The Manila Times
NO HOLDS BARRED
Rep. Edcel C. Lagman’s
Weekly Thursday Column
THE exhilarating news is that the increase in our population growth rate (PGR) in 2021 is the lowest in 75 years at 0.3 percent since the 1945-1946 period. The increase is minimal at 324,000 new Filipinos, or 2 million less than what was earlier projected based on a 1.63 percent PGR.
However, the discomforting news is that it was mainly attributed to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic causing the current health and economic crises. It must be underscored that it is the enactment and efficacy of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RH Law), which have greatly supported and realized the choice of couples during the pandemic to postpone having children or not have additional children.
Even with the occurrence of the pandemic but without the RH Law, the drastic mitigation of PGR would not have happened. The pandemic was incidental. It was the RH Law that was crucial. The RH Law was signed by then president Benigno Aquino 3rd on Dec. 21, 2012 after a legislative odyssey lasting 13 long years and constitutionalized by the Supreme Court on April 8, 2014.
The pronounced importance of the RH Law when Covid-19 started to rage prompted me to immediately call on the Department of Health and local government units to intensify the conduct of RH information and delivery of services, particularly the distribution of contraceptives for free to marginalized acceptors. Clearly, as intimacies between couples who are locked down together break the barriers of social distancing, the RH Law gains even more relevance. In the midst of lockdowns to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, spouses and partners need to avail themselves of effective methods of family planning to prevent unplanned and high-risk pregnancies. I also asked drugstores to have available supplies of RH commodities for those who can afford to purchase reproductive health products.
Verily, it was not the pandemic per se which tremendously reduced our PGR but the effectiveness of the RH Law's implementation and its acceptability by intended beneficiaries.
It is opportune to highlight once again the guiding principles which underlie the enactment of the RH Law:
It is not a population control measure. Sec. 3(l) of the RH Law states that: "There shall be no demographic or population targets and the mitigation, promotion and/or stabilization of the population growth rate is incidental to the advancement of reproductive health." Thus, the deceleration of the PGR is consequent to affording couples, particularly women, the right of reproductive self-determination — how many and how often to have children by choice and not by chance.
Neither the State nor the Church has the power or authority to compel couples to practice or not family planning. The free, informed, and voluntary choice belongs to parents, couples and women. (Sec. 3[a])
Responsible parenthood entails the right of women and couples to determine their ideal family size and decide for themselves which family planning method or option is best suited to their personal needs, family life aspirations, health status, socio-cultural and economic concerns, and religious convictions. (Secs. 3[k] and 4[v]
The State shall provide RH services and facilities to voluntary acceptors which shall be free to the poor and disadvantaged under Sec. 2(d).
Contraceptives shall be non-abortifacient. They shall be registered with and certified by the Food and Drug Administration. (Secs. 2[d], 3[d], 4[e and l], 9, and 19)
Although abortion continues to be a crime, Sec. 3(j) of the RH Law mandates that "the government shall ensure that all women needing care for post-abortive complications...shall be treated and counseled in a humane, nonjudgmental and compassionate manner in accordance with law and medical ethics."
The promotion and protection of reproductive health and rights shall extend to adolescents. Sec. 3(b) of the RH Law directs the protection and fulfillment of the reproductive health and rights not only of couples and women, but also adolescents. Sec. 4(q-4) emphasizes that "[a]dolescent and youth reproductive health guidance and counseling" are vital elements of reproductive health care. Consequently, compulsory age and development-appropriate RH education is mandated in both public and private schools under Sec. 14.
The recent enactment of RA 11596 criminalizing the practice of child marriage and the cohabitation of an adult with a child outside of wedlock is an important sequel to the RH Law.
I personally crafted the provision on outlawing the cohabitation between an adult and a child outside of wedlock because the adverse results of such prohibited union are the same as those of early child marriage, including the abuse of a child.
The correct and consistent use of contraceptives will not only allow women to meet their fertility goals, it will, even more importantly, prevent maternal death and disability even as it will greatly improve infant survival and child health. Experts have long espoused a three-pronged strategy to prevent mothers and babies from dying due to pregnancy or childbirth-related causes: a) access to family planning and RH services; b) facility-based delivery by skilled health personnel; and c) emergency obstetric and neonatal care. (Secs. 5, 6, and 7)
The protection and fulfillment of reproductive health and rights must be a priority of the State, especially during disasters and calamities which disrupt health services, reduce access to family planning, and lead to unplanned pregnancies. (Sec. 4.15, Chapter 2 of the RH Law Implementing Rules and Regulations) There can be no disaster more calamitous than the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sustainable human development cannot be achieved if the twin issues of population and reproductive health are not effectively addressed. (Sec. 2 and Sec. 3 [c, i, and o])
The enduring lesson is that during a disaster, like the coronavirus contagion, as well as during normal times, the import and efficacy of the RH Law are overriding.
The acrimonious debates are now over, the grueling controversy which unduly delayed the enactment of the RH Law for 13 years is already history. The full enforcement of an adequately funded RH Law, together with other enabling measures and vital initiatives, guarantees the attainment of equitable human development.