The Manila Times
NO HOLDS BARRED
Rep. Edcel C. Lagman’s
Weekly Thursday Column
THE Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are not merely items on a country’s prime checklist. They are integral parts of the compass that will guide all nations and their leaders in navigating the difficult and challenging highway leading to worldwide peace and equitable progress.
As the UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs succinctly puts it, the SDGs “recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.”
Legislators are fortunate for they are in a singular and unique position to play an active role in the realization of the SDGs by incorporating population and development issues into laws – statutes that promote and adopt pro-people national policies and programs that ensure no one is left behind, and everyone rides the powerful wave of progress.
This is an opportunity parliamentarians must not forfeit and a responsibility they must wholeheartedly assume. Playing an active role in the Philippines’ achievement of the SDGs by mainstreaming population and sustainable human development in policymaking is a task legislators must neither ignore nor delay.
As the people’s elected representatives, parliamentarians have vital participation in instituting and realizing a people-centered development agenda utilizing a rights-based approach to development. They must not only address the varied and wide-raging demands of their constituents but also, and even more importantly, fully respond to the often-overlooked needs and aspirations of the poor and marginalized. These deserving beneficiaries are women, workers, indigenous groups, the youth and the elderly, and the differently-abled, among others.
The 17 SDGs are all interlinked and mutually reinforcing. The fulfillment and realization of one makes it easier to achieve the others.
For example, once the bills prohibiting child marriage and preventing adolescent pregnancy are enacted into law, these measures will immensely strengthen the momentous and crusading Reproductive Health Law even as they will liberate young girls from early childbearing. They will also help ensure that adolescent girls finish their education, which in turn will be indispensable for them in finding remunerative work, be financially self-sufficient, contribute to the economy, and ultimately, surmount poverty – which is SDG 1.
Hopefully, the enrolled bill on the prohibition of child marriage will be forwarded soonest to the Office of the President since the reconciled version adopted by the bicameral conference committee has been ratified on Sept. 27, 2021 by both chambers of Congress. The bills on preventing adolescent pregnancy are unfortunately still marooned in the House committee on youth and sports development, while the Senate counterpart substitute bill is pending second reading.
In the case of SDG 5, policymakers can contribute to the achievement of gender equality not only by enacting relevant legislation but also by promoting women’s political leadership both in the Congress and local legislative bodies, and by ensuring that any planned policy action must first be fully assessed on its impact on people of different genders.
Another example of how interlinked the SDGs are is the fact that climate change differentially affects women and girls. Global Citizen, a worldwide civic organization, explains that climate change disproportionately affects women “because women are more likely to live in poverty than men, have less access to basic human rights like the ability to freely move and acquire land, and face systematic violence that escalates during periods of instability. These factors mean that as climate change intensifies, women will struggle the most.”
Climate change is also creating a new generation of child brides. The climate crisis exerts overwhelming economic pressure on families; results to loss of crops, land, livelihoods and homes; and undermines a family’s security and stability. All these force parents to marry off very young daughters for the corresponding bride price in countries practicing this nuptial custom or to reduce the number of family members to feed. In the Philippines, it is common for young girls from the provinces to venture out into cities in search of jobs as domestic helpers or factory workers after a particularly devastating typhoon.
It is therefore essential that steps are taken to promote gender-sensitive climate legislation and not rely on simplistic one-size-fits-all statutes on climate change.
The 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Human Development promises to ensure that “no one will be left behind” and endeavors “to reach the furthest behind first”.
But what does this mean for policymakers?
When the Philippines signed the 2030 Agenda, it also effectively mandated and empowered the Congress to take unequivocal action in judiciously enacting laws that significantly reduce inequalities and inequities, end extreme poverty, generate employment, protect and promote the overall health and wellbeing of people, squarely confront discrimination, and accelerate progress specifically for those furthest behind.
People get left behind when they are bereft of choices and are deprived of the opportunity to actively participate in and reap the benefits of development. These are people who live in extreme poverty, lack basic education, are unemployed, and discriminated against for various reasons. In other words, Filipinos who endure disadvantages, deprivations, diseases, and disabilities that severely constrict their choices and narrow their opportunities relative to others in society. They are the dispossessed who should be central to all our efforts to enact progressive and pro-people legislation.
Verily, the challenging task is laid out for Filipino legislators. But they have staunch partners and enduring allies in organizations like the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development and government agencies like the Commission on Population and Development to help them integrate into national policies and development plans the issues of population and sustainable human development.
This commentary is addressed not only to the 18th Congress whose term is about to expire. It is also a proposed centerpiece agenda for the 19th Congress after the 2022 elections.