Barangay in your bedroom

By Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 20 2011 12:09 AM | Updated as of Mar 20 2011 09:39 PM

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MANILA, Philippines -- More than a hundred residents of posh Barangay Ayala Alabang trooped to Dela Salle Zobel on Saturday to publicly pronounce their stand and join a heated debate on the controversial barangay ordinance that aims to control the sale of condoms and other contraceptives.

The residents gathered on Saturday for a public consultation that was part of a due process that the the local government of Muntinlupa City has to observe after it temporarily suspended the implementation of the barangay ordinance, which the city government considered "illegal and must be struck down."

Barangay Ordinance 01-2011, 1, entitled “An Ordinance Providing for the Safety and Protection of the Unborn Child,” and issued by Ayala Alabang Barangay council led by Chairman Alfred Xerez-Burgos, Jr., deems it illegal to sell, advertise, or even purchase contraceptives within the territory of Ayala Alabang unless the buyer presents a doctor’s prescription. The drugstore must then log the name of the buyer in a book made specifically for the purpose, and put on record the item on purchase.

It also labels condoms, contraceptive pills, and intra-uterine devices as “abortifacients,” or “any device, medicine, substance or practice which may damage, injure, interfere with the natural development, endanger or cause the expulsion or death of an unborn child.” The ordinance also prohibits the teaching of sex education within the barangay, unless there is parental consent.

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In this corner: Supporters of the ordinance

Critics of the barangay ordinance

'Invaders of the home'

Houses along the way to the venue displayed signed saying either “Yes” or “No” to Ordinance No. 1, an early sign that the debate would not be lopsided.

At the venue, the crowd was segregated, with “pro” and “anti” participants passing through different entrances.

They were also given stickers to wear that would signify their stand - pink for supporters of the ordinance, orange for the opposition, and white for those still undecided.

The venue was also divided by a rope at the center.

The debate, although civil, was heated.

“We supporters of the ordinance have been called many names, “ says pro-ordinance resource speaker Atty. Luis Sison. “We’ve been called 'idiots,' 'plain stupid,' 'invaders of the home,' 'members of Taliban that are better off in faraway Afghanistan.' But we have yet to be called 'killers of the unborn,' and for that we are proud.”

Opposers of the ordinance stressed the unconstitutionality of the ordinance, saying condoms, pills, and IUDs in the legal market are all approved by the Food and Drug Authority, and no barangay has the power to supersede the mandates and regulations of national government.

“If you are using religion as the basis of this ordinance, then you are treading on dangerous territory,” says anti-ordinance speaker Atty. Frank Chavez.

“I am not less of a Catholic just because I oppose this. The ordinance is a clear usurpation of authority, declaring illegal things that are not really illegal.”

Violations of privacy, right to choice

Representatives of government agencies were also present at the consultation, but were all clearly on the anti-ordinance side. The FDA asserted their right as the only agency with the power to approve or disapprove the sale of any drug.

It also made clear that as far as the agency was concerned, contraceptives are not abortifacients, and therefore pose no threat to the life of the unborn.

The Commission on Human rights said the ordinance violated the people’s right to privacy, as well as women’s right to choice.

The Department of Health, on the other hand, reminded the audience that condoms, IUDs, and contraceptive pills are part of the government-sanctioned mixed family planning program.

Legislating morality

Despite this, pro-ordinance residents remained defiant.

A boy in his early teens faced the tough crowd and asked, “So you mean it’s okay that young boys my age buy condoms without you, our mothers, knowing?”

Another resident, Candy Piedad, said “You cannot put laws on morality. We will have no future if we will have no children. What will happen to our elderly without children there to care for them?”

Reproductive Health Bill preview? 

Under the Ordinance, violators may face a fine of not less than P1,000 and no more than P5,000, and an imprisonment of no more than 4 months at the second offense.

Foreigners who violate the ordinance face deportation, and drugstores who sell without prescription face revocations of their business permits.

Barangay Chairman Alfred Xerez-Burgos declined to be interviewed by the media, but Muntinlupa Mayor Aldrin San Pedro said the ball is still in the barangay council’s courts.

“Matatagalan pa bago makarating sa akin yan,” said Mayor San Pedro. “Pag-uusapan muna nila uli yan, and they will determine if they will still push through with it or not. Ang akin lang, kailangang plantsahin muna yung questions on the constitutionality of it.”

Convenors tried their best to limit the discussion to the local subject at hand, but with words like “pro-life,” “anti-life,” “morality,” and religion thrown in, it almost seemed like a preview to what would be nationwide debates on the Reproductive Health Bill.

Barangay councils have the power and obligation to ensure order and propriety within its jurisdiction. But whether this jurisdiction includes the confines of a person’s bedroom remains to be seen in the battle of Ayala Alabang.