By Iris Gonzales
Monday, March 11, 2013
Catholic opposition has kept a Philippines birth-control law passed in 2012 from reaching the women in shanties, where the birth rate is booming. Our reporter visits a woman who wanted three children and wound up with eight, aged 2 to 21.
Credit: Iris Gonzales
QUEZON CITY, Philippines (WOMENSENEWS)--The smell of a simmering pot of rice wafts in the air in this slapdash shanty of sticks and plywood, here in a slum dwelling in the northern part of Quezon City, Philippines.
Teresita "Tes" Buctot, 46, calls her son Keith to put out the fire. Keith is 12 but looks half his age because of malnutrition. He is carrying his 2-year-old sister Rhea, impossibly heavy for his thin and lanky frame, drooping in his oversized royal blue shirt. He puts her down on the rickety wooden staircase and turns on the battered television before rushing to the cooking area, now hazy with smoke. Rhea sobs uncontrollably and cries out to mama.
But Buctot has her hands full, preparing to wash heaps of laundry scattered on the floor; shirts, blankets, a pink bra, some worn-out men's jeans, too. She calls Jon, another son, 6 years old, to attend to Rhea and wipe her runny nose.
Welcome to mayhem, Buctot's home, here in a shanty community filled with sacks of colored plastic bags recycled from trash.
Buctot, a plump woman with some strands of gray hair, whirls of dark eye bags, chipped-off fuchsia toenail polish and a light purple shirt that reads Princess, is mother to eight children, aged 2 to 21.
She dreamt of having only three children but could not afford to buy birth control pills, costing $10 for a month's supply. Buctot earns between $50 and $100 a month by weeding through dumpsites for plastic bags that she sells to a recycling factory for a measly $0.42 per kilo.
Buctot is among the 4 million slum settlers in the Philippines, a country of 94 million that is predominantly Catholic, the only one in the world where there is no divorce.
There are more children in these communities than anywhere else in the country. In 2008, the total fertility rate for women in the poorest quintile was 5.2 percent, compared with 1.9 percent in the richest quintile, government statistics show.
A new law, the Reproductive Health (RH) Act of 2012, stuck in a legal challenge, is designed to help women such as Buctot afford contraception by providing the poor with universal access to condoms and pills and an adequate supply of these contraceptives.
But conservatives identified with the church have the legislation blocked in court now and with the national elections scheduled in May, the church has launched a campaign against candidates who voted in favor of the RH bill, dubbing them as Team Patay, the Filipino word for death.
Some Catholics went as far as to link the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the passage of the measure. "I'm not in favor of him resigning just because of his health. For sure, he has underlying reasons behind--with issues such as the RH Bill," said Marvin Rubio, a driver, in an article published by Manila Bulletin, a local daily.
The name of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, a charismatic leader, is constantly mentioned in reports on Pope Benedict's possible successor, with suggestions that he's among the top 10 candidates, although there are no official candidates.
But the Gabriela Women's Group Party-list, an organization fighting for women's rights in the country, expressed apprehension over Tagle being elected as the next pope. Luz Ilagan, the group's representative in Congress, said in a statement that as a Catholic living in a world beset by modern problems, "she would like to have a pope who can shepherd the flock in these perilous and challenging times."
The reproductive health measure languished in Congress for 13 years because of the Catholic Church'