Lourdes Medino whom we endearingly called Ondet had given birth almost yearly before breathing her last during delivery of her fifth child in Sitio Cutay in Anahaway, an hour’s walk to Palo, a town in Leyte. She was bleeding profusely that the local male paltero was at a loss on what to do. She died a few hours later while her baby son almost did not make it.
The memory flashed back several years earlier when I saw Ondet came out of Mama Pile, her mother who was my mother’s cousin by the nth degree, as they were temporary housed in my Lola Bia’s house in the sawang or town center. Lola Bia woke me up, her vacationing grandchild from Manila, to assist her by holding the burning suga while Ondet was coming out. With the suga’s light, I saw tiny Ondet burst out and breath her first while Lola Bia was holding her upside down and spitting on her at the same time reciting a Latin litany, apparently a secret code of the Waray palteras– not knowing the fate that would befell her several years later.
There are many Ondets in the rural areas of the country who had not seen nor gotten the services of midwives or doctors because they do not know how and where to go. She is one out of the 11 mothers who died of childbirth everyday, according to the figures of Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation, Inc. (PLCPD).
Ondet had gotten married at 16 years old to another teenager her age who like her also came from a family of farmers who earn Php 100 a day when they are lucky enough. As other agricultural workers, they are lucky when an owner of a farm close by seek their services during planting or harvesting seasons. They usually eat camote, loaned rice, banaw (Waray term for bagoong) or bulad (dried fish) everyday. Feast for them are cooked rice and steaming hot sapsap boiled with tanglad, tomatoes and camote tops eaten only on special days like fiesta, birthdays or weddings.
As the PLCPD figures put it, Ondet belonged to the 30 percent of the total Filipino population who is pregnant during adolescent period, making her one out of the 3.1 million teenage mothers who give birth annually. Obviously, she and her husband did not know how to space nor limit their children.
Will the approval of Reproductive Health (RH) Bill save other women’s lives?
PLCPD Executive Director Ramon San Pascual assures that the RH Bill that is currently stalled in Congress will give poor Filipino women access to health services where they can have regular monthly check-ups when they get pregnant and have the midwives’ or doctors’ health expertise in every barangay should their due date of delivery comes.
Another service that the RH Bill provides is the access to contraceptives when the woman wants to limit or space her children, he promises.
Sex education, a necessity for teenagers, will also be given for them to learn to respect themselves and other people’s body. The myth that HIV-AIDS is a curable disease will be tackled and corrected here, San Pascual adds.
The Catholic Church meets head-on this RH Bill saying that it is pro-abortion and that its support of the use of contraceptives violates the rights of couples to decide about the number and time when to have children.
The debate between the Catholic hierarchy and the pro-RH Bill advocates rages on and on.
Meanwhile, Ondet’s husband was hacked to death by the same male paltero whose hands Ondet died during a tuba drinking bout. Their five children are now orphaned. I got to see them when I passed by their dilapidated hut on my way to Lola Bia’s lanzones grove.
“Naniudto na kamo?” (Have you had lunch) I asked at two o’clock in the afternoon hoping to start a conversation.
“Waray pa gad,” (Not yet) the children sheepishly chorused, including Ondet’s little boy whom she last gave birth.
While asking for their names and ages, Papa Lauren, Ondet’s father, came limping with some pieces of newly-harvested camote. The hut’s dirt-ground became busy as the two small boys whose heights prevent them from reaching the stove, climbed atop it to make fire. The two smaller girls happily went down the river to wash the reddish-white root crops covered with soil. The eldest boy hurriedly fetched water from the well.
That was seven years ago. Ondet’s two little girls must be approaching teenage years by now. Hope they do not suffer their mother’s fate.