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.

Interview by Shira Levine

A UNFPA-led dialogue of young parliamentarians convened in Krabi, Thailand in late 2011 to discuss the review process for the International Conference on Population and Development’s Programme of Action. Together they shared perspectives on what works and what doesn’t in terms of improving the lives of their constituents. With the twenty-year anniversary of the ICPD approaching, ICPD Beyond 2014 chatted with Raymond (Mong) Palatino, a 31-year-old member of the Philippines Parliament, representing the Kabataan Party, about how ICPD issues affected his life as he was growing up in Manila and how they continue to affect his country.

What does the Philippines today look like compared with the Philippines of 17 years ago, when the ICPD was held in Cairo?

In the past two decades, we’ve witnessed the continuing existence of poverty. You can see the deterioration of the quality of life in the slums. This is an ironic thing to witness because Manila is the political and economic capital of the Philippines. But it is a city where you can witness extreme inequality in the communities. Here you can easily witness government neglect, malnutrition and poverty. These cases of poverty are exacerbated by corruption of the government. This has forced some young people to engage in politics and others turn their backs on it. We’re still witnessing a migration of young Filipinos to other countries. The inadequate social services have affected the quality of life in communities and affected the future of young people.

What does ICPD and the Programme of Action mean to you?

The Programme of Action is a very relevant document that many young people should be aware of, especially because of the importance of reproductive health for human beings in the world. Unfortunately, the ICPD perspective has not clearly spread its message in our communities. [There is opposition of] reproductive health as a means to advance the specific needs of people, especially of young women and youth in general. [There is] campaigning against people who support reproductive legislation. This prevents us from effectively spreading and implementing the ICPD programme. However, since we are a democratic society we are able to maximize the media and work in the grassroots level through local government to implement the ICPD program. We need a national legislation policy, though. Right now we have proposed a reproductive health bill in Congress.

What can you realistically achieve in regard to reproductive health?

Our strategy is for our local government to involve local persons, NGOs and civil society. We ask school officials to include reproductive health in their curriculum. We ask the media to include our campaigns in their coverage. We ask young people to spread reproductive health information to the media through old and new media.

What does the UNFPA phrase ”Because everyone counts” mean to you?

Whether you are young or old whether you are poor or rich, whatever your sexual orientation, your rights and well-being must be protected. To be a productive citizen and human being in this world, you must be able to fulfill your wants and needs. Your rights must be respected by everybody. Communities and society have the obligation to protect everybody. We must create conditions so that the individual will be able to be productive part of society.

Informational education and the role of schools in propagating and educating the young people is an important part of the process for us. We have been campaigning for the inclusion of reproductive health as a school subject. We’ve had to change the name of sex education several times in trying to do this. We tried reproductive health and then life skills education. Right now we are trying “teen wellness program.”

How will you continue moving forward to achieve a better quality of life for all Filipinos?

It is important to keeping a dialogue going with all groups involved. We especially keep a dialogue with the Catholic Church. We have to keep building bridges so these agendas become mainstream. We look to create the most meaningful dialogues we can, and the government needs to lead in the dialogue with civil society. We need all those lobby groups who have questions, and we should be able to clarify and correct misconceptions. Campaigns should be intensified and media maximized. We need to expand our constituency-building, and Parliament should be influenced by both young and old members.

What do you hope to attain as a Parliament member?

When I was a teenager, I was just a young Filipino unaware of his reproductive health, unaware of my sexual health. I want to secure reproductive health programming for my children. As a father of two, I am aware of and willing to do everything so my two children grow up understanding that reproductive rights are human rights. Women have been sacrificing a lot to deliver life in this world. No woman should die giving life on this planet. It is not a crime or morally wrong to advocate reproductive health because it is simple, it means saving more lives.

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