RH Bill

Discovering My Story in 'The Journey of a Brown Girl'


I made my way up several flights of stairs, where I was greeted and asked to choose a small stone from a bowl before entering the performance space. Each audience member did the same, and wrote a word or their name on their stones - I elected to scribble down the word “love” in Arabic. We placed them on the altar, located on stage right, and took our seats.

Jana Lynne “JL” Umipig, the director, creator and producer of The Journey of a Brown Girl, explained to the audience that the stones were meant to absorb the positive energy from the show, and that we were free to retrieve our stones at the conclusion of the night’s event.

The energy that flowed through WOW Café Theater that evening was beyond positive. It was also a mix of wonder, anger and passion; wonder – for many of the issues that the piece as a whole raised, all of which sparked curiosity and reflection among the audience; anger – for the many misfortunes and atrocities that fellow Pilipina women have had to endure throughout the course of history; and passion – for the intense level of emotion that each the five characters evoked during the performance.

The Journey of a Brown Girl did not follow a particular storyline. Instead, it was a collective; it was an exploration of Pilipina issues and experiences through varying lenses. Following the opening ritual, the five women gathered for “Ina sa Anak na Babae (Mother to Daughters).” Light, played by Precious Sipin, was the mother figure of the four other elements. Her four daughters were Wind (Renee Rises), Water (Leslie Hubilla), Fire (Vanessa Ramalho) and Earth (Karen Pangantihon). Each of the women in the show used a malong throughout the performance. The malong is defined by Umipig as “a life cloth.” Umipig describes the malongs as garments that:

“… become an extension of the spirits of the wom*n and are used throughout to help them transform into characters and to give to the stories of all the sisters, mothers, wom*n, and girls whose voices fill the piece… From cradle to grave, this is how the malong serves the Maranao. The malong is a tube-like, unisex garment that also symbolizes the Maranao’s artform and culture.”

In a commentary on the Catholic Church, poignantly referred to as “Sit, Stand, Kneel,” Light knelt on stage right, deep in prayer. As they sat, stood, and knelt non-stop, the four daughters began to itch with frustration. They recognized that they had been conditioned to abide by the expectations of the church, regardless of their understanding of faith and spirituality.

“I know Him, but I know the hymn by heart,” one of the daughters stated with discontent.


The wide disconnect between the church and women’s issues as a whole is still evident today. Change, though slow, requires arduous effort. Just this past week in the Philippines, the Supreme Court passed the RH bill, which previously faced much opposition by the Roman Catholic Church.

“The Reproductive Health Law is a historic step forward for all women in the Philippines, empowering them to make their own decisions about their health and families and participate more fully and equally in their society,” states Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. Still the church continues to clash with women’s rights, especially in the Philippines and among Catholic women of the Pilipino diaspora.

The performance also presented the modern Pilipina woman as an individual that is often overlooked in society. The performers took turns telling the accounts of OFWs who have become domestic workers after leaving the PI. These portraits explained the trials that domestic workers are subjected to, including receiving little or no pay, enduring physical and sexual abuse, and experiencing the inability to break contract and leave their employer. The piece went on to portray trafficked Pilipinas who have been deceived by recruitment agencies or individuals and forced into sex slavery abroad. The performers took on a different persona, reflective of the women whose stories they were telling. They took turns recounting several interviews and recollections over candlelight. Hearing these chilling tales brought tears to many in the audience, myself included.

The latter half of the piece explored the perception of beauty among Pilipina women. Light encouraged her four daughters to make their skin white by smearing thick layers of lightening cream upon their faces. Watching the women cover up their brown skin was comical at first; they appeared to buy into the acceptable perceptions of beauty (according to their mother and society). Eventually, each of the daughters realized that they were hiding their true selves, and began to wash away their masks.



All I could think of during the performance was how much I understood each of the daughters - and even the mother. The performers portrayed Pilipina women as victims of circumstance. Those circumstances ranged from religious faith and spirituality to colonialism and globalization. However, each of the women also portrayed strength, perseverance and resilience.

After the show, I approached Umipig, and thanked her for such a moving experience.

“It was like you were telling my story,” I admitted to Umipig.

“That’s because it is your story,” she assured me.


Photo credits: Chauncey Velasco

A Speech on Abortion in the Philippines by Christine Sicwaten

Note from the Editor: Christine Sicwaten is one of UniPro's interns for the summer. At our recent staff meeting, she delivered a speech on the "UniIssue" of Abortion in the Philippines. Read on to see her thoughtful take on the controversial topic. by Christine Sicwaten

Choices.  I don’t know about you but I love having the ability to choose.  From the having the choice of what profession I want to work in to something as simple as wearing what I want to wear.  Choices.

Without choices our freedoms are limited.  Living in the United States gives us liberties that we often take for granted.  Within the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights alone we have the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.  Although we live in the 21st century there are still several countries who do not protect even half of the rights that I have previously stated.

For 14 years the Catholic Church has been fighting “The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act” otherwise known as the RH Bill.  The RH Bill requires that not only sex education be taught but that public health workers receive training in family planning and that post abortion medical care is legalized.

Contraception, family planning, and sex education in general are not widely discussed in schools or the public.  In the Philippines it is not as if using contraceptives is banned, it is merely unaffordable to many.  With 30% of the population living below the poverty line and a 100 million people living on 62 cents a day, pesos go to buying the necessities such as food and clothing, not condoms.

The Church has centered this bill around religion when in reality it is about human rights, health and sustainable human development.  The Philippines has one of the fastest growing populations in the world. National statistics state that Philippines is growing at 1.89% and could reach 105 million by 2016. Even without considering the problem of overpopulation the fact that sex education is not available in schools greatly affects the lives of young people.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, 7 out of 10 births in the Philippines are by women of 19 years or younger.   Where were you at 19?  What were you doing? At 19 I was in my sophomore year at Stony.  The only baby I was worried about nurturing was my cultural dance team within PUSO.

Choices are limited for Filipinos because of economic, political and social factors. However, if President Aquino and the Philippine government want to implement changes that can create more opportunities for a healthier and more economical lifestyle then the Church should not stand in its way.  There are a several things that need to change about the Philippines but I believe it all starts with education.  They say that knowledge is power.  The Catholic Church can think negatively and say that handing out free condoms and educating students on sex will lead to more sex and relaxed moral standings.  However, I believe that a more optimistic mindset needs to be implemented.  More individuals need to have faith that young people will make good choices, ones that will lead to a brighter future.  The Philippine government is so why not the rest?

The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RH Bill) is Passed

I had been following the progress (and stagnation) of the Reproductive Health Bill since 2011, when I wrote part of my college senior thesis about the proposed law. My paper covered the main points of the bill - that it would provide access in the Philippines to maternal care, sex education and contraception, but it would not legalize abortion. I also discussed the controversy surrounding the issue. The majority of the population, along with President Aquino who endorsed the bill were long at odds with the Catholic Church, itself a potent political force within the country. That May, having completed my thesis and received my diploma, I went to the Philippines with my family. The three-week trip was a graduation gift from my parents, and I couldn't wait to explore the country again, this time with a good friend who joined us for the first ten days. While visiting Bohol and Quezon City, we noticed a certain trend: there are so many kids here, we thought. It wasn't an observation I can remember having on any other family vacation. There were small children literally everywhere. They approached us with wonder on the beach, they hung onto their parents at the malls - and they languished on the streets, begging for money. Our thoughts turned often to the RH bill.

I read an article from the Los Angeles Times this past summer that delved into the RH Bill and its implications, while also painting a portrait of a woman named Yolanda Naz. At the age of 36, “she had more children than teeth, common for poor women after repeated pregnancies and breast-feeding.” This mother of eight recounted sermons she had heard at Mass, when priests emphasized the sinfulness of taking birth control pills. But she explains, "What is more sinful is to have more children than I can afford to feed." The RH Bill is for women like Yolanda, who struggle every single day to feed their many sick children.

On December 19, 2012, the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 enacted by the 15th Congress of the Philippines. The law guarantees Pilipino citizens access to various contraceptives and fertility control. The public will have access to sex education and methods of family planning. Women are guaranteed maternal care and will have more control over their own bodies. This is a major milestone in the Philippines, where the median age is 23.1 years and the birth rate is 24.98 births/1,000 population (compared to 37.1 years and 13.7/1,000 in the United States).

Human life is precious, and that is exactly why I am glad the bill was passed into law. We should value the lives of children by allowing them to have as much opportunity as possible. Too often they are forced to work instead of going to school; tey become ill or they face death because their parents can't afford the luxuries of education, clean shelter and food. Because of this new law, children in the Philippines - this is the hope, and it will take time - will have a better shot at living healthier and happier lives.