A Writer on Sexual Health, Part 2

Journalist Ana Santos

Currently, divorce is unavailable in the Philippines, although rumor has it that if you have money an annulment can be arranged. A divorce law has been introduced in the legislature.

Ana’s story

Sex and Sensibilities incorporated this year. I want to promote sexual health and talk about solo parenting. I’ve been a solo mom for the last ten years after I left the father of my child. I was the assistant vice president of a bank. I think there were two of us in my department who left our marriages. I was very frustrated with the way people regarded the situation. First was the usual [fake sympathetic] “What happened? Are you okay?” [I laughed.] I mean, you get it, Carol. I don’t even have to explain. I said, “What do you mean?”— “We’re just asking because we care.”

Yeah, so what do you want to do? Help pay my electricity bill, pay for my daughter’s education? I got very upset, and I was told, “Oh, let it be, you know? People mean well.” I wondered why I should let it be. I think people need to be taught their boundaries. “Oh, what’s going to happen with your daughter? Oh, poor you.”

That would really frustrate me a lot. And I lost a lot of friends because of that also. If I had listened to that bullshit I would have felt sorry for myself and not done anything to make something of my life despite the circumstances. If you just cower it can become really overwhelming. I was the first one in my family to have left a marriage. A lot of people when they leave a marriage go abroad. They run away from all this. But I didn’t do that.

I’ve taken on an initiative for solo moms called Happy Even After. It was inspired by a solo parent ad which defines solo parents as those who have been married or not, those who have been abandoned, those whose spouses have been incarcerated or are working overseas. At the end of the day, we are all parents who are bringing up our children on our own. We want to find out how other parents do it or be able to talk to someone who knows what we’re going through. In November of last year, we started with a workshop where we got single moms to talk about their own experience, just to bring people together to talk. Afterwards I wanted to do a workshop series, but I wasn’t happy with the turnout, about twelve or fifteen people. That’s fine because some people are not ready. They’re very private, or they’re in a different stage of recovery from the failed marriage. For me it was a period of immense grief. What died in me was the whole idea that I would be growing old with someone. My understanding of Filipino law is that former spouses don’t get spousal support, just child support.

My conclusion is that marriage is not for everybody, but I think I’m very fortunate to have lived outside the Philippines, so I know that in other places it’s different. No place is perfect. I lived in the U.S., which has its own problems, but you also get to pick out certain things that you want to live by. I learned to believe that whatever talent I have I can take myself forward with it, just by working very hard. You know, it’s the land of equal opportunity and I think that’s one of the titles that it deserves best.

Here very few people question anything. In the Philippines the whole country’s all about love and romance and all of that. When I left the marriage, it was very hard for people to understand. It didn’t help that I worked in a bank with a very traditional atmosphere. Everybody there had traditional lives and lived with them, and they couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t live with mine. I was very young also—twenty-seven or twenty-eight. My friends were getting married, and I was done. Other people were in the middle of getting promotions and getting jobs which paid them 100% more, and I had to struggle make ends meet. I wasn’t into either of those things.

Ten years later, I have a wider network now because of Sex and Sensibilities and because of my work as a journalist. People often ask me, how do you do it? How do you manage being a solo mom in this country without a lot of financial help? I don’t know. Somebody told me that Phil‑Health, which is our foremost insurance corporation, doesn’t cover pregnancy if you’re not married. Since when do people need to be married to have a baby? It’s an archaic law, but nobody questions it. It’s only after you’re pregnant without a husband that you find out. I don’t intend to “fix” any of that. But I think by virtue of what I went through and from what I know in all of the work I’ve done, there are some things that I can share and there are things that I can let other good girls know, people who are going through the same thing.

So right now I’m working on just making a journal for Happy Even After, for solo moms. It’s a private venue where you talk about yourself and what you’re going through. I’m supposedly launching it in November on my birthday. Happy Even After says it all, doesn’t it? So that’s my big plan for this year. Sex and Sensibility is the parent company, Happy Even After will be one of the subsidiaries.

I found a beneficiary also, which is one of the things that helps me get over my feeling of helplessness—because you’re suddenly confronted with a situation that you can’t control. Apart from dealing with a child, it just brings you into a whole new world of surprises, right? It helped me to find other people that I could help. You don’t have to be rich to do it. I was in the Ayala Mall, and I found a donation box for the HERO Foundation—Help Educate and Rear Orphans of Soldiers Killed in Action—which is essentially a group of widows of enlisted men from the Armed Forces of the Philippines. It took me a while to find them. This is where being a journalist comes into play. I asked around and eventually found them. The enlisted man must have been killed or permanently incapacitated in the line of duty. It’s administered by the AFP. Officers’ wives don’t get this benefit. Your donation goes to educating the children. There’s a stipend level for elementary through college. We also have a plan to teach the wives alternative livelihood skills. They’re mostly housewives without domestic help to take care of the children, so they stay home. After the husband is killed or permanently disabled, she has to become the breadwinner.

After I found HERO, I met with them, and I explained upfront exactly what we do. I’m fully aware that some people don’t want to deal with me, because my company, Sex and Sensibilities, has “sex” in its name. I’m not mincing words when it comes to what we talk about. It turns some people off. But I met with them, and I told them exactly what we do and I explained that I didn’t want them to find out later when someone asked, “What are you doing with this woman?” They had no problem with my company. My father was in the AFP for thirty-some years. So they were very welcoming, Sex and Sensibilities makes donations to them. Every time I give a talk at a school I ask for donations for the AFP Hero Foundation.

That’s something that’s very meaningful to me, not just because they’re solo moms but because they’re the wives of army personnel. I grew up with an army father. I know what it’s like. I mean, we weren’t rich. “We could be,” my father used to say, “but I wouldn’t be able to stomach feeding you with money I knew was dirty money.” Back when I was seventeen, I thought I didn’t care where the money came from. I later realized that that was a difficult choice to make. My father is a retired general—you retire at one rank higher. We weren’t rich, so I can’t imagine what life must be like for enlisted men. So it means a lot to me to help the solo moms like me and army wives like my mom. I didn’t want to find a beneficiary that was just nice. There are lots of them that are directly linked or have like-minded objectives, but no others that so mirror what my life has been like and what I believe in and the things that are important to me.

Your other question was, what do I do as a journalist? There’s so much going on you really have to find the time to write. In writing you need to be out meeting people, not just in your room. So for about a week I’m attending the European Journalism Institute in Prague, Czech Republic, starting July 9.  I got a scholarship given by the Fund for American Studies. You submit an article and a motivational letter, they interview you over the phone about what your expectations are and all of that. They created a Facebook page recently so you’re able to see who else is attending. I’m thinking , Oh my god, a number of the attendees are twenty and twenty-two. I found that very interesting because in my late twenties, when I had just left my daughter’s father, I was single again and just starting a new life as a single woman and dating. And now in my thirties I’m going to be a student again. So maybe I’m living my life backwards. At my old job I was assistant vice president at the bank. That’s stable, right? The other people at the bank couldn’t understand why I was leaving.

But that’s it. I’ve come to the realization that I’m going to live my life the way I want to. Not because it’s the normal thing to do—to get married and have a child and be the vice president of your company and then retire there. I want to do it for myself. For a long time I didn’t know what that was. I’m still trying to find out. I just know that I want to write. A lot of the changes in me happened because I wrote. I found out about HIV-AIDS. I found out about problems we have in the country with reproductive health because I needed to write about it. I started speaking to people about it and then I started writing about it. I got scholarships because of the things that I wrote. All the opportunities I’ve had and the people I know, that’s all because I write. So writing is the one thing I never want to give up. I’ll be writing until the day I die. You just have to know what you want to do. Then the path that it takes to get there, it’ll come. It’s not easy, but it’ll come.