Published in Manila Standard Today
By Elizabeth Angsioco
Arguments against the reproductive health bill have evolved. The good thing is that purely religious ones are now rarely used. These are now masked with “scientific” data. The bad thing is that these new arguments are so wrong.
We hear anti-RH legislators like Rep. Mitos Magsaysay and Senator Vicente Sotto say that a reproductive health bill is not needed because other laws and policies are already in place. They point to Republic Act No. 9710, the Magna Carta of Women as the law that allegedly contains everything the RHB wants to do.
In fact, when Magsaysay interpellated RH bill author Rep. Kimi Cojuangco, she named me as someone who helped put together the MCW and its Implementing Rules and Regulations. To be accurate, I was with the Technical Committee for the Bicameral Committee that finalized the MCW but failed to attend meetings for the IRR.
I do not know why Magsaysay singled me out but it felt like I did wrong for helping Congress pass a measure that upholds women’s rights as human rights.
Anti-RH lawmakers allege that the RH bill copied provisions from the MCW. Reviewing the bills’ history will show that the provisions referred to have been in the RH bill years before the MCW included them. Actually, MCW lifted some RH elements and integrated these in its Sec. 17, Women’s Right to Health. Since the MCW has been enacted before the RH bill, they now claim that it’s the other way around. This is so WRONG.
These lawmakers assert that the magna carta and its implementing rules render the RH bill redundant and therefore, unnecessary. I beg to disagree.
One, the MCW is for women while the RH bill will address reproductive health needs of everyone including men, young people, those who have serious conditions such as HIV and AIDS, and even persons with disabilities. Thus, in terms of people who will benefit from the law, the RH bill’s coverage is more comprehensive.
Two, our legislators know (or at least they should) that there are general and specific laws. The Magna Carta for Women is an example of a general law since it contains ALL rights of women in different sectors and circumstances. It has provisions on women’s rights to: participation and representation; equal access and elimination of discrimination in education, scholarships, and training; health; equal treatment before the law; non-discriminatory and non-derogatory portrayal in media; social protection, etc.
It also advances specific rights of women in the military, in marginalized sectors, senior citizens, in especially difficult circumstances, and others.
The RH bill is specific because it deals solely with reproductive health needs of people. Because it is RH-specific, it outlines concrete programs that are mentioned in, and those NOT in MCW.
Just like the Labor Code of the Philippines which at times becomes the basis of other labor-related laws, the MCW is in fact, a legal basis for the passage of the RHB. Since family planning services, maternal care, and youth sexuality education are already included in the listing of women’s health-related services in the MCW law, there really is no reason for objections against the RH bill.
The enactment of the RH bill is necessary so that the Magna Carta for Women can be better implemented. The former concretizes the general services in the latter.
Three, in terms of RH services, the magna carta is incomplete. Oppositors will say that the IRR contains more but scrutiny of this document will reveal that while a few related services are mentioned, they are still in general terms.
Moreover, an IRR does not carry the weight of a law. It can be easily changed depending on the temperament of current political leadership.
Some of the concrete provisions of the RH bill (House version) that are either absent from or made more specific than those in the Magna Carta for Women and its implementing rules are:
1. Midwives for skilled attendance (Sec. 5);
2. Emergency obstetric and neonatal care (Sec. 6);
3. Access to family planning (Sec. 7);
4. Maternal and newborn health care in crisis situations (Sec. 8);
5. Maternal death review (Sec. 9);
6. Family planning supplies as essential medicines (Sec. 10);
7. Integration of responsible parenthood and family planning component in anti-poverty programs (Sec. 12);
8. Benefits for serious and life-threatening RH conditions (Sec. 14);
9. Mobile health care service (Sec. 15);
10. Capability building of barangay health workers (BHWs) (Sec. 19);
11. Pro-bono services for indigent women (Sec. 22);
12. Sexual and RH programs for PWDs (Sec. 23); and
13. Prohibited acts (Sec. 28).
Clearly therefore, the RH bill is not a replica of the Magna Carta for Women and its IRR. Saying that it is redundant and unnecessary is so wrong.
Sotto repeatedly asserts that Congress no longer needs to pass the RH bill because the Department of Health is already doing the services proposed by the bill. Indeed, the present DoH leadership is much more progressive on RH matters than previous ones under former President Macapagal-Arroyo (except of course former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral).
However, it is incorrect to say that Health Department is already doing everything it should in relation with RH. The DoH needs the law to effectively address the huge need for access to RH services especially by women in poverty.
The experience with Mrs. Arroyo, who opposed contraceptives, implemented a failed Natural Family Planning-only program, and halted the previous Congress’ RH bill deliberation is one of the strongest arguments for the passage of the RH bill.
We have also seen the effects of the Atienza order in Manila that effectively prohibits public heath providers from dispensing contraceptives and moves by other LGUs such as Barangay Ayala Alabang; Balanga, Bataan; and Cebu to curtail people’s right to RH services. These are reasons why enacting the RH bill is urgent.
The country cannot continue to be held hostage by religious beliefs of those who hold government power.
With the RH law in place, standardized programs with sufficient budgetary support will be implemented throughout the Philippines whoever the President, DoH Secretary, governors, or mayors, may be.
All these “new” anti-RH bill arguments are so wrong. It is urgent that the RH bill is passed.