The Provincial Health Office of Bohol, which is probably an eight-minute drive from the capitol, loomed to us as a stereotype 60s modular government building.
But inside, the boxy structure exploded in activities: workers crisscrossed the main corridor moving government papers while others ushered couples into lecture rooms or counseling quarters. From a row of cubicle rooms, loud voices of supervisors barking orders to staffers echoed through.
Around loose bulletin boards, women browsed over seminar schedules. Others sprang for a look at what’s new on Bohol’s health services – especially on information about reproductive health, which the province and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) have been equipping Boholanos since 2005.
Those images brought to mind humorist Joan Rivers’ famous line: “My best birth control now is just to leave the lights on."
And leaving the lights on for Bohol’s reproductive health information is what UNFPA has been toiling for three years, according to the province’s UN coordinator Roxanna Epe.
(UNFPA, according to Wikipedia, began funding population programs in 1969. It was renamed the United Nations Population Fund in 1987, but kept its original abbreviation. UNFPA is the world's largest international source of funding for population and reproductive health programs. The Fund works with governments and non-government organizations in over 140 countries with the support of the international community, supporting programs that help women, men and young people to plan their families and avoid unwanted pregnancies, undergo pregnancy and childbirth safely, avoid sexually transmitted infections, combat violence against women and promote the equality of women. )
Epe said to keep their advocacy’s lights on and burning bright, they sought various partners for help.
“Although we've already started some interventions for ARH (adolescent reproductive health) in 2006, we tapped the DepEd (Department of Education), as our lead implementing partner for [the advocacy and information drive]," Epe said.
“But we have already started local intervention and now we go local in [looking for partners to assist us in the education drive]," she said.
The UNFPA team in the province, Epe said, has been “mentoring" local officials about reproductive health and the need to pass an ordinance on population management.
“That is why we're partnering with NCR-DSWD (National Capital Region-Department of Social Welfare and Development) and PLCD (Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development) in mentoring and coaching our local partners on how to come up with an ordinance on reproductive health," Epe said.
She admitted many municipalities have spurned appeals to pass reproductive health code ordinance because local legislators still believe coughing up budget for procurement of contraceptives would irk the Catholic Church.
Her presentation on the reproductive health, population and development situation in Bohol prepared by the UNFPA Provincial Project Management Unit appeared to have hit the bull’s-eye.
Epe said their data showed that the number of clients who sought their help increased in 2007, trumpeting that as many as 539 women had tubal ligation, 21 men vasectomy, 476 women accepted IUD, 188 women accepted anti-pregnancy shots known as DMPA and 203 used condoms.
On reproductive health (RH), she said 180 government employees are knowledgeable on family planning, sexually transmitted diseases, safe motherhood and male involvement in RH and 508, food handlers.
She said UNFPA has piloted Bohol’s Talibon, Ubay and Carmen towns for population management in 2005, the year when Bohol sent the SOS about its population woes.
Epe said Bohol is one of only 10 provinces in the Philippines piloted by the 6th UNFPA program that comes in five-year rotation.
(UNFPA 6th Country Program pilots Ubay, Carmen and Talibon towns for projects that target population and development strategy, reproductive health and gender. Capacity building started for the workers in May 2005, preparatory to the implementation of the three-pronged program for the next five years. The UNFPA has allocated P5 million a year for its implementation, or P25 million for the whole program duration.)
Good enough? There’s more.
The three UNFPA’s pilot towns in Bohol went great lengths to arrest the galloping population, but Carmen stood out, according to Epe.
“The three pilot municipalities have already passed the RH code and the IRR (implementing rules and regulations)," Epe said.
Catholic bishops and priests and local executives like former Manila mayor Lito Atienza have long been blamed by family planning advocates for their setbacks in reproductive health campaign in the countryside throughout the archipelago.
After all, the Church and its sycophants’ conviction against family planning is common knowledge. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines even issued a pastoral letter making sure its flock toes the Vatican's line on family planning…or else those who would defy face myriad sanctions ranging from baptism to burial blessing refusal.
What most decision-makers are oblivious to is that a bigger culprit of the population management contributes annually to turn the country's barrios and cities into child factories: macho fathers.
Those revolting, inconsiderate fathers remain Carmen town's woes for years (the same problem is mirrored all over the Philippines), according to Dr. Josephine Jabonillo, the town’s jack of all trade physician.
She said taming macho fathers and even red-hot, unruly young men has been her nightmare for years as a public servant.
ABE CEROJANO, GMANews.TV