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Reproductive Health
Thursday, 14 February 2013 10:17

THE BENEFITS AND IMPORT OF THE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH LAW TO CAPITAL AND LABOR”

Speech delivered by REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN

at the “Symposium on Reproductive Health and Other Special Laws: Towards a Gender Friendly Workplace” sponsored by the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) on 13 February 2013 at the Henry Sy Auditorium, St. Luke’s Global City, Taguig

 

Capital and labor have inherent and traditional conflict of interest. Marxian theory stresses that these differences are rooted on “class antagonisms”. The adversarial positions of the “bourgeoisie” and the “proletariat” pervades up to the present.

 

The government as the third party in the new system of tripartism, mediates the conflict or harmonizes the relationship when it chooses to be an impartial referee. However, there are times when the government concedes to the pressure of the more dominant party.

 

          It is truly auspicious that capital and labor have momentarily set aside their “class antagonisms” in jointly supporting the enactment of the Reproductive Health Bill, now enshrined in our statute books as Republic Act No. 10354.

 

         Thus, during the height of the RH controversy, a news account datelined 06 August 2012 clearly reported that “Five of the country’s largest business groups have issued a unified statement calling on the Senate and the House of Representatives to ‘pass into law without further delay the Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011 as embodied in House Bill No. 4244 and Senate Bill 2865.’”

 

          In their statement, the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX), Makati Business Club (MBC), Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) reiterated their statement of principles on reproductive health issued in October 2010.

 

            This previous statement of principles manifested that:

 

           1. Government must encourage responsible parenthood and family planning as a direct strategy for poverty reduction and maternal and child healthcare.

 

           2. Parents ultimately have to make their own decisions given alternative choices.

 

         3. Family planning policy must provide lowest-cost access for the very poor to the services and materials to implement their free and informed choice.

 

          4. Unequivocal opposition to any measure that condones abortion in any way, limits free choice, and mandates the means to implement such choice.

 

           The foregoing principles of business find affirmation in the language and spirit of the Reproductive Health Law.

 

          Similarly, labor groups like the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), Partido ng Manggagagwa (PM) and Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) sought the immediate passage of the RH bill.

 

           The common advocacy of capital and labor for the approval of the RH bill is an accurate assessment and firm realization that an RH law would be mutually beneficial to them.

 

          Therefore, it behooves capital and labor to comply with the Reproductive Health Law and help monitor and oversee its accurate, faithful and speedy implementation.

 

          But before I discuss the benefits and import of the RH law to capital and labor, allow me first to briefly review the salient provisions of this historic legislation which are consistent with its pristine formulation and original policy orientation constituting the rationale for its enactment.

 

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).

 

2. The hallmark of the RH law is freedom of informed choice which shall not be subject to any form of coercion or erosion (Section 3-a of the Guiding Principles for Implementation).

 

3. Massive nationwide information campaign on reproductive health and rights is mandated to truly afford potential beneficiaries and acceptors informed choice (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 enhanced (Section 4-q).

 

6. Improvement of services for pregnant women and safe motherhood is 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 granted (Section 12).

 

11. The provisions on prohibited acts and penalties have been retained to assure compliance with the law (Sections 23 and 24).

 

12 Private health facilities and hospitals are mandated to provide family planning services to paying patients with the option to grant free care and services to indigents (Section 7).

 

The foregoing principal provisions attest that the RH law is not a watered-down measure. We have rejected “killer amendments” which would diminish or destroy the essence of the RH advocacy.

 

And now, to the relevance of the RH law to businessmen and investors as well as to workers.

 

In addition to requisite capital and proficient management, what assures success in business, agriculture, commerce and industry is a healthy, skillful, qualified, competent, reliable and productive workforce.

 

Capital cannot do it alone. Labor is an indispensable partner.

 

An inordinately huge population growth rate of 1.9% which translates to annual increase in population of approximately 2 million people, like in the Philippines, exacerbates unemployment and depresses wages. More entrants to the labor market which are untapped increase the unemployment rate, while the effort to accommodate more workers results to lower wages.

 

This is a fatal combination which menaces both capital and labor.

 

The reproductive health law creates the enabling environment to correct and finally obliterate the foregoing negative factors.

 

Among the beneficiaries of the RH Law are the marginalized workers who will be voluntary recipients of free reproductive health information and services, including family planning and contraception by choice.

 

On the other hand, employers are among the mandated providers of RH services and commodities. Section 134 of the Labor Code, which is intact, complements the enforcement of the RH law. The said provision reads:

 

“Establishments which are required by law to maintain a clinic or infirmary shall provide free family planning services to their employees which shall include, but not be limited to, the application or use of contraceptive pills and intrauterine devices.”

 

The following adverse statistics are the prevailing relevant data to capital and labor that the RH law will reverse and improve:

 

1. The total wanted fertility rate in the Philippines is 2.4 children, while the actual total fertility rate is 3.3 children or a difference of an additional child per woman of reproductive age on the average.

 

Much of the gap between desired and actual fertility in the Philippines is attributable to low contraceptive use (51%) and high levels of unmet need for contraception (22.8%).

 

This gap is alarmingly high in women in the poorest quintile. Poor women prefer less children than what they actually have because according to the 2006 Family Planning Survey, an average of 44% of pregnancies in the poorest 10% of Filipino women are unwanted.

 

The National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) 2008 reveals that in the poorest quintile, the actual fertility rate is 5.2 children which approximates the actual total fertility rate of the country 40 years ago in the early 1970s. This may mock credence, but is unfortunately true.

 

These bleak statistics, which impact adversely on the workforce wherein close to 50% are women, is the result of the long absence of a national and comprehensive policy on reproductive health and family planning.

 

A study in Cebu entitled “Effect of Childbearing on Filipino Women’s Labor Force Participation and Earnings” (1997) concludes that there are “strong negative effects of additional live births on women’s total and hourly earnings, suggesting a strong potential for family planning, if it limits births, to affect women’s economic well-being.”

 

It also found that “earnings per unit of work time also decline with childbearing”, suggesting that “women shift to lower paying jobs that are more compatible with their reproductive roles.”

 

The study cited an allied research on “Women’s Work and Family Size in Thailand” (1990) which documents that “women in developing countries are faced with competing demands of reproductive and productive roles. It has been argued that by limiting family size, constraints to productive economic activities are reduced.”

 

Another study, “Healthier Mothers and Children Through Family Planning” (1984) reports that there “are significant health costs for women in developing countries of high levels of reproductive stress, particularly coupled with chronic under-nutrition and physically demanding work.”

 

“Repeated cycles of pregnancy and lactation can deplete maternal energy and nutrient stores” said a similar study on “Frequent Reproductive Cycling: Does It Lead To Nutritional Depletion of Mothers”, indicating adverse effects on productivity.

 

The inordinate frequency of pregnancy and childbirth of women in private employment alone is reflected in the grant of the 60-day maternity leave benefits by the Social Security System (SSS). The SSS reports that for the past three (3) years, a total of P11.38 billion had been disbursed to 624,507 maternity leave claimants. This is disaggregated into P3.63-B in 2010 for 203,724 beneficiaries; P3.80-B in 2011 for 208,641 claimants; and P3.95-B in 2012 for 212,142 pregnant women. Note that the figures are escalating both in the amount of claims and the number of claimants every year.

 

These high aggregates are not mean figures which affect women workers’ productivity and the disruption of personnel placement in the workplace. Not included in the summaries are the paternity leave benefits of seven days with pay to which married male employees are entitled for the first four deliveries of their legitimate spouse. A reduction in the rates of pregnancy and childbirth would amount to considerable savings on the part of the SSS which could be channeled to low cost loans to members and productivity incentives for member-employees.

 

2. There is extremely low contraceptive use among poor women. On the whole, the contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) of the Philippines is only 51%. This pales in comparison with the CPR in other Catholic countries like Brazil with 81%, Argentina with 78%, France with 71%, Portugal with 67%, Spain with 66%, Ireland with 64.8% and Italy with 60%

 

With higher CPR, the foregoing Catholic countries have much lower population growth rate than the Philippines’ 1.9%. Poland has 0.07%, Portugal 0.18%, Italy 0.3%, France 0.4%, Spain 0.6%, Argentina 0.9% and Brazil 1.01%.

 

The low CPR of the Philippines results in a staggering 3.4-M annual pregnancies, more than half of which are unintended and 90% of these occur to women who either use no method or use a traditional one, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

 

In a study conducted in the Philippines in 2009, the Guttmacher Institute further said:

 

“Expanding access to contraception could result in 800,000 fewer unplanned births, 500,000 fewer induced abortions and 200,000 fewer miscarriages. What’s more, it could prevent as many as 2,100 maternal deaths each year – nearly half of all deaths from pregnancy-related causes. Better access to contraceptive services could also save 120,000 productive years of women’s lives, years are that are currently lost to ill-health resulting from unintended pregnancies.

 

“Investing in contraceptive services not only enables women and their families to plan their births and avoid the serious health complications that often accompany unintended pregnancies. It also saves money. Although the initial expense of providing contraception to all women in need may seem great, the cost associated with unintended pregnancies including treating the consequences of unsafe abortion are much higher.”

 

Over 50% of the poorest 20% of women do not use any form of family planning not because they do not want to but because of lack of information and access to services and commodities according to the 2006 Family Planning Survey.

 

Results of the NDHS 2008 also show that of the 51% of married women availing of contraception, 34% use modern methods and 16.7% use traditional methods like withdrawal and calendar-rhythm which are simply not effective.

 

The bulk of women employed in various jobs come from the lower quintiles who are deprived of the requisite RH information and services. This results to unremitting pregnancies which reduce levels of productivity and earnings.

 

The Reproductive Health Law will empower women to exercise their reproductive health right to freely and responsibly determine the number and spacing of their children, thus mitigating, if not arresting, the ill-effects on productivity of the repeated cycles of pregnancy, childbirth and lactation.

 

3. Unemployment and underemployment rates are aggravated by an inordinately huge population growth rate. Inclusive growth is elusive because joblessness persists as more people enter the labor force annually without finding any visible and viable employment.

 

As more voluntary acceptors of family planning are convinced of the efficacy of planning the number and interval of births, eventually the pressure of unemployment would lessen and the economy will be liberated from joblessness.

 

4. The traditional backlogs in education – dearth of teachers, classrooms, books and instructional materials – are almost insoluble because of the escalating number of enrollees every school year. The enormity of these problems negates the constitutional prescription for quality education, deters skills development and aggravates the cohort survival or drop-out rate, all of which bloat the supply of unemployable, unskillful and unproductive manpower.

 

The RH law will ease the backlogs in education and will help promote quality education and adequate skills development, and eventually produce a qualified and productive reservoir of workers for capital and business.

 

5. A huge population growth rate makes multi-billion peso budgetary allocations for healthcare appear miniscule. “Dying without seeing a doctor” is as real and macabre as the graveyard. Unhealthy job seekers, who are hardly employable, invariably join the labor market.

 

With the RH law in place, the promotion of reproductive health and family planning will logically and eventually mitigate the population growth rate. With a leaner population and smaller families, both the government and parents can effectively invest in human capital, particularly on health and education.

 

Both capital and labor will benefit from this scenario as qualified workers are employed who will raise levels of productivity and output.

 

Dr. Ernesto M. Pernia, a noted economist from the UP School of Economics and an ardent RH advocate, sums up the advantages to capital and labor owing to the enactment of the RH law in this wise:

 

“The RH law capacitates parents to have the number of children they want and can afford. Hence, there will be better quality children in terms of parental care, health and education. Thus, when they join the labor market, they will be more able, skillful, employable and productive. Likewise, government’s budget savings from having to subsidize needlessly many children in public health services and education could be used for key infrastructure that also raises the economy’s productive potential and demand for labor, thereby absorbing labor force increases – a potential virtuous cycle.”

 

Relatedly, the Institute for Management Development noted that “the Philippines’ failure to improve labor productivity and infrastructure prevented it from improving its overall competitiveness ranking.”

 

It is said that there are “three factors that are co-related with the various measures of competitiveness, namely: productivity, infrastructure and employment growth.” The country’s employment growth is not matched by parallel growths in productivity and infrastructure. Reproductive health has great relevance to the acceleration of productivity and infrastructure.

 

          The RH law will propel the emergence of a healthy, educated, skillful, and competent workforce which would enhance productivity and output in the workplace. Government’s net savings from healthcare and education as the population growth rate is mitigated can be used to finance more infrastructure to enhance the investment climate.

 

           But we have not legislated a magic wand. We must not expect instant benefits. However, the beneficent effects of the RH law are sure to come with the proper, expeditious and faithful implementation of this historic statute which has long range effects on our economy, the alleviation of mass poverty and the achievement of a sustainable human development.

 

           Thank you.

 
THE RH LAW: AN ANTIDOTE TO CLIMATE CHANGE Print
Reproductive Health
Monday, 04 February 2013 14:48

THE RH LAW: AN ANTIDOTE TO CLIMATE CHANGE”

Keynote Speech of

REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN

on the occasion of the forum on

Establishing the Links Between Reproductive Health,

Population, and Climate Change

04 February 2013, Luxent Hotel, Quezon City

 

 

 

The nexus among population, reproductive health and climate change are empirically given as they are well-established and validated.

 

Throughout the long years of campaigning for the enactment of the RH law, the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) has maintained that the absence of a comprehensive and national policy on RH also contributed to the level of devastation and impact of climate change on the lives of people.

 

The Philippines is no stranger to both man-made calamities and natural disasters. The inordinately violent typhoons and weather disturbances that have battered our country in the last few years demonstrate the dire consequences of climate change and must spur government to effectively mitigate global warming and environmental degradation.

 

In the months leading to the much-celebrated enactment of the RH law, the protracted debates revolved mostly around contraceptive use, maternal and infant health, youth sexuality education and religious freedom.

 

There was hardly any mention of the link between reproductive health and family planning with climate change or the protection of the environment.

 

The RH supporters who expressed their support by witnessing the debates inside the plenary hall, campaigning for the bill in forums all over the country and marching in the streets were mostly members of women’s groups, human rights NGOs, the urban poor and mass organizations. Environmental activists or green crusaders among them did not articulate much the linkage between RH and the environment.

 

Despite the correlation between the issues of population and environmental protection, it is a link that environmentalists and the green movement may have downplayed probably because of the fear of alienating a public that is receptive to the idea of environmental conservation but could incorrectly associate reproductive health with abortion.

 

On the other hand, RH was not considered a “green issue” simply because not many realize that the historic RH law is also a calamity-risk reduction policy.

 

The connection between a runaway population growth rate brought about by the inaccessibility of reproductive health services and family planning options for women in poor countries like the Philippines and conservation and environment protection is unmistakable.

 

Addressing climate change and putting a halt to the deterioration of the environment need not be costly and must not be limited to investments in green technologies.

 

Since a huge population and calamities are fatal partners, the mitigation of the population growth rate as a logical consequence of promoting universal access to reproductive health and family planning, will enhance the Philippines’ positive response to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

 

Take note that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) defines climate change as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.”

 

This definition truly demonstrates the link between population and climate change.

 

Way back in 2004, Conservation International-Philippines, the DENR and NEDA conducted a much needed study entitled “Mapping Population-Biodiversity Connections in the Philippines” (MPBCP) which examined the interrelatedness of rapid population growth and the continuing deterioration of our environment.

 

The paper emphasized that “policies and interventions that focus on biodiversity conservation alone are insufficient in abating biodiversity losses and destruction of forest resources unless population and development concerns are adequately addressed.”

 

The British medical journal Lancet also recently underscored the connection of population dynamics, reproductive health and rights and climate change. It asserted that reducing unmet need for family planning “could slow high rates of population growth, thereby reducing demographic pressure on the environment.”

 

The journal cited a paper published by the London School of Economics (LSE) in August 2009 that highlighted the direct link between a rapidly growing population and climate change. The paper asserted categorically that “family planning is a cost effective tool in reducing carbon emissions.”

 

The paper emphasized that spending a mere $7.00 on family planning will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one ton. To similarly decrease carbon dioxide emissions by a ton, the study says that government has to spend $51.00, $24.00, and $13.00 on solar energy, wind energy and deforestation programs, respectively.

 

The Lancet echoed the call of the LSE economists for increased investments in family planning to arrest climate change. It maintained that “[i]gnoring high rates of population growth in parts of the world is likely to jeopardize the success of other responses to climate change”.

 

Truly, lesser emitters mean lesser emissions.

 

The following are the relevant impacts of the RH law on population in relation to calamity-risk reduction and management:

 

1. Upholding the basic human right to reproductive self-determination wherein couples and women are empowered to freely and responsibly determine the number and spacing of their children.

 

2. Enabling couples and women to meet their fertility goals. Studies have shown that the gap between wanted and actual fertility rates is alarmingly high in women in the poorest quintile. This simply means that poor women prefer less children than what they actual have. According to the 2006 Family Planning Survey, an average of 44% of pregnancies in the poorest 10% of Filipino women are unwanted.

 

3. Increasing the contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR). Again, the FPS 2006 reveals that contraceptive use remains extremely low among poor women whose families are at greatest risk during disasters. Among the poorest 20% of women, over 50% do not use any form of family planning because of lack of information and access to services and commodities.

 

4. Decreasing teenage pregnancies as a result of age and development-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education. Despite the drop in teen marriages, teenage pregnancies in the country have increased by 65% over a 10-year period from 2000-2010 according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Plan Philippines. Teenage pregnancy in the Philippines is among the highest in the world.

 

5. Decreasing migration as fewer children exert less pressure on parents to seek the elusive “greener pasture” in urban centers.

 

6. Generating more savings from lesser government intervention and expenditure for pregnancy and maternity-related health services which can be channeled to climate change mitigation and adaptation policies and facilities.

 

Empirical studies have shown that global pressures like population growth, urbanization, economic pressures, environmental degradation and war are likely to play a role in shaping local vulnerabilities to natural disasters and in the severity of the impact of climate change.

 

Another paper published by the London School of Economics entitled “Key Elements of a Global Deal on Climate Change”, underscores that by 2050, eight billion out of a world population of nine billion will live in what is currently termed the ‘developing world.’

 

These same developing countries are the ones more exposed to and at greater risk to climate change impacts. Thus by 2050, we will have around 90% of the world’s population vulnerable to disasters. That is why developing countries like the Philippines should play a strong role in shaping international agreements and policies on climate change.

 

In the Philippines, the National Framework Strategy and Plan on Climate Change and the National Climate Change Action Plan – both formulated by the Climate Change Commission – underscore population as a factor that should be considered in understanding and addressing the vulnerabilities of the country to climate change.

 

More particularly, the document states that “population growing exponentially and migrating into areas where they should not be contribute to the overall vulnerability of the country to additional external threats like climate change.”

 

By helping couples and women meet their fertility goals, the RH law will frontally address the problems spawned by calamities, ecological despoliation and climate change because a decrease in fertility rates will also reduce the magnitude of the carbon footprint of each human being on the environment as well as reduce the adverse effects of human activity on the ecology even as lesser people will make risk-management more efficient and adequate.

 

Even with the passage of the RH law, PLCPD will not rest on its laurels as it aims to even intensify its advocacy through this forum on the interconnection between reproductive health and climate change. Our goal is aimed not only on increasing the awareness of policymakers but also to come up with concrete actions to address the linkages between and among RH, population and climate change.

 

There can be no better time for this than now as we approach the election campaign period. This early, we need to educate candidates that these issues should be at the forefront of their electoral platforms and we need their commitment that their advocacy will translate to policy once elected.

 

I am certain that this forum will help participants realize that we cannot have an effective conservation or climate change policy that is not interlinked with population and RH. In the same manner, any serious RH policy cannot be effective if it does not include conservation and environmental protection in its objectives.

 

We would like to thank the Population Action International for supporting us in this undertaking. We hope that through this activity policymakers and various stakeholders will join hands with us in realizing our common goal of achieving a better quality of life for every Filipino, where reproductive health is considered an inherent right which directly relates to environmental protection and mitigates the impact of climate change.

 

 

 

 
THE RH ADVOCACY: THE TASKS AHEAD Print
Reproductive Health
Wednesday, 30 January 2013 17:33

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:

 

  1.  The Reproductive Health Act violates the “right to life”.

  2. The Act infringes on the people’s “right to health”.

  3. It is offensive to the freedom of religion.

  4. 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[1] 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[2] of Art. XIV). Clearly, no less than the Constitution mandates compulsory elementary education without violating parental right in the rearing of the youth.

 

REQUISITE APPROPRIATION

 

            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.

 

SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION

 

             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.

 

            Thank you.

 

 
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