"The success of the RH bill advocacy can also be claimed by the thousands of ordinary women who actively took part in it."
The book “The RH Bill Story: Contentions and Compromises” by Dr. Marilen Danguilan was recently launched. As expected it became a reunion of sorts of those who were involved in the more-than-a-decade-long relentless advocacy for the passage of the bill.
Some authors of the bill were there, led by the father of the law himself, Rep. Edcel Lagman. Also present was former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, the head of the Commission on Population Dr. Jeepy Perez, and a host of leaders and members of pro-RH civil society organizations.
The book successfully chronicles the protracted, complex, and difficult advocacy that significantly helped in the passage of the RH bill into law. It captures the many years of negotiations and coordination between and among stakeholders, particularly the authors of the bill and the advocates. It also shows most of the “pressure tactics” employed by both the anti-RH groups led by anti-choice legislators and the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy, and the pro-RH composed of the bill’s authors, CSOs, and some government officials from the Executive Department. The book, undoubtedly, can serve as a rich resource by future advocates and for other advocacies.
In writing this piece, I wish to highlight some matters that I think are important, but missing in the book. My organization, the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines, was one of the CSOs that had been actively involved from the start to the enactment of the bill into law. The DSWP served as the secretariat of the Reproductive Health Advocacy Network (RHAN, the leading RH network then) during some of the busiest and most contentious years of the advocacy. As such, my group served as the focal point of activities and, therefore, has full knowledge of advocacy tactics and strategies conducted within the period.
Moreover, the DSWP has always been in the RHAN Steering Committee, and a major group in the Purple Ribbon for RH movement. Thus, the organization has consistently been in the thick of things in relation with the RH bill advocacy, and knows parts of the RH bill herstory that are also good to share with others.
The story is long and complex, and involved many players. Thus, it is hard for one book to tell all the exciting stuff. I would like to add to the story from the point of view of my organization and as we experienced the advocacy.
It is a fact that many other organizations outside of Metro Manila were involved in this struggle, particularly community women’s organizations. It is not an overstatement when I say that they played an important role in the success of the RH Bill advocacy because they made it a NATIONAL advocacy, and deserve to also be recognized. These groups’ participation proved that support for the bill was truly nationwide.
As a national women’s agenda, there were many activities conducted in different parts of the country.
In the beginning of the advocacy, as part of the education campaign on the bill, a series of RH Bill forums was conducted by the DSWP. These happened in Metro Manila (participated in by community women from Quezon City, Manila, and Rizal); San Pablo City (attended by women leaders from Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon); Iloilo City (participated in by women leaders from Iloilo City, Iloilo Province, Negros Occidental, Guimaras, and Antique); Cagayan de Oro City (with participants from CDO, Misamis Oriental, Marawi City, and Bukidnon); and Davao City (participated by women from Davao City, Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Agusan del Sur, and Agusan del Norte).
These activities helped lay the foundation for the sustained local community organizations’ support for the bill that manifested itself during the many years of advocacy.
Moreover, the Purple Ribbon for RH Movement, the bigger network of pro-RH groups and personalities convened by former Secretary Espie Cabral, was launched in various places
The launching happened in Tondo, Manila; Payatas, Quezon City; San Pablo City; the fifth district of Pangasinan; Baguio City; and Iloilo City. All the launches were attended by hundreds of pro-RH advocates. The events in Manila, Quezon City, San Pablo City, and Iloilo City were coordinated and led by the DSWP and most of those who attended were members of local chapters.
The Pangasinan launch was led by former Representative of Pangasinan’s Fifth District Kimi Cojuangco, a co-author of the RH bill. It was a big fiesta. We did a Purple Ribbon for RH motorcade, and RH Forums in at least three towns of the district. I am not joking when I say that thousands attended the activities in Pangasinan.
The Baguio launch was spearheaded by the Philippine Legislators Committee for Population and Development.
Beyond the big events, community women were moving on their own. They held discussions and dialogues with their district representatives. Using the political mapping of members of the House of Representatives done by PLCPD, (this is a document that contains how each of the representatives stand on the bill), the DSWP sought the assistance of its local chapters in convincing their Representatives to support the RH bill which was then undergoing interpellation at the HOR. Community women leaders responded by visiting and holding dialogues with their Representatives. The women spoke of the RH situation in their communities, the problems they face, and explained their reasons for fully supporting the passage of the RH bill into law. They asked their reps to truly represent them when the bill is put to the vote.
These dialogues happened in Caloocan City, Quezon City, Quezon, Laguna, Bataan, Camarines Sur, Negros Occidental, Iloilo City, Iloilo Province, Bukidnon, and Cagayan de Oro City.
We also did a nationally coordinated Mothers’ Day celebrations. During the height of the congressional and public debates on the RH bill, the DSWP, Likhaan, and PLCPD led the initiative to do a nationally-coordinated Mothers’ Day celebrations highlighting the issue of maternal mortality which was the battlecry of RH advocates. The activity happened in Quezon City (led by Likhaan), San Pablo City and Iloilo City (led by DSWP), Baguio City (led by PLCPD), and Davao City.
Each of the events was attended by hundreds of women and other pro-RH allies. They all involved marches where participants carried pictures actual of women who died due to childbirth-related complications. The events were highlighted by stories of these women and candle lighting of giant numbers representing the total number of women dying due to maternal complications on a yearly basis.
No doubt, the success of the RH bill advocacy can also be claimed by the thousands of ordinary women who actively took part in it.
More next week.
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