Losing 11 mothers a day

I’m fortunate and blessed to have my wife not to be one of 11 Filipina mothers dying daily due to pregnancy complications. After giving birth to our fourth and last baby, my wife and I decided that she be ligated. Why, for three deliveries, she has underwent life-threatening stages like post-eclampsia and high blood pressure. The decision was not that difficult to make. Particularly on my part.

The feeling of a husband waiting outside the delivery room fidgety is nothing compared to the sacrifice of his birthing wife. Good thing my wife got to understand the worries I have everytime she is brought to the delivery room. “God, please keep my wife and our baby safe. God, if you have to choose one alive, let it be my wife.” This prayer became became more fervent. Since God is good, four times did my wife overcome the suffering, with our babies bouncing like our little angels.

Of course, other reasons for the ligation are purely economic. One baby every barely three years means frequent emptying of our pockets and divided attention to kids. And I can’t imagine how much more if we had more than four.

But personal aspect aside, the figures are pretty revealing. What is more shocking is that high maternal mortality rate is most prevalent in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). This while infanticipating mothers in the National Capital Region enjoy good facilities the most. I think that this problem warrants an immediate action on the part of the government. Citizens, women and men alike, must also do their share by holding education sessions on responsible parenthood and campaigning for pregnant-women-friendly government services.

Behold thy mother; her name you bear forever

Yesterday morning, I received mail from a bicycle-riding mailman. It’s my copy of the latest issue of the AIM Alumni Leadership Magazine. Apart from the excitement about cool updates from AIM and its alumni, the mail label got my attention because it misspelled my middle initial. It should have been ‘B’, not ‘V’. I thought that the labels that AIM is using are seamlessly produced from out of its alumni database, which I’m sure contains correct ID info about me.

Although, I must say that there’s a ring of accuracy in the misspelling. Yes, my middle initial could be, or should be, V. Befuddled? Let me explain before you complain, using the words of the showbizlandia’s witty man, Joey de Leon.

I’m actually adopted child of my aunt and her husband. After my aunt had multiple miscarriages, the couple was blessed with only one biological son. That I think was the reason why it decided to adopt me. I’m sure my adoptive parents didn’t get disappointed, after all.

So I’m using my foster father’s surname, Calmada, not my biological father’s, Benavente. My aunt’s maiden name should be my last name and biological mother’s, my middle name–Vergara. Thus, the inch of truth in the mail label’s error. And thanks to that for I got to remember my real parents, whom I failed to meet face to face as parents and child, because my foster parents hid that truth from me until when I was 19 or 20 years old already. So sad because the only time I got to see the face of my real mother was when she was dead lying inside a makeshift coffin. Until now, there’s a longing for me to see the face of my real father even in a picture. And the conscious search hasn’t begun yet.

There are times when I wanted to write my name in full, as in my middle name is completely spelled. That is my way of remembering, and giving tribute to, my father. But that is kinda weird, because people usually emphasize the middle name to give tribute to their mothers.

I remember that I tried to do that–giving tribute to mothers–during my organization’s assessment-planning activity in 2003. When I facilitated a session, I gave an exercise wherein a participant was tasked to remember the middle names of his/her seatmates, after which I asked them in random for these middle names. Lesson from that exercise: It’s not easy to remember two family names of your colleagues.

I thought that the exercise was my way of instilling gender consciousness among my colleagues. Perhaps, they appreciated that. Although, I came to realize later that the exercise indeed was not really gender-sensitive because there’s no certainty that a person’s middle name is actually the surname of his/her mother. So I must have received a rating of E for that effort, don’t you think?

Haven’t there been efforts to change the Philippine personal naming system so that mothers, or women, for that matter, get equal recognition across all generations? I’m not trying to be wet blanket here. I’m just trying to propose two amendments. One, each person must bear two family names, each from his/her mother and father. (I observe that couples attempt to inculcate parity to their pre-schooler kids’ minds by having them memorize their full names only to give in to the men-biased system when they grow up.) Two, marrying women should not be given an option to change their family names. (Ladies, I believe that there sure are other ways to show love and respect to your men, right? Although, I’m flattered and proud that my wife is bearing my surname in some of her public engagements. I wish I could do what some Brazilian men do–adopt the surnames of their wives.)

Never mind the inconvenience of saying and writing long names, if that means our women will be given due respect forever. But then again, I wonder how I’d treat my real mother’s maiden name. Ampons surely share this angst.

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Parenting and gender equality

I observe that every time I attend my kids’ school activities, I learn a big thing or two. (As if I never knew that every person with an open mind inevitably does learn that as long as s/he lives.) I feel that kiddie schools are much more blessed because it is in these places where little angels hone their raw talents at the same time involve their mentors for their bouts of innocence and mischief.

This Sunday, I, tagging along Josh as usual, attended the Parents-Teachers Conference called by the school of Martin, my eldest son at 8 years, although I was late by an hour already. As a penalty for myself, I sat outside the classroom where the program was held. And I wouldn’t want to get inside only to disturb the program.

The school’s Director, Dra. Lilia Torres, was a show-stopper for her great input and handling of the forum. She would keep the audience wide awake with comic asides and realistic examples. She said that even though she had majored in counseling, she had been tempted to spank her little kid for a grave misdemeanor. “Ano’ng counseling counseling. Pinalo ko sya sa pwet,” she said. The audience laughed. She said that there’s nothing wrong in punishing a child if that’s done for a valid reason. “If you spanked your child, explain to him or her the reason why you did it. There must be an explanation afterwards so that similar misdemeanor would not happen again. We don’t punish our erring child just because it pleases us.”

After giving her own experience as both a teacher and a mother, she asked the audience for some testimonials about their lives as parents to their schooling kids. A mother volunteered to share the first one. Hers was a revelation of a gender issue in parenting. Here’s her account, as reconstructed:

When my kid was in elementary level, I was the one who focused on guiding him. I attended to his needs in school. He was a consistent top pupil. My husband barely had any role except to provide for the financial requirements of our son’s education.

One day, I decided to work abroad, leaving my husband to take care of our kid. I didn’t realize that my leaving created a problem in our child. It turned out that my husband’s way of guiding him was extremely different from mine. Of course, fathers don’t have the patience and passion as mothers possess. My husband would easily get mad when our son erred big in school. Many times, my husband would yell at our son and force him to get out of the house.

That, i think, rendered our son to lack appreciation for education. From then on, he failed in classes. Until I was forced to go back home and concentrate back on his schooling. However, that did not solve the problem. He still failed in classes even up to college. My husband remained the same, impatient and harsh on our son. We found that our son was hooked to his girlfriend and barkada; he practically lost interest in school. By the decision of my husband, we were forced to stop his schooling for a while, until the time when he’s ready to get back to it.

So what is the gender issue in the testimony? That is the unnecessary attributions (which is also called stereotyping) like the mothers are patient, while the fathers are not. Fathers bring home the bacon, while the mothers just serve it, so to speak. Fathers are “haligi ng tahanan” (who keep the home from breaking down), while the mothers are “ilaw ng tahanan” (who provide light to the home). I’m afraid that both the wife and husband have the equal roles in ministering to the needs of their children. Or to put it more aptly, both the wife and husband can shift roles as they see fit. A woman has the right to work, leaving the husband obliged to fill in the gap in terms of providing more direct guidance to kids in school. Or both can still work, yet be able to upbring their kids with equal attention. I’m not speaking that being a father myself, I perfectly take on the role that my wife has taken. I’m not yet there, but there are inroads already.

Dra. Torres, for her part, particularly raised the issue of a couple being prepared for the task of parenting. It’s high time that couples paid more attention to this. “It’s not right to show mixed signals to your kids. The couple must seriously take up how to handle problem situations involving the kids, so that they will hang on to their studies and still look up to their parents as they grow up,” she advised. She then claimed that if only for the parenting responsibilities, maintaining the marriage becomes equally challenging.

I raised my hand to give my testimonial. But Dra. Torres did not notice me. I was partly thankful that she did not, really. If I were called in, I would say to my co-parents that my wife and I are also challenged to be cool parents to our kids, that we are willing to learn as we have imperfections. I would say that I learned a lot from the first testimony. I would likewise share that my wife and I have to control ourselves in pressuring our son to excel in school as a top pupil, considering the competition in his class. Because that would not help our son any. We need to find more ways to motivate our son than to point out the competition.

We’re now more challenged because Martin is top two for the first grading period. He was consistent top one the previous year. So my wife and I should take it up and unite on a strategy or two to further motivate Martin to “reclaim” the top spot.

Femmes Fatales on MySpace?

You are a man having just reached 40 years and are into social networking. What would you do if you received a friend request from an American whom you did not know but whose profile is something like she’s 23 years old, liberated, cosmopolitan, and oozing with sex appeal?

Frankly enough, I was smitten by her sexy picture in her blurb. My mind played on naughtily and imagined what would happen next if I accepted her request. But, having come from a seminary, I think I was able to hone this flair of managing my impure thoughts, so that I won’t eventually violate my moral rules in life, thanks to my Roman Catholic enlightenment. Long story short, I ignored that very tempting offer by a lady who in fairness might just wanted electronic or virtual chums in her life, period.

But I’m exercising my right to choose my friends. I signed up with MySpace (last week) just to look for my old friends, not to have virtual ones who I had not met. I had been interested in its being number one social networking site in the US particularly. I also wishfully think that some of my long-lost friends would find me through that site.

Online seduction is how I can describe the friend request. And I can’t help but recall the child rape brouhaha involving MySpace in January this year. If online teens are capable of ending in abominable situations like that, could adults be victims in any way as well? I’m exaggerating, am I not? But what if it could be true that online men can be victims as well? Yeah, there could even be a sequel to the movie “Basic Instinct” for the digital age.

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“Malicia”: What’s wrong about that lettuce bikini?

I felt that my blood pressure went up to 130 as soon as I saw that 25-by-15 cm photograph of Alicia Mayer on Manila Standard’s issue today, on front page. Gee, it was too gargantuan to escape the public fancy, especially those of my gender.

Before we genderize the issue here, that Alicia Mayer’s pose was done in behalf of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an international group that fights for animal rights. Manila Standard has no text story for the banner photo except a caption, so I assume that PETA’s slogan “Let vegetarianism grow on you” calls on people to eat animal meat less in favor of vegetables like lettuce on which PETA based Alicia’s bikini.

So there. I’m sure women organizations will not take that sitting down. It will even stir debate between moralists and liberals. Does the cause that Alicia carried with that lovely pose excuse the idea’s sexist undertone, equaling vegetables and women as yummy stuff? Does her pose beget evil as it gratifies men’s fleshy desires? Perhaps the message was also to convince people that eating vegetables will make them sexy?

People of my gender in general will not mind. But gender-sensitive men like me 😉 of course will think twice. The first thought, of course, is understandable. What matters more is the second thought: that there’s something not good about that propaganda gimmick, that leaves me asking:

  1. What convinced the Manila Standard front page editor to make the photograph a banner one? Was it to sell the copy like a hotcake?
  2. Can environmentalists not be gender-sensitive at the same time?
  3. Did Alicia Mayer know what she did?

That’s why I entitled this entry “Malicia”. I think that that captures the issue here. Is the gimmick inherently wrong? Doesn’t it beget malice among the public? Does Alicia Mayer want to be a sex goddess?

Let me take another look.

Male chauvinists and unconcerned men beware

Last Tuesday, I gave a talk on the rules and conduct of elections for the upcoming congress of my party-list organization. This was during a pre-congress assembly.

There was a portion in my talk that put me in a very humiliating situation. I mentioned LGBT (acronym for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals), but I sounded like I did not know anything about it as I failed to give the meaning of the acronym’s last letter. Gays and gender advocates in the plenary immediately gave me embarrassing remarks. Explaining my side, I reasoned out that my ignorance of the LGBT issues was due to my lack of education about it. It just put me more to the state of humiliation. And I wonder why they did not take my word for it. (One friend of mine even remarked after my talk that my face had blushed when that gaffe transpired.)

It was not my first time to get humiliated about gender issues. About three years ago, I presented a workshop output before a gathering of agrarian reform and rural development players. During my presentation, I slipped by saying like this: “Gender projects have added burden to NGOs with their regular programs.” I received very negative reactions from the gender advocates. My God, damned was I. Like I did last Tuesday, I tried to reason out that I was just stating the fact that some NGOs really felt the gender projects have not yet sunk in their systems. But that rationalization even worsened my situation. It was like I heard hoots here and there.

I’m no Isagani Cruz, a former Chief Justice, respected for his progressive political views, who, however, used a national daily to air his chauvinistic side of the gender realities in my nation. I think he just lost the chance to be remembered in the political and judicial arena in a positive light. His “pink-national-flag” scenario earned him high-profile shaming from the LGBT sector.

As I said, I’m no Isagani Cruz. But like him, I was not discreet enough to watch my language, I mean, the tone of my language. The gender advocates and LGBT persons may forgive you for your politically incorrect pronouns but they will not take sitting down your condescending, even unconcerned, attitudes against them.

This is another lesson in my life. I have befriended many in the LGBT community and am a gender advocate myself, but it seems I have a lot of things to do to really make them convince I am no follower of Isagani Cruz.

(Note: This blog entry was originally posted on my more personal site.)

Online violence against women

Thanks to Cheekay Cinco I learned that violence against women (VAW) may also be high-tech. I have realized that women have not only been harassed in the workplaces, homes, and in the streets but also right on the live computer screens.

I was aware that pornographic web sites about women puts them more in a bad light as sex objects. But I thought that watching pornographic sites must be for men who can handle it without going beyond the bounds of morality.

But I was not aware that it was also a form of violence against women. I suddenly felt the guilt, although I rarely visit porno sites. (I am too busy yet happy with my married life to waste my time surfing porno sites most of the time.)

I also learned that although gender activists agree that online violence is there, they disagree on the solutions, one of which is censorship. Hmmm, maybe some lesbians disapprove of it? Just guessing.

Meanwhile, I wonder if men (must) also feel the same way when their sexuality is also being used in the sites ‘for women and gays’. Should they also feel that they’re also taken as sex objects? Just asking.

C’mon, Doggone Dong has been married for eight years already and has been relating with gender activists, yet he thinks that he needs some enlightenment about the ‘online gender’ stuff.

So far, I still think that viewing the so-called pornographic sites is a right (for men and lesbians alike) but must be enjoyed moderately and without going beyond the limits of morality (by not actually harassing women in the domiciles, streets, and workplaces). But if a gender activist I respect approaches me and tells me – hey, even if you’re just watching a video featuring a woman licentiously, you’re already committing sexual harassment, however mentally, and the online habit developed therefrom will manifest in the day-to-day relationships with women – that may change my mindset a bit but still find myself negotiating the parameters of pornography.

Just don’t tell me that appreciating the totality of a woman’s body is a sin.


During the discussion on mango situation in particular provinces last May 16, I was made curious about a Mindanaoan woman farmer who joined the discussion.

That farmer was Susan Austria from Brgy. San Roque, Sta. Maria, Davao del Sur. An agrarian reform beneficiary, Susan grows 50 mango trees in a half hectare of land that she and husband own under one Certificate of Land Ownership Award. In addition, the couple tends to six mango trees in their backyard.

Her status as an ARB is due to Sta. Maria farmers' struggle more than a decade ago. Her farm is part of the 146 hectares previously owned by Danding Cojuangco through his corporation called Cojuangco Investments, Inc. (CII). (Cojuangco owns massive agricultural lands in various parts of Sta. Maria).

Struggling against the Goliath
Starting in early 90s, Cojuangco has been wont to converting the originally coconut-planted Sta. Maria landholding into various others crops. And he has been able to pull strings to evade having his landholdings placed under agrarian reform.

In 1993, he decided to convert the landholding into a mango plantation. That brought the Sta. Maria's farmers to the new height of their struggle. During that year, they were forced to get out of their farms and move to the nearby lands.

That painful experience gave birth to their resolve to fight, which translated first and foremost with the formation of an association called San Roque Agrarian Beneficiaries Association (SAROCABA). The 85-strong association, according to Susan, fought like David against Goliath in the person of Cojuangco, who aside from organizational and financial power, wields political power that manifests down to the level of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) provincial office. "The DAR's legal advice to us was that we accept the negotiation terms of the Cojuangcos, one of which is that the each farmer take a half-hectare as his/her own and give a half-hectare to the landowner under the joint venture scheme. Under the joint venture scheme, the farmers are paid an exact amount of money per year (that's P5,000 per farmer per semester in the case of San Roque) whether the plantation earns or not.

Susan, 42, and husband are blessed with two children, one of whom does not want to follow in the footsteps of his parents.

At present, the joint venture agreement is being pushed by SAROCABA for revocation, so that the each half-hectare will be given to the beneficiaries.

Struggling with low income

Before the Chinese technology-enhanced farming was introduced to her household, Susan had to make do with the nil to measly income from mango production, depending on the weather conditions during the cropping season.

Susan claims that she earns a maximum gross income of P120,000 from 50 trees per on-season. But that maximum rarely takes place as she earns an average of P28,000, on or off-season.

Considering her production-related expenses, one wonders how Susan's family makes do with their situation. The expenses include cultar (P5,600 per liter), calcium nitrate (P1,150 per sack), amistar (P5,000 per liter), fungicide (P840 per kilogram), labor cost (P150/day for 5 persons), and bagging material (P50/kilo at 15 kilos)

The high cost of production is the main source of headache for Susan. It could have been higher had she and her husband not directly been involved in the production. Susan is proud to say that she is handling the sprayer machine operator while her husband does the spraying on tall mango trees.

Susan's family cannot escape from tyranny of the market influenced by big mango industry players. As a small mango grower, she cannot dictate the farmgate price for her harvest. The highest she can get is P27 per kilo and the lowest is P18.


Susan's hopes were rekindled by the training she underwent regarding the Chinese technology. She realized that pruning and grafting are important aspects of the mango production so that much more may be harvested. She also realized the benefit of using the Chinese bagging material to produce more quality fruits.

According to Susan, she was able to adopt the new technology on her six backyard mango trees. She was able to harvest 275 kilograms of quality mangoes (no blemish, relatively bigger, sweeter smell) at farmgate price of P25 per kilogram.

If her family holds on to the new technology, their average gross income from mangoes would be more than double. This is not to mention the possibility for greater income if she engages in enterprises meant to make the most of her mango yield, like mango fruit-drying and organic bagging material production.

Mango sounds masculine. In fact, there was an observation that most mango growers are men. So the tribe of Susan need to increase, for the mango industry to really develop to its fullest.