Park Inn by Radisson on 13 December 2022
In my almost three decades as a legislator, I have principally authored landmark laws from the “Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law” and “An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of Death Penalty in the Philippines” to groundbreaking human rights statutes like the “Anti-Torture Law”, “Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act”, and the “Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act”.
With the exception of the CARL, when I was with the Cory Administration as a fiscalizer, all of these laws were passed when I was with the opposition. Truly, the minority can prevail.
I am, understandably, very proud of these laws and extremely grateful to the people and organizations who have helped pass these statutes.
But among all the bills I have fought and campaigned for so that they can eventually be part of the Philippines’ body of laws, I am most prou to be associated with the passage of the revolutionary and trailblazing/ “Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012”.
After it was signed into law by the late President Benigno Aquino III on December 21, 2012,/ I became a proud father for the eighth time, in addition to my seven children.
Without a doubt, the passage of the RH law is a highpoint and a bright star not only in my legislative career but is also among the greatest milestones in Philippine legislation and policy making.
It was a 13-year battle that we fought valiantly as one and together the RH warriors were all victorious after the initial RH bill was filed in 1999.
It would not be an exaggeration to state that those 13 years were akin to the plot of a soap opera. There were the usual heroes and heels; stories of betrayal and duplicity; tales of confrontation, discord, perseverance and determination; and accounts of lengthy negotiations, challenges overcome and innovative strategies developed.
Together we overcame numerous challenges over those 13 years because we had persistence, patience, and principles.
Together we prevailed over a well-funded campaign to demonize the RH bill because we have unshakable faith in our cause – that every child born deserves to be planned and wanted; that women should not die from unplanned, mistimed and high risk pregnancies; that people must have the right to decide when and how often they want to become parents; and that sustainable human development and genuine progress cannot be achieved if the Philippines does not address its population problem and help women achieve their fertility goals.
Precursor of Gender-Oriented Laws
The RH law is a law that keeps on giving. It is not only a landmark piece of women-centered legislation, it has also become the precursor of many gender-oriented laws.
Since the law was passed in 2012, there has been an increase in laws focusing on the health and welfare of women and girls and the promotion of gender equality and equity.
After the RH law, the Congress passed the following statutes:
“Anti-Mail Order Bride Act”;
“Safe Spaces Act”;
“Kalusugan at Nutrisyong ng Mag-Nanay Act”;
“Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act of 2018”;
“105-Day Expanded Maternity Leave Law”;
“Anti-Child Marriage Law”
“An Act Providing for Stronger Protection Against Rape/ and Sexual Exploitation and Abuse”;
“Anti-Online Sexual Abuse or Exploitation of Children/ and Anti-Child Sexual Abuse or Exploitation Materials Act”;
“Expanded Solo Parents Welfare Act”;
“Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act”.
It is also important to mention the “Kasambahay Act” whose primary beneficiaries are women workers.
On hindsight, the 13 years that it took to pass the RH law ensured that for more than a decade women’s rights and welfare were incessantly covered by the media and were front and center in many discussions and debates from classrooms and boardrooms to local sari-sari stores and high-end dinner parties.
The protracted debates in the Congress, especially in the House of Representatives; numerous talk shows on TV regarding RH and parallel radio interviews; and the all-important educational campaigns and information drives by our indefatigable allies in civil society, got people talking and encouraged them to think seriously about women’s issues and gender concerns.
It brought to light the plight of women, the importance of family planning and responsible parenthood, the dangers of unplanned pregnancies, and the sad reality of maternal and infant mortality in the country, among others.
Most importantly, it highlighted the fact that reproductive self-determination is a human right/because women have the inalienable right over their own bodies.
Achievements of the RH Law
The passage of the historic RH law made it clear that even a Goliath like the Catholic Church can tumble and its virulent opposition crumble when Davids like us band together and fight a good fight armed with solid arguments; scientific data; dogged determination; boundless patience; unwavering conviction; and most importantly, the staunch support of Filipino women.
Our victory bolstered the unassailable verity that voluntary family planning and access to reproductive health information commodities and services are basic human rights and are central to promoting women’s rights, gender equality, and the genuine empowerment of women.
In the last decade, the RH law has helped millions of Filipino women avoid pregnancy when they do not want or are not ready to be pregnant. When women are able to plan their pregnancies and space their children, they promote and protect their own health in the process. This in turn leads to not only crucial health rewards but also substantial economic and social benefits for women, their children, their communities, and society as a whole.
Providing an enabling environment for women and couples to freely determine whether, when or how often to have children contributes considerably to safe motherhood, healthier infants, the general welfare of families and ultimately, to prosperous communities and genuine human development.
By making contraceptives and family planning information and services available, the RH law has contributed in no small measure to decreasing maternal mortality from 162 deaths per 100,000 live births before the law was enacted in 2012 to 121 in 2017 or five years after the law was enacted.
We cannot, however, gloss over the fact that there was a slight increase in maternal deaths after the steady gains of the years immediately following the enactment of the RH law. In the most recent draft of the 2022 Population and Development Situation Analysis, our MMR rose to 129.2 in 2020 and 131.1 in 2022. This illustrates in bold relief the consequences of the disruption and slowdown in much needed reproductive health services because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It must also be underscored that even without the ill-effects of the pandemic on the government’s RH and family planning services, maternal mortality remains an ongoing challenge. Extra effort must be given and additional funding must be allocated to preventing maternal deaths.
The non-collection of the Philippine Statistics Office since 2011 of data related to maternal mortality compounds this problem even more. Accurate data is crucial in healthcare delivery and with correct information government can allocate funds more precisely and expect better results.
In terms of infant mortality, statistics also show a slight decrease from 25 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 23 in 2013, 21 in 2017, to 22 in 2022. The small increase this year may be similarly attributed to how the contagion overwhelmed our health system and overburdened our health care providers to the detriment of newborns.
Our contraceptive prevalence rate rose from 50.7% in 2008 to 55.1% in 2013, and now we are at 58.3% in 2022. The use of modern methods of family planning increased from 34% in 2007 to 37.6% in 2013 to 40.4% in 2017 and 41.8% in 2022. Much is still to be desired in the increase in CPR.
Incidentally, it is really curious that our population growth rate has gone down to 1.9% or even lower than replacement levels but our contraceptive prevalence rate has not taken off at a similar rate. What accounts for the variance?
Some say it due to unreported abortions which may have increased. I urge the concerned government agencies to validate this alarming explanation.
Unmet need for family planning has also shown a meaningful reduction, from 22% in 2008, 18% in 2013, 17% in 2017, and now to an all-time low of 12% in 2022.
Our total fertility rate is now below replacement levels at 1.9 down from 2.7 in 2017, 3.0 in 2008, and 3.3 in 2012. Adolescent pregnancy is also down to 5.4% in 2022 from 9.0% in 2017 and 10.1% in 2013. But the incidence of adolescent pregnancy remains a challenge as the pregnancy rate of very young minors from ages 10 to 14 has increased.
Strong gains were also recorded in terms of births attended by skilled attendants – from 73% in 2013/ to 84% in 2017, and 90% in 2022. More women are also giving birth in health facilities. The numbers rose by a whopping 17% from 61% in 2013 to 78% in 2017.
These are clear, unequivocal victories.
Implementation and challenges
The RH law guarantees free and universal access/ not only to modern contraception but also to allied RH information and services that range from infant nutrition and breastfeeding to addressing infertility and violence against women. It will undoubtedly help millions of Filipino women reclaim their fundamental right to recover control of their fertility, regain their health, and redeem their lives and futures.
On so many levels, its enactment is a historic and remarkable step in the right direction as it empowers Filipino women to freely make crucial decisions about their wellbeing and their families and subsequently reap the rewards of being able to participate and contribute more fully and committedly to society and participate in nation building.
But we must not rest on our modest laurels. A law is only as good as its full and unequivocal implementation, which has still to be improved. And effective implementation demands an adequate budget, which is still deficient. Moreover, the DepEd should stop being the graveyard of comprehensive reproductive health and sexuality education.
On the whole, there is every reason to celebrate. I truly commend all our brave and unwavering RH warriors!
Thank you and Happy 10th Anniversary of the Reproductive Health Law. There are more productive and enabling decades to come!