Published in Manila Standard Today
By Elizabeth Angsioco
The public is being treated to a zarzuela in the Senate. The interpellation of the reproductive health bill has become an entertainment show. Sadly, this happens at the expense of poor Filipino women.
Two male senators holding powerful positions, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Majority Floor Leader and Chairman of the Committee on Rules Tito Sotto are at the forefront in opposing the bill.
Between them, important decisions are made that impact on the process the controversial bill goes through. They decide whether it will be included or not in the day’s agenda, when during the session it will be tackled (will it be first, second or last?), when to end the debate, even whether the bill will be put to a vote or not. Enrile and Sotto have significant CONTROL in the Senate.
On the other hand, Senators Pia Cayetano, Chairman of the Committee on Health and RH bill principal author Miriam Defensor-Santiago are the ones staunchly championing the bill. Both are exemplary lawyers and fighters for women’s rights.
Two men against two women is an interesting match.
Enrile and Sotto have similar arguments and tactics in opposing the bill.
They both question data released by international organizations listened to and respected by the whole world. These include the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund. They said they would rather have data from Philippine institutions. However, when confronted with information from Department of Health, University of the Philippines Population Institute, and the National Statistics Office, they were as reluctant.
At one point, Sotto even questioned the veracity of the maternal mortality computation and went to the extent of asking for copies of death certificates of women who died from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications.
By so doing, Sotto unwittingly revealed his very low regard for women’s lives. He also showed his ignorance about and trivializing attitude towards poor women. He has no idea how women, especially those in poverty, suffer because of lack of access to life-saving RH services including family planning.
As someone who largely owes his popularity to a television show patronized by the masses, I will not be surprised if a good number of women who suffered and died from maternal complications voted for Sotto.
Enrile and Sotto believe that contraceptives are evil. This is so convenient for rich, powerful men to say. They will NEVER experience pregnancy and childbirth, and NEVER have problems accessing RH services for their children and grandchildren. Contraceptives will NEVER be a problem for their families because they can pay for the best and most expensive of family planning commodities and RH services.
Are they sure that none of their women family members use these ‘evil’ contraceptives?
Sotto attempted to establish that contraceptives are abortifacients but miserably failed. He was presented with expert opinion saying that clinical tests prove otherwise.
Enrile, on the other hand, wanted people to believe that contraceptives have no medicinal or therapeutic value. After belaboring the point for days, he asked for a certification from medical practitioners saying that contraceptives are indeed essential medicines. Not only was he told that the DoH already considers these as such, the statement from Filipino medical experts was also entered into the Senate records.
Enrile then asked if these doctors were practicing! They are some of the best in their fields. They are experts, and thus, have had a lot of practice! What more did he want?
Sotto and Enrile believe in a conspiracy to control Philippine population. They forward the view that the RH bill is a dictate of imperialist America, that RH advocacy groups are not only abortionists, they are also dictated upon by international or foreign groups including the United Nations!
The two senators are involved in witch-hunting targeting pro-RH bill organizations.
I want to laugh at the ridiculousness of this conspiracy theory but I cannot. This is a serious insult not only against non-government organizations that value their integrity and autonomy but also to the intelligence and credibility of Senators Cayetano and Defensor-Santiago and other pro-RH legislators.
In the last session, Enrile tried to establish local groups’ connections with a list of foreign groups he implied as conspirators to depopulate the Philippines. Perhaps he was surprised that except for UN-associated entities such as WHO and UNFPA and the International Planned Parenthood Federation which are known even to non-RH organizations, those he mentioned were literally unknown to Philippine NGOs! Where is the connection then?
Perhaps it will help for the two men to know that among the NGOs that helped craft the bill are those with long anti-imperialist and anti-dictatorship history, and thus, will not, and cannot be controlled or dictated by outside interests.
The RH bill was crafted based on Philippine realities and Filipino women’s experiences. None of the international groups the male senators “fear” was ever involved. Please do not insult groups helping government do its responsibilities.
Instead of witch-hunting that only unnecessarily prolongs the interpellation (or is this the intention?) Sotto and Enrile should instead point to the concrete provision/s showing that the bill is about population control. They cannot because there is none.
As what the eloquent Senator Defensor-Santiago said, the bill is not about controlling population, not even the number of idiots in this country.
The RH bill has no demographic or family size targets, and makes coercion to use or not use any family planning method punishable.
What the RH bill wants to do is to provide life-saving RH services, access to information and family planning methods chosen by and suitable to women and couples, and age-appropriate RH education for the youth to prepare them in becoming responsible adults, parents, and citizens.
The net effect of Sotto’s and Enrile’s position on the RH bill is to retain the status quo where women’s lives are undervalued and CONTROLLED. On the other hand, if Senators Cayetano and Defensor-Santiago win in the Senate, women and couples will have CHOICES.
Let us help the women win.