Tito Sotto is not a woman
by Cha Coronel Datu
Tito Sotto is not a woman.
Going by certain types of definition, he is what would probably pass for a man.
And so this one man has taken it upon himself to decide on the options that could be made available to a certain kind of woman in his country. No, not the kind of woman that his former beauty queen and actress wife Helen Gamboa would belong with. No, not Helen who has had 4 children and who-knows how many number of maids and yayas to help her with their upbringing. Not Helen who at 70 can still easily pass off for someone at least a decade younger. And no, not even the likes of his youngest daughter Ciara, who after having one child with her husband of 5 years, has just recently left him to go back to the loving arms and comfortable life of her parents. Helen and Ciara are the kind of women that have been born and raised knowing that they have options. Plenty of them.
Tito Sotto has instead decided on the options that can be made available to women like Elvie Ubod. Yes, Elvie Ubod, who at 40 years old is pregnant with her 10th child. Elvie does not want any more children. Her husband is a fisherman who makes about US$3 a day(1). Elvie and her husband simply cannot afford to feed and send their children off to school on this income and thus would have to rely on free contraceptives to ward off any more unwanted pregnancies. Between a packet of contraceptives and a bag of rice, guess what they would use their precious few pesos on instead. Talk about having options.
But Tito Sotto does not want women like Elvie Ubod to get free contraceptives from the Philippine government.
And then there is 26 year old Analesa Palanga, who just recently got a free birth control implant, a small plastic rod the size of a matchstick that releases the hormone progestin which in turn suppresses ovulation and can help prevent pregnancies for up to 3 years. Analesa got the implant because she wants her kids to be able to study and graduate, “so that the family they have isn’t like the one I grew up in.”(2) She wants them to have options.
But Tito Sotto does not want women like Analesa Palanga to get any more free birth control implants from the Philippine government.Loren Legarda is a woman.
But she has turned her back on women like Elvie Ubod and Analesa Palanga. Back in 2012 she declared, in explaining her pro-RH Bill vote, “My vote is for the Filipino woman, I am in favour of the RH Bill”. 3 years later she joined hands with the man called Tito and together they cut a knife through what would have been a billion pesos worth of birth control options for many a Filipino woman in the Philippine government’s 2016 budget. No wonder her colleague Pia Cayetano finds it hard to trust her anymore.
Tito Sotto is a man. Loren Legarda is a woman. Some kind of man and woman they both are. In the words of former health secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral, the two are “no better than treacherous snakes , with forked tongues. They lie in wait for every opportunity to thwart what is now a law of the land.” Dr. Cabral is a woman.
Dr. Junice Melgar is also a woman. During the Marcos years, she joined the national liberation struggle and became a health activist providing free medical services to women and their families in poor rural communities. She started out treating women with tuberculosis, malnutrition and other diseases but then realized these women needed more. She co-founded a non-government organization (NGO), Likhaan, that provides direct health care services to women in marginalized communities. Likhaan is an acronym for Linangan ng Kababaihan (translates to: a place for the honing or development of women). Likhaan runs 6 clinics in urban poor communities in Metro Manila. They provide comprehensive and quality primary health care services with emphasis on reproductive health such as pre- and post- obstetric care as well as the provision of information and access to contraception for women in the communities they serve. The local women who have benefitted from their services value the clinics’ work and believe it has completely changed their lives . “They felt more knowledgeable, more empowered and more in charge of their own lives.”(3) Dr. Melgar and Likhaan’s work have allowed them to have more options.
Lina Bacalando is a woman. She came from a low-income family. Her mother was one of 18 siblings, none of which finished high school. She wanted her own kids to do better so she decided on two children for herself when she got married. Likhaan helped her with this decision and she is now a health worker and community organizer for the NGO. She runs family planning workshops for men and women in the Likhaan clinics, helping dispel commonly held myths about birth control among those poorly informed and poorly educated. She was among those who fought for and was elated when the RH Law came into being. It gave her hope “that poor women would have the same access to contraceptives as rich women”(4). At last, they now have an option. Or so she thought.Susan Evangelista and her daughter, Amina Evangelista Swanepoel are women. They started Roots of Health in Palawan in 2009. Susan was a Peace Corps volunteer before she became a teacher at the Ateneo de Manila University. After 30 years with the Ateneo, she moved to Palawan and started teaching at the Palawan State University where she became concerned about the unplanned pregnancies and lack of reproductive health knowledge among her students. Amina has a Master’s Degree in International Public Affairs and Public Health from Columbia University in New York City. After completing her undergraduate studies at Wellesley College, she worked as a translator for Human Rights Watch in the Philippines where she was involved in an AIDs research study that showed her the sorry state of sex education (or lack of it) in the country. Through their NGO, Roots of Health, Susan and Amina have been able to reach out to at least 16,000 girls and women across Palawan, providing sex education, clinical services, community based health support and life skills training. Thanks to Roots of Health’s Reproductive Health Education initiatives in Palawan, many students there now know that “jumping up and down after sex does not prevent pregnancy” and that “a girl can get pregnant even if it’s her first sexual encounter”(5). They also encourage teenagers to delay sex until they are older, they make them realize that unplanned pregnancies could derail their education, prevent them from achieving their goals and dreams by limiting their options.
Elvie and Analesa; both women just want to catch a break. One wants some sort of respite from the already difficult life she lives with ten children in tow. The other dreams of better things to come for her much smaller brood. Tito Sotto and Loren Legarda won’t give them that.
Junice, Lina, Susan and Amina; all these women just want to be able to help more women and give them better access to quality reproductive health care and services. Tito Sotto and Loren Legarda would rather hang them out to dry.
In a press conference last January 13, Edcel Lagman, the principal author of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, along with former senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani, and Dr. Esperanza Cabral called “for the implementation of the RPRH Law to be an electoral issue, saying that “the solution is in the election.”
Here is Dr. Cabral’s message to all women across the country :
“It is time to stand up for your rights. It is time to stop being victims. Your most important weapon is your vote.”
“Vote for those who support your aspirations for a good family life and who act accordingly. At the end of the day, it is true that we get the government we deserve. If we keep voting for jerks and bigots, then we have nobody to blame but ourselves.”(6)
Isn’t Tito Sotto running for senator again this year? Well, it’s high time Filipino women (and men) let him know what they really think of him.
I myself think he’s a jerk. And no, he’s not even half a woman.
- Outcry over budget cuts for contraceptives in the Philippines
- How this clinic has changed a nation’s view of family planning
- #EYD2015: Likhaan Center for Women in Manila’s Slums
- Philippines contraception funding cut will fuel HIV and maternal deaths: Activists
- How do Palawan Teenagers Prevent Pregnancy? By Jumping Up and Down of Course
- Ex-Rep. Lagman: Budget cut for contraceptives ‘tragic’, P157M inadequate