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Speech delivered by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman during Likhaan’s “Saludo sa ika-30 taon ng Reproductive Health and Rights sa Mundo: Parangal kay Dr. Espie Cabral, Katangi-tanging Kampeon ng Reproductive Health and Rights” on 21 February 2024 at the Diamond Hotel

Espie and I go back a long way. The first time I met Espie was way back in in the early 1960s when we were both students at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

She and my beloved late wife Cielo were very good friends – during our UP days and up to the time Cielo passed away in 2017. In fact, Espie was one of the very few handpicked by my family to speak at Cielo’s wake.

Cielo loved Espie like a sister. My children, who went to the same elementary and high school as Espie’s, call her “Auntie Espie” and hold her in very high regard. She is my daughter Larah’s godmother during her confirmation. We attended the weddings of each other’s children. Espie has, and will always be, part of our family.

However, since I am a lawyer and Espie is a doctor, there was never a time when we were able to collaborate and work together until I principally authored the RH bill in 2004 – a bill that took more than a grueling decade to pass into law.

Let me emphasize that the long years before the passage into law of the RH bill were indeed laced with acrimony and antagonism from oppositors, but they were also imbued with cohesion, commonality, and camaraderie among RH advocates and this has led to life-long friendships.

It was a hard fight. But it was a good fight made even better with RH stalwarts like Espie with their solid reasoning, real desire to educate, unfaltering commitment to uplift the lives of women, and promote the basic human right to reproductive self-determination.

Having no medical background, I depended greatly on doctors like Espie and Junice to enlighten me on the mode of action of contraceptives and their real effects on women’s health and bodies and the benefits of family planning on the health outcomes of infants and children.

Espie’s expertise on pharmacology was indispensable for a clearer understanding on how contraceptives work and how they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, abortifacients. If I wanted a medical or scientific concept related to reproductive health and family planning explained, I knew I had Espie to clarify and expound on the issue.

Her impact on the advocacy and struggle to finally enact a rights-based, development-driven and health-oriented reproductive health law that places a premium on the health and welfare of women cannot be over emphasized.

Espie was one of the leading lights of the reproductive health campaign; a calming presence during the sometimes heated and bitter debates, a single-minded and steadfast fellow crusader, and a reasonable and lucid voice rising above the cacophony of mostly unsound and discordant arguments of oppositors of the RH bill.

She took to task overly zealous anti-RH senator Tito Sotto who claimed that one of his infant sons died because his wife took contraceptive pills. In her trademark composed and sensible manner, Espie did not in any way belittle or downplay the pain Sen. Sotto as father must have surely felt with the death of his child, but she made her point clear.

She argued, like a lawyer I might add, that there are no and have never been, any studies which prove any causal link between a mother’s use of contraceptives and babies dying because of “weak hearts” and pointed out glaring logical loopholes in Sotto’s arguments.

Espie was lead convenor of the very successful Purple Ribbon Movement for RH event which brought together prominent and influential RH crusaders from politicians and academics to civil society leaders and showbiz personalities.

The Purple Ribbon Movement galvanized support across sectors for the RH bill even as champions of the bill found strength in the unwavering convictions of fellow RH advocates. It brought supporters together and gave them not only a real sense of purpose but also the will to fight the good fight with the confidence that victory was within reach.

Espie made the Purple Ribbon Movement her platform to take to task political leaders for their “dillydallying on this very important piece of legislation for more than 10 years now, and this has caused the deaths of many women, especially poor mothers.”

The issue of reproductive health touched a raw nerve with Filipinos and emotions sometimes got the better of people, especially those opposed to the bill who have resorted to name calling, excommunication, and even defeat at the polls for politicians supporting the measure.

 During the often-rancorous debates and heated discussions on the RH bill, Espie schooled those opposed to the RH bill when she tried to enlighten them that the issue of reproductive health should not be confined to contraceptives. She argued that the concept of reproductive health encompasses so many other fundamental elements that will lead to better health for mothers, reduce maternal and infant mortality, improve the overall health of children, and give women the opportunity to have a say in their own future.

Even after the passage of the RH bill into law, the ever-vigilant, conscientious, and energetic Espie was chosen to act as Chair of the National Implementation Team for the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law to supervise, coordinate, and harmonize interagency activities involving the reproductive health and responsible parenthood programs of the government and to identify deficiencies in the implementation so as to nip them in the bud with viable solutions.

I have always underscored that a law is only as good as its swift, correct, and faithful implementation. This is why the National Implementation Team for the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health is crucial and indispensable in ensuring that the noble objectives and commendable goals of RA 10354 will be realized and will directly benefit its intended primary beneficiaries – women and their children.

Clearly, Espie’s positive and long-term impact on the passage of the Republic Act 10354 and its subsequent implementation is undeniable even as it is indelible.

I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to work with someone with the stature and wisdom, passion and compassion, and integrity and industry of Dr. Esperanza Icasas Cabral.

Espie, you are truly one of a kind. You are, both literally and figuratively, head and shoulders above the rest.

Thank you, Espie, for taking up the cudgels for Filipino women and mothers so that we can finally realize the dream that every child born will be wanted and no woman would ever again have to die to give life to another.