“It will have profound implications for improving the health and lives of women throughout the country,” said Carlos Conde, Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch
By JOHN RIZLE L. SALIGUMBA
DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The controversial Reproductive Health Bill (HB) 4244, the House of Representatives’ version, is expected to be passed on third reading this afternoon with not a few RH Bill advocates hoping for a result in their favor.
“I hope that there will be more supporters to vote yes on the third reading. This is the best Christmas gift especially to the marginalized women and children,” said Jeff Fuentes of the Davao City Health Office.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement, said the expected passage of the RH law “will be a massive step forward to promote women’s health and lives.”
“It will have profound implications for improving the health and lives of women throughout the country,” said Carlos Conde, Asia researcher at HRW.
Last Friday, President Benigno Aquino III certified the bill as urgent, as well as its counterpart in the upper chamber, Senate Bill 2865 which is set for second reading also today and the third reading on the 20th. The call is expected to expedite the vote in both chambers.
HB 4244, which has been tackled since the 11th Congress or for over a decade, was passed on second reading at 2 AM last Thursday with only a nine-vote margin where 113 lawmakers voted yes, 104 voted no, three abstained and over 60 were absent.
“I have never experienced, in my eight years in Congress, a voting that tight. Usually when voting, we already know the results, but this time we don’t,” Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño told davaotoday.com Friday during a gathering with the Public Attorney’s Office.
The bill has been ignored by lawmakers for years because the Catholic Church has been strongly opposing it, as well as conservative groups.
The HRW noted that the RH Bill seeks to integrate the government’s responsible parenthood and family planning efforts into all of its anti-poverty and development programs; mandates the Health Department to lead the procurement and distribution of reproductive health care services and supplies; and provides for a more efficient system of maternal death review to decrease the incidence of maternal mortality.
It further noted that the bill requires age-appropriate sexuality education up through high school as well as categorizes all products and supplies for modern family planning as “essential,” that is, they must be available at all hospitals and clinics. The bill, HRW added, also increases the pay of health workers in villages across the country.
But the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, in a pastoral letter signed by Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, said if the RH Bill is passed into law “it can harm our nation.”
“Contraception corrupts the soul. The RH Bill is being gift wrapped to look like a gift for maternal health care. It is not so. It will lead to greater crimes against women,” the Pastoral letter noted.
After the Wednesday voting, homilies in the Catholic Church were directed against the RH Bill.
But Conde said, “Too many Filipinos have long suffered from inadequate reproductive health policies, with the poor being hardest hit. This bill marks the start of an era in which public policies can save lives, promote healthy family planning, and respect human rights.”
The HRW said the RH Bill does not amend the penal code prohibition on abortion, but addresses post-abortion care standards.
It underscored the report of the United Nations Population Fund, which noted that 3.4 million pregnancies occur in the Philippines annually, which 50 percent are unintended “while a third are aborted, often in clandestine, unsafe, and unsanitary procedures by nonprofessionals.”
It also highlighted The Population Fund (TPF) estimates that 11 deaths of women occur daily in the country from pregnancy-related causes and that “most of them could have been avoided in a well-functioning health care delivery system.” According to TPF, “maternal health conditions are the leading causes of burden of disease” among Filipino women.
The HRW challenged the Aquino administration to “waste no time in carrying out the reproductive health law once it passes.”
“Many Filipino women have faced difficulties and sometimes death because of the absence of a comprehensive and consistent reproductive health policy. This law can change that,” Conde pointed out.
As the third reading is set today, Casiño who’s also the lone senatorial bet of the progressive Makabayan Coalition expressed apprehension, saying, “There is a tendency that our co-authors will take the RH bill as a means of population control.”
Worse, Casiño said, the Aquino government will tend to view the bill as the solution to poverty, which he pointed out, “is not the case.”
“(The government) should provide reproductive health services, whether you believe in population control or not. It will give (RH) services to families depending on what their decision is (with regard to the size of their family),” he said
While Casiño sees the Lower Chamber’s version as a good start, they hoped to “make revisions when it is passed” as they fear it will only become a population control bill.
He also warned that people must be “on guard to prevent foreign corporation from using the law to make our country a milking cow by selling artificial family planning methods.”
He stressed, though, that if such materials are to be widely produced, local manufacturers should be tapped. He also said that investors would not “make a business out of it because this is a service to the people.” (John Rizle L. Saligumba/davaotoday.com)