By: Elizabeth Angsioco
Published in Manila Standard Today
Dated March 12, 2011
March 8 is International Women’s Day. This year marks the centennial since the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911.
Here, this year’s major action focused on the passage of the reproductive health bill, the most crucial issue faced by today’s Filipino women. Pro-RH women’s groups and allies planned to hold the biggest women’s march and demand legislators’ accountability to Filipino women. We targeted 6,000 marchers and more than 7,000 actually showed up. Indeed, this year’s women’s celebration was the biggest so far.
I am happy to have spent the day with and for our women. I was up early for a television interview on the RH bill with co-author Rep. Janette Garin. On the phone was Davao City Representative Karlo Nograles, one of the staunchest anti-RH members of the House of Representatives.
Listening to Rep. Nograles attack the RH bill was like having a nightmare because I know he knows that almost, if not all of his objections were unfounded. According to him:
Legislators can go to jail if they do not fund RH services. WRONG. Nograles was in the Appropriations Committee meeting that approved Rep. Rufus Rodriguez’ (also anti-RH) motion to amend Section 15 of the bill so as not to make mandatory purchase of mobile health clinics from their Priority Development Fund, or “pork barrel.” Nograles knew this.
Local government officials can go to jail if they do not spend for contraceptives. WRONG. There is no provision requiring LGUs to purchase contraceptives. Section 11 gives this function to the Department of Health. LGUs are only mandated to prioritize those in poverty in the provision of family planning program per Section 13. Unless Nograles did not read the bill, he should know this.
Healthcare practitioners can go to jail if they refuse to provide RH services on ground of religious beliefs. WRONG. The right to conscientious objection (right to refuse providing services/information on ground of religious or ethical beliefs) is fully protected by Section 28 (a)(3) of the bill. The only conditions are that the patient will be referred to another provider and that it is not an emergency situation. Surely, Nograles knows this.
Contraceptives pose danger to women’s health. WRONG. On the contrary, studies show that an effective family planning program can reduce maternal deaths by 32 percent. Contraceptives then are life-saving contrary to Nograles’ claim. Moreover, contraceptives are included in the 2010 World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines. This is proof of contraceptives’ safety and efficacy. After all, the WHO is the highest authority on health matters. If Nograles does not believe the WHO, how credible are his sources?
I could not honestly believe that Nograles did not know what the RH bill says. And I was right when he said that he was only saying what pro-life groups tell him!
This made me question his accountability. Is he answerable only to pro-life groups? What about the people that elected him? As a member of the House of Representatives, he is supposed to represent the people’s interests, not just one group or one religion. Whereas the Davao City Council passed a Gender and Development ordinance that strongly implements RH services because of the need for such, the City’s representative refuses to be accountable to those who do not share his religious beliefs.
After the TV interview, I changed into my rally gear and proceeded to the thousands of women and RH advocates for the march. I joined the program and the march for two hours, hopped into our vehicle, changed clothes again inside and proceeded to the RH leaders’ meeting with House Speaker Sonny Belmonte.
Our meeting with the Speaker was quite candid. Our message was simple: we want the RH bill to be voted on. We explained to the Speaker how the bill was previously dribbled, delayed and blocked and that we expect the same to happen again. We said that if the oppositors had the numbers, then they should not derail the process.
We next went to the plenary hall to witness what we thought would be a smooth sponsorship of the RH bill. After all, both camps agreed the day before that the bill would be sponsored right after the roll call.
To our frustration, we again saw various delaying tactics by anti-RH lawmakers at work. After the roll was called and quorum declared, Rep. Sergio Apostol stood up questioning the quorum! He asked if those considered present were only those in the plenary or were those in other areas also included.
When this was addressed, Rep. Amado Bagatsing rose to deliver a personal privilege which was given 10 minutes by Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada. Bagatsing wanted more and a motion to extend privilege hour was made. This was denied but another motion to go on nominal voting on the motion to extend was raised. Nominal voting is that process by which all members present would explain their votes individually! This could have taken a whole day.
Rep. Roilo Golez also stood up saying that 20 percent of those present should vote to determine if nominal voting will happen and asked how the 20 percent would be computed! Rep. Raul Daza also stood up in support of Golez. It was a mess until Rep. Garin made a point of order saying that Rep. Daza was not in proper attire and thus, should not be recognized and allowed to speak. Session was then suspended.
During the suspension and as cameras focused on House members scrutinizing Daza’s shirt (which was hilarious), we saw the Speaker talking with the players in this drama. When the session resumed, the RH bill was finally sponsored on the floor.
This was International Women’s Day.
We were told that some of those who attempted to block the sponsorship were under instructions from the bishops. Just like Nograles, we ask anti-RH legislators: to whom are you accountable? Are you in the House as representatives of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines?
I took pains relaying these details because the people should know. Expect more obstructionism from those who do not represent us.
We demand accountability.