I had a couple of posts (Part 1 and Part 2) where I give reasons why I oppose the passage of the RH Bill. Note the word passage. I do not have any idea about the legal ramifications or its compatibility with the Constitution. The point is that we are ill-equipped to use the law and the state to regulate private matters such as contraceptive choice, religious beliefs, sexual preferences and quirks, decisions to abort, decisions to marry or divorce. We are dealing with human behavior that is not only difficult to predict but also difficult to observe at times. It is also extremely difficult to put ourselves in the other’s shoes when it comes to these kinds of private matters. It would be sheer arrogance for us to think that we could substitute our judgment for theirs.
Therefore, I tried not to use legal arguments because I am ignorant with respect to these matters. What I have done in the past two posts is to highlight economic and political aspects. Still, I see a lot of Facebook posts and images from both sides which is tiring already. Both sides have used emotion, inappropriate imagery, inappropriate citations and excessive rhetoric. Some members of both sides have not matured with respect to the debate.
Here are some suggestions that hopefully will be at the back of your mind when you think more about the RH Bill (of course, you should read it too before forming an opinion–whatever happened to the sex ed debate?):
- (NSFW) How about some alternative methods of sexual release? If it is a matter of just getting sex and avoiding pregnancy and STDs, contraception can be useful. But vaginal intercourse need not be the only recourse. Oral sex, mutual masturbation, solo masturbation or any other sexual play all come to mind. How about tantric sex? If it is just about relief (or what they would call “pamparaos”), then these alternatives may be helpful if done carefully.
- Money spent on financing the implementation of the bill could be money spent on other efforts. The recent floods show that Manila is still vulnerable to floods and heavy rains. The floods have killed people, destroyed property and disrupted commerce and other activities. Should we then use the money for the bill to solve a curiously unsolved (and much crucial) problem? The Filipino way of solving floods is to increase the level of the pavement in areas where political presence would be more noticed. The better alternative is to find a way to solve the clogging problem first (people don’t see this change and would involve city-to-city coordination so politicians will shy away from this). When you increase the height of the pavement, there would be lesser chance of flooding in one part but where will the flood go? To other lower areas and the cycle (complain-increase height of pavement-flood moves somehwere else-complain-etc.) repeats itself. Here is where our engineers (funded not by government but by a development grant) could be put to good use!
- On the subject of using images: There is this image about 11 Filipinas dying everyday from complications in childbirth. Surely these deaths could be prevented by improving hospital conditions. Why focus on this image to get the RH Bill passed? The conversation flowing from this image should be addressing why these Filipinas die from complications rather than whether artificial contraception could have prevented those deaths. Did they die because of poor hospital conditions? Did they die because of medical malpractice? These deaths are heart-breaking but using this image to advance the idea that contraception could prevent this (with accompanying righteous indignation) is just out of line and does not address or even help us understand why this problem occurs.
- Another image used in the debates to illustrate the need for intervention is the image of a poor family living in a squatters’ area with man doing much less than a coaster and with woman trying to find ways to feed her N children, where N is “large”. Now this “large” N is not going to infinity but depends on some threshold in the mind of the observer. Does it help to have this image? If the parents are actually working, then having more children will be more costly. This is what is happening not only in the upper class but in the middle and some of lower middle class. Should we target the sexual urges brought about by parents not having much to do or should we find a way to increase the cost of having children?
- The colorful debates behind the RH Bill on public television or in youtube may be a poor guide for understanding the nature of interventions into private sexual behavior. Since debaters have a non-neutral advocacy role, this role increases the propensity for advocates to highlight support for their arguments. This means that there would be a tendency to pick out the most salient aspects that support one’s position and ignore the rest. (This is what is happening with my blog posts. I have links yet a small percentage actually click on them!!) There would also be a tendency to over-explain and over-interpret what we see, hear and read. You will hear from the debates frequent jumping from sex to the economy to the Bible and so on. This is not surprising given the advocacy roles. When there is weak evidence, the stories tend to get flimsier. When there is weak evidence and a theory that one holds dear, it is psychologically difficult to abandon one’s world view. The debaters might find solace in Sherlock Holmes: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.”
- If there is lack of information in the potential risks (and benefits, for those who don’t) of engaging in sexual behavior (regardless of frequency), then a possible optimal solution is to give out this information as neutrally as possible. However, neutrality seems hard when humans feel compassion (whether or not this is misplaced). Thus, advocates on both sides should bear the costs of providing information. These advocates should, as the cliche goes, put their money where their mouths are. There has to be some form of risk of losing “intellectual capital” or “rhetorical capital”. Do not let the state intervene and fund any information campaign. Let advocates use their own resources (whether procured through grants, foundations but not taxpayers’ money) and inform their “constituents” about what constitutes responsible parenthood and reproductive health. Both sides including the church would find it wise and in their interests to reveal their agenda in its purest form. The information both sides provide should not just be information but should include services for their advocated method. If they support natural family planning, they should try their best to teach how it works! Now, people would have access to a wide variety of information. They will then make their choices. Now this is the hard part and will take some time. If somebody’s method led to undesirable results, then that method will ultimately die out. In effect, I would suggest letting the methods and agendas compete on a level playing field. With social networking reducing the costs of airing grievances, we should see more or less the methods that become preferred.
- Of course, there are downsides. For instance, one could argue that you will observe some form of bundling (say partnerships with FHM, condom companies, Premiere vixens, Mocha?). This means that the message by both sides might be packaged in some form of marketing tactic. For instance, the Church in its attempts to spread the word about natural family planning might in effect spread the Word. They may resort to guilt tactics to achieve their goals. The same could be said on other groups. Since groups may have multiple goals which are more or less consistent in spirit, they might find it optimal to package ideas about responsible parenthood with other associated ideas. For instance, a group framing the debate in terms of women’ rights might find that packaging the need for responsible parenthood with the need for the woman to improve her bargaining power in a marital setup. This may be good or bad. I am afraid my solution is not so foolproof but the nature of the conversations among people should have now changed. There is going to be much more mature awareness rather than heightened awareness. I want people to be able to think for themselves and blame themselves for their own mistakes.
- On the subject of citing survey results: When someone you do not know asks you about sex, you will either be as candid or be as elusive. I am not sure if Filipinos could be candid about sex given their propensity (I would say, proclivity or even a culture) for voyeurism. Of course, this voyeurism is shared by other cultures and we really like knowing how other people have sex (but we are playfully shy about it). But what makes most Filipinos different, I think, is that we are not as curious about our own sex life. In this case, I have little faith on survey results involving frequency of sex, intentions of having a child and so on. It is not that these measures are subjective but these measures are merely suggestive and are flimsy at best.
Overall, the intent of this rather long post is to try to cross out topics in the conversations involving the RH Bill. I also suggest a lot of study (both theoretical and empirical) on the causal links especially with respect to sexual behavior, fertility decisions, regulation, social norms and the economy. So that we could get to what matters most.