By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Luz Ilagan expressed disappointment after Malacañang reently announced that it is excluding the Reproductive Health Bill from the list of priority bills for 2011 because it does not fall under the category of disasters.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda on February 7 said Malacañang no longer intends to present the bill to Congress leaders at the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) meeting on Feb. 28 because it had not yet finished its dialogue with bishops on the Malacañang-drafted RH bill. Malacanang officials are set to meet again with the bishops at the end of the month.
Malacanang has denied that its decision to withdraw support for the measure was a result of pressure from the catholic church leadership, but Lacierda was quick to say that the Palace has nothing to do with the consolidated RH measure now set for plenary debate in congress.
“This is purely the handiwork of the legislative branch. The executive branch has not submitted its responsible parenthood bill,” he said.
In contrast, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. in reports has been quoted as saying that Pres. Benigno Aquino III remains serious about coming up with an RH bill and would not back down.
In whichever case, the Gabriela lawmaker said supporters of the RH bill would continue to push for the RH bill’s passage.
“Withdrawing the Reproductive Health Bill from the list of legislative priorities only speaks of this administration’s insensitivity to the plight of Filipino women and children. It is most disappointing that Pres. Aquino does not consider it urgent to address the growing problems of maternal mortality, infant deaths and Filipino families’ lack of access to health care,” said Ilagan.
Ilagan is the author of House Bill 3387 or the Comprehensive Reproductive Health Bill along with Gabriela Rep. Emmi De Jesus. The bill has been consolidated with similar measures and approved at the committee level. The consolidated version is up for deliberations at the plenary.
Ilagan pointed out that 11 women die everyday because of pregnancy and complications related to child birth. “ Is this fact not compelling enough for the Aquino government to make it a priority to enact measures that would prevent the deaths of over 4,000 women every year?”
Ilagan said maternal deaths are highest among the poorest 20 percent of the population. This, she said, indicates that it is the poor’s lack of access to adequate maternal health care that is at the core of the high number of maternal deaths.
According to reports, out of the 19.4 million Filipino women of childbearing age, 1.73 million do not have access to prenatal care from skilled health workers and birth attendants.
The Gabriela legislator further said the lack of a government policy that will help ensure access to comprehensive reproductive health is also responsible for the increase in the number of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) cases. The Department of Health has reported that AIDS cases in the Philippines have reached 6,016 since 1984. Some 1,591 new cases were reported in 2010.
Ilagan said despite Pres. Benigno Aquino’s less than supportive stance on the matter, its proponents in congress are still prepared to fight tooth and nail for its passage.
“The Reproductive Health bill is already up for plenary debates in congress, we will continue with the legislative process. We hope that Malacañang reconsiders its decision and finally respond to the clamor of women for healthcare,” she said.
Ilagan clarified that that HB 3387 is not about contraception or population control, nor does it mention population growth as a main cause of the country’s poverty situation, which puts it at par with what the Catholic Church is actually espousing.
“The Comprehensive RH bill is all about making reproductive and maternal health care services available to women, especially to poor mothers who barely have the financial capability for pre-natal check ups and who cannot afford to give birth in medical facilities. We want to make reproduction safe for women and the newborn,” she said.
Ilagan said Malacñang’s drafting of a Responsible Parenthood Bill as prodded by leaders of the Catholic church should not in any way cause the delay of the legislation of the RH bill.
Meanwhile, reacting to the CBCP’s statement against the distribution of condoms on Valentine’s day, Ilagan said, that it is the church officials’ prerogative to advise their flock against distributing condoms for free, “But it certainly is not within the powers of the Church to dictate on what the Department of Health or non-governmental organizations and individuals must do on Valentine’s Day.”
The Gabriela representative was also quick to remind critics of the RH Bill to keep an open mind. “Let us not trivialize reproductive health by reducing the debates to the distribution of condoms. Our proposal goes beyond giving free contraceptives and population control. It is all about making maternal health care, fertility management options, education and information accessible and available to women, especially the poor. The urgency of a Reproductive Health Law could not be emphasized enough.”