Tag Archives: Reproductive Health Bill

[People] The historic RH vote: How a democracy manages conflict over values By Walden Bello

The historic RH vote: How a democracy manages conflict over values By Walden Bello
INQUIRER.net
December 15, 2012

Walden Bello word.world-citizenship.orgWhen the presiding officer, Rep. Lorenzo Tanada III, arrived at my name and asked for my vote during the historic House of Representatives’ vote on the Reproductive Health Bill last Wednesday night, December 12, I replied in the affirmative and walked towards the rostrum to explain my vote.

He then posed the standard question, “What is the pleasure of the gentleman from Akbayan?” To which I replied, “I hesitate to answer that question since ‘pleasure’ has become a controversial word during the last few days’ debate.”

It was my attempt to inject some humor into a proceeding that had become like a tense basketball game, where one team maintained a slight edge but could not quite pull away owing to the tenacity of the other side. Some of the other statements that evening drew more laughter than my intervention, probably because they were inadvertently funny, as when Rep. Thelma Almario of Surigao del Sur expressed her sanguine wish that “in my lifetime we will have enough Filipinos so we can ‘Filipinize’ the whole world.”

Or when Congressman Dong Gonzalez of Pampanga hoped his parents would know he had fulfilled their dying wish that he vote against the RH Bill “in case they’re now flitting around in this hall.”

Conflict of Values

Apart from such moments of light humor, the situation was deadly serious, and much of the country stayed glued to the voting via television or the internet. To many on both sides of the RH debate, the outcome of the vote would either be a national triumph or national tragedy. Unlike other major legislative encounters in the last few years, the RH debate was not over national security. Neither was it about clashing economic interests, nor about different political visions about the future of the country. It was about a clash of values or beliefs on key social relationships: the relationship of the state to the family, the relationship of the church to the state, and the responsibility of the State towards its citizens.

Many of the anti-RH legislators rose that historic evening to express the deep beliefs that informed their scorched earth efforts to block the bill till the very end. Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro and Rep. Pablo Garcia of Cebu claimed it was anti-constitutional because in their view, it was against life, the right to which is protected by the constitution. Rep. Amado Bagatsing said that between a church that was over 2000 years old and a state that was just a few decades old, he was taking the side of his church. Earlier in the RH debate, Bagatsing earned the distinction of claiming that “contraception is abortion.”

Yet the debate showed that conservatism on the use of contraceptives has its roots not only in religious conviction, but in personal circumstances. Not a few members recounted how they were part of poor large families—in the case of Congressman Dong Gonzalez, 12 siblings—where parents and children pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. Their message was if they could do it through hard work, why couldn’t other poor families, why should the state promote smaller families via the provision of contraceptives?

On the pro-RH side, the articulation of fundamental values was equally impassioned. These were the values mainly of the liberal tradition. For Rep. Edcel Lagman, whose 14-year-long leadership in promoting the bill will be remembered as a legislative epic, the key principle was the state’s right to “benignly intervene” in the reproductive area, as in other dimensions of individual and social life, to promote the collective interest. This intervention was being done in the service of free choice. Providing access to contraceptives to the poor was the liberal state’s way of assuring that couples could in fact exercise free and informed choice in deciding the size of their families and the spacing of their children.

Rep. Emmeline Aglipay of party Diwa spoke for many on the pro-RH side when she said she was casting her vote “for reason and against ignorance.” For Rep. Linbelle Ruth Villarica of Bulacan, the bill was a necessary step forward in the struggle for women’s rights and women’s welfare. Rep. Angelo Palmones said that by the time the legislators finished voting for the measure, another 14 women would have died owing to the maternal health complications addressed by the bill. Several said that the bill was not only pro-life, but “pro-quality of life” owing to its presumed effect on reducing poverty.

It was left up to two Mindanao legislators to bravely bring up the issue of population management, which the anti-RH side had made into a bogeyman, with their shrill warnings against “population control.” Rep. Tupay Loong of

Sulu asserted that uncontrolled population growth had become a hindrance to national development and necessitated action on the part of the state. In the view of Rep. Joey Zubiri of Bukidnon, the last congressman to speak, the RH bill was necessary because “population growth has become the number one national security problem” that had to be addressed by the state.

Democracy and Value Clashes

Coming out of Wednesday’s night debate, which saw the bill win by a vote of 113 to 104, with three abstentions, I can only be grateful that we have a democratic process whose rules are internalized by most Filipinos, particularly the principle that the majority rules.

Conficts over basic values often turn into bloody wars. Take the wars of the reformation in 17th century Europe or the current fundamentalist-instigated conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the rules of representative democracy have not taken hold. We may have fundamentalists on the anti-RH side, but thank god, they believe in the rules of democracy.

Hopefully, the third reading of the RH bill will proceed smoothly in the House and the Senate will approve its version next week, so we can a bill that can be reconciled and ratified early in January and ready for the president’s signature.

History

I will look back with pride to the 15th Congress that passed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Bill. Indeed, even if no other bill I am associated were to be passed in this Congress, the victory of this long overdue measure, which will enable our country to have greater capacity to confront the challenges of the 21st century, will be enough to bring me immense satisfaction.

It was probably this sense of history-in-the-making and his wish to be part of it that made one of my colleagues, notorious for his absenteeism, to emerge out of the woodwork to vote for the bill. Hopefully, he won’t vanish again.

INQUIRER.net columnist Walden Bello represents the party Akbayan in the House of Representatives.

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[Statement] Doctors, Nurses and Midwives Rally Behind RH Provisions

Doctors, Nurses and Midwives Rally Behind RH Provisions

Purple-Ribbon-Logo_RH-NOW-560x47111 December, Manila – In a timely, humane and compassionate manner, 100,000 doctors and nurses, and 167,000 midwives represented by twenty-three (23) health care professional organizations finally showed their in support for the reproductive health bill in a press conference at the Philippine General Hospital today.

“We can no longer turn a blind eye because we are part of the life-saving solution,” said Philippine Medical Association (PMA), “As health care providers we simply cannot be reduced to being for or against the bill because our obligation has and will always be about saving lives, and the longer we stay quiet, the more lives are lost.”

The group presented a manifesto calling for the protection of seven (7) life-giving provisions –

1. That the State protect the individual’s freedom to decide what family planning method s/he wants to use (whether natural or artificial).

2. That the Bill should have explicit statements against induced abortion.

3. That the State should protect the couple’s right to decide on their ideal family size.

4. That the State should recognize and respect religious rights and convictions of both patients and caregivers.

5. That RH education should include value formation, and be age-appropriate.

6. That the provision for reproductive health services be improved.

7. That guidelines on use of specific contraceptives, including warnings on safety should be left to the discretion of the FDA. This will allow recommendations to evolve as scientific knowledge advances.

Both the House of Representatives and Senate are expected to vote on measure within the week.

The manifesto signing was led by the Philippine Medical Association. The other signatories were Former Department of Health (DOH) Secretaries Dr. Alberto Romualdez and Dr. Esperanza Cabral, Former Philippine Medical Association (PMA) President Dr. Santiago del Rosario, Philippine Medical Association (PMA), Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (POGS), Philippine Society of Newborn Medicine (PSNbM), Integrated Midwives Association of the Philippines (IMAP), Kalusugan ng Mag-Ina, Inc. (KMI), National Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Department of Health, Philippine College of Physicians (PCP), Philippine Society of General Internal Medicine (PSGIM), Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (PSMID), UP School of Health Sciences, Palo, Leyte, Philippine Ambulatory Pediatric Association, UP Manila College of Nursing, Ortoll Reproductive Primary Health Care Center, University of the Philippines Manila, Philippine Society of Hypertension, Child Protection Unit, Philippine General Hospital, National Institute of Health, Philippine Family Planning Consortium, Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, and Asia Pacific Center for Evidence Based Medicine.

We, the members of twenty-three (23) healthcare professional organizations representing 100,000 doctors and nurses, and 167,000 midwives, hereby declare that:

While the Philippines seems to be closing in on most of its Millennium Development Goals, it will miss its targets for two most vulnerable groups, mothers and newborns. Each year, an estimated 4000 thousand mothers and 40,000 thousand newborns die, mostly amongst the poor urban and rural communities. These are indisputable scientific facts and, as healthcare professionals responsible for these patients, we cannot turn a blind eye to their plight.

While we agree that there are other ways to reduce these deaths, we believe that the Reproductive Health Bill can accelerate our progress towards these goals. In this pursuit, we should protect the following key provisions:

1. That the State protect the individual’s freedom to decide what family planning method s/he wants to use (whether natural or artificial).

2. That the Bill should have explicit statements against induced abortion.

3. That the State should protect the couple’s right to decide on their ideal family size.

4. That the State should recognize and respect religious rights and convictions of both patients and caregivers.

5. That RH education should include value formation, and be age-appropriate.

6. That the provision for reproductive health services be improved.

7. That guidelines on use of specific contraceptives, including warnings on safety should be left to the discretion of the FDA. This will allow recommendations to evolve as scientific knowledge advances.

We believe that by protecting these key provisions, our legislators will be able to craft an RH Bill that is beneficial to the greater majority, and especially the poor and underprivileged. ”

Signed:
1 Dr. Alberto Romualdez, Former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary
2 Dr. Esperanza Cabral, Former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary
3 Dr. Santiago del Rosario, Former PMA President
4 Philippine Medical Association (PMA)
5 Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (POGS)
6 Philippine Society of Newborn Medicine (PSNbM)
7 Integrated Midwives Association of the Philippines (IMAP)
8 Kalusugan ng Mag-Ina, Inc. (KMI)
9 National Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Department of Health
10 Philippine College of Physicians (PCP)
11 Philippine Society of General Internal Medicine (PSGIM)
12 Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (PSMID)
13 UP School of Health Sciences, Palo, Leyte
14 Philippine Ambulatory Pediatric Association
15 UP Manila College of Nursing
16 Ortoll Reproductive Primary Health Care Center
17 University of the Philippines Manila
18 Philippine Society of Hypertension
19 Child Protection Unit, Philippine General Hospital
20 National Institute of Health
21 Philippine Family Planning Consortium
22 Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital
23 Asia Pacific Center for Evidence Based Medicine

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[Press Release] Cybercrime law a product of low quality legislation, sloppiness of P-Noy -PM

Cybercrime law a product of low quality legislation, sloppiness of P-Noy

Even as authors retracting and proposing amendments to Republic Act No. 10175 or the anti-cybercrime law, the militant Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) advised netizens and the general public to expect more low quality legislation and more blunders from Malacanang.

“The cybercrime law was definitely a low quality piece of legislation approved and completed into law by a signature of a sloppy President,” stated Partido ng Manggagawa chair Renato Magtubo.

The labor group believes that while the State has the right to impose regulation to any industry or any activity to promote the common good, to regulate freedom just to flush out cybercriminals however requires a very meticulous mind and a careful balancing act.

“We are also interested in seeing the faces and in penalizing cybercriminals who are victimizing women, children, OFWs and many innocent citizens. But their confinement cannot be made a substitute to the curtailment of our freedom to express ourselves,” stressed Magtubo.

Magtubo, who is a former partylist representative, said the labor sector never expects a major change in this level of legislation with certificates of candidacies for the 2013 national and local elections filled up with the same names and parochial interests dominating the country’s elective positions.

The former lawmaker recalled the same blunder attending the passage of the infamous Electric Power Industry Reform Act or EPIRA, which Gloria Arroyo, upon signing, admitted that the law contained many flaws and loopholes.

“Now, we’re suffering the harsh consequence of EPIRA by having the most expensive power rates in the world. Yet Congress is not moving to repeal this law,” added Magtubo.

And as convenor of the biggest labor coalition NAGKAISA!, Magtubo also complained that while the cybercrime law was enacted in speed, the labor-backed legislation such as the Security of Tenure Bill (SOT), the Freedom of Information (FOI) and the Reproductive Health Bill (RH) gather dust in the legislative mill.

Partido ng Manggagawa
PRESS RELEASE
04 October 2012
Contact: Renato Magtubo @ 09178532905

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[Press Release] Women workers to do ‘Senate housekeeping for RH’ -PM

Women workers to do ‘Senate housekeeping for RH’


Women members of the Partido ng Manggagawa held a picket-rally at the Senate of the Philippines this morning. PM was joined by women from other groups such the FDC Women’s Committee, Piglas Kababaihan, DAMPA and the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP).

The picket-rally aims to push anti-RH bill Senators to stop filibustering and pass the RH bill before Congress 3rd Regular Session. Women workers brought with them them plungers (pambomba ng toilet bowl) to unclog the Senate with the likes of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Tito Sotto who are preventing the immediate passage of the bill. With the faces of the two senators, women will carry the slogan, “May mga bara sa RH, hindi kami happy!”

“The actions of Senators Enrile and Sotto are anti-poor and anti-women. Women workers have been enduring hardships, the passage of the RH bill would have provided great relief. After more than a decade, we are almost at the finish line. But Senators Enrile and Sotto are preventing us from crossing that line. We are not happy,” declared PM Secretary General Judy Ann Miranda.

Ms. Miranda explained that PM members in Negros Occidental are hopeful. Earning a meager P90 a day prevents them from exercising their rights to RH services and commodities. “Ang RH bill ay hindi para sa gaya nilang mga mayayamang senador. Ang RH bill ay para sa aming mahihirap na hindi kumakasya ang kita, na sa pagkain pa lang ay kulang na. Iginigiit nila ang kanilang gusto, paano naman kami?” added the PM secretary general.

PM also said that latest reports have shown the increase in underemployment, prices of basic commodities and social services. Women workers are distressed and all Enrile and Sotto could do is filibuster. “We will not relent, we will not stop until the RH bill is passed, we have come this far, we cannot just give up,” ended Ms. Miranda.

PRESS RELEASE
Partido ng Manggagawa (PM)
19 September 2012
Contact Judy Ann Miranda @ 09228677522

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[In the news] ‘Put RH bill to a vote now’ -PhilStar.com

‘Put RH bill to a vote now’
The Philippine Star
September 09, 2012

MANILA, Philippines – Stop the dilatory tactics and simply put the Reproductive Health (RH) bill to a vote.

This was the challenge issued yesterday by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago to her colleagues in the Senate and House of Representatives to determine once and for all which side – the pro or the anti – has the numbers.

Santiago also came to the defense of Sen. Pia Cayetano, her co-author of the bill, who was taken to task by anti-RH bill advocates Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Majority Leader Vicente Sotto for complaining about the delays faced by the measure.

Santiago said what was happening in the Senate deliberations over the RH bill was clearly dilatory.

She cited the decision of Sotto to avail himself of the turno en contra or rebuttal after the period of interpellation.

Santiago said the only time the turno en contra is even availed of is during deliberations on the general appropriations bill.

“But because it is his right, I don’t want to object. But other people who are also on his side rose up to say I want to interpellate my colleague on the same side,’’ she said.

Read full article @ www.philstar.com

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[People] Last lap for the RH Bill? By Walden Bello

Afterthoughts

Last lap for the RH Bill?
By Walden Bello

Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 27, 2012

With Congress resuming deliberations after the nation was united in response to the unending rains of early August and brought together in mourning the untimely departure of DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, the battle over the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill will again move to center stage.

Let me try to answer the most frequently asked questions on where Congress is at on the bill.

What is the status of the bill?

House Bill 4244, better known as the Responsible Parenthood or Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, is now being discussed in plenary, and we are in the period of amendments in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It was reported out of the Committee on Population of the House as early as January 2011, but the anti-RH forces forced a very long period of interpellation. This ended only when President Aquino, at a special luncheon in Malacanang on August 6, pleaded with members of the House to vote to end the period of interpellation. With the House agreeing to the presidential request and voting viva voce to end the period of interpellation, we advanced to the period of amendments. The Senate has done likewise. But the process has again been delayed by anti-RH forces, like Senator Tito Sotto and Rep. Roilo Golez of Parañaque, who have been filibustering in an effort to prevent the amendment process from moving forward.

What is the strategy of the anti-RH group?

The anti-RH lobby knows that at the moment the pro-RH forces are likely to be in the majority. So their strategy is to prolong the parliamentary process and bring it as close as possible to the national elections in May 2013. There are two reasons behind this strategy. The first is that they hope some of the pro-RH forces will waver and decide against voting for the bill for fear that the Catholic Church hierarchy will tell their Catholic constituents to vote against them. The bishops are stoking the fear of legislators that though there may not be a significant “Catholic vote,” even if as low as three per cent of the electorate listen to their bishop, this can make the difference in close elections, which is often the case in congressional races. The other reason is that once we get to early October, it will be very difficult to muster quorums to take up legislation since most members of the House will be busy with their electoral campaigns.

What is the Church hierarchy up to?

The Catholic Church hierarchy is vehemently against the bill, and this is the reason the bill was bottled up in congressional committees for 14 years. It is only in the current 15th Congress that the bill has been able to reach the plenary. Despite the ecclesiastical campaign against family planning, surveys have shown that the population, more than 80 per cent of which is Catholic, is overwhelmingly in favor of family planning, including artificial contraception, and against efforts by the Church to interfere with couples’ personal decisions on family planning.

With things coming to a climax, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has stepped up its campaign of lies against the bill. For instance, it is attacking the bill as a measure that would lead to abortion. However, the bill is explicitly against abortion, and, if passed, would actually contribute decisively to reducing the estimated 450,000 abortions that now occur annually by giving people seeking to limit their family size access to contraceptives that would prevent unwanted pregnancies. The hierarchy is also asserting that RH would lead to immoral behavior, and that use of condoms would spread HIV-AIDs. These are just three of the many falsehoods and distortions the bishops have spread against the bill.

In addition to actively coaching the anti-RH legislators, the bishops have been mounting demonstrations “of the faithful,” though these have fallen flat in terms of numbers. They have even taken to lobbying Congress directly. Recently, Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa City distributed statues of the Virgin Mary to pro-RH legislators, a move that many congressmen interpreted either as a threat or a bribe. My office returned the statue to Arguelles, as we would a monetary bribe.

How will the pro-RH forces cope with delaying tactics?

The pro-RH forces are not without weapons. We are halting the consideration of all other legislative matters, including privileged speeches, unless the bill moves forward to a vote. We will place the onus for the legislative stalemate on the anti-democratic dilatory moves of the anti-RH minority. Some of us are considering even suspending the consideration of the national budget, but only as a last resort, if the anti-RH lobby does not see the light.

What are the chances of the bill passing?

I estimate that we have about 140 sure votes and another 15-20 leaning our way. There are 285 House members, and of this, I think that the solidly anti-RH forces probably number no more than120. So we are battling for some 30-35 undecided or wavering forces. A majority of senators are for the bill. So it’s not the numbers we fear. It’s the delaying tactics, the move to prevent a vote from being taken at all. In my view, however, procedural derailment will not succeed, and we will be able to bring the bill to a vote before the end of September. I am confident that vote will be one that will uphold responsible parenthood, reproductive rights, reason, science, and the national interest,

*INQUIRER.net columnist Walden Bello represents Akbayan (Citizens’ Action Party) in the House of Representatives and is one of the main authors of the Reproductive Health Bill (House Bill 4244).

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[In the news] ‘Opponents of RH bill delaying amendments’ -PhilStar.com

‘Opponents of RH bill delaying amendments
By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star
August 19, 2012

MANILA, PhilippinesAlbay Rep. Edcel Lagman yesterday accused lawmakers opposed to the Reproductive Health (RH) bill of delaying the process of introducing amendments to the measure.

Lagman, one of the bill’s principal authors, asked the House leadership to stop such delaying tactics.

“When the House voted to terminate floor debates on the measure, it was a decision to also start forthwith the period of amendments prior to voting on second and third final readings,” he said.

Lagman said those opposed to the proposed RH law are violating such mandate by delivering privilege speeches “to delay and derail the start of the period of amendments.”

“Why terminate the long-winding and repetitive interpellations only to temporize and hold hostage the legislation?” he asked.

The former minority leader appealed to House leaders “to foreclose the malevolent and dilatory filibustering and strictly enforce the rule on ‘questions of privilege’ because more than a right, this privilege to speak is subject to the permission of the presiding officer who shall determine whether the request is in order.”

Lagman invoked Section 101 of the Rules of the House, which provides that “questions of privilege are those affecting the duties, conducts, rights, privileges, dignity, integrity or reputation of the House or of its members, individually or collectively.”

Read full article @ www.philstar.com

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[In the news] Pinuno ng DOH, nanawagan sa Kamara na ipatupad ang RH bill -GMANews

Pinuno ng DOH, nanawagan sa Kamara na ipatupad ang RH bill
August 13, 2012

Nanawagan si Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona nitong Lunes sa mga miyembro ng Kamara sa mabilisang pagpapasa sa panukalang reproductive health (RH) bill upang masolusyunan ang patuloy na pagdami ng mga ina na namamatay sa kanilang panganganak.

Sa naganap na 2013 budget hearing ng DOH, inamin ni Ona na sa huling 10 taon, “limitado” lamang ang progresong naisagawa ng gobyerno upang masolusyunan ang maternal mortality rate at sa pagpukaw sa kaalaman ng publiko sa iba’t ibang pamaraan ng family planning.

“Maternal deaths are highly preventable. Reducing maternal deaths will require this critical legislation… I think I do not have to belabor that anymore,” kanyang inihayag sa pagdinig nitong Lunes.

Ayon sa kanya, mula sa tala ng DOH, napag-alamang tumaas sa 221 ang maternal mortality rate ng bansa sa bawat 100,000 nanganak noong nakaraang taon, kumpara sa 162 noong 2009.

Nag-apela muli si Ona sa pagpapasa ng RH bill, na kilala rin bilang House Bill 4244, isang linggo matapos magdesisyon ang Kamara na tapusin ang pagdedebate tungkol sa isyu.

Read full article @ www.gmanetwork.com

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[People] We don’t need $100,000, Mr. Thomas; we need action on greenhouse gas emissions by Walden Bello

We don’t need $100,000, Mr. Thomas; we need action on greenhouse gas emissions.

By Walden Bello
August 13, 2012

This July was the hottest July in the United States ever since they started keeping records.  In India, the monsoon rains are long delayed, resulting in the country’s second drought in four years.  Triple digit temperatures in New Delhi and other cities have already provoked the worst power outages in the country’s history and the expected bad harvest is likely to slice at least five per cent from GDP growth.   In Beijing, which usually suffers from a shortage of water, a storm on July 21 resulted in the worst flooding since records began to be kept in 1951, according to the Economist.  Meantime, here in the Philippines, the protracted “rainstorm with no name” (as PDI columnist Jose Montelibano christened it) that persisted for over a week plunged Metro Manila into a watery disaster that is now said to be worse than Ondoy.

The ‘new normal’

It’s climate change, and Department of the Environment and Natural Resources head Ramon Paje captured the nature of nature’s wrath when he said that the “new normal” in our climate is unpredictable weather owing to the uncontrolled rise in the globe’s mean temperature due to greenhouse gas  (GHG) emissions.   If there is any doubt that the abnormal is now the norm, remember that this is shaping up to be the second straight year that non-stop rains have wreaked havoc in Southeast Asia.  Last year, the monsoon season brought about the worst flooding in Thailand’s history, with waters rushing down from the north of the country engulfing even Bangkok, affecting over 14 million people, damaging nearly 7000 square miles of agricultural land, disrupting global supply chains of transnationals with subsidiaries in the country, and bringing about what the World Bank estimated to be the world’s fourth costliest disaster ever.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the unceasing rainstorms is we could do little to prevent it.  We could have made it less calamitous by resettling informal settlers away from the floodways to Manila Bay and reforesting the hills and mountains that border the Metropolitan area.  We could have passed the Reproductive Health Bill much earlier and propagated family planning to reduce the human impact on the upland, rural, and urban environments.  We could have, in short, taken measures to adapt to changing climate patterns.  But to prevent the fundamental shifts in regional and global climate was something we could not do.

Read full article @ opinion.inquirer.net

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[In the news] House ends debates on RH bill -RAPPLER.com

House ends debates on RH bill.

By Carmela Fonbuena
August 6, 2012

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – Despite objections, the House of Representatives on Monday, August 6, voted to terminate debates on House Bill 4244, better known as the Reproductive Health bill, raising the chance of the controversial measure being passed in the current 15th Congress.

It was an ayes and nayes votes, with the majority agreeing to terminate the debates at around 6 p.m. This means RH bill will proceed to the period of amendments, the more difficult stage of the legislative process.

“It’s one step forward. It’s a procedural thing, to end the period of interpellation and debate and to give a chance for people offering amendments to be heard as well. If we just go on – there are 25 more people who want to interpellate – it will go on until our term is over,” said House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte, who declared when the session resumed in July that he will put the RH bill to a vote.

“We just transit from one part of the whole proceeding to another. It’s still not a vote on the merits,” he added.

Read full article @ www.rappler.com

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[Press Release] PM supports clamour on the vote for the RH bill

Labor group supports clamour on the vote for the RH bill

Women members of the Partido ng Manggagawa joined women groups from the Reproductive Health Advocacy Network (RHAN) at the House plenary session this afternoon to show support to clamor to finally put the RH bill to vote.

“It’s been more than a decade it is time to pass the RH bill. Poor and working women have waited long enough,” explained PM General Secretary Judy Ann Chan-Miranda.

She added that, “Poor women need family planning services and commodities which they cannot afford. Millions of poor women and adolescents are left uninformed about their reproductive health rights and needs. We do want merely want a ‘yes’ vote to the RH bill, we want the provisions intended to address the reproductive rights and needs of poor and working women and adolescents intact,” asserted Miranda.

Partido ng Manggagawa called on the pro-RH legislators from the House of Representatives and the Senate to ensure that the following provisions in the RH bill shall not be comprised:
1. The right of women to choose which family planning method to use, hence, the availability of all range of contraception – natural or artificial – but medically safe;
2. The right of adolescents to age-appropriate sexuality and reproductive health education;
3. The continuation of program on the prevention and management of post-abortion complications, and humane medical treatment of women who have risked unsafe abortion; and
4. The fund allocation to free reproductive health care services and commodities for the poor, especially women and adolescents.

PRESS RELEASE
6 August 2012
Partido ng Manggagawa
Contact Judy Ann Miranda @ 09175570777

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[In the news] OPINION | RH bill is for the poor, most of all – Cabinet HDPR Cluster -www.interaksyon.com

OPINION | RH bill is for the poor, most of all – Cabinet HDPR Cluster
By Cabinet Cluster on Human Development and Poverty Reduction
August 5, 2012

(The Human Development and Poverty Reduction (HDPR) Cabinet Cluster has issued a paper strongly endorsing the President’s position on “responsible parenthood.” Below is its full text)

In the President’s recent State of the Nation Address, he emphasized the urgent need for responsible parenthood to counter the country’s soaring population growth and the disturbing social consequences that have resulted from it.

The Human Development and Poverty Reduction (HDPR) Cabinet Cluster — which consists of 20 government agencies dealing with poverty and development — strongly endorses the President’s position.

As early as 20 July 2011, the Cluster had already pushed to make the Reproductive Health (RH) bill a priority legislative measure in the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC). Two days later, it passed HDPR Cluster Resolution No. 1, Series of 2011, Endorsing House Bill No. 4244, “An Act Providing for a Comprehensive Policy on Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development, and for Other Purposes,” and Senate Bill No. 2865, “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health and Population and Development’’ to the President.

Read full article @ www.interaksyon.com

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[From the web] Fact Sheet: House Bill 4244 on Reproductive Health -RAPPLER.com

Fact Sheet: House Bill 4244 on Reproductive Health.

BY RAPPLER.COM
August 5, 2012

MANILA, Philippines – The hotly-debated Reproductive Health (RH) bill, opposed by the powerful Catholic church, is up for a crucial vote at the House of Representatives on August 7.

Here are the key points to know about House Bill No. 4244, “An Act Providing for a Comprehensive Policy on Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health, and Population and Development, and for Other Purposes,” commonly known as the Reproductive Health Bill.

HB 4244 is a product of the consolidation of 6 house bills:

  • HB 96, “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development, and for Other Purposes,” introduced by Rep Edcel Lagman
  • HB 101, “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health and Population Development, and for Other Purposes,” introduced by Rep Janette Garin
  • HB 513, “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health and Population Development, and for Other Purposes,: introduced by Reps. Kaka Bag-Ao and Rep Walden Bello
  • HB1160, “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health and for Other Purposes,” introduced by Rep. Rodolfo Biazon
  • HB 1520, “An Act to Protect the Right of People to Information on Reproductive Health Care,” introduced by Rep Augusto Syjuco
  • HB 3387, “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health for Women in Development and for Other Purposes,” introduced by Reps. Luzviminda Ilagan and Emmi De Jesus

Read full article @ www.rappler.com

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[In the news] UN: Not passing RH bill will reverse devt gains -InterAksyon.com

UN: Not passing RH bill will reverse devt gains
By Jason Gutierrez, Agence France-Presse |Chichi Conde, InterAksyon.com
August 5, 2012

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 3:39 p.m.) The United Nations warned Sunday that failure to pass a controversial birth control law in the Philippines could reverse gains in development goals amid stiff opposition from the powerful Catholic church.

The bill seeks to make it mandatory for the government to provide free contraceptives in a country where more than 80 percent of the population is Catholic and which has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Southeast Asia.

Ugochi Daniels, country representative from the UN Population Fund, said she remained “cautiously optimistic” that President Benigno Aquino III‘s allies who dominate the House of Representatives could muster the numbers to pass the bill on Tuesday after 14 years of often divisive debate.

“What is important now is to highlight the urgency of the bill,” Daniels said.

The UN, in a separate statement, said the Philippines was unlikely to achieve its millennium development goal of reducing maternal deaths by three quarters and providing universal access to reproductive health by 2015

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[In the news] Catholic Church, anti-RH bill groups gather at Edsa Shrine -INQUIRER.net

Catholic Church, anti-RH bill groups gather at Edsa Shrine.

By Kristine Felisse Mangunay, Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 4, 2012

MANILA, Philippines—Hundreds of people, some arriving in private vehicles and others on foot, gathered outside the Edsa Shrine at a usually suburban Manila intersection Saturday for what church leaders had described as a massive prayer rally to show Congress most Filipinos were against the reproductive health bill pending in legislature for years.

Many of the faithful, who braved intermittent rains and occasional winds, stood under umbrellas as they waited for the rally to get underway.

Bishop Gabriel Reyes, chair of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, was spotted in the area. So was Father Melvin Castro, the commission’s executive secretary.

Read full article @ newsinfo.inquirer.net

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[Petition] Save our RH Bill! -AVAAZ.org

Dear friends across the Philippines,

In days, our Congress could take the pivotal step of securing universal access to birth control and maternal care for all Filipinos — but the powerful religious lobby and its political allies could kill it unless we act now. Sign this urgent petition so the House of Representatives secures birth control now — and then forward widely:

In days, our Congress could take the pivotal step of securing universal access to birth control and maternal care for all Filipinos. But the powerful religious lobby and its political allies could kill it unless we act now.

Over 70% of the Filipino population supports the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, but politicians fearful of Church pressure have for years been ignoring public opinion. The tide, however, may be turning. Experts say President Aquino’s brave endorsement of the Bill last week could convince other lawmakers to do the same – let’s tip the balance in our favor by telling Congress we won’t sit by idly while they kill the bill for the 14th year in a row.

The House of Representatives votes in 5 days and it’s likely to be close – if it dies here, we’ll have to wait one more year to even bring up the subject. Sign this urgent petition now and forward widely – when we reach 10,000 signatures, we’ll deliver it straight to Congress before voting begins:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/save_rh_bill_ph_a/?bSItwcb&v=16877

Passing the RH bill is crucial at this moment in history when birth control is out of reach for most women. The Philippines has one of the fastest growing populations in Asia, half of all pregnancies are unintended, and there are over 475,000 illegal abortions every year. Granting greater access to birth control could make all the difference in reducing abortions, improving maternal health, and even combating poverty.

But politicians and religious leaders opposed to the bill are distorting public debate by wrongly claiming that those of us who support the RH Bill are anti-life. The truth is millions of Catholics throughout the Philippines and around the world support access to birth control because it can save lives by reducing illegal abortion.

It’s time for our elected leaders to be fearless in representing the views of most Filipinos rather than cave in to pressure from outside lobbies. Let’s let Congress know where we stand. Sign the urgent petition now and send to everyone:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/save_rh_bill_ph_a/?bSItwcb&v=16877

Contraception is vital for women everywhere, but especially where birth deaths are rampant, unplanned pregnancy rates are high and access to regular birth control is severely limited. Let’s stand together as Filipinos now and ensure our politicians vote for the future of our country.

With hope and determination,

Jamie, Laura, Ian, Dalia, Diego, Ricken, Maria Paz, David and the whole Avaaz team

Sources:

Congress urged to pass RH bill for the future (Manila Standard Today)
http://manilastandardtoday.com/www2/2012/08/02/congress-urged-to-pass-rh-bill-for-the-future/

House to decide on RH bll next week (The Philippine Star)
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=833063&publicationSubCategoryId=63

Proponent unfazed, Palace appeals for support over RH measure (Business World Online)
http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Nation&title=Proponent-unfazed,-Palace-appeals-for-support-over-RH-measure&id=56114

Mention of reproductive health bill in Philippines’ president’s speech seen as endorsement (National Catholic Reporter)
http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/mention-reproductive-health-bill-philippines-presidents-speech-seen-endorsement

Congress leaders push RH bill passage, Charter amendment (Sun Star)
http://www.sunstar.com.ph/breaking-news/2012/07/23/congress-leaders-push-rh-bill-passage-charter-amendment-233512

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[In the news] Deputy Speaker Pablo Garcia: Extend debate on Reproductive Health Bill | Sun.Star

Deputy Speaker Pablo Garcia: Extend debate on Reproductive Health Bill | Sun.Star.

July 30, 2012

CEBU CITY –- At least two of Cebu’s congressmen do not believe that the time has come to end the interpellation on the Reproductive Health (RH) bill.

“Daghan pang punto ang akong ipadayag (I have more points to raise),” said Deputy Speaker Pablo Garcia (Cebu Province, second district). “Those who opposed the bill should be given the right to speak against it. I have registered my right to speak against the bill.”

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. recently said the House will vote on August 7 whether to terminate or continue floor interpellation and debate on the bill.

This process began more than a year ago on May 17, 2011.

Garcia, however, said many congressmen did not have their chance to interpellate, including himself and Sarangani Representative Manuel Pacquiao.

Both lawmakers oppose the controversial bill.

“I think as defined under our rules, the time to close the debates has not yet come,” said Garcia’s son, Representative Pablo John Garcia (Cebu Province, 3rd district).

Read full article @ www.sunstar.com.ph

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[In the news] RH group to junk bishops’ poll bets -manilastandardtoday.com

RH group to junk bishops’ poll bets
By Macon Ramos-Araneta
July 28, 2012

A women’s group on Friday told the country’s bishops it will reject their political candidates who are opposed to the passage into law of the Reproductive Health bill.

“The bishops will make our work easier,” said Elizabeth Angsioco, president of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines.

“Inclusion in their list is a guarantee that a candidate is anti-RH.”

DSWP is a national federation of 264 community women’s organizations with 40,000 members. Angsioco said to be against the RH bill was to be anti-women and anti-poor.

“With the bishops’ list, we will no longer need to do further research on included candidates,” Angsioco said.

“We will simply campaign against them and not vote for them.”

Angsioco made her statement even as the leaders in the House of Representatives scheduled on Aug. 7 the voting on the RH bill to decide whether or not it will pass.

In a statement on Thursday, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said that on that date, the House members would vote to decide whether to end or extend the period for debating the bill.

“If the vote is in favor of terminating the debates, then the period of amendments follow and put to a vote for passage on second reading,” Belmonte said.

Read full article @ manilastandardtoday.com

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[Press Release] “New path of development” called for in counter-SONA -PM

“New path of development” called for in counter-SONA

Several thousand workers joined the counter-SONA protest yesterday to call for a “new path of development” and “alternative economics” as they insisted that poverty and unemployment has not been eradicated despite a decade of economic growth. “The anti-corruption campaign of President Aquino will not solve the problem of destitution and joblessness. The answer lies in taking a new path of development away from the Aquinomics of privatization, contractualization and globalization,” declared Renato Magtubo, Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) chairperon.

Some 1,000 members of PM  join the “March for Alternative Economics” together with the labor coalition Nagkaisa (United) and the multisectoral alliances Freedom from Debt Coalition and Kampanya para sa Makataong Pamumuhay (Campaign for a Humane Life). A total of 7,000 rallyists will march for “alternative economics” starting at 1:00 pm from the corner of Luzon and Commonwealth Avenues then proceed to the Batasang Pambansa.

“It is expected that PNoy will trumpet inclusive growth under his administration. But for workers and the poor, GNP growth only means increasing numbers of ‘Gutom Na Pilipino,’” Magtubo added.

Gerry Rivera, president of the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (PALEA), said that “Even as PNoy garners the confidence of investors for the privatization projects under the Public-Private Partnerhip program, he has earned the ire of workers for his approval of outsourcing and contractualization at Philippine Airlines.”

Meanwhile PM echoed the criticism of the Reproductive Health Advocacy Network (RHAN) against President Aquino for omiiting the Reproductive Health bill among his government’s priority bills and the House of Representatives for its indifference and utter disregard to the plight of poor and working women.

“This is PNoy’s third SONA and women’s mortality rate has increased to 221 per 100,000 live births in 2011 from 162 per 100,000 live births in 2009. Besides the fact that the Philippines must lower the maternal mortality rate to 52 per 100,000 live births, the important matter is how the executive and legislative view women’s right to reproductive health care.” explained PM secretary-general Judy Ann Miranda.

“Regular job and living wages are needed not the conditional cash transfer which is a band-aid solution at best. From 2003-2009 the economy grew by an average of 4.8% but the number of poor Filipinos increased from 19.8 million to 23.1 million. Poverty will not be dented no matter how many cases are filed against former president Gloria Arroyo and how many of her minions are jailed together with ex-Comelec chief Benjamin Abalos,” Rivera stressed.

Magtubo reiterated that “Among the ASEAN nations, the Philippines have the most persistent incidence of poverty (defined as living on less than US$1.25 a day). The Philippines has the highest percentage of slum population as a percent of its urban population among six Asian countries” ###

Press Release
July 23, 2012
Partido ng Manggagawa
Contact Renato Magtubo @ 09178532905

[People] Reproductive Health: Sidelined but Irrepressible By Walden Bello

Reproductive Health: Sidelined but Irrepressible

By Walden Bello
INQUIRER.net
May 21, 2012

When the Reproductive Health Bill (House Bill 4244) made it past Committee on Population early in 2011, legislators and civil society organizations supporting RH were ecstatic. They had reason to be, for after 14 years of being bottled up in committee, the RH bill had blasted its way to the plenary and appeared to have the momentum.

The Pro-RH Legislative Strategy

Riding on this momentum, the strategy of the pro-RH forces centered on two moves: 1) getting the President of the Republic of the Philippines to declare himself for the RH bill; and 2) getting the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate to call for an early vote on the measure.

The pro-RH forces were successful in getting the President to declare himself in favor of the bill. After initially toying with the idea of crafting an RH bill that would be “more sensitive” to the concerns of the Roman Catholic Church, President Benigno Aquino III, perhaps realizing there was no appeasing the Church hierarchy on the issue, finally decided to support the bill drafted by Senate and House proponents of RH. This was a major victory.

However, the RH forces’ attempt to follow up on this major step forward by extracting a commitment from the President to actively push the pro-administration coalition in the House to take a vote on the issue was less successful. The president’s reluctance appeared to stem from a combination of a desire not to infringe on the independence of the legislature and a sense that the administration’s parliamentary contingent was deeply divided on the issue.

Getting the Speaker of the House of Representatives to call for an early vote has been more difficult than persuading the president to publicly support the bill. Rep. Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte is pro-RH. Indeed, he is frank in telling people how he cannot understand “why any legislator would be against this bill.” But he remains hesitant to call for a vote. According to some pro-RH advocates, his reluctance might stem from a number of factors, among them, the desire of someone oriented toward compromise to avoid confrontation with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, an unwillingness to trigger division in the majority coalition that he leads, and lack of confidence that the numbers are there to “decisively” pass the bill. Some observers say he fears that a defeat or narrow victory might be viewed as a major blow to his leadership, leading to its being contested by other forces. Others say, however, that the Speaker, a careful strategist, is simply waiting for the right opportunity to strike and clinch the bill.

As for the situation in the Senate, it has turned out to be more precarious than that in the House. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and the Majority Leader Tito Sotto have emerged as vociferous foes of the measure. While Sotto’s demagogical opposition had been expected, Enrile’s uncompromising stance had not been. And whereas defense of the bill in the House has been handled by a wide range of proponents, the task has been left in the Senate to two women, Senators Miriam Santiago and Pia Cayetano, the pro-RH men of the chamber apparently unwilling to stick their heads above the foxhole.

Delaying Tactics

In any event, a year and a half after it fought its way out of the committee, the RH bill is marooned in the parliamentary doldrums. The numbers continue to favor it in both the House and the Senate, though every session day that passes endangers that edge.

With the provisional vote count favoring the bill, the strategy of the opponents of the measure in the House has been to use repeated long interpellations or the threat of a quorum call to prevent the bill from coming to a vote or, failing that, to push the vote as close as possible to the 2013 elections in order to make pro-RH legislators waver in the face of the Church hierarchy’s threat to turn voters against them at the polls. Some say this strategy is effective, and the reason is that while the number of voters that might be influenced by the Church is not sizeable—perhaps coming to only 5 to 10 per cent of the electorate—it might nevertheless constitute the critical swing vote in close electoral contests.

Some RH proponents think this is just bluff, that there is no such thing as a “Catholic vote” like the “Iglesia ni Cristo vote.” But bluff or not, the threat is perceived as real by many members of Congress.

Church Opposition

The Roman Catholic hierarchy has waged a massive campaign against the bill. This has included threats to block the election of members of Congress voting for the bill, the mobilization of parish priests to inveigh against the bill in their weekend sermons, and the spread of disinformation about RH.

The main thrust of the Church’s propaganda has been to paint contraception as a vital step on the slippery slope towards abortion, indeed to make contraception indistinguishable from abortion. With no supporting evidence at all, contraceptive pills have been rhetorically denounced as “abortifacients.”

Another debating strategy is to deny that a high fertility rate and a high population growth rate in a low-growth economy like the Philippines constitute obstacles to development.

The fast and loose use of statistics marks the arguments of anti-RH advocates, along with really outrageous claims, like the assertion that condom use in Thailand has caused the spread of AIDs. Or that the RH bill is part of a US plot “to keep down the population of developing countries”—the so-called “Kissinger Doctrine.” Or that it is all part of a conspiracy of the big foreign pharmaceutical companies to expand the local market for artificial contraceptives.

When it is pointed out that most other religions and religious denominations in the country either favor or do not oppose the bill, the argument is simply brushed aside with the claim that 80 per cent of the population owes fealty to Rome.

Public Information Campaign

That these arguments have not cut any ice in both chambers is due to the fact that the pro-RH forces have done a good job of shooting them down and mustering strong arguments in support of the bill. Particularly effective in the floor debates have been the following arguments:

– The RH bill is built on the basic democratic principle of freedom of choice;

– Access to family planning is essential to maternal and child health;

– Survey after survey has shown a significant majority of respondents favoring family planning, including artificial contraception;

– Poor respondents, by a large majority, favor access to government-provided or facilitated family planning methods, including condoms, pills, and other methods of contraception;

– The 450,000 abortions that take place yearly can be significantly cut down by access to contraceptives;

– Income level is negatively correlated with family size, meaning the bigger the family, the poorer it is;

– Effective family planning is a central element in any strategy to promote development and reduce poverty.

This legislator’s contribution to the debate consisted of a four-part series of articles published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the leading daily newspaper, showing the strong correlation between family planning and successful development efforts in Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia, and the correlation between uncontrolled population growth and failed development in the Philippines.

Based on field research in the four countries, I argued:

“What accounts for the difference in the performance of the four economies?

“Economic policy? Hardly, since all four countries followed export-oriented economic strategies over the last four decades.

“Structural adjustment? Not really, since all four economies were subjected to some variety of market-oriented reform, though it is arguable that adjustment was milder in our neighbors than in our country.

“Asset and income redistribution? No, since as in the Philippines, state-promoted asset and income redistribution programs in Thailand and Indonesia were either weak or nonexistent.

“Corruption? Again, all four countries have been marked by high levels of corruption, with Indonesia being a consistent topnotcher in annual surveys.

“There is, in fact, one very distinctive feature that separates the Philippines from its neighbors: unlike our country, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand managed to rein in the growth of their populations through effective state-sponsored family planning programs. And while successful family planning is not the whole story, economists and demographers have a consensus that it is an essential element in the narrative of economic advance in our neighboring countries.”

Unexpected Development

Exasperated with the anti-RH forces’ delaying tactics, the pro-RH forces have recently intensified their effort to the Speaker for a vote before the sine die adjournment of the second session in early June. Unfortunately, something completely unexpected occurred that contributed to rolling back the pro-RH timetable. This was the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which is reaching its climax. Since the RH bill and the trial of the Chief Justice (a move pushed by the House of Representatives and supported by the President) are the two most controversial issues in the country, the final resolution of both coming at almost the same time has apparently worried some quarters of the ruling establishment as overloading the political system.

In the view of some RH proponents, however, this danger is overstated and simply serves as an excuse for the House and Senate leaderships to postpone a contentious but necessary reckoning before the adjournment of the second session of the 15th Congress.

Higher Stakes?

As the second session draws to a close, my sense is that while the RH congressional advocates and civil society supporters have done a superb job in pushing the issue, in terms of legislative strategy, public information, and mass mobilizations, they have come up against determined and fanatical opposition from the Church hierarchy, which has made stopping the bill a top priority.

Why is the Church so uncompromising? Perhaps revealing in this regard was a recent remark by former Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani, one of the most aggressive opponents of the bill: “One…argument submitted by the proponents of the RH bill is the fact that other countries with a Catholic majority have already accepted what is being proposed by the present RH bill. The answer to that is a simple: ‘If they have gone the wrong way, why should we follow them?’ The Popes have been lamenting this slide of many Catholic countries to secularism. We should be proud that we have bucked the trend to a great extent.”

In other words, the battle over RH, from the point of view of the Church hierarchy, is not just about RH. It is about a historic, nay cosmic, struggle to maintain the Church’s ideological hold on the minds of Filipinos. It is a last ditch stand against that great foe, the secular Enlightenment, which has triumphed in most other countries with a Christian religious heritage. Three key hard-won principles of the Enlightenment are present in the RH bill: the freedom of choice, the use of reason and science to ameliorate people’s lives, and the separation of Church and state.

The Catholic Church hierarchy is desperately seeking to remain relevant to Filipinos, but it has chosen the wrong battle to fight, for most Filipinos have already left it behind when it comes to reproductive health, and the bishops and their congressional allies are now a small embattled minority. As in many other countries, most people in this country—myself included–remain broadly respectful of the Church, but they want it out of the bedroom and are dismayed at its attempt at totalitarian doctrinal control. As in many other countries, “bucking the trend,” as Msgr. Bacani puts it, will result not in transformative redemption but in painful isolation. Whether in Ireland, Germany, Southern Europe, or the United States, the hierarchy’s wrongheaded stand on contraception combined with the awful revelations of numerous cases of sexual abuse of children and sexual abuse and harassment of women by priests that Rome and Church hierarchies have tolerated all over the Catholic world has been the perfect formula for the descent into disrepute and irrelevance.

Our problem, though, is that the Church hierarchy’s suicidal stand against reason threatens to bring down the country along with it in Gotterdamerung style. It has been almost 14 years since the reproductive health bill was first introduced in Congress. Since it then, the population of the country has grown from 75 million to over 94 million. The scorched-earth rearguard action of the Catholic Church hierarchy against rationality and collective responsibility has unfortunately condemned millions of those children who joined our country in the last 14 years to grinding poverty and a precarious existence.

Despite setbacks in schedule, I am confident that, whatever their personal stance on the issue, the leaders of the House and Senate will be able to gather the courage to bring the RH Bill to a vote sooner rather than later. There is no doubt that when the RH Bill does come to a vote, it will be a transcendental event in our country’s painful progress away from ignorance and blind tradition that began with the movement for secular reform promoted by the ilustrados, the Reform Movement, and the Revolutionary Movement in the late 19th century but which remains incomplete. The challenge to members of Congress will be to abandon narrow electoral self-interest and vote on the following choice: an irrational obscurantist stance that would keep the country in prolonged darkness and poverty, or a future marked by vigorous development, prosperity, and a democratic politics that is truly free of clerical interference, marked by a genuine separation of Church and State, and enjoying real religious tolerance.

*Rep. Walden Bello, who represents Akbayan Party in the House of Representatives, is one of the main sponsors of the Reproductive Health Bill.

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