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  • 'Maintindihan Nila ang Totoong Sitwasyon ng mga Kababaihan Dahil sa Movie na Ito'

    It’s an eye-opening account of the lack of support for women when it comes to their reproductive health
    by Kitty Elicay .
  • Inside Fabella Hospital, also known as the country’s National Maternity Ward, a pregnant woman who is slated for admission is answering questions from a nurse. She is 24 years old, with no job, and when asked how many kids she already has, the woman responds she already has four — this was her fifth pregnancy. She rattles off consecutive years as the birth years of her children. The nurse asks her another question: How many kids do you plan on having? She answers with a small laugh, “Just five.”

    This is the opening scene of Motherland, Ramona Diaz’s award-winning documentary film that tells the tales of the patients inside Fabella Hospital, infamously known as the “birth factory.” Every day, hundreds of women give birth here, most of whom are so poor they can't afford health care. Once they’ve delivered their newborns, it is typical that two women will be asked to share one bed, along with their babies, in a crammed maternity ward where there is no air conditioning.

    Fabella Hospital has caught the attention of many international agencies in the past — we've all heard about the conditions inside the hospital. But, seeing it through Diaz's eyes, even the most stoic can't walk out of this film feeling unmoved. 

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    “What drew me to Fabella was the place, obviously,” she says in the Q&A portion held after the Philippine premiere of her film at Active Vista’s Human Rights Festival (for a full list of screenings, click here). “But what drew me most to making this film was the communities of women that formed around this very private space. Life is difficult, but they had a grace to them that was very heartwarming."

    The film indeed is moving and filled with heroes in the guise of doctors, nurses and other health professionals who give their best in often harrowing situations. But most of all it’s a powerful and eye-opening account of what these mothers are going through and the lack of support for women when it comes to their maternal and reproductive health. The documentary only had two screenings at the festival, but it should definitely reach a wider audience, especially now that the RH Law can be fully implemented.

    You can't watch documentary without realizing:


    1. Early sex education needs to be a priority.

    The mom at the film’s opening started having children when she was 18 or 19, and she is not the youngest patient. As the film progresses, we meet Aira Joy Jubilo, one of Motherland’s “main” characters, who, at 17, gives birth to her first baby. We see how she struggles with her new role, often looking wide-eyed and bewildered about everything that’s happening. She has trouble breastfeeding and has to be reminded that her baby (born prematurely) needs the milk to gain weight.


    When one of the hospital nurses discuss the possibility of her getting an IUD (intrauterine device), a type of contraceptive, Aira is hesitant because her mother told her not to get one. The nurse had to plead, asking her to think of herself and her baby’s future, before she managed to convince Aira to get one.

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    There are other snippets of young mothers refusing to get IUDs. One thinks she won’t need it because she and her partner are not living together; the first pregnancy was just “an accident.” The nurse could not let it pass, and it was a memorable part of the film when the nurse told her, “Matanong kita, nung nabuo ba yung bata, nag-siping ba kayo ng partner mo?” When she answers with a meek “yes,” the nurse quickly reminds her that even if they only sleep together a number of times in a few months, there is always a risk for pregnancy.

    This lack of awareness is one of the reasons why Diaz felt compelled to make the film. “They’re [the women in the film] being educated 20 years too late. I think the key [to igniting social change] — and that’s why the Reproductive Health law is really important — is early sex education,” she says. “I think that it’ll take a generation to change that, but at least the conversation has been started and we are approaching [that time].”

    With an RH Law in place, the Department of Education will have the policy to teach sex from kinder all the way up, but they will need all the help that they can get, says Chi Laigo-Vallido, director for Programs and Advocacy of the Forum for Family Planning and Development.

    “DepEd did a study na 9 out of 10 [public school] teachers are uncomfortable discussing reproductive health, or they are not ready,” she shares.

    Dr. Junice Melgar, director of Likhaan, a non-government organization (NGO) that provides health care services to women in marginalized communities (both women were part of the screening’s Q&A) adds, “I don’t know how far they can go talking about sexuality the way non-government people do, but the fact is they would be shifting from an abstinence-only education to an abstinence-plus, meaning they would talk about condoms and contraceptives after Grade Six, which is new. In other countries, 'that’s too late,' but we’ve always had an abstinence-only curriculum. And there’s been a lot of evidence that it doesn’t work."


    Parents also have the responsibility to educate their children about these sensitive issues. Cara Galang Fernandez, a professor of psychology at the Ateneo De Manila University, believes it is important for parents to talk to their kids about sex. “They will help their children more by educating them about sex than by trying to keep them in the dark.” In fact, studies have shown that “"connectedness to parents, particularly their mothers, and a family environment that supports gender equality are associated with delayed first sex among girls."

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    2. Men need to share the responsibility of their child.

    Among the many themes that the movie discusses is the role the husbands play in the birth of their child. We are introduced to Lea Lumanog, who did not know she was carrying twins until they were born prematurely. She is admitted to the hospital alone and when asked why her husband has not visited, she replies the doesn’t have money for transportation.

    When Aira's mother asks why her the father of her child has not visited, Aira shrugs it off, saying he never promised to come. But a few beats later, she shares a tearful moment with her mother after the hardships of what she had just gone through sinks in.

    This lack of participation probably stems from the fact that being a mostly patriarchal society, some men feel that giving birth is the sole responsibility of a woman.

    “We run clinics and birthing and we always encourage the husbands if they can come and be with the women so they can see how difficult labor and delivery is. It works with some, but not all. The reality is we really can’t transform all men,” says Dr. Melgar. “We’ve discovered that men get insulted if women would be talking to them about gender equality, male participation, male responsibility, etc. So it would be very good to have men talking with men about their own relationships, gender, and sexuality education.”

    It’s not to say that every man featured in the film was a hopeless case. Lea’s husband eventually appears after borrowing money for transportation (and to pay the hospital bills, too), and we get gratuitous shots of husbands holding their baby lovingly.

    “I found that the men were very sentimental toward the birth of their children,” says Diaz. “Less than the women. Not that the women loved their babies less — the women just got on with it, with life, birthing. But some men came and supported their wives, girlfriends, or partners.”

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    3. Family planning is a decision to be made by couples.

    The film shows how family planning methods like IUD and tubal ligation are offered for free to moms, but very few of them agree to avail it. Lerma Coronel, another of the documentary’s main characters, agrees to tubal ligation after giving birth to seven children. But an unnamed woman backs out when she realizes she’ll have to wait a few days to get the procedure, and she will have to stay longer at the hospital. Many others are shown to be scared of IUD, and are influenced by external forces (their own mothers, husbands, etc.) to not have anything done.

    Dr. Melgar says this can be attributed to the Filipino norm not accepting male involvement in contraceptives. “I think the debate in the national implementation theme of the RH law is, ‘How much do we need to spend so that men would take up using contraceptives and helping out women? Would it be more efficient to just spend that on women because women are more aggressive in protecting themselves?”

    Part of the challenge of educating men and women about family planning is removing the fears and misconceptions surrounding it, says Vallido.

    “Throughout the film, you would see women say, ‘I’m scared, I’m terrified.’ For many years, the debate on RH focused on family planning and creating this fear that you’re going to get cancer, etc. There are even studies that say that it’s not that men are imposing not to have family planning, it’s just they fear there are side effects as well,” she shares. “There are many challenges now with all those 51 family planning methods that will still be challenged with misinformation and misconception. So the more we talk about it, the more pieces of evidence will be shown, and women will slowly face those fears.”

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    4. Kangaroo Care has probably saved many babies in Fabella.

    With the sheer number of live births, Fabella cannot afford to place all premature babies inside incubators and so they have resorted to Kangaroo Care, a method that uses skin-to-skin contact to transfer the mother’s warmth to the baby and give the infant a higher chance of survival. In a sense, the mothers become human incubators.

    One of the most touching scenes is seeing the husbands participate in Kangaroo Care for their premature babies. The hospital encourages fathers to do Kangaroo Care with their preemie babies during visiting hours. Studies have proven that skin-to-skin contact saves lives and helps babies gain weight faster. It’s not limited to premature babies, so it’s also a great way to facilitate bonding with the fathers, so they can also have better involvement in the birth of their child, and a better understanding of what their wives go through.

    Truth be told, the film’s two-day run is not enough. We hope that Motherland gets a wider distribution in the country. As one mom puts it, “[Motherland] ang nagpapakita ng totoong mukha ng mga kababaihan. For the first time, hindi lang ho kami ang nag-sasalita. Sana dahil sa movie na ito, maintindihan nila kung ano ba ang totong sitwasyon ng mga kababaihan.”

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