26 JANUARY 2007
by FRANK CIMATU
One would think that Tinoc would have a long list of wants and needs. But last December 1 saw the inauguration of a local law that is expected to change profoundly the lives of the people of Tinoc and the rest of the province: the Ifugao Reproductive Health Code.
Ifugao Province has some 161,123 people living on 251,778 hectares of land, much of which cannot be tilled. Of its 11 towns, only two can be considered urban areas. The average family size in the province hews close to the national figure of five to six members, but in towns like Tinoc, the poorest families can have as many as a dozen children.
In 2000, the National Statistical Coordination Board said that Tinoc was the 23rd poorest municipality in the country, with 76.4 percent of its population considered poor. Most of those on the list were located in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Bulalacao in Oriental Mindoro (2nd), Tineg in Abra (9th), San Francisco (10th) and San Andres (20th) in Quezon, and Siayan in Zamboanga del Norte (17th), were the only non-ARMM towns rating lower than Tinoc.
Ifugao was also among the 10 poorest provinces in the country at that time, which is why it was included among the pilot areas in the Sixth Country Programme of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2005.
In Ifugao, the programme singled out Tinoc, Lagawe, and Asipulo, the province’s newest municipality. The UNFPA believes that quality reproductive health care, of which family planning is just one of ten aspects, can help alleviate poverty.
The other elements of reproductive health care are maternal and child health; men's involvement in reproductive health; elimination of violence against women; adolescent reproductive health; elimination of breast and reproductive tract cancers and other gynecological conditions; prevention of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS; prevention and management of abortion complications; and prevention of infertility and sexual dysfunction.
IT MAY not be immediately obvious why a reproductive-health code would be so important in places like Tinoc, which has been in isolation for so long that identifying it as a fifth-class municipality would be putting it kindly. The town has native Kalanguya and Ifugao as residents, and almost all of them work as farmers. Yet even though the families each earn only about P2,000 to P3,000 a month, they are able to meet all their basic needs.
Well, almost all their needs. After all, this sense of self-sustainability can only go so far. According to Rowena Comilang, program director of Baguio Center for Young Adults (BCYA), in a wealth-ranking survey made in the three UNFPA pilot villages two years ago, only 58 families said that they had “enough.” More than 330 families considered themselves poor and 148 families said they were among the kabitegan or the very poor.
Many of the poorer families have 10 to 13 children. Comilang also says that alcoholism is a very common problem there (perhaps an indication that the people of Tinoc are in dire need of more DVD shows to while away their nights).
She adds that teenage pregnancy and arranged marriages are still common practices. This may be the reason why Tinoc has one of the highest dropout rates in the country, according to education department statistics, with 13.84 percent of its high school students never graduating. Some 3.76 percent of Tinoc’s elementary students eventually stop going to their classes as well.
But it’s not as if people in Tinoc are complacent about family planning. Like the rest of the people of Ifugao Province, they are all too aware that having too many children could be a problem. In Tinoc, Lagawe, and Asipulo, the BCYA reported that the ideal number of children wanted by both parents is four, although the actual average per household in these towns is five to eight children. (At the national level, the desired number of children per household is three and the actual number is four.)
The favored contraceptives among Ifugao women are pills and injectables. Male involvement in family planning, however, is almost nil, with no takers at all for nonsurgical vasectomy, while condom use is very low.
Still, there may be another reason for the supposedly weak popularity of prophylactics. Roy Dimayuga, the UNFPA coordinator for Ifugao, says that one December night in 2005, the Tinoc Rural Health Unit was burglarized. The only items stolen, however, were 50 pieces of strawberry-flavored condoms and two packets of contraceptive pills. These were taken from the DKT Pop Shop inside the office.
"We roared in laughter, but in a deeper sense, that incident reminded us of the importance of addressing not only people's RH concerns, but also their economic concerns," Dimayuga says.
Ifugao was one of the last provinces to be given free contraceptives by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and that supply ran out in 2005. The local health unit thereafter began selling condoms and other contraceptives in DKT Pop Shops. (See sidebar)
The Ifugao towns are too poor to shoulder the reproductive-health needs of their people. The Tinoc Municipal Health Office, for example, had a budget in 2005 of only P1,641,621. Of this, P1,459,940 was for personnel cost. That meant only a little more than P10 for each resident of Tinoc for their health needs. That is equivalent to only two movie showings using their solar-powered DVD players.
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