On Sunday, February 27 2010, the Filipino Freethinkers were witness to more than a thousand women and their supporters marching up to the CBCP to let their grievances with the bishops be heard. Together, we marched in memory of the 11 women who die daily from lack of reproductive health services in the Philippines, services the bishops deny with their opposition to the Reproductive Health bill. In front of the gates of the CBCP, a stirring open letter was read and a die-in was staged to remind the bishops of the human cost of their opposition.
27 February 2011
To the honorable bishops of CBCP,
Peace. We came to your office not to stir up trouble, nor to plead with you. We’re just here to give you a simple message.
Eleven women die every day from pregnancy and childbirth, a continuing tragedy that can be ended by the RH bill you are blocking.
We know that your opposition is based on a papal encyclical. We do not expect that you can change this encyclical.
We also do not expect you to stop speaking about social issues, even if many people do not agree with you.
But we do expect you to care as fellow Filipinos who preach about love, especially love for the poor. Despite your elevated social status, we expect you to respect the rights of others who do not agree with you. We expect that although all of you are men, you have learned affection and empathy from your mothers, your sisters and women friends.
Together with allies and friends, we are more than a thousand women, mostly from the crowded and tangled alleys of Metro Manila. If we could get you to live in our shanty homes; share with you the paltry meals that we have every day; have you witness the upright lives of neighbors who use contraceptives; let you listen to children longing for the mothers they lost to maternal complications—we would do so, to open your minds about our need for RH. But these are impossible wishes, so we have come to you.
It pains us to hear you downplay the deaths of mothers. You and your allies have dismissively said that many more die from other illnesses; that pregnancy is not a disease; that the government has more important things to fund; that the possible fusion of sperm and eggs is more important than a woman’s life.
How many more must die before you are touched?
There is a saying that perhaps you believe in as well: Whoever saves a single life, saves the world entire. Allow us to tell you the true story of a mother whose life could have been saved by programs in the RH bill.
Olivia was a quiet woman who kept to herself, and lived in the poor community of Barangay Tonsuya, Letre, Malabon. She was only eighteen when she got married, and after just a few years had nine children. Because she had no money, she delivered her tenth child at home, helped by a traditional birth attendant. Her youngest was delivered alive; but Olivia bled profusely afterwards.
Abigail, her thirteen-year old eldest child, was feeding her then. In between sobs, Abigail said that Olivia stopped eating, spilled her drink, and shortly bade her farewell with the words: “Abigail, take care of all your siblings.”
Olivia died on May 2, 2009. She was only 37 years old. After her death, Abigail and her two other siblings dropped out of school. The three youngest children, including the baby, are due to be given up for adoption.
How many stories of Olivias must we tell you before you believe? How many more Olivias need to die before you sympathize?
We bring eleven candles to symbolize the eleven women who have died or will die today. By lighting each candle, we remember and honor the life each woman had, which in unique ways, provided love and light to her children, to her partner, to her friends, to her siblings, to her parents, to her community, to her factory, and most probably, even to her church.
By letting each of the eleven candles stand in front of your office, we commit to memory the painful words you used to trivialize the deaths of mothers. We commit to memory the extreme actions that you took against the RH bill, and the reckless delay of a law that could have saved a majority of these mothers.
More than four thousand women die every year from maternal complications, deaths that could be prevented by RH education and services. The thousand or so of us who are here today will lie down in the street to show you a fraction of the scale of this tragedy: the lives lost, the children left behind, the hopes and relationships cut short, the contributions to society that have ceased.
We will leave your office in the same peaceful manner that we came. We only leave behind the eleven candles with their dying flames. May the memories of the eleven women who died today touch your hearts and minds.