NO, she did not wear a neck brace, and, no, she was not out on bail. It was the better Gloria I have previously written about who joined Ilocanos, mostly young people, at the foot of Gilbert Bridge last August 6 for a candle lighting ceremony in support of the Reproductive Health Bill.
It was a crucial moment for the controversial piece of legislation which has stagnated in Congress in the last one and a half decades, no thanks to the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy. (I have to say “hierarchy”, dear karikna as all national surveys say a great majority of Filipinos, the Catholic faithful included, strongly support the RH Bill.) Congress was to vote whether to proceed with the prolonged and circular debates or to terminate the interpellations and push for the bill’s second reading in the Lower House.
It was a crucial moment, and the significance of the activity was not lost on Gloria Portela Valencia, 55. Taking time off from her many chores as a house help in Laoag City, she joined well-meaning citizens, composed mostly of young people, in the silent activity for the RH Bill.
Frail and shy, Gloria came in a red shirt she usually wears when attending mass. She lit a candle, stood there, and joined the group in the brief gathering. But Brigette Mayor, a field reporter of GMA’s Balitang Ilocos noticed Gloria among the crowd and interviewed her. “Manang, apay supsuportam ti RH Bill?” asked the young journalist who may have been expecting a generic answer, but hit a pot of gold in her interviewee’s moving response.
“Agsaksakripisyoak ta kayatko laeng a magun-odda ti ar-arapaapenda ngem saan met ta sabali met ti napaspasamak. Nasakit unay ti nakemmo a nagannak ta kasta met ti nagbanagan dagiti annakko.” (I sacrificed because I wanted my children to realize their dreams, but something else happened. As a parent, I feel sad about what my children had to go through.)
Gloria hails from Barangay Bacsil in Dingras town. Manong Rolando, her “First Gentleman,” is a tobacco farmer who tills less than a hectare of land that is not theirs. The eldest among her siblings, she started working as a kasambahay at age 13. When she got married and bore kids, this devoted mother quit her job and stayed home to take care of her growing family. She gave birth to six kids. Eight years ago, however, when two of her daughters started going to college, Manang Gloria decided to stage a comeback as a househelp so she can help send them to school.
A few years ago, Gloria’s world crumbled when she found out that one of her daughters, already in third year college, got pregnant by a married man. When that happened, she could not sleep at night though tired from the day’s work. She would stare blankly at nothingness, mulling why things went wrong. She did her part, she sacrificed, she prayed hard, but why? Two months after, as if her troubles were not enough, this mother discovered that her other daughter, also in her junior year in college, was pregnant, too. Both of her girls had to quit school to take care of their young, and Gloria was totally devastated.
Don’t get me wrong, dear karikna, Gloria loves her two granddaughters and are proud of them, but she knows that things could have been better. Her apukos could have been born at a better time and under appropriate circumstances.
And so she attended the pro-RH activity, cognizant of the importance of age-appropriate sex education on the part of young people and of well-informed choices among couples.
Gloria’s two daughters are among many young Filipinos who experience unwanted pregnancy due to lack of information. In Filipino homes, there pervades a culture of silence when it comes to sex, and this fuels ignorance which results to young people committing irreparable mistakes, not only unwanted pregnancies but also sexually transmitted diseases. Because discussions on sex don’t happen in homes as Filipinos families still regard the topic as taboo, there is thus a need for the State to push for age-appropriate, development-oriented sex education in schools.
Catholic Bishops contend that by teaching sex education in schools, young people are encouraged to engage in premarital sex. This is outrageous. If at all, the culture of silence on sex leaves young people even wilder and more curious. Because adults do not talk about it, the youth are forced to launch their own expeditions on a trial-and-error basis, staking their own futures in the process.
In Sociology 1, I teach Family Planning to my students, and because I believe in choice, I present both the natural and artificial birth control methods. I am firmly convinced, though, that such education on safe and responsible sex must begin much earlier for it is in the earlier adolescent years that the youth begin their explorations. When I graduated from high school, for instance, 10 percent of my female classmates were pregnant. You can imagine how much more young women bear children while in college. It will be shocking to know how many of them have undergone abortion, risking their own lives in the process.
And Gloria is right to leave it to schools what mothers like her cannot do in their homes. For a moment during the television interview, her eyes lit up and glimmered with hope as she said, “Sapay koma ta ti naglabasan dagiti annakko ket haanen mapadasan dagiti sabali nga agtutubo.”(I hope to other young people will not experience what happened to my own children.)
Surely, dear karikna, the youth are the nation’s hope, but so are women of courage like Gloria Portela Valencia who earnestly wish for the next generations a world better than theirs.