By LYN V. RAMO
BAGUIO CITY — Amid debates on the consolidated reproductive health (RH) bill (House Bill 4244) in the House of Representatives, a regional summit endorsed it, with grass-root participants vowing to convince their lawmakers to vote for it.
Among Cordillera representatives in Philippine Congress, only two are reportedly currently speaking out for the bill, two or three have remained undecided while two others have joined the opposition camp, according to Ifugao Congressman Teddy Brawner Baguilat, who was among the politicians present in the summit.
Baguilat is confident to get more pro-RH lawmakers to vote for the bill’s approval, especially the neophytes like him who he said have not been affected by the 16-year congressional squabble on the bill.
According to Baguilat, this is the biggest chance to pass the bill with the numbers speaking. Some 43 percent of all the legislators are reportedly supporting its passage, 17 percent blocking it and the rest either remained undecided or have not made their decisions public.
Considering the RH bill as one of the most important pieces of legislation, Baguilat said there is no need to have an adversarial relationship with the church, as he urged for efforts at educating the people on the real issues behind it.
Gathering close to 500 from the Cordillera local government units, artists, health workers, people’s organizations and sectoral groups, the forum dubbed as “Cordillera Reproductive Health Summit” veered away from the usual issues that ignited the debate with the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
Instead, the summit dwelt on local and national issues surrounding reproductive health as access to affordable health care, family planning, maternal and child health and nutrition, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS, age appropriate sex education; violence against women, fertility and sexual disorders, and many more.
Baguilat was quick in saying “enough of the pro-life-anti-life, Catholic and non-Catholic types of debate.”
Boxing champ-turned congressman Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao figured in an unexpected congressional interpellation on the bill that looked like a Q&A with one of the RH bill main authors Edcel Lagman.
“Next day the tabloids had ‘Pacman, ni-knock out ni Lagman’,” (Lagman knocks out Pacman) said Baguilat in jest.
While Pacquiao dwelt on his personal view on the bill as a religious person, he said the RH bill alone does not address poverty in the country.
Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP) Chair Elizabeth Angsioco said the immediate passage of the RH bill into law might not be the way out of poverty but it could pave the way for poor women out of poverty.
“It is the poor women who do not have access to safe and affordable health care, and with the government taking care of health services, this could mean a lot to them,” Angsioco said.
While the consolidated bill has dropped the population control agenda, Gabriela Party List believes that “asserting women’s full access to reproductive health services and programs should not be reduced to just the issue of contraceptives.
“We need to focus on our universal respect for the human life. We need to ensure that the phenomenon of 11 women dying each day due to pregnancy-related causes would become a thing of the past. Indeed, we don’t want to fall short on our responsibility to our constituents,” Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmie de Jesus said.
In its website, Gabriela Women’s Party said it is the government’s role to extend reproductive health assistance to Filipinos and ensure that this is made accessible to everyone. De Jesus said the RH bill covers the GWP advocacy for women empowerment.
The Summit examined population statistics both in the country and the Cordillera region.
It underscored the fact that 90 percent of Filipinos surveyed in February 2010 wanted to avail of family planning services, 82 percent of these are Catholics.
Angsioco’s report showed that among the poorest of the poor, there is some 51 percent unmet need in family planning, while among those who are not poor, it is much lesser.
She illustrated that a mother wanting to have an IV contraceptive would opt to buy food for her children than to spend P350 for the injectable.
Figures involving abortion, especially among poor women who have no access to safe methods, are telling. Of the more than half a million who had abortion, despite government prohibition, almost a hundred thousand were admitted in hospitals, a thousand died while undergoing the illegal operation.
In the Cordillera a rapid increase in population was noted in the 70’s but there was a steep increase in the recent years. Regional Director Aurora C. Quiray of the Population Commission said with the 1.5 percent annual growth, the Cordillera population is expected to double by 2053. Cordillera provinces Benguet and Kalinga have higher growth rate at 1.8% yearly.
Of utmost concern during the RH Summit was the sexual behavior of Cordillera youth, which make up more than half of the region’s population, around 40 percent of whom are below 15 years old.
Some 24 percent of Cordillera youth surveyed in 2008 considered suicide, 15.2 percent had sexual intercourse before 18; 14.3 percenthad high-risk sexual intercourse in the last 12 months; 66 percentknow where to get condoms and 26 percent had a complete knowledge of HIV and AIDS.
None of those surveyed tested for HIV in the past 12 months, none used a condom in the first sexual intercourse.
The fertility rate in Cordillera in 2008 was 3.3 or four childbirth in every child-bearing woman, lower than in 1998, which was 4.7 or five.
Birth spacing was at 33 months in 2008, higher than in 1998, which is 28 months.
Cordillera women surveyed in 2008 had their first born at 22, while in 1998 they had their first child at 24.
Only 34 percent of married Igorot women surveyed in 2008 used family planning methods.
Unfortunately, says Baguilat the region is wanting in adequately equipped and appropriately staffed health stations, despite previous health plans and programs and he hopes to get all these done in the next few years.
The Purple Ribbon Campaign for the passage of the RH law was also launched in the summit with local artists leading the audience. A similar launch also took place in Cagayan de Oro on the same day.
Other similar launchings will also take Dipolog, Ilo-ilo, Cebu, Laguna, Cavite, Manila, Urdaneta and Dagupan City late this month until June, according to Romeo Dongeto, center director of the Philippine Legislatiors Commission on Population and Development (PLCPD), which steered the summit.