• United Nations Representative Gustavo Gonzales
  • United Nations Population Fund Philippine Representative Dr. Leila Joudane
  • Socioeconomic Planning UnderSecretary Jose Miguel Dela Rosa
  • Stakeholders and advocates of population and development

Fellow workers in government

  • Esteemed partners from the media
  • Ladies and Gentlemen

A great Wednesday morning to us all! Masayang Pamilya sa inyong lahat!

On behalf of the leadership and organization of the Commission on Population and Development, we are delighted to be in each other’s company, as we all welcome the publication of the newest release of the State of the World’s Population, or SWOP.

It can be recalled that around the same time last year, we gathered to usher in the 2020 edition of the publication under the same circumstances. The pandemic prevented us from being physically together, yet the energy and the enthusiasm built around the virtual ceremony was palpable for us who are at the forefront of furthering and improving the state of the planet’s population and development, especially that of the Philippines.

Despite the global approach and coverage of the most recent SWOP, the theme and concept of bodily autonomy is something close and relatable to us Filipinos. Locally, we are focusing on the dimension of our country’s adolescents, which is currently attracting the attention of society at large. It is a known fact that another kind of “pandemic” is creeping into their realm: that is, of unplanned and unintended pregnancies among their ranks. Recall that in 2019, the crisis of adolescent pregnancies was labeled as a “national and social emergency.” It reached the halls of our legislators, and likewise, the office of President Rodrigo Duterte.

That said, the release of the newest SWOP could not come at a more opportune time, at least for us in the Philippines. The annual report documents the realities of issues and concerns surrounding ways and means of upholding bodily autonomy. Here in the country, the probability of bodily autonomy being compromised is more pronounced among our teenagers, especially those who have undergone pregnancies at a very young age.

By SWOP’s definition, bodily autonomy is having the following: One, the power to make choices over one’s physical body and future, without the elements of violence and coercion. Two, it includes the choice on when or with whom to have sex, if at all. Three, it includes the choice on when or with whom one wants to become pregnant if at all. And four, the freedom to visit a doctor whenever one needs to.

The UNFPA report recognizes that women and girls face constraints on their bodily autonomy, and that consequences to their health, well-being and potential in life can prove to be disastrous.

Sadly, the desired condition of bodily autonomy is diametrically opposed with what a large number of teenagers in the Philippines, who are victims of adolescent pregnancies, have to go through. POPCOM’s analyses of their conditions reveal a degree of abuse, or when the partner wields economic power or asserts authority due to an older age status. Clearly, these young mothers were deprived of making choices about their pregnancy and resulting early motherhood. Their circumstances will resonate far into their fates and futures, as their untimely pregnancies will adversely impact on their chances of finishing their education and ultimately, their capacity to earn, which is usually 1/3 of what their contemporaries earn upon completion of K12.

Many young Filipinas are also subject to archaic practices, such as forced marriages, which runs directly opposite to the ideals of bodily autonomy, as outlined in the SWOP.

POPCOM acknowledges the current state of our adolescents who are trapped in the quagmire of their early pregnancies. That is why we have put in place measures to reinstate, if not preserve, the state of their bodily autonomy. For adolescent sexual and reproductive health, we have engaged the youth in various events harnessing their talents while emphasizing the need to prioritize their education and dreams.

POPCOM, with the support of DEPED and LGUs, has also conducted countless sessions across the country to harness and empower Filipino youth of their critical role in nation building, which expands their horizons beyond themselves and their immediate circles. We have also endeavored to include in these occasions their parents, guardians and educators for a more holistic approach in their learning.

POPCOM is relentlessly supporting the implementation and institutionalization of comprehensive sexual education, or CSE, by DEPED in all schools, so that our youth can already protect themselves and set boundaries, as they insist on their bodily autonomy at a young age. CSE covers age-appropriate topics that will enable even our kindergarten-level kids to understand their bodies and sexuality even in their growth-development years.

Lastly, POPCOM is working tirelessly with legislators and stakeholders to reinstate the provisions stricken out of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, otherwise known as the RPRH Law or Republic Act 10354, which diminishes the sexual and reproductive health and rights of our teenagers, especially their unimpaired access to family planning services and commodities.

With these numerous programs, initiatives and partnerships in place, POPCOM believes that the Philippines is in a good position in advocating bodily autonomy among its citizens. Yet, undoubtedly, much more needs to be done. In the era of the pandemic, we cannot let our guard down. There are elements which can easily derail our quest for collective consciousness to a concept that Filipinos may take for granted, but actually fare better than other societies from other parts of the globe. Otherwise, we can easily lose an enviable state that we had worked and fought so hard for, for so long.

On behalf of POPCOM, I call on every Filipino to champion bodily autonomy as a personal value, and as a policy in interacting and respecting others. Let us teach our youth and young ones the importance of bodily autonomy as an irrevocable right, which will ultimately provide for them an unbridled access to a future full of possibilities.

In closing, I look forward to the distribution of the 2021 SWOP to a larger audience in the Philippines, which will enable a better understanding of bodily autonomy and its mainstream acceptance. Let us be one in declaring: My body is my own!

Mabuhay  at patuloy kaming maglilingkod tungo sa matatag, maginhawa at planadong pamilyang pilipino!

 

– USEC. JUAN ANTONIO PEREZ III, MD, MPH (EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR – POPCOM)

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