- CHALLENGES TO RH
- (Speech delivered by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman during the Launching
- of the Primer on Legal Issues in Reproductive Health
- at the UP Law Center on 09 December 2011)
The variations of the RH bill have been stalled in the legislative gauntlet for over 12 years now since the first comprehensive bill was filed in 1999 during the 11th Congress.
The travails of the RH bill continue despite favorable and enabling indicators like:
1) Survey after survey --nationwide, regional and local--document the peoples’ vast and continuing support for the measure with (a) 71% of the respondents saying nationwide that it must be enacted without further delay (with higher percentages registered in areas where the Congressmen are opposed to the bill, like 86% in Manila, 89% in Parañaque and 88% in Cebu); (b) 68% responding that the government has authority to use public funds for family planning, including the procurement and distribution of contraceptives to voluntary acceptors (64% in Manila, 70% in Parañaque and 75% in Cebu); (c) voters prefer candidates who have an agenda on family planning; and (d) the vast majority of the respondents are Catholics.
2) The Philippines is a signatory to relevant international conventions promoting and protecting reproductive health, like: (a) the Tehran Convention on Human Rights which upholds the right of parents to freely and responsibly determine the number and spacing of their children; (b) the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action; (c) Convention on the Rights of the Child; (d) Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); (e) Universal Declaration of Human Rights; (f) International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICECSR); and (g) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
3) President Aquino has endorsed to the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) and to the Congress the enactment of the RH bill as a priority administration measure.
In this connection, it is pertinent to ask whether the President is doing enough to assure the passage of the RH bill? Maybe prioritization is not sufficient. The President has to do more to convince his congressional allies that the enactment of the RH bill is imperative as an indispensable tool to achieve sustainable human development.
The arsenal of the Presidency to rally support for a measure or agenda is legendary. This time, the weaponry of power can be used by the President for the good of the greatest number—the multitude of the marginalized and disadvantaged, particularly women and children who are the direct and immediate beneficiaries of the RH bill.
The challenges to the RH bill are not cerebral. They are mundane and parochial. They cannot even be elevated to “challenges”. They are just plain “obstructions”, like the following:
1) Problem of quorum;
2) Repetitive questions or recidivist interpellations and absentee interpelators;
3) Political equation; and
4) Fear factor
Quorum – It is a truism that the act of legislation is a numbers game. The numbers could be herded, mob-like, unthinking, ambivalent or sparse. But they are numbers just the same. Numbers are needed to enact. And lack of numbers is useful to delay legislation.
The lack of a quorum is a convenient excuse to stall legislation. The absence of a quorum can even be contrived or intentional.
It is for this reason that we have continuously reminded RH authors and advocates to be present at all times. But even they could not subscribe to this strict discipline.
The solution is for the leadership of the House to take the bold initiative and enforce the rules, including sanctions for absenteeism. Leniency must be jettisoned. It is a bane to policy-making.
Recidivist Interpellations – After 12 years of debate inside and outside the Halls of Congress, all relevant and irrelevant questions have been asked about the RH bill. There is absolutely no new argument or novel misconception.
Questions are asked repeatedly not to debate or inform but to cause delay.
Many registered themselves as interpellators but when their time comes to confront the sponsors, they either conveniently absent themselves or feign not being prepared.
We call again on the leadership of the House of Representatives to adopt, issue and enforce the rules of engagement which ban repetitive questions and limit the interpellator’s time to not more than one (1) hour in order to foreclose inordinate delay.
Political Equation – Politics is addition. To a politician, every vote counts, even the vote of the devil. Hence, a politician reaches out to all. Although there is no Catholic vote, an ordinary politician, as much as possible, will not dare displease his Bishop or get the ire of the Church. Consequently, he usually defers or succumbs to the importuning of the clergy.
The solution is a strong political will and steadfast commitment to a cause. This should be buttressed by a full realization that the RH advocacy is supported by the people and there is popular rejection of the undue interference of the Church hierarchy in secular affairs.
Fear Factor - The macabre instruments of torture and terror employed for ages by despots and ecclesiastics are merely secondary to the pervasive and malevolent instigation of fear to secure blind adherence and break principled resistance.
The Catholic Church has long perfected the policy and practice of instilling fear in both the faithful and prospective converts.
The fear of sin has been conceptualized and propagated by clerics in order to make their ministry continually relevant as they intercede on behalf of sinners for God’s pardon and mercy. The fear of eternal damnation and hellfire has coerced or frightened people to obey Church dogma and has subdued crusading dissenters against the teachings of the faith.
Nowhere in recent years has the Church’s mastery of the fear factor been put to much exploitative use than in the current debates on the reproductive health bill – fear of contraceptives, fear of a demographic winter and fear of promiscuity, among others.
The Catholic Church peddles the fear and lie that contraceptives like pills, IUDs and injectables induce abortions or are abortifacients, and will definitely lead to cancer; a demographic winter, which is a scare tactic, will lead to the decimation of the Filipino race; and sexuality education will create a breed of sex maniacs.
The solution to fear is to foster the truth. Those who capitalize on fear are bankrupt in reason. They cannot compete in the free market of ideas. Fear has to be confronted and dismantled because it is the antithesis of truth and free choice.
These “challenges”, more appropriately “obstructions”, are not insuperable. They are feeble posturing and mainly dilatory tactics. But delay is not victory. It just temporizes the eventual and certain triumph of a progressive and much-needed RH law.
In our inevitable victory, we truly count on the unwavering support of the NGO community which prominently includes the ReproCen, and the steadfast advocacy of the academe like the UP College of Law, UP Institute of Human Rights, UP Institute of International Legal Studies and Center for International Law.
This Primer on Legal Issues in Reproductive Health is a welcome addition to the increasing positive literature on reproductive health. And more importantly, it will be our veritable ammunition when we venture to the next battlefield—the judicial forum where the opponents of RH vow to contest the constitutionality of the RH law.
Let me underscore that the detractors of the RH bill are the ones going to the Supreme Court. This means that they have conceded that eventually there will be a Reproductive Health Law, whose constitutionality they will challenge, albeit vainly and perfunctorily.
Whether these “challenges” are real or contrived, your RH advocates inside and outside the Congress are always ready to confront and vanquish the oppositors, now in the Congress and subsequently in the Supreme Court.