Merchants of ‘invisible death’

By Arturo Bariuad, The Straits Times, 8 April 2001

Although abortion is illegal in the Philippines, vendors in Manila sell herbal potions to ‘dissolve’ foetuses, seemingly with impunity

MANILA—Shaded by colourful parasols, several street vendors line the sidesteps of Quiapo district's revered Basilica of the Black Nazarene day in and day out selling herbal medicines and medicinal oils.

But these street vendors are more popularly known for selling bottles of deadly potions that supposedly‘dissolve’ unwanted foetuses up to three months old.

The strange concoction, made from barks and roots of forest trees, are reportedly used to kill thousands of innocent babies each year.

For decades, these vendors have been peddling their wares right under the eyes of priests and policemen.

Abortion is illegal here, but officials concede it has become a fact of life in the Philippines.

As many as 400,000 cases of induced abortion are committed every year in the Philippines, according to the Commission on Population. A stronger mix is sold for periods delayed by two months.

A report by the commission said: Abortion is condemned by the Church, but it is being resorted to, clandestinely, with health hazards to women.

The hazardous procedures include use of drugs and herbal concoctions, deep abdominal manipulation, or massage or vaginal catheterisation.

The herbal concoctions in Quiapo are not sold as an abortion drink, but as a product to induce menstruation.

An old woman churchgoer says everybody knows that the bottled product is an abortion drink and is puzzled why the authorities are taking no action.

Without threats of arrest, the vendors have become bolder, approaching prospective buyers with direct questions like: ‘How many months delayed?’

The so-called abortion drink comes in different strength. A mild brew is apt for up to a month of delayed menstrual cycle.

The vendor recommends a stronger mix for more than a month or up to two months of delayed menstruation.

For the potion to be effective, a vendor says the pregnant woman must not take cold drinks or eat sour food.

Two shots of the potion must be taken in an empty stomach three times a day for two days.

By the second day, the pregnant woman will bleed, a sign that the foetus has dissolved, she claims.

For a three month-old foetus, the vendor prescribes the stronger mix, combined with unlabelled herbal drugs in capsule form which are taken three times a day for two days.

In December 1999, the vendors were driven away by Manila Mayor Joselito Atienza, a prominent pro-life campaigner.

But the vendors resettled their stalls a few blocks away from the church and, by late last year, they had returned to the old site again.