THE RH ADVOCACY: THE TASKS AHEAD
By: Rep. Edcel C. Lagman
(Message in response to his conferment as the 7th Eminent Person of the Forum for Family Planning and Development, Inc. on 29 January 2013 at the Rockwell Center)
I am deeply and truly humbled by this conferment of honor and recognition as the 7th Eminent Person of the Forum for Family Planning and Development, after President Fidel V. Ramos, Prime Minister Cesar EA Virata, National Scientist and demography icon Dr. Mercedes B. Concepcion, industrialist Mr. Washington Z. Sycip, philanthropist and business leader Mr. Oscar M. Lopez, and internationally known civic leader and entrepreneur Atty. Loida Nicolas-Lewis.
The Latin ēminēre means “to project, stand out”, akin to the word “eminent” in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language which means “towering or standing out in character or performance.” I have to confess I must strive much more to approximate the full import of an “eminent person”.
I humbly accept and shall forever cherish this accolade which I am sharing with the countless RH advocates who collectively toiled for the passage of the RH bill, the overwhelming majority of whom are unsung and unrecognized.
I also share this recognition with my wife, Cielo, and my seven children who have inspired me to tenaciously pursue and sustain the RH crusade despite all obstacles.
The saga of the reproductive health advocacy continues even as the RH law is now enshrined in our statute books as Republic Act No. 10354. However, the travails ahead are hopefully not as turbulent and arduous as the 13-year gestation period leading to the passage of the RH bill.
But before surmounting the problems ahead, it would be best to take stock of what has transpired to buoy up our spirits and to buttress our resolve to realize the enabling objectives of the RH law.
First, in our euphoria, let us not forget the authors of the precursor bill which set the stage for our relentless advocacy. I particularly refer to former Congresspersons Bellaflor Angara-Castillo and Krisel Lagman-Luistro, among others, who authored House Bill No. 8110, entitled “Integrated Population and Development Act of 1999”. This prototype bill became in subsequent Congresses the reproductive health bill.
Second, let us also remember the numerous co-authors in five Congresses, from the 11th Congress to the 15th Congress, who remained steadfast in their authorship despite threats and intimidations like excommunication, hellfire and reprisal at the polls from the Catholic hierarchy, the severest critic of the bill.
Third, let us also recognize the silent RH advocates who during the crucial second and third readings voted for the approval of the bill.
Fourth, we congratulate the leaders of the vast NGO community and civil society who earnestly and tirelessly supported the passage of this progressive measure.
Fifth, we likewise share our victory with the tri-media and social media for having been enduring partners in our long advocacy.
Sixth, we salute the overwhelming number of Filipinos who clamored for the enactment of the bill in survey after survey.
Seventh, we also give thanks to the House leadership, particularly Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. and Majority Leader Nepatali Gonzales II, for delivering their commitment to have the bill voted upon and for resoundingly voting for the bill.
Eighth, we truly appreciate the continuing support of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III for the enactment of the RH bill, which he calls the Responsible Parenthood Bill, from the presidential campaign in 2010, to the prioritization of the bill in the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC), to the certification of the bill as urgent and his eventual signing of the bill into law.
But we must never forget that the convergence of these favorable factors did not diminish and overshadow the inherent merits of the RH bill which in no small measure assured its passage.
THE RH LAW IS NOT WATERED-DOWN
I would also like to take this opportunity to underscore that the RH law is not a “watered-down” measure. As a matter of strategy, I did not dispute the claim of critics as well as the news accounts in media that the RH bill has been “watered-down” due to the various amendments the authors have accepted during outside plenary consultations which were incorporated in the substitute bill in the House of Representatives.
By my silence, I wanted the critics to believe that the bill has been “watered-down” so that they would desist from further opposing the measure. On hindsight, I have realized that the critics would persist in opposing the RH bill even if only a comma or exclamation point remained of the bill.
The truth is, in its final form, the RH law has retained its pristine formulation and original policy orientation. We have not accepted any amendment which would derogate or diminish the essence of the bill. In the House of Representatives, we have not succumbed to any “killer amendment”.
The following are the salient features of the law which are consistent with the original provisions:
1. The State is mandated to promote universal access to reproductive health and family planning services, supplies and information, including voluntary contraception, which are medically-safe, non-abortifacient, quality, effective, legal and affordable with priority to acceptors from poor and marginalized sectors who shall receive for free RH services and commodities (Section 2 on Declaration of Policy).
In this regard, an amendment was accepted that the contraceptives to be promoted must not prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum as determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is simply consistent with the dual mechanism of contraceptives which are to inhibit ovulation and prevent fertilization, both of which forecloses the existence of a fertilized ovum.
2. The hallmark of the RH law is freedom of informed choice which shall not be subject to any form of coercion (Section 3-a of the Guiding Principles for Implementation).
3. Massive nationwide information campaign on reproductive health and rights is mandated (Section 20 on Public Awareness).
4. The implementation of the Act shall be the joint responsibility of the national government and the local government units with the national government extending financial and technical support to needy local government units (LGUs) (Sections 5, 6, 8, 16 and 20).
5. The principal elements of RH are intact and even improved (Section 4-q).
6. Services for pregnant women and safe motherhood are enhanced and assured (Sections 5, 6 and 18).
7. Women suffering from post-abortion complications shall be “treated and counseled in a humane, non-judgmental and compassionate manner” (Section 3-j).
8. Inclusion in the Philippine National Drug Formulary of hormonal contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectables and other safe, legal, non-abortifacient family planning products and supplies is mandated (Section 9).
9. Mandatory age and development-appropriate reproductive health education is assured for adolescents enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools with the curriculum prepared by the Department of Education adoptable by private schools (Section 14).
10. PhilHealth benefits for serious and life-threatening reproductive health conditions are guaranteed (Section 12).
11. The provisions on prohibited acts and penalties have been retained to assure compliance with the law (Sections 23 and 24).
12 With the exception of hospitals owned by a religious group, private health facilities and hospitals are mandated to provide a full range of family planning services to paying patients with the option to grant free care and services to indigents (Section 7).
13. A Congressional Oversight Committee is created to monitor the full and correct implementation of the RH law (Section 22).
14. Initial funding comes from the respective budgets of the Department of Health and allied agencies as provided for in the 2013 General Appropriations Act (GAA) and a continuing yearly budget is authorized for inclusion in the subsequent years’ GAAs (Section 25).
THE TASKS AHEAD
Now, on the tasks ahead. There are four major concerns we have to contend with.
(1) Promulgation of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR).
(2) Surmounting the constitutional issues raised against the RH law before the Supreme Court.
(3) Appropriation as a continuing battleground.
(4) Assuring and monitoring the effective and faithful implementation of the RH law.
IMPLEMENTING RULES AND REGULATIONS
The RH law has been effective since 17 January 2013. Is it now enforceable pending the promulgation of the Implementing Rules and Regulations?
I submit it is, with due respect to Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s lone and contrary obiter dictum in the 2008 case of Abakada Guro Party List vs. Purisima (562 SCRA 251). The absence of the IRR must not preclude the enforcement of the law. The pendency of the IRR’s promulgation, which is an executive function, is not a temporary administrative veto of an effective statute. There are instantly implementable provisions of the law without the need of a prior IRR.
In the absence of a temporary restraining order or a writ of injunction issued by the Supreme Court, the implementation or enforcement of an effective law cannot be frustrated or temporized.
However, in order to obviate any challenge to the enforceability of the RH law, there is need for the promulgation of the IRR within sixty (60) days from the effectivity of the Act or on or before 18 March 2013.
The IRR is to assure the effective implementation of the RH law. Let us guard against the possibility that the IRR may dilute the provisions of the Act. With DOH Secretary Enrique T. Ona at the helm of the IRR drafting committee and with four members from kindred NGOs, I think the possibility that the IRR will depreciate the Act is far-fetched.
However, we must not relax our guard because even the most formidable fortress is not impregnable from insidious assaults.
BATTLE IN THE SUPREME COURT
The six petitions before the Supreme Court contesting the constitutionality of the RH law is a compendium of the usual anti-RH homilies and tirades.
From the repetitious, almost ludicrous, verbiage of the petitions, the following common arguments are incanted:
The Reproductive Health Act violates the “right to life”.
The Act infringes on the people’s “right to health”.
It is offensive to the freedom of religion.
It negates the basic and primary right of parents to develop their children’s moral character.
All controversial measures end in the Supreme Court. We expected these petitions. We will prevail in the Highest Tribunal because the RH law is absolutely constitutional. We made sure that the provisions and the intendment of the Act are in harmony with constitutional mandates.
Let me debunk briefly the issues raised.
RIGHT TO LIFE IS NOT DEFILED
The very constitutional provision invoked by the petitioners, which is Sec. 12 of Art. II, provides that the State shall protect “the life of the unborn from conception.” Clearly, before conception, there is no life to protect. Conception has been defined by medical authorities as the implantation of the fertilized ovum in the woman’s uterus. Conception is synonymous with pregnancy.
Verily, in the earlier stages of the reproductive process like ovulation and fertilization, there is no life to protect.
It is in these prior stages before conception where contraception plays its role by preventing ovulation and fertilization. Accordingly, no life is impaired. No human life is imperiled.
The genesis of Sec. 12 of Art. II of the 1987 Constitution started with the proposal to include in Section 1 of the Bill of Rights the provision that the “right to life extends to the fertilized ovum.” This proposal was not constitutionalized. It was rejected in favor of the present provision which guarantees the life of the unborn from conception, not before conception where there is no life yet to safeguard.
The explicit intention of the framers of the 1987 Constitution in protecting the life of the unborn from conception is to prevent the Congress and the Supreme Court from legalizing abortion. The RH law does not legalize abortion. In fact, it acknowledges that abortion is illegal and punishable and is not a family planning option or method.
RIGHT TO HEALTH IS NOT INFRINGED
Far from infringing the people’s “right to health”, the RH law promotes, protects and enhances the right to health, particularly of mothers and infants because the promotion of reproductive health and family planning will considerably decrease maternal and infant mortality rates since high-risk, unwanted and unintended pregnancies are avoided.
Moreover, the promotion of reproductive health and family planning would assure the birth of healthy infants and empower parents to give fewer children proper sustenance, health care and education.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IS UPHELD
The accusation that the RH law is offensive to religious freedom is a patent aberration. The Act is replete with provisions upholding the freedom of religion and respecting religious convictions. The guarantee of freedom of informed choice is an assurance that no one would be compelled to violate the tenets of his religion or defy his religious convictions against his free will and own discernment of his faith.
The option to be a beneficiary of RH care and services and be an acceptor of a particular family planning method is solely the decision of a couple or woman with due regard to one’s religious beliefs and convictions. Good conscience is the anchor of one’s choice.
PARENTAL ROLE IS SUPPORTED
Section 12 of Article II is among the 22 provisions constituting the State Policies or a “Bill of State Obligations” as distinguished from the Bill of Rights as found in Article III. Accordingly, the last sentence of Sec. 12 provides: “The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.”
More than a recognition or grant of a right, this provision is an imposition of an obligation upon the State. Accordingly, the operative phrase in this provision is “shall receive the support of the Government.”
The prescription of a mandatory age and development-appropriate reproductive health education for adolescents enrolled in public elementary and high schools is not an abridgement of the role of parents in the rearing of their children. It is in compliance with the bounden duty of Government to support the role of parents in the development of their children’s moral character, among others.
This prescription on RH education assumes more relevance when we consider that the majority of parents default in teaching their children proper sexual values because of the prevailing taboo on conversation about sex in Filipino homes.
Section 14 of the RH law is no different from the constitutional obligation of the State “to establish, maintain and support a complete, adequate and integrated system of education relevant to the needs of the people and society” (Sec. 2 of Art. XIV) which is not an impairment of the parent’s right and duty in the rearing of the youth. It is supportive and complementary.
Similarly, the Constitution unequivocally provides that “Without limiting the natural right of parents to rear their children, elementary education is compulsory for all children of school age.” (Sec. 2 of Art. XIV). Clearly, no less than the Constitution mandates compulsory elementary education without violating parental right in the rearing of the youth.
Funding will always be a contentious battleground in the implementation of the RH law. Without adequate appropriation, the RH law will be reduced to a fossilized policy, a Jurassic shibboleth.
Accordingly, it is our common concern to have pro-RH legislators elected to the House of Representatives and the Senate to assure a continuing and requisite appropriation for the RH law. The threat of rejection at the polls must be obliterated by a positive campaign for electoral mandate for kindred and qualified candidates.
Having said all of these, the bottom line is to ensure an effective, speedy and faithful implementation of the RH law.
We have an outstandingly good law which deserves a successful and errant-less implementation. We, who have shepherded the enactment of the Reproductive Health Law, must oversee its faithful implementation.
Finally, let me reiterate my thanks to the Forum for Family Planning and Development led by the indefatigable RH advocate Ben de Leon, the “eminent person-maker” himself.
The name of the Forum is truly appropriate because the empirical and logical linkage between family planning and development is truly well-established and beyond debate.