There have been news stories of fetuses found around Manila, including three found at the Manila Cathedral, Santa Cruz Church, and Quiapo Church. The Quiapo Church fetus was concealed in a basket of offerings. It was wrapped in a rosary and placed inside a bottle.
This phenomenon has become more frequent—thirteen over just the last two months if reports are to be believed, with more found in sewers. A moral panic is growing over a supposedly anti-family culture in the Philippines, a discourse that includes debates over abortion (criminal), access to contraception (severely limited) and divorce (illegal).
I am struck at how much of the coverage is sensationalized and, of course, by what gets left out.
There has been a steady rise in abortion rates in the Philippines, from an estimated 400,000 in the 1990s to as high as 800,000 as of 2005. The knee-jerk reaction has been to rail against how Filipino culture is “westernizing”and “turning away from god.” The more insightful reports cite the lack of sex education/access to contraception.
But there is something more at work contributing to the spike in abortion rates in this heavily Catholic country.
There is an implicit assumption that the Filipinas who turn to abortions are disgrasyadas. Most of them, however, are married mothers who could not support another child. The lack of access to contraception plays a role in their dilemma. But the rise in poverty rates, escalated by IMF-mandated, corporatist economic development policies, are macro-factors that directly affect the rising abortion rates in the Philippines.
This period also saw a rise in trafficking rates among Filipina women and girls, a significant increase in overseas foreign workers, and a spike in malnutrition rates among children. But there were also dips, such as in the employment rates. Maternal health figures also went down, as did crop production, which then triggered a massive increase in the number of people suffering from hunger.
The narratives of globalization are often centered around malls, call centers, and export processing zones. But the astronomical rise in poverty that began in the 1990s tells other stories. Of indigenous peoples displaced from their lands by the military, to make way for foreign mining companies. Of families torn apart, as more Filipinos risk working abroad. Of people subsisting on pagpag.
And yes, it’s also a narrative about rising abortion rates. About the anguish of a woman who risked prison time and excommunication to wrap a fetus in a rosary and leave it on blessed ground.
Globalization has certainly been a boon to a privileged, corporatist elite. But for far too many, globalization is a narrative of immiseration.