It has been a politically perceived issue that there is over population in the Philippines. This issue has been constantly blamed for the aggravating poverty situation.
One side is claiming that unbridled population increase is putting so much strain on the financial and food resources of the country that more and more Filipinos are no longer eating three square meals a day. Economic rating system is also stating a poor Filipino family is earning just below $1 per day. This certainly can hardly feed a family of 4 or more.
On the other side, it is claimed that the cause of poverty is government corruption. They rightfully claim that while it’s true that the poor are constantly increasing, and that the income gap between them and the next economic level is likewise widening, financial resources that are intended to support the poor are being pocketed by corrupt government officials. Population is not the cause of poverty, corruption is, the Catholic Church claims.
The government is keen on crafting remedies to curb population. Several laws have been passed to curb corruption. But since they lack heavy punitive measures, they became hardly effective. Corruption has already downgraded the country’s economic standing that adversely affected our capability to borrow money from credit or financial institutions, particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.
So the government resorted to drafting a bill that drew the ire of the conservative and the Catholic Church. Foremost is the reproductive health bill, which was authored by Senator Pia Cayetano and Congressman Edcel Lagman. The bill underwent rough sailing on the legislative seas.
The President is set to sign the bill into law before 2012 ends.
DISCUSSION OF THE ISSUE
Reproductive health, or sexual health/hygiene, addresses the reproductive processes, functions and system at all stages of life. Reproductive health, therefore, implies that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safer sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. One interpretation of this implies that men and women ought to be informed of and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of birth control; also access to appropriate health care services of sexual, reproductive medicine and implementation of health education programs to stress the importance of women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth could provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant. On the other hand individuals do face inequalities in reproductive health services. Inequalities vary based on socioeconomic status, education level, age, ethnicity, religion, and resources available in their environment. It is possible for example, that low income individuals lack the resources for appropriate health services and the knowledge to know what is appropriate for maintaining reproductive health.
As a personal opinion, reproductive health is also the ability of a couple – a man and a woman – to reproduce and raise children. It is a genetic process of increasing the number of the earth’s inhabitants which continuously work for their own sustenance or provide for their basic needs to survive – food, shelter, etc.
But the disproportionate increase of population vis-à-vis resources, the consequentially widening disparity between these two elements is putting strains on both the natural and financial resources. Science has undertaken remedies to increase food production and sustain natural resources. Sustainable development is employed.
There are successes in several countries, especially in rich countries. But other countries, particularly the third world, where governments are beleaguered by ineptitude and corruption have hardly taken off. The Philippines, for example, continue to lag behind in development and food production due to this problem. Over population, as the government and credit or financial institutions claim, is thus blamed as the cause of underdevelopment and poverty. Credit or financial institutions which provide loans to poor countries for development therefore advise poor countries to curb population or their resources shall be depleted and their ability to borrow money from them regulated or limited.
In this light, third world or poor countries like the Philippines had to craft laws that they believe could solve the problem of over population.
Thus enters the reproductive health law, other government policies intended to curb over population in the pipeline.
The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10354), informally known as the RH Law, is a legislation in the Republic of the Philippines guaranteeing universal access to methods on contraception, fertility control, sexual education, and maternal care. While there is general agreement about its provisions on maternal and child health, there is great debate on its key proposal that the Philippine government and the private sector will fund and undertake widespread distribution of family planning devices such as condoms, birth control pills (BCPs) and IUDs, as the government continues to disseminate information on their use through all health care centers.
On October 2012, a revised version of the legislation was re-named the Responsible Parenthood Act and was filed in the House of Representatives as a result of re-introducing the bill under a different impression after overwhelming opposition in the country, especially from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. The law is highly divisive and controversial, with experts, academics, religious institutions, and major political figures supporting and opposing it, often criticizing the government and each other in the process. Debates and rallies proposing and opposing the bills, with tens of thousands of opposition particularly those endorsed by the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church and various other conservative groups, have been happening nationwide. It has polarized the Filipino nation.
PRESENTATION OF ALTERNATIVE VIEWS
Differing opinions have emerged from various sectors and divided the people into the “pros” and “cons” – or those against and for the RH Law.
The Catholic Church, whose doctrine of pro-life as understood from the bible, is firmly against the Reproductive Health bill; and position is absolute and uncompromising, said an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). There is no way that the Church will soften its position against the controversial bill. It allegedly opposes the bill because of its anti-life provisions, or the contraceptive program it engenders. The Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) also joined the Catholic Church’s voice in opposing the bill. These groups propose that the best form of birth regulation is self-discipline. Instead of allotting P2 billion from taxpayer’s money for the purchase of contraceptives, CEAP has urged lawmakers to use the money for education, livelihood and basic public services.
The same position is shared by other groups and some conservative religious denominations which value life right at conception or the union of the woman’s egg cell and the man’s sperm cell.
These “cons” reason that over population is not the problem, or that there is no over population. The purported over population stems from the fact that the government has failed to developed provinces or areas beyond the metropolitans areas. Metropolitan Manila and its suburban cities are booming while remote provinces are simply relying on primitive farming and minimally supported livelihood. In search of the needed fund to support livelihood in their home province, some people thus migrate to the cities to find work.
Government has allocated some fund to sustain agriculture livelihood. Unfortunately, this is not sufficient to effect significant progress on farming system. Moreover, corrupt officials tasked to administer the fund tend to pocket some of the funds. Faming infrastructures funded by local taxes and foreign donations are limited, thus unable to lift the struggling rural economy.
The poor farmers have already been subservient to private lenders and banks. And their produce has only become fodder for loan sharks, who lend these farmers virtually everything they need including their food. In effect, they could hardly recover, to whom their produce would simply go as payment for their debts.
To the pro-RH Bill, they claim that the reproductive health bill would allow greater access to modern contraceptives and sex education. It allegedly proposes more maternal health services, raising the number of midwives to one for every 150 deliveries. Contraceptives would also be funded for poor women and would be included in the standard supplies of medicine in hospitals. Modern family planning methods would be provided in all accredited health facilities. The bill, allegedly, will provide adequate funding to the population program. It is a departure from the present setup in which the provision for reproductive health services is devolved to local government units, and consequently, subjected to the varying strategies of local government executives and suffers from a dearth of funding. It will promote information on and access to both natural and modern family planning methods, which are medically safe and legally permissible.
It assures an enabling environment where women and couples have the freedom of informed choice on the mode of family planning they want to adopt based on their needs, personal convictions and religious beliefs. It does not have any bias for or against either natural or modern family planning. It will also promote sustainable human development. Taken as a basis for the “pros” stand, the UN stated in 2002 that family planning and reproductive health are essential to reducing poverty. The UNICEF also asserts that family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology now available to the human race. According to this group, coverage of RH are the following: (1) Information and access to natural and modern family planning (2) Maternal, infant and child health and nutrition (3) Promotion of breast feeding (4) Prevention of abortion and management of post-abortion complications (5) Adolescent and youth health (6) Prevention and management of reproductive tract infections, HIV/AIDS and STDs (7) Elimination of violence against women (8) Counseling on sexuality and sexual and reproductive health (9) Treatment of breast and reproductive tract cancers (10) Male involvement and participation in RH; (11) Prevention and treatment of infertility and (12) RH education for the youth.
The principal author of the RH Bill, Congressman Edcel Lagman of Albay, claims that the bill is not anti-life, totally discrediting the “cons” stand, but allegedly a pro-quality life. Allegedly, it will ensure that children will be blessings for their parents since their births are planned and wanted. Additionally, he stated that the bill will empower couples with the information and opportunity to plan and space their children. This will not only strengthen the family as a unit but also optimize care for children who will have more opportunities to be educated, healthy and productive. The Congressman further stated that the bill does not interfere with family life, but will enhance family life: The family is more than a natural nucleus; it is a social institution whose protection and development are impressed with public interest. It is not untouchable by legislation.
For this reason, the State has enacted the Civil Code on family relations, the Family Code, and the Child and Youth Welfare Code. Further according to the Congressman, the bill does not legalize abortion: It expressly provides that abortion remains a crime and prevention of abortion is essential to fully implement. (To this, the Catholic Church countered that the Reproductive Health Bill as a precursor will eventually pave the way for more anti-life policies, like legalization of abortion and divorce, which are already in the pipeline). He used comparative reports or information to bolster his position.
He stated that it is not true all countries where contraceptive use is promoted eventually legalize abortion. Many Catholic countries criminalize abortion even as they vigorously promote contraceptive use like Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Paraguay and Ireland. The Muslim and Buddhist countries of Indonesia and Laos also promote contraceptive use yet proscribe abortion. According to studies, correct and regular use of contraceptives reduces abortion rates by as much as 85 percent and negates the need to legalize abortion.
Furthermore, contraceptives, allegedly, do not have life-threatening side effects. Medical and scientific evidence shows that all the possible medical risks connected with contraceptives are infinitely lower than the risks of an actual pregnancy and everyday activities. The author also claims that the bill simply recognizes the verifiable link between a huge population and poverty. Unbridled population growth stunts socioeconomic development and aggravates poverty. The connection between population and development is well-documented and empirically established.
However, in countries where population control is prevalent, there is now evidence that they are wanting of more able and young workforce. Japan for instance is having problem with its ageing workforce to sustain its preeminent economic standing. The country has practiced population control in order to create huge surplus of resources and production which they sell or trade abroad to infuse large income to its export-oriented economy. Sadly, the country is now experiencing workforce shortage. Population control has become detrimental to their economic progress.
On the other hand, China, the world’s most populous nation, is now enjoying economic boom due to a huge supply of human resource. The country is able to provide cheap labor to industrial countries around the world with huge economic benefit. This could prove that over population is not completely the cause of poverty.
Considering some demographic profiles, some provinces are more populated than others on a person per area basis. There is just disproportionate distribution of inhabitants. Metro Manila is over populated due to unregulated influx of rural people in search of menial or professional work. Work pay is the difference. While Metro Manila is offering wages which comply with lawful rates, provincial wages are lesser. The amenities are like conspicuous everywhere in Metro Manila than anywhere in Luzon.
Worldly things are just hard to resist that many people are flocking to Metro Manila.
The same thing happens in metropolitan cities of the Visayas and Mindanao. Consequently, farms are somewhat abandoned for the sake of seeking financial gains from working in factories or offices. This exodus of farm workers leaving the farm could somehow create a vacuum in the farms. Food production thus construed as a sign of poverty.
There appears to be three major points of view from which to approach the controversial reproductive health bill, namely: legal, moral, and scientific. This is so since, the proposed legislative measure once enacted into law will affect society. In short, there are many stakeholders by differing institutional concerns. It then becomes difficult to erect a tripod to hold the issue that has carried so much weight.
There are those who think, once legislated, the proposed Reproductive Health will in fact set the stage for other anti-life laws or so-called D.E.A.T.H. bills (acronym for death, euthanasia, abortion, two-child policy, and homosexuality). The problem that has been viciously overlooked in our legislative mill is the fact that legislators themselves violate the rule that a bill should have only one subject matter.
Up until today, there is a serious opposition to a reproductive health bill in whatever form or substance it comes simply because there are such groups or organizations that are against it. For instance, the CBCP is against it and for that matter other like-minded Catholic sub-groups. True enough, from the time it was first filed in the past Congresses, the bill already experienced a string of failures – to be passed into law – owing to provisions that are questionable legally, morally, and scientifically. It can be said that again, this proposed HB 812 may go through another rough sailing unless it can be railroaded in Congress and Senate.
One theory stands in defense of the bill which claims it is necessary in order to curb population growth which is now pegged at 86 million Filipinos as well as for the sake of limited resources such as rice. But the myth of this Malthusian fear has already been settled long ago and it does not anymore hold water. Why a ‘zero population growth’ as that which was a matter of policy in the whole of the United States and Europe? If we consider the earnings being remitted into our country from OFWs as the single factor that buoys up our fledging if pale economy, then we should have no reason to argue against this bill. That ‘zero population policy’ practiced by countries in the First Bloc now reached the irreversible scenario of a graying population that depletes their respective economies in heavy state subsidies.
The National Academy of Science and Technology supports reproductive health bill. The Catholic Church or the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines does not. There are pro-life advocates versus pro-choice advocates. This camp says it involves no abortion, another camp says otherwise. This group claims contraceptives to be abortifacient, another such group claims it is not so. Within the legal community, a wedge divides their sentiments as to whether it is against the Divine Law to allow any room of choice toward abortion or to some extent euthanasia. Cases of abortion do sometimes involve “life-boat ethics” – that Catch 22 of having to choose which person to save – the unborn babe or the mother. There are issues at every loop, claims at every turn, and cries in every direction the bill takes – for or against.
Moralists, legalists, scientists follow their own lines of thinking that are parallel unto one another – no lines intersect. There is where the problem lies. Is it then possible to weave from various strands or threads a beautiful tapestry of the proposed bill? Has it become time to curb population growth or corruption?
Whether it is called reproductive health, or responsible parenthood, the debate is a polarizing one. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines came out with a pastoral letter, on the issue of the Reproductive Health/Responsible Parenthood Bill. Their words, alleging they come from the spring well of morality. It is why when you read, or listen to the pastoral letter, or the position of the Church they think that contraceptives are immoral, or are abominations. There is nothingwrong with that position, and it is a perfectly valid one from a certain point of view. On the other end of the spectrum, the proponents of the Reproductive Health Bill say, “yes we should.” What the proposed legislation is about: it asks the government to explain to men and women, regardless whether they are married, single or of age, about their human bodies. They teach about a full range of methods— natural family planning, artificial contraceptions, from Condoms to IUDs to the Pill and the morning after pill and everything else in between. Now, all this isn’t new.
Growing up and studying in a Catholic school, these were things taught to us. And at the end of the day, it is about making an informed decision on what’s important to us. Biologically? Men have their urges. Women have their needs. Science tells us that the human race has been around for about 150,000 years. We wouldn’t be here if humans didn’t have those instincts. What the bill proposes to do is to put everything in the forefront. To make informing people mandatory, and to put the choice front and center and readily available for every Filipino, regardless of age, or social status. This chasm is just one of many philosophical differences that make it impossible for both the Pro Reproductive Health and the Anti Reproductive health proponents from ever seeing eye to eye.
What of President Aquino?
The President during the campaign was explicit. He does not fully support the reproductive health bill in the form that it was during the campaign. He was explicit that he believed that the reproductive health bill should be renamed, responsible parenthood bill. The President’s position, based on his Platform when he ran for public office could be summed up as: 1. He is against abortion;
2. He recognizes that there is a population explosion; 3. He is in favor of giving couples the right to choose to manage their families; 4. He believes in cases where the couple is too poor, or is in no position to make an informed decision that the state must take responsibility. 5. He wants all options to be equally presented. That means including Natural Family planning up to modern family methods. 6. He believes that Parents should play a key role in ensuring every child they bring into the world will have the opportunity to lead good lives. The Aquino position is a logical and fair one. Parents should really play a role in their family’s future. Giving everyone an informed choice, and letting them decide on what to do, instead of ramming the choice down their throat is the logical thing to do. The proposed legislation then has basically met many of those requirements. So, is this still the Aquino position on the issue?
If not, what has changed?
Rumor has it that Aquino isn’t so hot on the RH Bill. The President of course looks at the priority legislation and sees what he can pass that does the biggest benefit. Did the President see that putting the Reproductive Health Bill or Responsible Parenthood bill on the agenda would prevent other, equally important legislation sidetracked? This is my disappointment with the Aquino Administration. Just come out and say so, and be honest about the whys on the matter. This is why many of those who supported the Administration are coming out to say, “this isn’t the change we signed up for.” They are so disillusioned with the state of things. In an issue as charged and as polarizing as Reproductive Health or Responsible Parenthood bill or however legislators want to call it, there is a simple way to break the impasse.
The President uses all the power of discernment he has. The President simply decides. The RH Bill is about responsibility. It is about making an informed decision, and it appears not just for Filipinos, but for the President as well. But responsibility is not just for the economic well-being of a person but for his/her spiritual well-being too. When we talk about morals, we also must think about our personal responsibility to our own souls, and faithfulness to the church, being the body of Christ. By following or not following what the church teaches is an expression of personal liberty from the dictates of anyone. However, by following the church, the ultimate dictate for human salvation is paramount. After all, just as Christ Himself used to say in the Gospel, “Thy faith has saved you”, we shall be saved from our steadfastness to our faith.
“Safe and satisfying sex…”
Delivered by Sen. Pia Cayetano in her defense of the Reproductive Health Bill, which she authored with Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, which she means to say women should have the right to safe and satisfying sex. This phrase was moved by Sen. Vicente Sotto to be removed from the bill. “RH bill is being gift wrapped to look like a gift for maternal health care (even if) it will lead to greater crimes against women.” Catholic Bishops Conference Of The Philippines (CBCP)
“Show me the same law!”
Reaction of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago to Sen. Vicente Sotto’s statement that the Reproductive Health Bill is redundant “Is there gender discrimination in Philippine society?” Debate between RH bill sponsor Sen. Pia Cayetano and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile
“Our biggest export is OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers). That is export. That’s why I’m against RH.” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s statement in his opposition to the RH Bill “Long after we are gone, we will leave behind not just a law but a whole mentality and a whole culture…” Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle warned of the bill’s effect on Filipino Culture and the youth.