Universal Health Care and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

Dr. Mario Festin, Professor, UP College of Medicine, Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Clinical Epidemiology, presented a comprehensive beginner's course on Universal Health Care Coverage and the WHO’s recommendations on how Sexual and Reproductive Health fitted into whole scheme. He also emphasized the need to prioritize SRH in Primary Health Care to optimize the health of women and their families.

Jun Melgar from Likhaan pointed out the Gender Inequality inherent in the Philippines’ application of Universal Health Coverage given the proportion of informal workers who may consist half of all workers. Majority of these are women. He cited an ILO statement in 2021:

“Workers in the informal economy tend to be excluded from both types of coverage – those for workers in formal employment and those for the poor. This lack of protection has been described as the “missing middle”.

Informal workers are often excluded because they are poor, but not too poor, and they are in informal work, not in formal work with its long-established social protection system such as SSS, GSIS, PhilHealth. Informal workers include: vendors, service staff of micro-enterprises, domestic service workers (eg labandera), small farmers, fisherfolk, pedicab drivers, etc.

UHC and SRHR Session Panelists and Chair during Q&A from left to right: Dr. Darleen Estuart, Dr. Mario Festin, and Mr. Alfredo Melgar.

Session 2. Adolescent Sexuality and Access to Contraception

Dr. Angela Aguilar, a professor at the UP College of Medicine and Philippine General Hospital, explained that adolescents' sexual behavior is critical to their health. She emphasized that sexual literacy, gender-equity-enabling norms, respect for their human rights and consent, and their abilities for comprehension and critical reflection abilities are essential for a positive sexuality and sexual health-oriented approach.

Mr. Nandy Senoc, Executive Director of Family Planning Organization of the Philippines explained that Youth Volunteers are in the front lines of FPOP service delivery. He also mentioned that sexual pleasure reduces the normalization of interpersonal violence and protects people's sexual rights.

He emphasized that social media has both positive and negative effects on teen pregnancy rates, i.e. that it can be a useful tool for promoting health-seeking behavior and safe sex messaging, but that it can also provide easy access to sexually explicit content, which can influence adolescents' curiosity and behavior.

Session 3: Cervical Cancer Comprehensive Prevention Strategies

Cervical Cancer Comprehensive Prevention Strategies during Q&A from left to right: Dr. Junice Demeterio-Melgar and Dr. Ourlad Alzeus Tantengco

Dr. Ourlad Alzeus Tantengco, Adjunct Professor, Department of Physiology, College of Medicine, UP-Manila emphasized that:

"Cervical cancer is the second most common among women in the Philippines and it is preventable, curable, and can be eliminated."

He discussed the 90-70-90 cervical elimination strategy of the WHO, which means: 90% Prevention through vaccination, 70% Screening and Treatment of precancerous lesions, and 90% Timely treatment and Palliative care of Invasive Cervical Cancer. For the ambitious target , he emphasized the need for urgent actions including securing adequate and cost-effective supplies of HPV vaccines, innovative approaches to enhance vaccine delivery efficiency, the use of molecular assays for quick and accessible screening, use of thermal and cryotherapy coupled with enhanced communication and social mobilization.

Dr. Junice Demeterio-Melgar, Executive Director of Likhaan, shared the previous initiative on cervical cancer prevention that Likhaan carried out in Tondo in partnership with Medicins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Manila City Health Office. The project employed the “screen-and-treat approach,” i.e. using Visual Inspection with Acetic acid (VIA) to identify suspected precancerous lesions in the cervix and applying cryotherapy on these. Another arm involved the 2-dose vaccination of girls aged 9-13 years old with bivalent HPV vaccine. 6,276 women were screened, with 323 or 5% turning positive, 89% of whom were treated with cryotherapy and 7% were referred to PGH for cancer treatment. The project also vaccinated 2,266 young girls.

Session 4: Legal and Human Rights Perspectives on the Criminalization of Abortion in the Philippines

Legal and Human Rights Perspectives on the Criminalization of Abortion in the Philippines Session Panelists and Chair during Q&A from left to right: Dr. Mary Racelis,, Atty. Glenda Litong, and Ms. Kristine Chan

Atty. Glenda Litong, Law Reform Specialist at UP Law Center's Institute of Human Rights opened her presentation with the WHO reports on 73 million induced abortions worldwide, 45% of which were unsafe. For her the data underscored the need to make universal reproductive health care accessible to all women, including safe abortion. She remarked that the criminalization of abortion constituted grave discrimination against women. She also said that current Philippine laws require government to provide humane and non-discriminatory post-abortion counseling and treatment and other services for pregnancy-related conditions.

Kristine Chan, a member of the Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network (PINSAN) Steering Committee, shared firsthand stories and testimonies of women who had undergone abortions for various reasons, including abusive relationships, medical issues, and financial constraints. She said that as women face inadequate post-abortion care which leads to maternal mortality and complications, this is an opportune moment to review and revise policies towards decriminalizing abortion in the Philippines.

Session 5: Legal and Human Rights Perspectives on Divorce in the Philippines

Legal and Human Rights Perspectives on Divorce in the Philippines Panelists and Chair during Q&A from left to right: Atty. Virginia Suarez ,Cong. Edcel Lagman, and Ms. Elizabeth Angsioco.

Cong. Edcel Lagman, representive of the 1st district of Albay, a tenacious human rights lawyer, and considered the chief architect of the Reproductive Health Law explained that he was championing the divorce bill because it was consistent with human rights. His bill "An Act Reinstituting Absolute Divorce as an alternative mode for the Dissolution of Marriage" would grant divorce on selected grounds:

“I would like to reiterate that absolute divorce in the Philippines is not for everybody. The vast majority of marriages of Filipinos are harmonious and lasting. Absolute divorce is for exceptional cases of spouses, particularly of wives, who are victims of abuse, infidelity and desertion. They need a second chance for marital bliss or principally liberation from haunting torments of a long dead marriage.”

Ms. Elizabeth Angsioco, Chair of Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines narrated the historical observance and practice of divorce in the Philippines. She stressed that the absence of a divorce law that is grounded on rights keeps women away from fully attaining their human rights. These rights include, among others, protection from abuse and violence, access to livelihood and employment opportunities, independence in decision-making, and the pursuit of individual growth and happiness.

Session 6: SOGIE and the SRHR of LGBTQIA+

SOGIE and the SRHR of LGBTQIA+ Panelists and Chair during Q&A from left to right: Dr. Michael Tan, Ging Cristobal, Atty. Twyla Rubin, Naomi Fontanos, and Ferdinand Buenviaje.

Dr. Michael Tan, respected columnist, former chancellor of University of the Philippines in Diliman and current President of Guang Ming College, opened this most awaited session with his own personal "Journeys and Itineraries." He referred to the expanding LGBTQIA++ appellations and flags as.

“This is just to show that something is happening here, and it is a good thing in many ways because it just talking about diversity. The world is waking up to great sexual diversities.”

He said that “LGBTQIA+” should be viewed as a discussion tool for inclusivity and diversity in the country’s vast potential for romantic discussions. He said LGBTQIA+ issues connect with issues of gender roles and statuses and people’s ability (or inability) to choose their roles and statuses. Therefore LGBTQIA+ correlates with their general well-being and sexual and reproductive health.

Ging Cristobal, Project Manager of OutRight Action International for Asia and the Pacific shared that lesbians’ health-seeking behavior was hindered by factors such as a fatalistic outlook, fear of disclosure, and an unexplored and unaddressed healthcare system. Ferdinand Buenviaje, the Acting Executive Director of The Library Foundation (TLF)-Share Collective, shares that founding a family holds significant value for this population. Meanwhile, Naomi Fontanos, Executive Director of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas discussed that certain healthcare providers encounter difficulties in comprehending sexual orientations due to the Gender Binary construct, which consequently leads to discriminatory practices. Additionally, she asserts that the societal perception of the matter takes a toll on the LGBTQIA++ community's mental health.

Dr. Sylvia Estrada-Claudio, the Chair of the Board of Likhaan and Professor Emeritus at UP Diliman closed the 2-day conference by highlighting the importance of society's moral compass and the need to dedicate ourselves and others to interrogate our beliefs and advocacies on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. She highlighted intersectionality in particular:

“Intersectionality is not just finding where you happen to be a victim, it is also a call to see your privilege, to work against your own personal privilege kasi we are victims in many ways, but we are also all privileged in many ways. Its call is not just to recognize your victimhood, it is to recognize the victimhood of the person beside you and a call of solidarity to give up your own privilege for the sake of other people.”

This, she said, is the “moral recognition of the different other.”

Dr. Sylvia Estrada-Claudio expressed a contagious smile while delivering her closing remarks.

She added that in today's society, where societal norms often dictate our actions and beliefs, there are individuals who choose to maintain a positive outlook. She believes that it is important for individuals to carve their own paths towards happiness and fulfillment, rather than conforming to societal norms and expectations. She said we envision a world where individuals define their own happiness and pleasure, rather than simply pursuing what is expected of us.

You can watch the full conference video on our YouTube channel:

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