PALACE: NO BACKING DOWN ON REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH BILL

[PHOTO - RESPONSIBLE PARENTHOOD: "Para sa akin dapat ipasa ang rh bill, dahil sa dami ng populayon ng Pilipinas, madaming nagugutom dahil wala mapakain dahil madaming walang trabaho kawawa ang mga bata at iba sa kanila hindi nakakapagaral".]

MANILA, AUGUST 5, 2012 (PHILSTAR) Malacañang declared yesterday it would not back down on its position to have the bill on responsible parenthood and reproductive health passed by Congress despite a rally against it led by Catholic bishops.

At the same time, Presidential Legislative Liaison Office chief Manuel Mamba and deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte stressed the issue should not be seen as a political one.

Some quarters believe the issue is pitting the Aquino administration against the Catholic Church and former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Mamba said the unpopularity of Arroyo might actually harm the bishops’ moves to oppose the passage of the RH bill.

Mamba also shrugged off concerns that the rally at the EDSA shrine yesterday would affect the votes of lawmakers. Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Gregorio Honasan attended the prayer rally. “Of course, they are very adamant or very insistent on their stand but I think we still have a majority of the senators supporting the bill,” he said, reacting to the presence of the senators at the rally.

“For us the congressmen have decided. The important thing is for them to come (on Aug. 7) and vote. Majority of those we have talked with are supporting the bill overwhelmingly. That is why what we want is to end the debates and we go into voting so we will get into the period of amendments and then ultimately, reach the second reading and have this approved,” Mamba said over radio dzRB.

Mamba said those opposing the bill were working to stall its passage, “at the same time bring it as close to the elections so that politicians will be more afraid” to take position. “But in our view, with many lawmakers (I spoke with) they are really supporting this bill at this point in time,” Mamba said.

Mamba said that in more than a decade of discussions on the measure, anti-RH lawmakers had even resorted to repeatedly questioning the quorum just to stall the measure’s passage.

“Something like that happened (question on quorum). And it is more of stalling and not taking into consideration the merits of the bill. So hopefully on Tuesday this can be put to a vote and we will see who really are supporting this,” Mamba said.

He said that although anti-RH advocates were getting support, the administration is confident that more congressmen would turn up to voice their support for the measure.

He claimed that some priests have even expressed support for the measure.

“I talked to a lot of friends who are priests and religious people and they are supportive of the bill but they don’t want to say it because the Church hierarchy is really anti-RH. But the truth is even the young priests, most of them are also supportive of the bill,” Mamba said.

He also said support for the measure is unlikely to imperil any politician’s chances in the elections, adding “this is a very popular measure, as far as our people our concerned.”

“So I honestly believe that if congressmen attend the (voting on Monday), we will have an overwhelming support of the bill,” Mamba said.

He lamented what he called misinformation, particularly from spokespersons who were clueless about the issue.

“That’s why sometimes, we do not know who are really telling them to go into an offensive, hitting the bill. But if you hear it even over the radio, you can see that their arguments were…beyond the merits of the bill already. It’s really more of the misinformation that they got,” Mamba said.

“But as far as members of our Congress are concerned, this has been debated for almost 10 years now. In fact, you will already get irritated because the interpellation are just being repeated…it will never end,” Mamba said.

“From the very start, because it’s the leadership who are really opposing it, that’s why some senators are complaining. But we feel that if this is passed on second reading at the House…Senate will also be prodded to put it to vote and ultimately, in my view, the Senate will follow,” Mamba said.

Name pro-abortion groups

Mamba also said it would be up to Sotto to name the individual and groups pushing for the legalization of abortion in the RH bill.

“In any measure there are the pros and the antis, and we have always been encouraging them to come out also. But in the long run, our Congress people will have to talk of the merits and demerits of the bill,” he said.

“And it’s not easy to fool those who will vote on this because they are our representatives and we feel that they have enough knowledge to really go to the merits of the bill,” he added.

“Let’s give our people choices on what to do about (their families),” Mamba said.

Asked about Arroyo being anti-RH, Mamba said this should not be politicized because “really the former president is very unpopular at this point in time” and “in fact, I think, that will even worsen their chances if that is the case.”

“For us, we don’t want to politicize it. We just talk of the merits,” he said.

Valte, for her part, said the position of President Aquino and his administration was not plucked out of thin air, even as she urged the public to study the matter closely.

“There are some who are trying to make this political. Again, let’s concentrate on the issues and let’s focus on the issues,” Valte said.

Proof of support

The principal author of the RH bill, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, said the low turnout at the rally should confirm overwhelming public support for the measure.

“That is definitely not massive,” Lagman said in a telephone interview, referring to the low turnout at the prayer rally.

“That (prayer rally) was just an instant replay of all the repetitive statements that the congressional allies of the clergy have been saying in the debates. The only difference is that in the House there are debates, theirs is only soliloquy,” he said

He said the better gauge of the people’s support for the measure is the “empirical data of surveys after surveys that showed that an overwhelming majority of Filipinos favor family planning and the use of government resources for reproductive health and purchase non-abortive contraceptives.”

Sen. Pia Cayetano said there’s no telling if the rally would influence lawmakers when they vote on the measure on Tuesday.

Cayetano and Sen. Miriam Santiago are the main authors of the RH bill in the Senate.

In a feature on the RH bill presented by BBC News television, Santiago pointed out that the bill only aims to provide all Filipinos with all the necessary information and access to the various methods of family planning.

“That’s all that it says and yet in this benighted country, as if we’re living in the middle ages, that is considered heresy. Why is there so much opposition to information? We just want the poor Filipino woman to know what are the ways of family planning. If she wants to reject all of them, that’s fine, there’s no compulsion,” Santiago said.

Santiago argued that the claims of the Church are false because the bill does not promote abortion.

“There is absolutely no connection between contraception, on the one hand, and abortion on the other hand. Contraception means the use of a barrier so that the eggs and the sperm never meet. If they never meet, you can never get pregnant, you can never have fertilization,” Santiago said.

“It has absolutely no relation to reality. These bishops have never been married. They don’t realize what the sexual urges are capable of doing and to claim exclusivity or a monopoly of knowledge is always a dangerous situation,” she added.

Santiago pointed out that 11 mothers die from pregnancy and childbirth complications in the country every day because of the lack of information and access to reproductive health care.

“This means that every year some 3,000 to 5,000 Filipinas die simply because they do not know about reproductive health methods or do not have access to facilities,” Santiago said.

She warned her colleagues in Congress about the consequences of not passing the RH bill, not only on the health of the poor mothers, but also on the image of the country in the international community.

“First, we will be the joke of the international community, in addition, the Philippines will sound very much like it’s still in the dark ages,” Santiago said.

New warning

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), meanwhile, has expressed alarm over the increasing maternal mortality rate in the country, with young and poor women as primary victims.

“It is very concerning for your rates to be increasing. Even in Afghanistan, the rates of maternal deaths are decreasing,” UNFPA Country Representative Ugochi Daniels said last Friday.

The 2011 Family Health Survey showed that the country’s maternal mortality rate went up to 221 deaths per 100,000 live births from 2006 to 2010, from 162 deaths per 100,000 live births from 2000 to 2005.

Daniels noted the increase is “certainly alarming” because it is a reflection of the “inactions with regards to ensuring all women have access” to information and reproductive health services.

“What is the impact? The impact we know comes within the lives of the women and these are preventable deaths. I think we’ve gone from 11 (maternal deaths) a day to between 14 and 15 a day now. And unfortunately, most of these are poor women,” she added.

In the Philippines, she explained that women “in higher economic roots get to have the number of children that they want to have, which is usually two or three. Poor women, on the other hand, bear more than the children that they actually want to have.”

Ugochi, along with World Health Organization Country Representative Dr. Soe Nyunt-U and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, is pushing for the passage of the RH Bill.

Also voicing support for the measure is United Nations Children’s Fund Country Representative Vanessa Tobin.

“It is not possible to over emphasize what is the urgency around us. For us, we are trying to see whatever it is that we can do to support this from the point of view of good evidence, from the point of view of what the data in the Philippines is saying,” Daniels maintained. With Paolo Romero, Marvin Sy, Sheila Crisostomo

BLOG WATCH

Opponents worry over P-Noy’s support for RH bill

CEBU CITY - PRO-LIFE advocates in Cebu said they believe most congressmen will vote against the Reproductive Health bill but they don’t want to be complacent. Dr. Rene Josef Bullecer, country president of Human Life International, said President Benigno Simeon Aquino III is pushing for the passage of the bill.

The anti-RH bill campaign found a supporter in Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama.

"I have always been a pro-life advocate. Had there been RH law before, your mayor would not have been born," he said.

Rama is the ninth of 13 siblings. If his parents had practiced birth control, Rama said he would not have been born.

Bullecer warned that Malacanang would use its influence to win back dozens of congressmen.

“We have a crucial battle ahead of us,” Bullecer said in a press conference yesterday.

On Aug. 7, the House of Representatives will decide whether or not to continue the debate on the bill or put the measure to a vote.

“This is a number's game. Our weapon is prayer,” Bullecer said.

He said most of the congressmen in Cebu are against the RH bill.

Bullecer said Rep. Tomas Osmeña of Cebu City's south district is pro-RH bill but has decided to abstain due to the request of former congressman Raul del Mar.

He said only Rep. Raymund Mendoza of TUCP party list is undecided.

In case the bill is enacted into law, Bullecer said they will bring the issue to the Supreme Court.

He said they are hoping that the next chief justice would be fair enough to resolve the matter.

Bullecer said the Catholic Church may openly endorse pro-life candidates on November if issues related to the RH bill will worsen.

The Archdiocese of Cebu will hold a prayer march on Saturday as Congress is set to discuss about the controversial bill on August 7.

A “Solidarity March and Mass for Life Against the RH Bill” will start at Fuente Osmeña at around 5:30 pm. /Ador Vincent Mayol, Reporter with Correspondent Edison Delos Angeles


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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