Contact Details

Rm. N-411, House of Representatives, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
+63 2 931 5497, +63 2 931 5001 local 7370
(Speech delivered by REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN before the
Philippine Bar Association on 15 October 2008)

I cannot recall having filed a non-controversial bill. Perhaps, bills of genuine national import are controversial ab initio or subsequently become controversial.

Among my highly controversial bills were the comprehensive agrarian reform bill, the debt cap bill which proposed to limit our foreign debt service to 15% of the country’s export receipts, the bill abolishing the death penalty and the bill which modernized the practice of optometry and dismantled the corporate practice of the profession.

Except for the debt cap bill, all of these measures were eventually enacted into law.

My advocacy for the debt cap, agrarian reform and abolition of the death penalty had an enduring partner: the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy, which is still a partner with respect to the pending extension of the land acquisition and distribution (LAD) component of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), of which I am the principal author and sponsor.

However, many Catholic bishops vilify the reproductive health bill because it challenges the orthodoxy of the Church on family life and the procreative function of marriage.

The Catholic hierarchy must abandon its antediluvian doctrines or suffer isolation from the mainstream of Philippine society. It must heed the faithful who are overwhelmingly in favor of reproductive health and family planning.

Considering that I speak before fellow lawyers, I shall underscore the relevance of reproductive health to the protection and promotion of people’s rights as well as the constitutional validity of the bill.

Reproductive health and family planning
are basic universal human rights.

Reproductive health is a fundamental human right and was affirmed as such in the Proclamation of Tehran, International Conference on Human Rights 40 years ago in 1968.

The right to reproductive health and family planning was subsequently reiterated in numerous other UN Conventions of which the Philippines is likewise a signatory.

The Philippines is also committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, among which are the reduction of infant mortality and the improvement of maternal health. The MDGs were recently amended to underscore that family planning is indispensable to the attainment of these two goals.

Freedom of Informed Choice

Central to the RH bill is the freedom of informed choice. An enabling environment shall be created to allow women and couples to freely choose the method of family planning from the natural to the modern that they wish to adopt consistent with their personal needs and individual consciences.

The government shall conduct a massive information campaign on the benefits of family planning without any bias for or against any method. The only limitation is that the entire menu of family planning methods must be legal and medically-safe.

The government shall afford acceptors access to the family planning supplies of their choice which shall be given free to the poor and marginalized.

A sustained information campaign shall be undertaken because freedom of choice will not be meaningful if there is no prior complete and accurate information. This includes the possible side-effects and failure rates of the various methods of family planning.

It is in this sensitive campaign of giving factual and truthful information that the misinformation being peddled by the oppositors of the bill should be exposed and rebutted, like the following:

1. It is false and malicious to claim that the RH bill legalizes abortion. It does not. The measure repeatedly provides to the point of superfluity that abortion is illegal, criminal and punishable, and is not part of the menu of legally permissible and medically safe family planning methods.

2. It is likewise misleading and inaccurate to claim that the use of contraceptives will eventually lead to the legalization of abortion. Catholic and Muslim countries which have liberalized the use of contraceptives still continue to criminalize abortion. Moreover, there is an inverse correlation between contraceptive use and abortion. The regular and correct use of contraceptives drastically reduces abortion rates since unplanned and unwanted pregnancies are avoided.

Consequently, women do not have to resort to abortion and the State will find no need to legalize abortion.

3. It is utterly unchristian and grossly inhuman to assert that medical care should not be extended to women suffering from post-abortion complications because to do so would condone and encourage abortion. Like a wounded rebel in an encounter with government forces, women in distress must not be deprived of medical help.

4. The proposition that the use of modern family planning will wipe off the Filipino race in a catastrophic “demographic winter” is a scare tactic which fails to comprehend the dynamics of population momentum wherein the country’s population will continue to grow even if the population growth rate is increasingly reduced to below replacement levels.

The importance of policymaking is that policies are never cast on stone. They are flexible and reversible. Given the experiences of countries like Singapore, South Korea and Japan where there is a thinning young population and there is need to accelerate PGR, the Philippines can anticipate well in advance these eventualities without forfeiting the vast opportunity of economic growth by currently mitigating population expansion.

5. Commending labor migration as the beneficent result of “population power” is a misplaced accolade to inordinate fertility. Dollar remittances from OFWs should not blind us to the incalculable social and economic costs of labor migration.

Moreover, the so-called “population power” has just exploded in our faces as the bleak scenario unfolds with OFWs returning home because there is a depressed market for overseas employment as a consequence of the collapse of Wall Street.

6. The issue on population is not a simple matter of “population density” but more importantly, it is a question of sustainable human development. Concededly, there are still vast unpopulated areas of the country but these are places hostile to human development because there are no infrastructures in place, no schools, no hospitals, and no visible means of livelihood and employment.

Certainly, we can place the entire world’s population of 6.5 billion people in an area the size of the State of Texas. But they would end up eating each other’s sewage!

7. It is a myopic view that since contraceptives are available in the market, there is no need to enact a law on reproductive health and family planning. This contention overlooks that availability does not mean access, particularly to those who are uninformed and could not afford to buy reproductive health supplies.

8.  It is grossly medically unfounded to allege that all contraceptives are life threatening and contraceptive use results to fatal diseases. This misinformation is negated by the data of medical authorities. For example, experts report that the risk of dying within a year (not actual death) is: one out of two hundred thousand (200,000) pill users; one out of one million (1,000,000) who have undergone vasectomy; one out of ten million (10,000,000) users of IUD; and zero (0) for condom users. This is compared to one out of 5,900 motor vehicle travelers and one out of ten thousand (10,000) non-high risk pregnancies.

The RH Bill is Constitutional

An inordinately huge population impacts negatively on all indicators of human development such as quality education, adequate medical care, food security, availability of employment, sufficient mass housing and a healthy ecology.

Invariably, all the more populous countries in the world rank low in human development. The Philippines, which is the 12th most populous country in the world with 88.4 million people is 84th in the 2006 UN-measured Human Development Index.

The salutary constitutional provisions on the right to quality education (Sec. 1, Article XIV); right to health (Sec. 15, Art. II); right to a family living wage and income (Sec. 3(2), Art. XV); right to a balanced and healthful ecology (Sec. 16, Art. II); and the right of children to proper care and nutrition and protection from all forms of neglect, abuse, cruelty, exploitation and other conditions prejudicial to their development, will all be illusory if the government is unable to promote reproductive health and family planning as indispensable tools to manage population growth and achieve sustainable human development.

The RH bill accords fealty to these constitutional rights and mandates.

House Bill No. 5043 is being faulted for being violative of the Section 12, Article II of the Constitution which reads:

“The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.” (underscoring supplied).

The constitutional challenge is baseless for the following overriding reasons:

1. The RH bill does not violate or intrude on the “sanctity of family life”. On the contrary, it discharges the obligation of the State to protect and strengthen the family.

The family is more than a natural unit. It is a social institution whose well-being is impressed with public interest and concern.

Verily, it is not immune from legislation. It has to be amenable to the State’s exercise of police power for its protection and development. Hence, there are relevant laws like the Civil Code of the Philippines; Family Code of the Philippines (EO 209); the Child and Youth Welfare Code (PD 603); and the Special Protection of Filipino Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act (RA 7610), among others.

The RH bill aims to protect the family from poverty and want by helping women and couples achieve their fertility goals.

Empirical studies consistently document that larger families are almost invariably poorer than smaller families. Moreover, large family size perpetuates poverty across generations.

According to the UN State of the World Population Report 2002, “family planning and reproductive health are essential to reducing poverty.” The report declares that “countries that invest in reproductive health and family planning and in women’s development register lower population growth and faster economic growth.”

In a recent study of poverty and its causes in the Philippines, the Asian Development Bank listed an expanding population as one of the major causes of poverty in the country.

2. The bill does not supplant the primary right of parents in the “… development of moral character” of the youth even as it proposes the mandatory teaching of age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education in all schools from Grade 5 to Fourth Year High School.

This is giving support, as required by the Constitution, to parents, particularly to the vast majority who have defaulted in imparting reproductive health and sexuality education to their children simply because discussing sex at home is generally taboo.

Consequently, the young get their information on sexuality from polluted and inaccurate sources – peer groups, entertainment media and the internet.

Verily, there is critical need for formal reproductive health and sexuality education in schools.

The fear that sex education would breed youthful “sex maniacs” and develop a culture of promiscuity is grossly unfounded.

Studies by the UN and progressive countries reveal the beneficent results of reproductive health and sexuality education among the young. These are:

(a)    Inculcation of correct and relevant sexual values and norms in the young which disabuses their minds of preconceived myths on sex and responsibly addresses their curiosity so much so that experimenting is foreclosed;
(b)    Initiation into sexual activity is delayed;
(c)    Multiple sexual partners are avoided;
(d)    Abstinence before marriage is encouraged; and
(e)    Spread of HIV-AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases is prevented.

3. The use of legal and medically-safe contraceptives, which are not abortifacients, and which are tested and registered by the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD), does not violate the constitutional provision on the obligation of the State “to equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

The genesis of this provision in the Constitutional Commission establishes the following:

(a) The purpose of this provision is to preempt the Congress and the Supreme Court from legalizing abortion. This bill definitely does not legalize abortion.

The anti-abortion intent of this provision is admitted both by its principal proponent, Commissioner Bernardo Villegas, and Commissioner Joaquin Bernas who initially proposed a similar provision as Section I of the Bill of Rights which read: “The right to life extends to the fertilized ovum.” (underscoring supplied).

This Bernas proposal did not materialize. Its non-adoption unmistakably manifests that the concept that life begins at fertilization was not constitutionalized for lack of concurrence from the Commissioners.

After the deletion of the Bernas proposal in the Bill of Rights, another formulation was included in Article II on the Declaration of Principles which originally read: “The State shall protect human life from the moment of conception.”

It is important to note that under the foregoing draft, it is suggested that human life begins “from the moment of conception”, not anymore from the fertilization of the ovum.

This also confirms the thinking of the Commissioners that the “fertilization of the ovum” is not the same or synonymous to “conception”. The two refer to different stages of the reproductive process.

(b) As finally adopted, it is provided that the State “… shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

There were two amendments in the approved final provision: (1) the phrase “the moment of” preceding “conception” was deleted; and (2) the phrase “the life of the mother” was included. These two amendments are very significant.

The deletion of the phrase “the moment of” was the result of the Commissioners’ uncertainty as to the precise beginning of conception. Hence, they decided to defer to medical science and subsequent legislation the determination of the start of conception.

The international scientific community and numerous medical dictionaries and textbooks define the beginning of pregnancy or conception as the moment the fertilized ovum attaches itself to the lining of the uterus. Pregnancy, therefore, starts one to two weeks after fertilization.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines conception as “the implantation of the blastocyst. It is not synonymous with fertilization.” The National Institute of Health/Food and Drug Administration states that “Pregnancy encompasses the period of time from confirmation of implantation until expulsion or extraction of the fetus.”

Verily, the fertilized egg has no sustainable viability outside of the uterine wall. It has to implant in the uterus to have sustainable life and for gestation to progress or for pregnancy to begin.

Consequently, the International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetrics (FIGO) defines abortion as “the termination of pregnancy after implantation and before the conceptus has become independently viable.”

It is important to note that this international medical organization expressly states that for an act to be considered an abortion, the fertilized egg must already be implanted in the uterus.

Verily, the bill does not offend the constitutional intent proscribing abortion. In fact, it repeatedly reiterates the national policy against abortion. Moreover, the RH bill is even an anti-abortion measure because it respects the option of women and couples to use legal and medically-safe contraceptives which reduces abortion rates by 85%.

In the Philippines, it has been established that majority of those who undergo induced abortion are not teenagers or single women. They are married Catholic women with ages ranging from 21 to 29 who do not want another pregnancy or could not afford another child because of poverty or lack of resources. (State of the Philippine Population Report, 2001).

(c) The proceedings of the Constitutional Commission show that there was no intention to ban contraceptives which are not abortifacient.

Contraceptives like pills and injectables which prevent a woman from ovulating are not abortifacients because in the first place, no egg is released for fertilization. Similarly, contraceptives which weaken the sperm to incapacitate it from fertilizing an egg cannot be considered abortifacient because there is no fertilized egg for implantation in the uterine wall.

In the same token, IUDs which principally slow down the sperm to prevent them from reaching the egg are also not abortifacients. The primary action of IUDs is to “release copper ions which are toxic to sperm.”

The notion that contraceptives prevent implantation has been debunked by the UNDP, UNFPA and WHO. In their joint position paper submitted to the House of Representatives, they stated unequivocally that there is “no scientific evidence supporting this possibility. Therefore contraceptives cannot be labeled as abortifacients.” (underscoring supplied).

True to its nomenclature, a contraceptive is an antidote to conception or anti-conception. Hence, contraceptive use prevents conception. In the absence of conception, there is no life of the unborn to be protected.

(d) The importance of the second amendment which included the protection of “the life of the mother” is lost because of the undue emphasis on protecting “the life of the unborn from conception.”

The Constitution mandates the equal protection of the life of the mother and the life of the unborn.

In fact, when both the lives of the mother and the unborn are imperiled, the invariable option is to save the life of the mother if both lives could not be saved. The doctor’s primary obligation is to the mother because it is she who is the patient.

Family planning, as a vital component of reproductive health, does not only ensure the health of mothers and children. Family planning saves lives. The WHO, UNFPA and the medical journal Lancet are unanimous in declaring that the use of reliable contraceptives decreases maternal mortality by one-third. Close to 200,000 maternal deaths worldwide could be avoided annually if women use contraception.

The body of a woman needs at least three years to fully recuperate from pregnancy and childbirth. The use of contraceptives prevents unremitting pregnancies which endanger the lives of mothers and infants.

It is indubitable that based on the foregoing discussion, HB 5043 is constitutional and actualizes the people’s rights related to reproductive health and family planning.

Popular support to the RH Bill

Vox populi, vox Dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God) and vox populi est suprema lex (the voice of the people is the supreme law) are truisms most relevant to the RH campaign. Consider the following popular survey results for almost two decades:

•    96% of Catholics say it is important to have the ability to control their fertility and most approve of the use of contraceptives expressly forbidden by the Church (SWS, July 1991).

•    Pulse Asia has conducted regular surveys (1995, 2001, 2004 and 2007) on family planning and the results have consistently revealed that Filipinos believe in the importance of family planning. The 2007 results reveal:

    92% of all Filipinos believe that it is important to have the ability to control one’s fertility and plan one’s family.
    93% of all Roman Catholics surveyed said that family planning is important. This is an even higher percentage than the national average of 92%.
    89% of all Filipinos support government funding for modern methods of family planning.
    90% of all Roman Catholics surveyed agreed that government should allocate funding to modern FP methods. Again, this is an even higher percentage than the national average of 89%.
    The top three ethnic groups which support public funding for contraceptives are: Bicolanos (96%), Pangasinenses (96%) and Kapangpangans (95%).
    75% of Filipinos will support candidates who are in favor of a government budget for family planning.
    76% of Filipinos consider it important that a candidate includes family planning in his or her program of action.
    77% of Roman Catholics surveyed say that it is important that family planning be included in a candidate’s program of action. Again, this is even higher than the national average of 76%.

House Bill No. 5043 or the “Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Management Act of 2008” has strong support inside and outside the House of Representatives. To date, 113 members of the House have coauthored the bill even as tremendous multi-sectoral support continues to increase.

This bill has the longest gestation in Congress with precursor measures dating back to the 8th Congress (1987-1992).

Now, it has irreversibly reached the period of plenary debates. Its eventual approval is almost a certainty because it is necessary, beneficial and practicable.

And, it is also rights-based and constitutional.