THINK ON THESE: “Patay kang bata ka!”

I don’t remember when the phrase, “Patay kang bata ka!” became popular. It was being used if someone committed an error or mistake and there would be a punishment for such a blunder.

Literally speaking, it means: “You’re a dead meat.”

The phrase, however, came to mind when Senator Alan Peter Cayetano deferred the discussion on the budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) due to her vague stand of CHR Executive Director Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia on the issue of abortion.

Atty. De Guia reportedly made a statement on the decriminalization of abortion under the late then-Chairperson Chito Gascon. Such a statement is “dangerous,” according to Cayetano.

Cayetano explained that while the employees of CHR may express their personal opinions, abortion is not one of the issues they should be advocating for. “I do not mind opinions, it is their right, especially on contemporary human rights issues,” he said.

“But as far as abortion is concerned, it is settled in our Philippine Constitution,” he added, citing Article 2 Section 12 of the 1987 Constitution which says, “The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

Since 1930, abortion has been a crime under Philippine law. “Our constitution is quite unique kasi sinabi na ‘life starts at conception’… Meaning [to say], the executive director of a very sensitive commission is giving her own opinion which is contrary to the Philippine Constitution,” Cayetano said. “How come there is no outrage from the commission that there is such a statement?”

It must be recalled that in an interview with television host Boy Abunda, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., then a presidential aspirant, said abortion may be justified for rape victims, young mothers, those who have mental problems, those who may not be able to take of their infants.

Although these women may choose to raise their children, the choice of having abortion should be theirs. “The bottom line is, when it comes to the subject of abortion, it is a woman’s decision because it is her body,” Marcos said.

Two other presidential aspirants were against abortion. “I don’t like taking life, so I don’t want abortion,” admitted Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso. “There is life inside the womb. Life is life, only God can take it away.”

“It is not the child’s fault that he or she is conceived,” reasoned Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao on why he was not in favor of abortion. “The child should not be affected by what’s happening.”

Leni Robredo was also against abortion but she was open to its decriminalization. “I’m so conflicted about it, because my faith teaches me that killing is really not allowed,” she said. “(But) I’m open to discussing its decriminalization.”

Six out of 10 of all unwanted pregnancies end in an induced abortion, the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) reports. Around 45% of all abortions are unsafe, of which 97% take place in developing countries.

In the Philippines, abortion is still widely resorted to by women faced with unplanned pregnancies. Every year, more than 60,000 Filipinas are reported to have been injured from illegal abortion, with 1,000 dying from complications.

Right now, there is no law in the Philippines that expressly authorizes abortions in order to save the woman’s life; and the general provisions which do penalize abortion make no qualifications if the woman’s life is endangered.

It may be argued that an abortion to save the mother’s life could be classified as a justifying circumstance (duress as opposed to self-defense) that would bar criminal prosecution under the Revised Penal Code. However, this has yet to be adjudicated by the Philippine Supreme Court.

Because abortion is criminalized, a culture of stigma and impunity prevails. “I refused to be taken to the hospital,” explains Josie, an abortion survivor. “I was afraid that I would get imprisoned. I bled for more than a week.”

Two-thirds of Filipino women who have abortions attempt to self-induce or seek solutions from those who practice folk medicine or hilot. Women who abort their fetuses risk a prison sentence of up to six years, while anyone providing help or assisting faces a similar sentence.

Undergoing abortion is sort of hell. “When she squeezed, it was so painful I wanted to kick her,” said one mother who had an abortion done by a hilot. “I bit the blanket. I wanted to cry but I felt I had to contain myself. The pain was worse than childbirth.”

According to some studies, 70% of women who use massage or insertion of a catheter and 44% of those who use an abortifacient suffer severe complications, compared with only 13% who undergo dilation and curettage or manual vacuum aspiration. An estimated 800 women per year die from complications of unsafe abortion.

“Unsafe abortion is a very serious public health issue, a silent scourge,” commented a health officer, who oversees the monitoring of abortion cases and maternal deaths for the health department. He explained that there were attempts to address unsafe abortion through initiatives like more vigorous family planning but is almost always opposed by the church and anti-abortion groups.

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