A political firestorm hit the Philippines in the form of a Reproductive Health Bill, popularly called “The RH Bill.” It pitted tradition against reform: guaranteed universal access to contraception, fertility control and maternal care, and mandated sex education in schools, although the RH Bill’s authors insisted that abortion would remain illegal. In a country where 85% of the population is Catholic, a legacy of 400 years of Spanish colonial rule, the Bill stalled because the legislature had little appetite for opposing the formidable and well-funded Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). But change has come. With an estimated population of 95 million, a third of whom subsist on two dollars a day, the Philippines is the twelfth most populous country in the world.
While the Bill’s enactment or funding holds weighty implications for this Catholic country, nowhere are the stakes more starkly apparent than in Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, one of the busiest maternity and newborn tertiary public hospitals in the world which averages 60 births a day—and at its peak, one every 12 minutes. As the RH Bill’s proponents and opponents debate the Bill in legislative chambers, across town the crowded Fabella Hospital is the final safety net for very poor pregnant women, most of whom cannot afford either contraception or the $60 delivery fee.
MOTHERLAND goes back and forth between the legislature and Fabella Hospital – contrasting the sluggish pace of policy development, as lawmakers parse the language of the RH Bill, arguing over the difference between population “development” and “control”; and the rampant speed of childbirth, as the hospital’s whiteboard tracks the day’s deliveries. The story is told by people on both sides of the issue—legislators on the Senate floor and the patients and hospital workers at the Fabella Hospital—through a combination of vérité scenes of the hospital and footage of the Senate hearings and of a televised debate.