The proponents of the bill say a law is necessary to protect women’s and families’ health, but its opponents say the bill not only endangers women’s health but family ties, too.
BY NOEL SALES BARCELONA
Who will win the fiery battle on the passage of the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill now pending in both houses of Congress?
The “stubbornness” of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) hierarchy, said the proponents and supporters of the bill, hinders the passage of the said important piece of legislation, initiated in the House of Representatives by Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel C. Lagman with a counterpart bill in the Senate, authored by Sen. Rodolfo Biazon.
As of this writing, the RH bill in the Lower House is “unfinished business” while in the Senate, the Biazon bill is being reviewed, commented upon and is soon to be amended.
Last February 18, the Forum for Family Planning and Development (FFPD) and the Social Weather Station (SWS) publicized the results of the latest survey showing the “clamor” of the public, particularly the residents of Manila, for the bill’s passage.
However, the RCC’s Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (ECFL) belittled the results of the FFPD-commissioned survey, which involved 600 residents of Manila’s Districts 1 and 5. Based on 2007 data from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), Manila has a total population of 1.66 million,
Manila had been the focus of the debates on the issues surrounding RH, especially since former Mayor and now Environment Secretary Lito L. Atienza issued Executive Order No. 003 which implicitly “bans” the sale of contraceptives such as condoms, intrauterine device (IUD), and other materials, and the provision of medical services to women suspected to have undergone abortion.
The former Manila government chief has been said to be giving cash gifts to families that have more children.
Some of the NGOs (non-government organization) working in Manila even went “underground”, said the FFPD and its partner women’s NGO, Linangan ng Kababaihan (Likhaan) Center for Women.
Fe Nicodemous, an NGO worker working closely with migrants and families of migrants, said that she had been harassed by some people allegedly connected with the former mayor when she and her colleagues were giving free contraceptives in one of the slum areas of Manila years ago.
Pro-poor or anti-poor?
Using poverty and women’s health as the primary basis for promoting the RH bill, the FFPD released on Sept. 3, 2008 its official statement the issue:
“An effective population management is the road to development. This is not a myth, but a hard fact that has been the subject of numerous researches and studies which revealed that rapid population growth has an adverse impact on economic development. It is also a fact that the very core of a sound population control lies in the implementation of a sustainable family planning program capable of providing much-needed information and supplies to those who need these,” read the first line of the position paper of the FFPD published on their official website (insert URL: http://www.forum4fp.org/html/the-forum-position-paper.html).
FFPD believes that, beyond the glaring indicators related to the current state of reproductive health in the Philippines – the high maternal mortality rate, the rising number of abortion, the increasing child mortality, the growing number of people without access to basic health and social services – the only solution is the enactment and implementation of a Reproductive Health Law that “will enable each Filipino to be accorded the right to information, the right to choose how many children to have and when to have them.”
The position paper further read, “The Forum for Family Planning and Development joins hands with other NGOS in expressing our strong support for the urgent passage of the bill on Reproductive Health. The measure goes beyond its purpose of improving reproductive health and implementing a nationwide program on family planning as it creates a path towards a sound economic policy that will improve the lives of millions of Filipino households.”
The FFPD paper added that couples, but most especially the women, should be given the freedom to choose the path they will take in raising their family.
“We have been waiting for decades for our country to honor its commitments to the world – to make real its promise to uphold our people’s right to reproductive health and family planning. While we have waited and debated for decades on the matter, our women and young girls have been suffering and thousands have lost their lives – 10 women are dying every 24 hours due to pregnancy related complications, while young girls as young as 13 years old are getting pregnant. This because they lack the information and family planning supplies that would have provided them with an option,” the FFPD’s paper further read.