LUGAR LANG: Where is my baby and why?

DAVO CITY (MindaNews / 12 August) —I watched the play “Labor Room” by Ma. Cecilia dela Rosa in the Virgin LabFest theater festival in Manila last July and the only thing I liked about it was that my friend Skyzx Labastilla was in it. It was the first time I had seen her on stage and she was wonderful as a woman who had just lost her baby to a miscarriage. Too bad the material, as a one-act play, was lackluster.

As a playwriting teacher, I looked for its dramatic question and premise, and tried to follow its sense of action and development. But by the end of the play, I wondered why the play had been written at all. And I hadn’t even seen the film, Motherland. Bayang Ina Mo by Ramona Diaz, upon which it was based. I can only imagine the dismay of my companion, who had seen the documentary about the Fabella Memorial Hospital, fondly known as the “Baby Factory” of the Philippines. She was generous in her assessment of the play though, saying that for her it enjoyed a halo effect because the film was so unforgettable. But now that I’ve seen the film, I dislike the play even more for being merely derivative.

Thanks to Active Vista of the human rights organization DAKILA who brought the film to Davao City last Saturday, those of us who had been eagerly awaiting the screening since last year were treated to the depressing truth about the status of reproductive health in the Philippines. Like the best documentaries, Motherlandpresented the situation at the maternity ward of the hospital and left the viewers to their own evaluation of it. I felt enervated by the obvious facts: too early, too soon, too frequent.

While the mothers tried to make the best of their situation, smiling throughout the hardship in the crowded ward and the certain bleak future of their babies because of poverty, I struggled to understand why they even got pregnant in the first place. My heart broke watching the emaciated mother of twins and the resignation in her eyes. I wondered why the other mothers told her never to give away her babies simply because they had issued from her. I wondered whether I was a heartless mother for thinking that she should, in fact, give them up for adoption to give them a better chance at life. I wept with the mother who supported her 17-year-old daughter throughout the process, a mere child who had just had a child, even though she didn’t know how to help her either. I felt angry at the toothless mother who had given birth to her sixth child, in a ‘ladderized’ program year after year, saying, “I’m really crazy.” If she knew it was wrong, why did she do it?

But the most poignant scene for me was the young mother who had left her baby in the bed to attend to a visitor, and then ‘lost’ it. “Where is my baby?” she asked the nurse-in-charge, who was, in fact, holding her baby, testing her. She didn’t even recognize her own baby without the hospital tag. And her other basis for identifying her baby was the diaper she had used. It would have been funny if it weren’t so tragic. It debunked the myth of maternal instinct in one scene.

The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health bill languished in Congress for decades before it was passed in 2012. But its implementation was delayed for years because of a temporary restraining order issued in relation to 51 drugs that were suspected to be abortifacient. While the TRO was lifted in November 2017, a cursory online search for updates on the law reveals that there have been no recent efforts to make the contraceptives available to the public since then. No wonder Fabella Memorial Hospital is still delivering 100 babies of indigent women daily. Can you imagine?

On August 7, the Supreme Court upheld a decision finding activist Carlos Celdran guilty of “offending religious feelings” when he held up a placard in 2010 saying, “Damaso” during a mass at the Manila Cathedral. We should not forget that he did it in protest of the stand of the Catholic church against the Reproductive Health law. Clearly the battle for women’s rights over their bodies must continue in this country. And ‘pepedederalismo’ is only the tip of the ridiculous but very real iceberg.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz is an award-winning writer who teaches literature and creative writing at the University of the Philippines-Mindanao in Davao City and is a columnist of Mindanao Times.This piece was first published in the Mindanao Times issue of August 8, 2018. Follow or message her on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz)