Published in Manila Standard Today
By Elizabeth Angsioco
It appears like the inclusion of the reproductive health/ responsible parenthood bill in the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council’s list of priority measures is working.
Both chambers of Congress are now in the period of interpellation. Next comes the period of amendments when legislators propose specific changes and authors decide to accept or reject such proposals. The voting happens after this.
We do not see major problems that will further derail voting on the measure. In the Senate, even the staunchest RH bill opponent, Senator Vicente Sotto, has repeatedly said that they would “dispose” of the bill. At the House of Representatives, Speaker Sonny Belmonte is publicly known to favor the bill’s passage.
Since the period of amendments is near, this piece takes a closer look at Malacañang-proposed amendments to the RH bill.
Offhand, I say that except for two, all these amendments are generally acceptable to many advocates. The ones that we do not agree with outright need some clarification. Let me go through these.
In Section 2 of the Declaration of Policy, the Palace wants to delete the words “sexual orientation” in the enumeration of bases of discrimination that should be eliminated. The reason, as relayed to us, is that the word “sex” is already there and that this should be understood as already including “sexual orientation.”
To clarify, sex and sexual orientation are related but different. Simply put, sex refers to one’s biological make up. Either, one is male or female. Sexual orientation, on the other hand, refers to a person’s expression of his/her sexuality and includes relationships outside of heterosexual ones like those of homosexuals and lesbians.
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been well documented internationally as well as in the Philippines. In response to this, the Yogyakarta Principles (www.yogyakartaprinciples.org), on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity was crafted by human rights experts in 2006.
This document is a guide to human rights and affirms binding international legal standards with which all States must comply. Such standards include: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Philippines is a signatory to all these instruments and thus, should adhere to their provisions.
It is not surprising therefore, that the ones loudly objecting to this particular Malacañang-proposed amendment are those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community. In fact, many of them are known allies of the President.
Sexual orientation is definitely related with RH since it deals with intimate relations between people. It has direct relationship with a number of RH elements included in the bill such as: adolescent and youth RH including education; prevention and management of reproductive tract infections (RTIs), HIV and AIDS, and other sexually transmittable infections (STIs); education and counselling on sexuality and RH; and, mental health aspect of RH care. Thus, personally, I am for retaining this phrase in the RHB.
In Section 3, Guiding Principles, Malacañang proposes these two amendments:
2.1. (a) is amended to read as, “Freedom of choice, within the limits set by the Constitution and which is central to the exercise of right, must be fully guaranteed by the State;” (underscored part is the insertion).
I consider this as not only acceptable but an improvement of the bill as it strengthens adherence to the Constitution.
In (e), the Palace wants it to become: “The State shall promote, without bias, all effective natural and modern methods of family planning that are medically safe and legal provided, that the State may provide additional funding support to promote natural methods of family planning”.
In essence, this is acceptable because from the start, RH advocates have stated that ALL family planning methods must be made available. This of course includes modern NFP methods promoted by the Catholic Church.
My minor recommendation is to further strengthen it by replacing “may” with “shall,” and, deleting “additional” in the amended portion because this may be construed as favoring the NFP methods.
In section 7, Access to Family Planning, the recommendation is, “All accredited health facilities shall provide a full range of modern family planning methods, except in the case of specialty hospitals and hospitals owned and operated by a religious group provided that these hospitals may render such on an optional basis…”
While ideally advocates prefer not to have this amendment, I, for one will not object because in reality, church-owned hospitals are mostly, if not all, private. Public health facilities are more important to us because these are the ones used by our poor citizens.
In section 16, Mandatory Age-Appropriate RH and Sexuality Education, Malacañang has two amendments. One is to change the start of such education from the original Grade “Five” to “Six,” and the other, to add the phrase “with due regard to religious affiliation” after “Values formation,” a topic included in RH education.
Both amendments are acceptable.
The Palace wants to amend Section 20 on Ideal Family Size. It should be noted that RHB authors, in their letter to the Committee on Population months ago, have already decided to totally delete the section. This was part of further amendments volunteered by the authors themselves.
In Section 28, Prohibited Acts, Malacañang proposes two amendments. These are:
The deletion of paragraph (2) under (a) that contains prohibited acts of healthcare providers. The subject paragraph presently reads as: “Refuse to perform legal and medically-safe reproductive health procedures on any person of legal age on the ground of third party consent or authorization. In case of married persons, the mutual consent of the spouses shall be preferred. However, in case of disagreement, the decision of the one undergoing the procedure shall prevail…”
We were told that the palace wants the paragraph deleted for being vague and unclear.
I, and other RH advocates oppose the deletion because this runs counter to the principle of freedom of choice clearly espoused by the RH bill.
To clarify, we, the advocates originally crafted this paragraph because of women’s reports that there are health facilities that require the written consent of their spouses before performing ligation on them. Without such consent, they are refused.
Women who decide to undergo ligation are those who already have more than the number of children they can care and provide for. Most are poor and having ligation is their way of preventing future pregnancies they no longer want or can afford.
Ideally, undergoing ligation and/or vasectomy (on the part of the male) should be a mutual decision of couples. However, many women are in unequal, even abusive relationships. To them, requiring spousal consent on this matter is added burden and reinforces the thinking that men should decide for women.
Thus, we hope that this provision will be retained.
Malacañang proposes that (b) of the same section be amended to read as: “Any public official charged with the duty to implement the provisions of this Act, who personally or through a subordinate, prohibits or restricts the delivery of legal and medically-safe RH care services, including family planning, or forces, coerces or induces any person to use such services.”
This amendment is acceptable as it puts focus on responsible government officials.
Undoubtedly, these Malacañang amendments are meant to placate objections against the RHB. I have to say though that most are reasonable. Still, I, together, with other advocates hope that our position on the two ‘problematic’ amendments will still be considered by our legislators.
After all, we all want an RH law that will be truly responsive to the needs of our people.