Published by Manila Standard Today
By Elizabeth Angsioco
December 10 is internationally celebrated as Human Rights Day. For reproductive health advocates, this is significant because RH is a human right.
The celebrations started when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948.
Through the years, other international human rights instruments have been adopted including the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and others.
All these international instruments have at their core human rights to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Integral to this is the right to RH.
In terms of family planning, CEDAW is more explicit. Its Article 12 states, “1. State Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care services, including those related to family planning.”
Human rights adhere to certain principles. Universality is one and simply means that ALL persons have inherent human rights and there should not be discrimination based on any distinction like sex, race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, economic status, etc.
On RH, this means that all women must be able to exercise this right wherever they are. Thus, the rights of women in the seven Balanga, Bataan barangays, as well as in the City of Manila, where contraceptives are prohibited, are violated.
Indivisibility is another principle. This means that persons have ALL human rights whether political, social, cultural, or economic. This is because the denial of one right affects, and usually impedes, the enjoyment of other rights.
Indivisibility also means that human rights do not follow any hierarchy. They are all equally important and must be enjoyed by all citizens.
Therefore, the situation where other health services are available, but poor women’s access to family planning and other life-saving RH services is severely limited is only partial enjoyment of our Nanays’ right to health.
Another key human rights principle is interdependence. All rights are interrelated and the fulfilment of one right may depend on the enjoyment of other rights.
Thus, the right to health is related with the right to education. Similarly, on RH, both information and services must be available.
In human rights discourse, citizens are the “rights holders” and the State or government is the “duty bearer.” Thus, government has the responsibility to ensure that citizens are able to enjoy and use their rights. One way by which the State fulfils this obligation is through the enactment and implementation of laws that uphold human rights.
It should be noted that the Philippines, as correctly asserted in both the House of Representatives and Senate versions of the RH bill, has ratified these various HR instruments and therefore, is responsible in ensuring that its citizens’ human rights are respected.
Here, no other issue more clearly demonstrates the need to fully respect women’s and mothers’ human rights than the one concerning the RH bill.
Despite government international commitments, the very problematic RH situation, the people’s repeated demand for the bill to pass, and most recently, President Noynoy Aquino’s appeal to House Speaker Sonny Belmonte to already put the RH bill to a vote, the bill’s fate remains uncertain.
The country prides itself in being a democracy. Yet the democratic process in relation with the bill is being derailed by the minority who oppose it. What is a democracy if it doesn’t take cognizance of the people’s will?
In a democracy, the legislative process is respected. More than ten years of discussions, any which way one looks at it is way too long for any bill before it is put to a vote.
In a real democracy, citizens’ human rights are given paramount importance. The fact that 11 mothers die daily due to pregnancy or childbirth-related complications is tantamount to mass murder of our Nanays. Allowing these deaths to continue reflects a very low regard for women’s and mothers’ rights.
The argument that more legislators still want to interpellate is no longer reasonable. No new arguments surface. Instead, questions that have been repeatedly and lengthily answered are rehashed and asked again.
New rules to guide the interpellation are no longer necessary. Such rules could have been useful months ago. Besides, the HOR already has sufficient rules that the leadership could have properly implemented for a more efficient process. What the Speaker needs to do now is to terminate the period of interpellation, quickly go through the period of amendments, and then vote on the bill.
President Aquino’s request to the House of Representatives should be heeded. It is a message to the leadership of the House, to the President’s party mates and allies, even to those against the RH bill. The bill is, after all, a priority.
If the leadership wants to, it can put the RH bill to a vote before Christmas break. This is not without precedent.
Remember the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao elections postponement bill? It was sponsored on the HOR floor on March 16 and deliberations resumed on March 22 when it was approved on third and final reading. Two days to approve a bill! Kung gusto, pwede, kung ayaw, may dahilan.
PNoy’s party-mates should listen. Of the four “Team Delay” stalwarts, Representatives Raul Daza, Amado Bagatsing, Sergio Apostol, and Pablo Garcia, the first three are Liberal Party (LP) members. They should now stop their delaying tactics and just vote “no” if they so desire.
Other LP members should follow their leader’s call. Sadly though, the President’s party has the most number of those against the RH bill. Per the advocates’ count, LP has 81 HOR members. Of which, 29 are pro-RH, 12 are quiet about their position, and 40 are against the measure.
Definitely, the numbers of the other parties are much, much, better. Now that PNoy is calling for the vote and everybody knows that he wants the RH bill to pass, will the LP members reject the President? It will be interesting to know.
There are three more session days before Congress goes on another recess. There is time to go on a vote.
The RH bill, when passed is a vital legislation that will fulfil the country’s human rights obligations, will save Nanays’ lives, and help pave the way for a better quality of life for our people.
Erratum: The incident described in last week’s piece “Angry Nanays” took place on Tuesday, November 29, 2011 and not Wednesday as written.
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