A revealing interview

By: Kay Rivera - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | January 31,2022 - 08:00 AM

The interviews of presidential candidates have given us some very satisfactory peeks into the thinking, preparedness, political savvy, and knowledge of each aspirant. It was particularly interesting to hear their thoughts on the subject of abortion, specifically for victims of sexual violence. Violence against women and children is described by the Philippine Commission on Women as one of the country’s perennial social problems; in 2021, the United Nations Women executive director called it a “global crisis,” with 70 percent of cases of gender-based violence exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not an issue that should fall by the wayside. The candidates’ responses to the question of abortion have been revealing.

In his recent interview, Boy Abunda furnished the presidential candidates with available information on the links between the prevalence of rape in the country and the number of rape victims seeking abortions, as well as the number of women who suffer from unsafe abortions. It’s stuff every Filipino student-debater has researched before. The relevant data have long been available. This is in contrast, for example, to the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergence of new challenges and new variants, an area where science can sometimes evolve too quickly for timely solutions. Abortion in the Philippines is simultaneously an old issue and a still important one, and a future president should be well-informed about the topic.

Bongbong Marcos, surprisingly, had the most bold and progressive stance, that abortion should be an option for victims of sexual violence and women whose health is at risk. Vice President Leni Robredo also appeared to see the problem as it is—a thorny ethical and religious issue, but for which the most important question for a future president is the issue of decriminalization. Ping Lacson admitted that he does not know enough about the issue to have a well-informed opinion. Mayor Isko Moreno was clear about opposing abortion, but mentioned the need for state support at birth for rape or incest victims.

The weakest answer, no doubt, was Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s. Like Moreno, Pacquiao expressed that he is anti-abortion, saying that the unborn child is innocent and should be spared. Asked whether the choice of the mother or the life of the child should be more important, Pacquiao answered, “May part ka rin d’yan sa batang nabuo.” (You still had a part in the inception of that child.) “Kahit rape?” Abunda repeated. Even if it’s rape? Pacquiao answered in the affirmative, and when pressed, explained nonsensically that what he means by this is that the wound caused by the rape should heal in time. For a moment he seemed to skirt dangerously close to victim-blaming, but quickly changed course.

As is his habit, Pacquiao answered with vague niceties, saying that we should provide counseling and advice, with no concrete recommendations on how to go about either. I agree with him about the right to life of the unborn children of rape victims and the need for psychosocial support for victims, and I agree with his well-meaning opinion that rape should not define the rape victim (“hindi pa tapos ang lahat”) and that a bright future should still be possible for them. But a vague recommendation of counseling is an unacceptable answer for someone aiming for the highest position in the country.

He did not address, or even consider, the problem of illicitly obtained and unsafe abortions as a cause of mortality; he did not even specify what “counseling” means other than encouraging mothers not to abort. There was no mention of state support, or medical services for those who have undergone illicit abortions. He later clarified in a DZRH interview that he supports the mother’s prerogative for therapeutic abortions in life-or-death situations, but this is clearly a different kettle of fish.

A candidate who is satisfied with such vague, poorly informed opinions should be out of the running. As complex as the issue of abortion may be, it is nowhere near as complex as decisions that he will have to make as a president who will continually be faced with competing interests.

Any Filipino fitting the minimum criteria may become president, but pure intentions alone cannot make for a good one. We should be seeking a president who is educated—not necessarily someone with advanced degrees, but someone who cares enough to be informed about complex issues, and who has the capacity to form nuanced opinions. An official who values such education would refuse to form dogmatic, possibly administration-defining opinions without more complete information and forethought. Abortion is just one of many such issues. Manny Pacquiao, neither a rape victim nor a woman, is not in the best position to be the voice for this issue; but a future president should be able to recognize the problems faced by vulnerable sectors even when he is not a stakeholder, and to seek consultation accordingly.

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TAGS: abortion, boy abunda, interview, presidential candidates

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