MANILA, MARCH 11, 2011 (STAR) By Helen Flores - [Photo is loading... Members of militant group Gabriela hold a rally at Plaza Miranda in Manila yesterday as the world celebrates International Women’s Day. Edd Gumban]

Women activists all over the country marked the 100th anniversary of Women’s Day yesterday with protest marches to push for the passage of a comprehensive reproductive health bill and urge the government to address the rising prices of basic commodities.

Some 1,500 members of women’s rights groups held demonstrations in Mendiola at around 8 a.m.

Protest actions were also held in Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, Bicol, Cordillera, Negros, Iloilo, Cebu, Bohol, Southern Mindanao, Caraga, Northern Mindanao, and Socksargen.

Gabriela secretary-general Lana Libanan said Filipino women are burdened by the rising costs of basic commodities and public transportation. The group also demanded that women be given full access to reproductive health services and education.

“Today’s militant action of women is like childbirth, a result of nine months of discontent with the Aquino administration’s inaction on pressing issues of women and the people,” Libanan said.

Advocates of the Reproductive Health Bill also marched yesterday from Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City to the House of Representatives to express support for the bill.

Other groups that joined the protests in Manila included the Philippine Network of World March of Women that criticized the administration for promoting an economic policy that is detrimental to workers.

The group cited the public-private partnership program which encourages the outsourcing of jobs and hiring of workers on a contractual basis only. “Filipino women have no access to and control over economic resources in the same way that we continue to be deprived of control over our own bodies, our health and reproductive capabilities,” the group said.

Women empowerment?

[PHOTO - Women protesters stage a "noise barrage" in front of a cutout of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III during a rally near the Presidential Palace in Manila, Philippines Tuesday March 8, 2011 to mark the 100th year of International Women's Day. The protesters denounced the alleged dismal condition being suffered by Filipino women and lamented the rising costs of basic necessities as food, oil, public transport and services.]

In a privilege speech to commemorate the occasion, Sen. Loren Legarda said that despite having laws promoting gender equality and women empowerment, a lot still has to be done to give women a greater role in society.

Legarda said existing laws protecting women’s rights must be strictly implemented.

“We continue to strengthen current legal mechanisms of the government and seek effective ways to ensure the protection of women’s rights. However, legislation is just one phase of the overall effort to achieve gender equality and women empowerment. These laws need to be strictly and faithfully implemented,” Legarda said.

Among the laws already in place are the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act (RA 9261), Anti-Discrimination Against Women Act (RA 6725), Women in Development and Nation Building Act (RA 7192), Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act (RA 8505) and the Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710).

Legarda said laws addressing the disparity between women and men in the country must be passed.

She has filed Senate Bill 1434, also known as the Women Empowerment Act, which seeks to provide equal opportunity for men and women in public office by reserving a certain number of slots in different branches of government for qualified women.

Women-oriented bills pending in the Senate include Senate Bill 1436 which aims to extend the coverage of assistance given to rape victims to survivors of other crimes against women and children.

Senate Bill 1393 and Senate Bill 1399 seek to increase breast cancer awareness and at the same time provide proper facilities where women will have access to medical procedure that will help the early detection, prevention and cure of the disease.

Sen. Pia Cayetano, chair of the Senate committees on health and demography and on youth, women and family relations, said that there is an urgent need to improve maternal health services across the country, particularly in the countryside where medical services, equipment and personnel are scarce.

The Philippines has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the Asian region. Some 11 Filipino women die while giving birth every day. - With Rhodina Villanueva, Sandy Araneta, Marvin Sy

House opens debates on RH bill By Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) Updated March 09, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (6) View comments

MANILA, Philippines - The House of Representatives finally opened floor debates last night on the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill, which seeks to make family planning an official government policy.

“The start of the sponsorship and eventually plenary debates on the RH bill is one small step for RH advocates but one giant step for Filipino women,” Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the principal authors of the measure, said.

As Lagman delivered his sponsorship speech, thousands of RH supporters clogged Batasan Road in front of the House of Representatives and a police station, creating a monstrous traffic jam that extended up to Commonwealth Avenue.

The rally participants, who arrived in hired buses and jeepneys, even erected a stage in the middle of the road.

In his sponsorship speech, Lagman said the RH bill would “protect and promote the basic right of parents to freely and responsibly plan the number of and spacing of their children because all forms of legal, medically safe and truly effective family planning methods will be made available.”

It will “enhance the right to health as it improves maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition, and reduces maternal, infant and child mortality,” he said.

“It will definitely lower the incidence of abortion by preventing unplanned, mistimed and unwanted pregnancies – the very pregnancies which are terminated through abortion,” he said.

He pointed out that the proposed law would improve the ability of the country to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to reduce world poverty by half by 2015, among other objectives.

“Virtually all the MDGs, but especially the goals which pledge elimination of gender-based discrimination, decrease in infant deaths, safe motherhood, and the prevention of the spread of HIV and AIDS, are closely related to reproductive health and family planning,” he stressed.

Lagman urged his colleagues to support the RH bill “so that every Filipino child will be born wanted and the miracle of life will not mean death for 11 Filipino mothers daily.”

“An RH law will give premium to life and make every woman and child truly count,” he said.

Other sponsors of the measure, including Biliran Rep. Rogelio Espina, chairman of the committee on population, and Rep. Luz Ilagan of Gabriela, delivered their sponsorship speeches.

The House failed to open debates on the bill last Tuesday and Wednesday after cancelling its sessions because it air-conditioning system broke down.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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