“The RH Bill wants to give adequate support to the poorest section of our society, so that they can avail of health care services. This is not anti-life but pro-life” — Atty. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Bayan Muna Vice-President for Mindanao
By MARILOU AGUIRRE-TUBURAN
DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The 18-month interpellation period of the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Bill at the Lower House finally came to an end.
This, after majority of the 231 members present at the Monday’s session voted for the debates’ termination through a voice vote. The termination now paves the way for amendments to improve HB 4244 or An Act Providing for a Comprehensive Policy on Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and, Population and Development, and for Other Purposes.
“The debate should have long been terminated,” lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, Bayan Muna’s Vice-President for Mindanao, told davaotoday.com, adding that the RH bill has long been pending in Congress.
The RH Bill was first filed at the 10th Congress then under former President Fidel Ramos. It was filed and re-filed, but was continuously killed for 16 years in a row. It didn’t even reach the period of amendments.
Zarate pointed out that every year that the bill is being opposed, the population continues to grow as well as the rate of maternal deaths because of the lack of proper maternal health care.
According to the Commission on Population, the projected 2012 Philippine population based on data from the National Statistics Office is 97.6 million from the 95.8 million in 2011. It added, 1.7 million babies are born annually.
Yet, as the population grows, more mothers die from complications related to pregnancy in the course of labor, delivery and puerperium or the time after giving birth. According to the Department of Health, the mortality rate increased to 221 per 100,000 live births in 2011 from 162 per 100,000 live births in 2009.
This means that everyday in 2011, 15 mothers die due to childbirth while 11 mothers die everyday in 2009.
“We need to craft a law that will answer the real needs of Filipino women and their families,” Zarate said.
A Catholic himself, Zarate refuted as “misleading” the Church’s contention that the bill is “anti-life and pro-abortion.”
“The RH Bill wants to give adequate support to the poorest section of our society, so that they can avail of health care services. This is not anti-life but pro-life,” the Bayan Muna leader explained.
In a separate statement, the United Nations has called on the Philippine government to pass the bill, saying, “Reproductive health is not about population numbers. It is about ensuring a life of health and dignity.” It added that issues around the bill have been addressed and clarified for more than 10 years already.
The Makabayan bloc in Congress has proposed a bill that recognizes the couple’s choice and gives them other options, Zarate said, unlike the Catholic Church which only promotes the use of natural family planning method.
Gabriela Women’s Party Representatives Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus filed HB 3387, “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health for Women in Development and for Other Purposes.”
The said bill is part of the six consolidated bills that now make up HB 4244. The latter endorses both natural and artificial methods of family planning.
RH Bill has gained the support of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.
“I really stood for it even if it was widely contested,” Duterte said during her regular press briefing, Monday. She narrated, it was during her time as Vice Mayor that the City Council passed the RH ordinance.
With or without the RH bill though, she added, the City Health already had its reproductive health programs, “only that we don’t announce it publicly because we don’t want to offend those who have dissenting opinions.”
The City Health Office (CHO) has a monthly schedule for ligation and vasectomy, as well as artificial family planning forums and seminars.
“These are things that we need to do because it’s our job,” Duterte said, saying she respects those who don’t agree with the RH Bill as the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country.
As couples exercise their exclusive right to determine their family size, the mayor said they should be able to provide for their children’s needs and future.
But with the modest income a parent or two earns nowadays, couples should understand that there should be a limit to the number of their children to provide for their family’s basic needs. “Thus, they should do all things and means to prevent pregnancy, whatever is effective for them,” she said.
“It’s all about mathematics. If couples can provide for many children, that’s okay. But if they can’t, they should limit their kids through natural and artificial means,” she said.
In the country, the average fertility rate is 3.19 in 2011, which means that a Filipina woman gives birth from three to four children.
In Davao City, the CHO noted that the complication of labor and delivery is the leading cause of maternal mortality with a rate of 32 percent as of 2011. From 2006-2010, the rate was 16 percent on the average.
The CHO issued a policy statement, Monday, saying they are “supporting with full strength” for the RH Bill’s passage on “four short but substantial reasons.”
It stated, as its first reason, that the high maternal mortality rate will be addressed as the bill establishes a maternal care program for Filipino mothers, as well as an expanded program on reproductive health. It added, the bill also mandates the local governments and public health facilities to employ adequate number of health professionals and ensure the establishment and operation of hospitals with quality emergency obstetric care, and the conduct of a maternal health review.
Second, with the city’s “very low contraceptive prevalence rate,” the bill is a great help as it promotes and provides the need for family management through informed choice. It also mandates the government to ensure availability of services on all methods of family planning.
Third, the bill seeks to increase the knowledge of the youth on reproductive health. It promotes an education that is age-specific and value-centered, sensitive to cultural and traditional beliefs of the people.
And lastly, the CHO said, the bill seeks to prevent abortion through family education and management as well as ensures that post-abortion care is given to women who have complications, which include medical and counselling services.
“The RH Bill should be comprehensive and should not be limited only to distributing condoms and pills,” Bayan Muna’s Zarate said as he criticized President Aquino, who during his third State of the Nation Address, has no categorical and clear reference on the RH Bill.
“The lack of health budget should be addressed and not only ‘responsible parenthood’ through distribution of condoms,” he said.
The Department of Health only gets PHP 44 billion (USD 1.05B) from the total PHP 1.816 trillion (USD 0.04 trillion) national budget this year.
As the RH bill enters the period of amendments, lawmakers are now given the opportunity to introduce and challenge modifications. The battle is not yet over. (Marilou Aguirre-Tuburan/davaotoday.com