Reggie Rullan-Borromeo, Manila, Philippines

Published in the Daily Tribune Life
September 8, 2011

The Reproductive Health (RH) bill and its predecessors have been in the public and legal debates for many decades now, and the dust is yet to settle. Those circling the raging public debate claim that the issues raised are “much ado about nothing.” Yet this oft-repeated observation about the RH bill has to contend with the fundamentals of faith and economics all in one piece of legislation. To date, achieving an acceptable balance between both has proven to be tricky on all sides.

Existing laws

Article 2, Section 15, of the Philippine Constitution provides for the protection and promotion of the right to health of the people. The duty to abide by the obligations of the Philippines under international law is the raison d’être for the Philippines to become party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Elimination of All

Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Article 12 of the ICESCR recognizes the right to “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”
Article 12 of the CEDAW also mandates state parties to “take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning.”

Again the same mandate of the Philippine government is found under the International Conference on Population and Development Program of Action(ICPD-PoA), the Beijing Platform of Action (BPA) and the Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG 5).

Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto argues that the main provisions of the RH bill are already provided for in other laws, namely, the Local Government Code (LGC). The LGC mandates that local government units provide their own basic services and facilities, including primary health care and maternal and child care, to their constituents.

Sotto also cites Presidential Decree (PD) 442 as amended, the Labor Code, which provides incentives for family planning; or Republic Act (RA) 7883 or the Barangay Health Workers Benefits and Incentives Act of 1995, which provides health education, training of barangay health workers and community building and organizing.

Other health-related objectives of the RH bill are also provided for in RA (Republic Act) 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women; RA 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act; RA 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act; RA 7875 or the National Health Insurance Act of 1996 and RA9501 or the Cheaper Medicines Act.

In addition, PD (Presidential Decree)603 or the Child and Youth Welfare Code and PD 965 also require applicants for marriage licenses to undergo family planning and responsible parenthood seminars. AO (Administrative Order)2008-0029 of the Department of Health provides strategies on how to rapidly alleviate maternal and neonatal issues.

Even RA 8424, the National Internal Revenue Code, provides a curbing effect on having more than four children as the fifth child is no longer covered as a minor dependent for tax deduction purposes.

Is there a need?

For pro-RH advocates, particularly Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, these mandates, while already covered by current legislation, do not prevent the passage of a more specific law.

The six main provisions of the RH bill that have been the subject of heated public debate are the:
1. Protection of the lives of the mother and the unborn child;
2. Provision of adequate reproductive health information;
3. Provision of access to health care facilities and skilled health professionals before, during and after delivery;
4. Prevention HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases;
5. Provision of access to different family planning methods; and
6. Institution of age and development appropriate reproductive health education.

The next question to ask, then, is that if these main provisions are in current implementation and are already being paid for by Filipino taxpayers, is there really a need for further legislation executing these provisions and consequently additional funding for the same?

Considering that the government has already provided for an estimated P154 million for health promotion, P233 million for health human resource development and P7 billion for health facilities enhancement, in addition to the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s conditional cash transfers, which cover expenses for prenatal care; assisted childbirth by skilled healthcare professionals; attendance in family planning learning sessions; preventive health checks ups, and; vaccines for children, is there really an urgent need to allocate additional further funding under the RH bill?

Moral vs legal issues

The purple ribbon symbolizing the fight for the passage of the RH bill was launched not long ago at the Crowne Plaza Galleria Manila by Reps. Edcel Lagman and Janette Guarin with Lea Salonga and other pro-RH advocates.

In this conclave of well-heeled women and men of ample means, the woman of meager means is the icon that bears up pro-RH common sense arguments of responsible parenthood and the provision of reliable and accessible means of family planning.

For the formidable Roman Catholic Church and other like-minded religious organizations, the RH bill is yet another piece of legislation that will use taxpayers’ money for advocacies that profoundly challenge the claim of
infallibility in their teaching on morals and doctrine. The Anti-RHers tout that the RH bill is a floodgate for promiscuity and immorality, heralding the triumph of economics over personhood.

Even with the much sought-after endorsement of President Noynoy Aquino for the urgent passage of the RH bill, and his AO 2010-0010, the revised policy supporting the achievement of the 2015 MDG to decrease maternal and neonatal deaths and AO 2010-0036, the Aquino health agenda to achieve universal healthcare for all Filipinos, its actual passage remains to be a numbers game in the House of Congress and is still being deliberated upon in plenary for the third and final reading.

While the outcome of the legal debate is left to those in elected office in the said House, the public debate between the moral and legal issues continue to rage. And the question remains the same.

For the Filipino woman with meager means and whose life the RH bill is deigning to fight for, will the provision of greater access to contraception actually address her plight? Will less children actually mean a better life and greater access to natural and government resources? Will a child who has undergone formal sex education under the RH bill emerge appropriately sex educated and enabled to make discriminating sexual decisions to prevent a population outburst?

As with other laws of a man made kind, the answer will always depend on good governance and on the political will to uplift the plight of those who have less in life. Under the RH bill, will those who have less in life really have more in law?

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Geraldine “Reggie” Rullan-Borromeo

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