This interview features Marianne Sumagaysay, a student at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and an advocate at Youth for SRHR
How do you feel about the National and Local elections and the recent State of the Nation Address?
As a young woman who advocates for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, I grew up learning about the atrocities of the Marcoses in governing the Philippines in the past and it makes me scared that the country might go through the same phase again knowing that another Marcos has taken a seat as president. I feel as if it is a joke to the Philippine government and to the people knowing how awful the Marcos administration was before, and the people are led to believe another Marcos would bring us back up.
During the State of the Nation Address, I tried my best to listen well to the statements of the president but ended up with nothing as there were a lot of vague statements made and many vague promises for the advancement of the country. For example, it was only said by President Marcos that the Violence Against Women and Children would be strengthened but what were the exact plans to strengthen it? There were no concrete actions presented to us, only vague statements to strengthen it. During the SONA, I was also truly looking forward to if he would make any statements regarding human rights, or anything related to it. Still, then again, I was left to my disappointment hearing none. There were also no statements on actions for SRHR, which should’ve been a discussion by now. Aside from that, there were also no discussions or statements made regarding the marginalized sectors of the country. He made no mention of these sectors and how to help them or address their problems. Lastly, he also failed to address the ongoing situation regarding mental health awareness which a lot have ignored for the longest time. A lot of people have been asking for help regarding this matter and have failed to get proper help for it. There was no mention of how this problem can be addressed. Overall, I felt disappointed with the State of the Nation Address by President Bongbong Marcos.
How do the results of NLE and the contents of the SONA affect your sector?
It affects my sector, young women, a lot, especially after hearing the content of the SONA wherein lots of my sector’s concerns were not raised or addressed. I consider it alarming, knowing that during the SONA, there was little to no mention on women’s rights. The president’s vague statements regarding his actions and plans toward VAWC are truly a sign for alarm. There are a lot of untouched issues on women’s rights, and I am at the same time scared for the other intersectional human rights issues. I am hopeful that there would be steps to strengthen VAWC, but it still leaves me scared to think about the issues for SRHR that connect with it. It would be a bit harder to fight for these rights knowing that even the national government does not notice the problems in it. They do not even know how to address it. But regardless, our fight for women and children’s rights does not stop and continues to grow stronger.
What do you wish/expect from the current administration for your sector?
To be frank, I expect a lot from the current administration. Given the name and the history of the current president, I’d like to see what his capabilities would bring to the Philippine government and its success. I expect a lot, given his credentials. I question his election up to now and I continue to question his skills. First, I’d like to see more services for SRHR be implemented. They can make contraceptives and information regarding SRHR accessible to people despite their age. These should be accessed in barangay halls, city halls, and even schools. This would open more possibilities for the talk of SRHR to be accessible to all. Next, the legislative branch of the government should also review and consider the bills and acts passed by feminist lawyers to further discuss what these bills and acts contain. A lot of our feminist legislators have passed good bills but are yet to be passed and left in the archive of the Senate. It would be great to consider their bills as well. It would also be good for the government to open the discussion on Sex Education for all. The government should implement Sex Education in schools to address the rise of teenage pregnancies in the Philippines.
Aside from these, the government should also make its services available to the public. Everyone should have equal access to these, and as members of society, we are all in the right to enjoy these services to be provided by the government. In addition, the administration should also give focus on adding funding to the health sector. Given the rise of Covid, the newly discovered Monkeypox, and the different health crises in the country, the government should be alarmed about how to handle this and giving funding to our health sectors to better their work is a huge step. Finally, regarding my previous point, I also expect the administration to address the problems regarding teenage pregnancy. This is also considered a health emergency, knowing that many of our women and teenagers also suffer and this needs to be addressed quickly. I do expect a lot from the current government, and hopefully, they deliver as they should be held accountable in their position.
What do you think is the importance of the barangay and SK elections for your sector?
Given that the Barangay and the SK are the easiest to reach officials in any city or barangay, it would be a big deal of help to my sector. Firstly, these officials can easily access and lend help to the grassroots level of society, especially to families and the youth. It would be much easier for them to reach out to them, and with the right help and guidance, they could also address the problems of the sector regarding SRHR. Second, barangay and SK officials know their people better, and they are much more knowledgeable about the problems of the smaller communities. They are much more hands-on with their people’s needs.
What do you hope your SK or barangay can do for your sector?
Like my hope for the current presidential administration, I also expect good things from the local government, especially the barangay and SK officials. Firstly, more services. I wish to see the local government offer more services to the people and not just simple solutions to the problems being addressed to them. Frankly speaking, let’s refrain from the basketball and sports camps and start to invest more in the local health sectors. We have big problems to address in our local health sectors, for example, the rise in teenage pregnancy. I am hoping for the local government to address this. Aside from that, they should also encourage fewer judging spaces for youth who would like to learn and avail of SRHR services. Make the youth feel welcomed and less judged if they avail services that are good for their SRHR. Lastly, the local government should also advocate more on SRHR by planning out more webinars and/or seminars regarding SRHR services. Do not make the talk about sexual health taboo to the youth and make it open for them to be knowledgeable about it and its effects.