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Manang Precious

Twice or thrice a week Manang Precious gets on a commuters' van in San Fernando, La Union and pays the reasonable fare for the ride up the mountains, to Baguio. She carries with her two basket-loads of fish, meat, and vegetables.

On a typical day, one basket will contain at least three different kinds of fish from the San Fernando market. Once in a while Manang Precious, or Precy as we call her, brings octopus. She also sells longganisa, tinapa, pork chops, beef, eggplant, puto, kutchinta, mangoes, chicos, mushrooms, okra, and other lowland vegetables. My guess is that she begins her day with 6 to 8 kilos in each basket. She says a good day is when her baskets are empty before noon, and her purse is filled with bills and coins adding up to 1,500 to 2,000 pesos gross. Out of this amount, she gets a profit of about 150 pesos. The rest goes back to her suppliers.

She lugs her baskets of goods from house to house in our neighborhood. Some of us have known her for years and are grateful that she saves us a trip to the market, when she comes. Her health has been failing her lately, and her visits have become irregular. She confided that she doesn't always eat while she's working and last year she was hospitalised for ulcers. I remember we missed her for two whole weeks. Another time she was hospitalised for high blood pressure. She borrowed money to pay the hospital bills from a lady who lives up the street. She is still repaying her debt with deliveries of fish.

Today she arrived with apologies for not having come last week. She said she had to see a hilot because she felt like her baby was trying to be born out of her anus. Baby? My gaze flew from her smiling face to her rounded belly, which I noticed for the first time and only because she told me.

"Akala ko hindi na ako mabubuntis, kasi matanda na ako!", she whispered, giggling.

"Ilang taon na po kayo?"

"42. Tapos nag-low blood pa ako noong sinubukan kong mag-pills. E nung nag-low blood na ako itinigil ko yung pills. Akala ko pagka ganun hindi na talaga pwedeng mabuntis!"

"Pero hindi na po kayo nagre-regla?"

"Meron pa rin!"

"E di talagang pwede pa po kayong mabuntis."

"Ay ganun ba? Naku, huwag mong sasabihin sa kanila sa taas, papagalitan ako ni ma'am!"

This is to be her 10th child. I had just come from the market myself, and so all I bought from her was a small bag of puto, a small bag of kutchinta, and a bundle of eggplant. 30 pesos. As she left she waved to me gaily and with her forefinger to her smiling lips, Manang Precy reminded me not to tell. I called out to her to take good care of herself.

"Huwag nyo pong masyadong pagurin sarili nyo!"

Still grinning, she shrugged her shoulders as if to say, No choice but to keep on going. Her joyfulness and good spirits are -- to me anyway -- cause for wonder.

And I wonder: What does her husband do? And her older children, are they old or skilled or lucky enough to be working and contributing to the household income? I wonder why, at 42, her own reproductive powers and her right to information and birth control are still a mystery to her?

So few women have access to reliable birth control and sound medical advice. Even less women have a choice. Perhaps that's how God wants it: sex for pleasure and not for coming forth and multiplying is mortal sin, birth control is cause for penitence, and abortion guarantees eternal damnation in hell. The Church always sees to it that God gets his way. And in this country, the Church always gets its way. Amen.

This is dogma that perpetrates widespread ignorance about human reproduction. Every time it raises its ugly head in my vicinity, it makes me mad. The Church isn't going to feed all these children being born, much less pay the hospital bills. This is why I'm itching to read Richard Dawkins' new book, The God Delusion. I'm sure it's loaded with ammunition for heretics like me.


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