Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Speech delivered on December 10 during the Regional Consultation on “Family Planning in Asia and the Pacific – Dealing with Challenges” from 8th to 10th December, 2010 at Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel and Towers Bangkok, Thailand organized by the UNFPA in collaboration with ICOMP (International Council of Management of Population Programmes)

Your honors, ladies and gentlemen, a pleasant morning to all.

Looking around, there seems to be three groups of young people in this conference. First, we have young people who are young today. Then we have those who were young in the 1994 ICPD in Cairo. And finally, we have the young BC – or before computers.

I speak in behalf of young parliamentarians who gathered here in Bangkok just about two weeks ago. Around 40 participants from a dozen countries in the Asia-Pacific region attended the meeting and discussed many of the issues which we have been tackling in the past two days. The meeting was significant for three reasons: 1) It was a youth conference where majority of the participants were actually young; 2) We decided not to prolong the debate on the definition of youth; and 3) We, the participants, affirmed our commitment to promote, champion and defend Reproductive Health concerns.

My contribution to this conference is to emphasize the special role that young parliamentarians can perform as we seek more investments in Family Planning. We have emerging leaders who can effectively articulate RH issues inside government. Their young voices, hopefully, will help convince our aging bureaucrats about the need to sustain support for FP and other RH services.

Thanks to your decades-long advocacy work, many of our young people are now better educated on RH issues. RH is no longer a jargon, nor an esoteric academic term but something that is commonly understood as essential to a healthy living. Our young leaders belong to this generation. They will be among the first to appreciate and understand the value of integrating FP and RH issues in government programs. Once they become RH champions, we can expect them to be our crusaders inside government demanding more funds for FP services, crafting new policies on Adolescent Youth Sexual Reproductive Health, and advancing RH rights in public institutions.

But the most important task that young parliamentarians can fulfill is to mobilize their fellow young people in demanding more FP and RH services from the state. Young parliamentarians can speak inside parliament but they can also go around the country energizing the discussions on RH and ARH. They have the opportunity to inspire other young people to assert their RH rights. They can establish youth networks in the grassroots which we can tap to strengthen our RH coalition. In short, aside from being able to influence their senior colleagues inside parliament, young parliamentarians can be our willing partners to help win more support from the public.

During the meeting of young parliamentarians in the region, one issue that we discussed was about the necessity of maximizing new technologies to reach out a broader audience, and even to deliver a few RH services like RH web education and counseling.

When young people talk about networks today, they are referring to social networks in the internet. They use the internet to check their e-mails, read the news, play games, shop online, and meet new friends. Facebook, which was created to allow us to spy on our ex-lovers, has become a virtual playhouse, schoolhouse, and entertainment hub for many young people. We should have a cyber education program.

It is not enough to establish an online presence. I’m confident that all our groups have websites or social network pages but we should improve our online advocacy. Are we engaging our internet audience? Are we promoting dialogue with the digital young people? Are we gathering feedback from our online clients? We should use the internet to generate conversations with the young to know what they really feel and think.

Online and offline, our youth demand that we foster dialogue between RH stakeholders. They want to be treated as responsible and thinking partners in the RH campaign, and not vulnerable victims that need assistance all the time.

I’ll end my speech with a brief reference to our local RH campaign in the Philippines and a comment about our conference today.

Sex education is a key component of AYSRH program. Sex education was first introduced in Philippine schools in 1972 as part of the government’s population education program. But when the education department tried to update the program module in 2006, the powerful Catholic Church opposed it. They don’t want sex in schools. To appease the church, we renamed the program ‘reproductive health education’ but the church insists it’s still sex. Today, the program’s name is ‘teen wellness program’ but the church says no, it’s still sex. Apparently, the church sees sex everywhere. Inspired by the Harry Potter book, some educators working in Catholic schools describe sex education as the program which cannot be named. I told you this story so that you will be able to understand some of the challenges we are facing as we in the Philippine Congress are preparing to pass the RH law, hopefully by next year.

My last point is to thank the organizers for the invitation and for giving me the chance to meet our RH warriors in the region. Listening to the presentations in the past two days is somewhat a little depressing because it seems the problem of maternal mortality, infant mortality, unwanted pregnancy remain a common problem in all countries. Frustrating because they are both unnecessary and preventable. However, I am encouraged by the efforts of everyone in this room who have been fighting for RH rights for many years. I am inspired by the collective desire to make RH a mainstream component of governance. Little by little we are improving the welfare of women, children, and the poor. Little by little, we are making this planet a better place to live.

Today, December 10, is International Human Rights Day. I am happy that I’m spending this symbolic occasion with a special breed of committed individuals who continue to champion the human rights of women, children, and the poor despite the numerous challenges like funding constraints, apathy of some governments, and the risks involved in this struggle. Happy Human Rights Day to all!

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