(Response and Keynote Address delivered by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman in receiving the Human Development Legislator Lifetime Achievement Award during the Fifth Anniversary of the Enactment of the Reproductive Health Law at EDSA Shangri-La on December 12, 2017)
My family and I truly appreciate and are immensely thankful for the singular recognition which the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) has bestowed on me tonight: The Human Development Legislator Lifetime Achievement Award.
I am inspired to no small measure by this award even as I am humbled by this honor.
I am sharing this recognition with all the RH champions and advocates in the (a) Congress of the Philippines; (b) Executive Department; (c) vast NGO community; (d) civil society; (e) mass and social media; and (f) international fora.
Burden and Responsibility
But the burden and responsibility which this recognition impliedly imposes, I alone shall bear. It is comforting, however, to know that kindred spirits will always lend a helping hand in our continuing crusade to have the RH Law fully implemented and constantly safeguarded from diminution by adverse legislative amendment or repeal.
I assume that among other factors, I have merited this achievement award for my tireless and patient efforts for the enactment of the Reproductive Health Law and my continuing crusade to have this singularly significant statute enforced to the hilt and its goals achieved.
With the Supreme Court Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) deemed lifted with the recertification by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of all 51 contraceptive products and devices, we have again scuttled another obstacle to the implementation of the RH Law. Thanks to NEDA Secretary Ernie Pernia who helped tremendously in assuring the certification.
With this barrier gone, we hope that there will be less unintended pregnancies, less incidents of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity, less teenage pregnancies, less spread of HIV-AIDS and less children by chance.
The bright horizon is dimmed, however, by the failure of the bicameral conference committee on the proposed General Appropriations Act for 2018 to augment the budget for the procurement and distribution of contraceptives which has been pegged at only P318.5-M next year. This is grossly inadequate because I am informed by POPCOM Executive Director Juan Antonio Perez III that the Department of Health needs P1.9 billion more for 2018 and the Population Commission an additional P114 million.
I have always warned that the sourcing of funds for RH through the national budget can be a serious quagmire. Perforce, we must avoid this budgetary obstacle early on.
For the next year’s budget, we must begin at the starting line, and not falter at the finish line. We must endeavor early enough to have the Executive provide for a more adequate appropriation for contraceptives in the President’s National Expenditure Program (NEP) which is the basis of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
By “Executive” I mean the President, the Secretary of the Department of Health and the Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management.
President’s Contingent Fund
But all is not lost. The President is an ardent RH advocate who issued Executive Order No. 12, entitled “Attaining and Sustaining ‘Zero Unmet Need For Modern Family Planning’ through the Strict Implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, Providing Funds therefor, and for other purposes.”.
This EO mandates that “in order to ensure effective implementation of this Order, the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) may realign and augment appropriations in accordance with applicable budgetary and auditing laws, rules and regulations.”
The President has a contingent fund of P5.5-Billion in 2018. We are earnestly requesting the President to prioritize the release from his contingent fund the necessary amounts to implement in 2018 the RH Law and Executive Order No. 12.
The President must walk the talk to fully back up his commitment for RH and family planning. Articulation is good but appropriate funding is paramount.
Back to the Basics
But whatever is the difficulty, we must continue to demand and work for the complete and full enforcement of the RH Law.
Our continuing campaign for the full implementation of the RH Law can be mobilized better if we go back to the basics and not lose grip of the orientation, anchorage, direction and objectives of the RH Law. These are: (a) the law is rights-based; (b) it is health-oriented; and (c) it is human development-driven. To reiterate: rights, health and development are the anchor and goals of the RH Law which is predominantly a pro-women legislation.
Access to and availment of reproductive health and family planning are inalienable human rights. This inherent truism was affirmed in the Proclamation of Teheran as the Final Act of the International Conference on Human Rights in Teheran almost half a century ago, to which the Philippines is a signatory. Paragraph 16 of the Teheran Proclamation unequivocally provides:
“The protection of the family and of the child remains the concern of the international community. Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children.”
The Reproductive Health Law mandates the State to promote universal access to reproductive health and family planning with particular emphasis on the poor, marginalized and disadvantaged quintiles.
Any derogation of this right by design or neglect is abhorrent. We must act as vigilant sentinels in promoting and protecting this inalienable right of parents and couples.
Reproductive health and its major component on family planning are crucial and major health measures, particularly for women and infants in poor communities.
The overriding goal is to reduce risky unintended pregnancies which result to high rates of unsafe abortions, maternal death, and infant mortality, all of which increase public spending for pregnancy-related health issues.
The correct and regular use of effective contraceptives does not only save lives, but also saves government funds. In fact government savings offset and outpace government expenditures on contraceptives.
In a study conducted in 2008 by the Guttmacher Institute of New York in partnership with Likhaan, it was empirically documented that:
“Investing in increased access to the full range of modern contraceptive methods and services to support effective use will reap savings on medical care for pregnant women and newborns. Reducing unintended pregnancy will help women have the number of children they desire and would save money that could be directed toward improving and expanding other needed services.”
The study further states that:
“By taking on the cost of providing contraception, the Philippine government could avoid much greater expenses down the road, including those for maternal and newborn services, treatment for pregnancy-related complications and life-long services for millions of additional people. The savings could be invested toward improving public services and encouraging economic development.”
The Department of Health (DOH) validates the foregoing findings in its Costed Implementation Program (CIP) on family planning. Assuming that the government completely funds the procurement and distribution of the entire range of effective, legal and non-abortifacient contraceptives, including component outlays, it is estimated that annual savings will be generated to the tune of P28.3 billion or a total of P113.5 billion from 2017 to 2020, consequent to significant reduction of huge government health expenditures related to unintended pregnancies, not counting private sector savings.
It is also our mission to influence policy implementors and the public to appreciate the import of family planning on the generation of government savings. Reproductive health is priority agenda where government saves as it spends.
Population and development are inexorably linked. Perforce, the issue on population must be integral to the country’s development agenda. No policy on sustainable human development can be viable and achievable without confronting and resolving the problem of a high population growth rate.
The RH law recognizes the linkage between population and development because the issue of population directly affects human development indicators on health, education, food security, employment, mass housing and the environment.
Clearly, the issues of population, poverty, reproductive health and sustainable human development are so closely related that none of them can be considered in isolation.
Family planning improves the economic wellbeing of families and communities and is widely recognized as one of the most cost-effective health interventions. Reproductive health and family planning programs enable women to be healthier and have more equal opportunities to pursue their education, a career and achieve financial security.
According to Jeffrey Sachs, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the MDGs:
“Reproductive health services are not just desirable in and of themselves – which they certainly are – but are absolutely critical tools for alleviating poverty, and in particular for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which are the overarching international framework for trying to alleviate the suffering of the poorest people in the world.”
No human development agenda is likely to succeed if the government fails to address simultaneously and positively the problem of population.
I am puzzled why fiscal and policy implementors refuse to understand that among the country’s priority agenda, reproductive health is the least expensive in budgetary outlays even as it is the most productive, reaches more beneficiaries and favorably impacts on other national goals.
More Understanding and Impetus
Taking stock of the orientation, anchorage and direction of the Reproductive Health Law on rights, health and human development, provides us with the requisite understanding and enhanced impetus to maximize our zeal to shepherd this momentous law to its fullest potential and ultimate fulfillment.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all!