MANILA, SEPTEMBER 17, 2012 (PHILSTAR) By Marvin Sy - Time is running out for the proponents of the reproductive health (RH) bill and unless a vote is taken by January 2013, the controversial measure could just as well be buried in the archives of Congress.

[PHOTO -Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Saturday bared her reasons why the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill should be passed, even as she lashed out at lawmakers and some Catholic Church leaders for opposing the measure. In her keynote speech at the Catholic Women's and Men's RH Fair organized by Catholics for Reproductive Health (C4RH), she said there is nothing wrong with RH bill and reproductive health itself.

Also at the gathering held at the University of the Philippines College of Social Work and Community Development, she took swipes at several politicians and Catholic leaders for blocking the passage of the RH bill.

"Ano bang kasalanan doon, bibigyan mo lang ng impormasyon ang mga babae, may asawa man o wala. Kung gusto mo magplano ng pamilya, ganito ang mga metodo na puwede mong gawin. Ang problema natin ay gusto ng mga pari at obispo na iisa lang ang paraan na gagamitin natin, ang tinatawag na natural birth control," Santiago said.]

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago admitted this after delivering a speech during the Catholics for Reproductive Health event at the University of the Philippines yesterday, where she encouraged all the supporters of the RH bill to put some pressure on the legislators to put the measure to a vote already.

The Senate will go on a break from Sept. 22 to Oct. 7, go back to work for two weeks before taking another break from Oct. 20 to Nov. 4.

While she would like to have the RH bill voted upon before the break, Santiago admitted that this would not happen because of the dilatory tactics the opponents of the bill have taken to delay its progress.

Santiago lamented that even though the RH bill has already hurdled the period of interpellation, it is still being subjected to debates led by the opponents of the bill.

Sen. Pia Cayetano, Santiago’s co-author and co-sponsor of the RH bill, has already introduced her committee amendments to the measure but the opponents of the bill have indicated that they would still want to raise some more questions, as though it is still in the period of interpellation.

“The status is that all the questions have been asked but now the opposition is asking questions even though they belong to the same group. They are pretending there are still more people to interpellate,” Santiago said.

“Our opponents are questioning each other. Now they have come up with the idea that they need to interpellate each other. They are in the same group and yet they are questioning each other. So the process is clearly dilatory,” she added.

House eyes compromise on RH bill By Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) Updated September 07, 2012 12:00 AMComments (32)

MANILA, Philippines – Leaders of the House of Representatives are eyeing a compromise to get the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill moving again.

Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II (photo) told a news conference yesterday that a new version of the RH bill is being drafted which would have a limited application and target beneficiaries.

“Instead of an all-encompassing law, this proposed new version would apply to and target only marginal households, effectively those benefiting from the government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program,” Gonzales said.

“The middle class and the rich, with or without a law on reproductive health, have access to contraceptives and can very well afford them,” he said.

In contrast, Gonzales said the “poorest of the poor” would not have the same access even if they make an “informed choice” on how to plan their families, simply because they lack the necessary funds.

“That’s where the proposed RH law would come in because the bill mandates the government to promote the use of and spend for contraceptives that would be made available to poor families,” he stressed.

Gonzales added the compromise version would soon be presented to Catholic bishops, who are against the RH bill in its present form.

“We hope to hear from the bishops,” he said.

Gonzales conceded that hardliners among Church leaders and among congressmen “will always oppose the bill, whatever its form.”

He said they are hoping to consult with bishops during the two-week recess of Congress, which begins on Sept. 21.

Since the House would be preoccupied with budget deliberations starting next week until middle of October, Gonzales said the chamber may not be able to tackle the RH measure again until November.

Amend to appease

At the Senate, Sen. Pia Cayetano (photo) has amended a section of the RH bill in a bid to appease some of her colleagues who believe it promotes abortion.

Cayetano, chair of the Senate committee on health and demography, also reiterated that her RH proposal has no population component.

“Whatever is pegged on population is based on choices of individual families.

This is no population program, so I said I have no problem removing that,” she explained.

In a bid “to put the issue to rest and allay fears that the RH bill will promote abortion,” Cayetano has included a new subsection (J), which reads: “Abortion is a criminal act in accordance with existing laws.”

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III (photo) said Section 3 (i) of the bill promotes abortion since it mandates that the government should help women who need treatment due to post-abortion complications.

Cayetano deleted lines from paragraph (i) of Section 3 which states: “While this Act does not amend the penal law on abortion, the government shall ensure that all women needing care for post-abortion complications shall be treated and counseled in a humane, non-judgmental and compassionate manner.”

The measure was also renamed, “An act providing for a national policy on reproductive health and responsible parenthood.”

The phrase “Population and Development” was deleted from the original title.

However, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile was not convinced by the amendments.

“You remove the characterization but the substance is still there,” Enrile said.

Enrile (photo) even laughed off the change in the title of the bill.

“However you call it, it’s the same. It’s population control. You cannot erase that. That is already in the record,” he said.

Cayetano, in another interview, said hardcore lawmakers who are against the measure would never agree to a compromise measure.

“Honestly, those who don’t like the RH bill, nothing will change. As I said, even if I submit a blank paper, they would still oppose it,” she said.

During the period of amendments, Cayetano also inserted a new subsection that reads: “All complications arising from pregnancy, labor, and delivery shall be treated in a humane and compassionate manner.”

“Filipinos are known to espouse a culture of kindness and empathy. We uphold the tradition of reaching out and extending genuine care and concern for our countrymen in need, more so for women who are pregnant and in need of special care,” Cayetano explained.

Cayetano also moved to delete the phrase, “as essential medicine” in Section 9, the measure that is used to classify family planning supplies.

Instead, Cayetano amended it to read as, “The Philippine National Drug Formulatory System shall be observed in selecting drugs, including family planning supplies, that will be included or removed from essential drugs list (EDL), in accordance with existing practice.”

“In addition, the second sentence found on lines 32-34: “These products and supplies shall also be included in the regular purchase of essential medicine and supplies of all national and local hospitals, provincial, city, and municipal health offices, including rural health units” shall be transposed as the second paragraph of Sec. 9,” Cayetano said.

She also inserted a new paragraph that states: “Education and information materials to be developed and disseminated for this purpose shall be reviewed regularly to ensure their effective and relevance.”

Cayetano was able to introduce 13 amendments to the RH measure, which included salient yet contestable provisions, including the title of the bill.

After 15 months since Cayetano sponsored the RH bill, the controversial measure was able to proceed to the period of amendments on Wednesday evening following a heated debate between her and Enrile.

Their heated exchange took place after Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III wrapped up his four-part turno en contra speech on the bill.

Senators also downplayed reports that Sotto may have plagiarized the last portion of the fourth part of his turno en contra speech last Wednesday.

Sotto was criticized after the social networking site Tweeter buzzed with tweets that the last part of his RH speech was copied from the 1966 speech of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy.

Enrile said many personalities have copied ideas from other famous personalities.

“I would not comment on that. Even those writers are copying the famous quotes of Aristotle, Plato or Socrates, Machiavelli… everyone. It’s a matter of style,” Enrile said.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada (photo) said he would not want to meddle into the internal affairs of Sotto.

“I think it is up to Sen. Sotto to investigate. It is internal on their part. I have no business meddling in the affairs of other senators,” he said.

Estrada revealed that there are many groups lobbying for and against the RH measure.

“Yes, there are many organizations but not (us) senators. Both from anti-RH and pro-RH groups. There are some from the religious sector talking to me and there are some from other organizations who favor the RH bill,” Estrada said.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the Senate has more important issues to tackle than the issue of alleged plagiarism.

“A storm in a teacup. I don’t really think it’s an issue that should concern the Senate too much,” Marcos said.

‘We ourselves are divided’

Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya (photo), secretary general of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), said the LP has not taken a party stand on the proposed RH law.

Abaya said he does not think President Aquino, who is LP’s titular head, would issue marching orders to party members and their allies to support the bill.

“This is not a political issue. It is an issue that involves religious beliefs,” Abaya said.

“I am pro-life and I am hoping there would be a middle ground that I could accept,” he added.

Gonzales said at present, the House is almost evenly divided on the RH bill despite its Aug. 6 vote to end discussions on the measure.

“For instance, we have six deputy speakers. Three of them are pro-RH and three are anti-RH. So you cannot just say that the leadership should expedite this because we ourselves are divided,” he said.

Gonzales and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. (photo) are supporting the bill.

The majority leader said it would take Aquino’s intervention to break the stalemate
in the House.

“I hope the President gets angry with us,” he said in Filipino.

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (photo at right), one of those against the RH bill, said Aquino should not intervene.

“This matter involves religion. You cannot tell how one should practice his or her religion,” he said. – Christina Mendez, Aurea Calica


What is the Reproductive Health Bill in the Philippines?

There are 6 bills pertaining to reproductive health and/or population management that have been filed for deliberation in both the House of Representatives and the Senate for the 15th Congress.

The most controversial of these bills is House Bill No. 96 authored by Rep. Edcel Lagman. House Bill No. 96, also known as the proposed "Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2010," will cover the following areas:

The bill is controversial, as it is being opposed by concerned citizens, especially the pro-life, pro-family and pro-God groups, regardless of creed or religion.

The Roman Catholic Church expresses its opposition against the bill on many counts, most especially the procurement and distribution of family planning supplies for the whole country, when the available evidence from peer reviewed medical journals supports the hypothesis that when ovulation and fertilization occur in women taking oral contraceptives (OCs) or using intrauterine devices (IUD), post-fertilization effects are operative on occasion to prevent clinically recognized pregnancy.

Hormonal contraceptives and/or IUDs directly affect the "endometrium" (the membrane lining the uterus). These effects have been presumed to render the endometrium relatively inhospitable to implantation or to the maintenance of the preembryo or embryo prior to clinically recognized pregnancy. These make pills and IUDS "abortifacient" (a substance or device used to  induce abortion).

Pro-life groups, and many professionals in the medical and nursing fields, believe that physicians and policy makers should understand and respect the beliefs of patients who consider human life to be present and valuable from the moment of fertilization.

Patients should be made fully aware of this information so that they can consent to or refuse the use of artificial contraceptives.

However, the position of the Catholic Church and the pro-life groups does not mean that they espouse the attitude of "natalism" (or pro-birth, a belief that promotes human reproduction) at all costs, as if the "number" of children, in itself, were the unmistakable sign of authentic Christian Matrimonial life.

The sexual act, properly exercised within marriage only, is ordained primarily to the propagation of life. If there are reasonable motives for spacing births, such as serious medical conditions in the mother, or extreme poverty, then the Catholic Church teaches that married couples may take advantage of the natural cycles of the reproductive system and use their marriage precisely those times that are infertile (natural family planning).

Other aspects of the bill being contested by concerned citizens include the classification of family planning supplies as essential medicines when their safety/toxicity profile and legal permissibility are questionable.

At the same time, more importance should be given to the prevalent diseases, the top ten leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the Philippines, namely, infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Financial resources allotted by foreign donors to assist the Philippine government programs could actually be better spent towards pursuing health programs targeting communicable diseases than purchasing artificial contraceptives.

Very pertinent to the debate about reproduction rights is the right to life.

The Philippine Constitution says that the State "shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. If artificial contraceptives are medically proven to induce abortion as one of their mechanisms of action, then procurement and distribution of such family planning supplies are unconstitutional and illegal.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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