Mr. President, I believe in the 12 years I was in the Senate, I think without miss, I delivered a speech on breastfeeding every August. And the reason for that is because August is Breastfeeding Month.
Thus, I am duty-bound to do my part in promoting breastfeeding, being the author of the Expanded Breastfeeding Law, together with the late Senator Ed Angara.
But the question that I’d like my colleagues to ponder is this. Why do we need to promote something that is so natural that is a biological function of every mother?
The reason for that is because over the decades, we have lost the breastfeeding culture, especially among mothers who work outside of the home, and there has also been a lot of misinformation on breast milk alternatives, which has resulted in sickness and death among our infants.
A little bit of history, Mr. President. Obviously, women breastfed from the time of Adam and Eve. However, around the time of the Industrial Revolution, there was a major shift in the traditional woman’s life. They left their homes to join the workforce. Working hours and hours, half a day, and many of them living away from home.
This caused the separation of the mother from her child, interfering with breastfeeding. The result was many babies fell sick and actually died. There were no studies to determine, to tell what were the acceptable alternatives to breast milk. Thus led to the invention of formula milk.
And for a while, this was seen as a suitable alternative to breast milk for mothers. In fact, it became very lucrative because the demand of working mothers grew and for long, formula milk was even touted as the best food for babies. They would say that it makes babies grow stronger, grow taller, become smarter, etc. etc.
Well over the decades, this was proven to be false. There is no formula or milk substitute that can provide the nutrients or immunological benefits that breast milk can provide. I repeat, there is no other product than the mother’s milk. Anyone else who says so is lying.
I am now going to take the opportunity to greet a soon-to-be father, Former Congressman Samsam Gullas, who’s behind me, to remember that. Because the next part of my speech is about being a very supportive breastfeeding husband or father.
Anyway, the advertisements and commercials supporting formula milk led many mothers to believe that in fact they could give their [babies] this formula milk, and their babies would be healthier. The most affected always are the poorest of the poor, because they had very little money to spend, they would buy formula, and then they would even use it not within the prescribed manner of using it. They would dilute it with more water because they didn’t have the money to pay for all that formula milk. And thus, their baby would even get more malnourished.
And during times of disaster, Mr. President, I’ll talk about this a little bit more. When formula milk was made available, without access to clean water, babies even got diarrhea and some would even die. So, this led to the passage of EO 51, which regulated the promotion and advertising of breast milk substitutes. That was before I became a senator, Mr. President.
Meanwhile, I became a working mother myself, and from my own research, wala pa hong internet noon, so I bought books and I read on these books. I realized, I learned that breast milk was best for babies. I breastfed my three children, and indulge me, Mr. President, as I share this story. My mom, who happens to be in the audience today, she actually surprised me, I did not know that she would be here. So that’s my mom, over there. Mom, can you stand up?
For those of you who were colleagues of my father, now you know where my brothers and I get most of our wisdom from. Our mother. Anyway, my breastfeeding story. My mom was my invaluable partner in my breastfeeding journey. I lived in a two-bedroom house in Taguig with my brother, Alan, now the Speaker of the House. I lived in one room with my husband, and he lived in his other room by himself, as far as I know.
Meanwhile, because I was breastfeeding night and day, my mom would come over and sleep in our house, and she would sleep in Alan’s room and get my baby at any hour of the night so that I could have a little but of sleep. And thus, Alan technically also witnessed and was a partner in my breastfeeding journey.
I had a very similar experience with my second child. It was not an easy experience in both cases, because I was a working mom, I had to stay up all night. I am not one of those mothers who had an oversupply of milk. I cried in the first two months of breastfeeding my baby. It was painful, I had no sleep, I went to work and had to budget my time, carrying what looked like a briefcase, but was actually a breast pump.
Come my third child who is actually in the picture on the wall, my third child was Gabriel. He was born with a cleft lip and palate and he also had many other conditions brought about by his condition, which is called Trisomy 13. Thus, he could not really suck well and so I breastfed him through a tube that went all the way down to his stomach.
So that was my breastfeeding experience. Every mother has her own story to tell.
Fast forward, I became a senator, and I was approached by many advocacy groups asking for help in promoting breastfeeding. And this gave me the opportunity to work with the late Senator Ed Angara, wherein we passed the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Law in 2009.
This law required that we set up Lactation Stations in the workplaces, and in places frequented by women. So gentlemen, if you go with your wives to SM or other malls, please do me a favor and ensure that you see a breastfeeding center. I mentioned SM because to be fair to SM, they even put up the lactation stations before it became a law. So… Yes, that is part of it. Senator Gordon pointed it out something that I will actually talk about.
The law also required that we require doctors and health workers to talk about it, because surprisingly, we met a lot of mothers who said their doctors never talked about breastfeeding with them. Whether it was the OB-Gyne or the Pediatrician. I’d like to believe that since we passed this law, which has been 10 years, this has been improved.
It has also required that this be part of the Curriculum. What we want to see is that, when children read books, they see pictures of a breastfeeding family, and not a family that has a baby being fed through a bottle. Because we want to promote a breastfeeding culture.
Now to complement this law, and to also help in ensuring its implementation, I did my little share of talking to health workers, talking to mothers, visiting hospitals, encouraging LGUs to put up milk banks. And this is where the birthday celebrant, Senator Dick Gordon, comes in. Senator Dick Gordon is a proponent of blood-letting. I am a proponent of milk-letting. It is very similar… and let me get there. He is also a proponent of milk… breast milk promotion, because as the Red Cross chair, they require that our disaster centers are breastfeeding-friendly.
So for those who don’t know what a breast milk… a milk bank is, what a milk-letting activity is, it’s similar to blood-letting where you ask people to volunteer. In this case, these are mothers who are actually breastfeeding and have milk to share. And they pump their milk and they donate it. And it will be put in a storage for mothers who would be needing it for their babies in the future.
Fast forward, was the Maternity Leave Law, which we all passed just recently. And this law complements the breastfeeding laws that I mentioned because one of the biggest deterrents to women continuing to breastfeed is the fact that they go to work and they’re separated from their children.
So, for those gentlemen here who will have women in your workforce who will be breastfeeding, please, not I encourage you, but I remind you that it is the law to allow them to have time to breastfeed. Sadly, our law only provides for 40 minutes, which is actually not enough, for those gentlemen. I know Joel was a supportive breastfeeding husband, so was Sonny. I don’t know the rest, but whoever else was, thank you for that.
You know that 40 minutes in a workday is not enough to breastfeed. So I encourage you to be even more supportive than that. My staff who do not know that I am about to call their attention. My Chief of Staff, DG, who disappeared. My Personal Assistant, Claire. They both breastfed their babies while working for me.
On the Senate Lactation Room
When we first launched it, we had a tarpaulin, because when hearings start, we were very pleasantly surprised that visitors, our resource persons who would come, were very happy that we have a Lactation Room that they can visit. So let’s make them know that by putting up the proper signage so that they know that the Senate is breastfeeding-friendly.
And I also had the privilege, Mr. President, of setting up the same in the House of Representatives when I was there over the last three years.
So my call to action, Mr. President is simply that DOH ensures that all the sectors are compliant, hospitals, health institutions, and even the industries that manufacture and distribute milk formula, that they follow our rules and regulations; the Department of Labor, that they ensure that the private companies are following the requirement that Lactation Stations are set up within their offices…
I have women who message me on Twitter and Instagram that their boss is not giving them time off to breastfeed, so that is required by the law. So we need DOLE to step up on this. The Civil Service, to ensure also that our government agencies are also compliant. We should take the lead.
I’d like to point out that the Senate is very small compared to the House of Representatives. When I went there, that was one of the first things that I did, to check where the Lactation Station is. And in a setup like that, although the law does not dictate how many meters away that Lactation Station should be from a woman’s office, the fact that the House of Representatives is an entire complex, Mr. President, to walk from your office to the next building would already use up the remaining minutes you have to breastfeed.
So we need employers to be mindful of this, because otherwise, we do not set up the environment for successful breastfeeding.
My final call to action is for the LGUs. as our colleague, Senator Gordon, said, breastfeeding must also be present in disaster risk situations, in evacuation stations, the picture I have there is actually my sister-in-law, Fille, who breastfed three of her babies, she’s there to give support to the evacuation center that was set up by my brother, Mayor Lino Cayetano. And again, this was compliant with the law and it is required that every LGU provides the support that a breastfeeding mother and family needs.
So I end my privilege speech. Thank you so much, Mr. President, to our colleagues, who listened to this. For those who have been here for 12 years, for listening to me on this topic, for 12 years. Thank you very much. #
*Privilege speech delivered on the Senate session on Tuesday, August 6, 2019.