Contact Details

Rm. N-411, House of Representatives, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
+63 2 931 5497, +63 2 931 5001 local 7370
WOMEN: THE CENTRAL FIGURES IN THE RH CAMPAIGN
(Speech delivered by REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN during the
10th National Summit of the Lady Local Legislator’s League of the Philippines
at the Diamond Hotel on 23 January 2009)

I filed the first version of the reproductive health bill in July 2004 and in the almost five years since then, I am still amazed at the intense and passionate response people have towards the bill. It does not matter if they are for or against the measure – a lukewarm response is not forthcoming when it comes to the issue of RH and family planning. People are almost always either fervently supportive or rabidly opposed to the bill.


But despite the unrelenting protestations and vocal criticisms of some sectors of the Catholic hierarchy and their lay organizations, the reaction of ordinary people to the RH bill has always been overwhelmingly positive. In particular, the support the bill has from women is especially strong.

The issue of reproductive health and population development are indeed issues close to the hearts of women who bear the brunt not only of pregnancy and childbirth but also of childrearing.  Invariably, women seem to know instinctively that the lack of family planning information and options will have negative effects on their lives.

Being local legislators, I am certain that you have seen firsthand the deleterious outcomes of unremitting pregnancies on the health of both mothers and children in particular and sustainable human development in general.

As women, I am sure that you want concrete and lasting solutions to the problems of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity and better chances for women to lead dignified and meaningful lives.

Poverty in the Philippines Wears a Woman’s Face

The story of ill-health and poverty in the Philippines wears a woman’s face. The feminization of hardship and suffering cannot be denied. Women, who already have significantly less opportunities for remunerative work and quality education, are doubly burdened because they have to bear and give birth to children; feed, bathe, medicate and care for them; manage the family’s finances and do the housework on top of their jobs outside the home. A woman is not only mother and wife. She is also a nurse, cook, maid, laundrywoman, tutor, handyman and accountant rolled into one.

It is no wonder then that Filipino women have expressed tremendous support for the RH bill. They know that it is pro-poor, pro-women and ultimately, pro-life. It will give them and their partners the opportunity to have only the children that they can afford to bring up into healthy, educated and productive citizens.

A ballooning PGR impacts negatively on all
human development indicators

 

But unless women and couples have the opportunity to plan their families and meet their fertility goals, it will be extremely difficult for them to ensure the future wellbeing of their children.

We cannot achieve genuine and sustainable human development if we continue to default in addressing the population problem. It is beyond debate that a huge population growth rate impacts adversely on all indicators of human development such as health, education, shelter, food security, employment and the environment.

Chronic poverty and high population growth rates are inextricably linked. A high PGR all but negates any progress we may achieve in terms of economic growth and cancels out government’s efforts in poverty reduction.
Government can help curb a ballooning population by simply helping women and couples realize their fertility goals. House Bill 5043 on reproductive health, responsible parenthood and population development will help ensure that women and couples will achieve their desired number of children.

The RH Bill = Freedom of Informed Choice

The heart and soul of House Bill 5043 is the creation of an enabling environment wherein women and couples will not only have information on and access to all forms of family planning methods from the modern to the natural but also the opportunity to freely choose which method is best suited to their needs, personal convictions and religious beliefs.

Contrary to the claims of its critics that the bill favors modern methods of family planning over natural methods, the bill in fact democratizes family planning because it will make available to couples all possible family planning methods and not just NFP methods preferred by the Catholic Church.

It is important to underscore that both natural and modern family planning techniques are contraceptive methods. Their common purpose is to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the bill does not impose a bias for either method.

Moreover, neither the Church nor the State can impose its will or preference on couples. Neither are these institutions allowed to intrude into the private bedrooms of women and couples and interfere with their family planning decisions. The final decision rests on the women or couples themselves.

RH and family planning are basic universal human rights

 

Forty years ago, the International Conference on Human Rights in the Proclamation of Teheran articulated unequivocally that “Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children.” The Philippines is a signatory to this convention.

But even up to now, this right remains illusory for 2.6 million Filipino women who, according to the 2006 Family Planning Survey, would like to plan their families but lack information and access to do so.

With the poorest of our sisters still having an average of six children, which is almost three times their desired number of children, and with 44% of their pregnancies unwanted, it is clear that the most poverty-stricken women in the country are denied their basic human right to plan their families.

HB 5043 will help protect and fulfill the right of all Filipinos to decide when and how often they want to become parents.

The miracle of life must not mean death for mothers

The persistent negative reports that 11 Filipino women die daily of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth underscore the critical immediacy of enacting the RH bill.

The most recent report comes from the State of the World’s Children 2009 of the UNICEF which emphasizes that “having a child remains one of the biggest health risks for women worldwide.” The report underscores the fact that difference in pregnancy risk between women in developing countries like the Philippines and women in first world nations is “the greatest health divide in the world.”

With approximately 4,500 Filipino mothers dying of complications related to childbirth and pregnancy each year, the Philippines is among the worst performing countries in improving maternal health.

Moreover, based on the UNICEF Report, the lifetime risk of maternal death in the Philippines is 1 in 140, compared to 1 in 8,000 for women in developed countries. According to the report, women in developing countries are 300 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications than women in developed countries.

These are not cold statistics but disturbing and distressing figures which demand immediate remedial action from both local and national policymakers.

No woman should die giving life. As local legislators, and more importantly, as women and mothers, your support will be indispensable in the prevention of maternal mortality. The miracle of life should not mean death for so many Filipino mothers.

Family planning saves lives

Studies by the WHO, UNDP and UNFPA validate that correct and consistent use of contraceptives will prevent one-third of all maternal deaths. With 98% of maternal deaths happening in developing countries like the Philippines, it is imperative that women be given access to effective family planning methods as provided for in HB 5043.

Family planning saves lives because it will have a direct effect on maternal mortality by reducing the number of high-risk pregnancies. HB 5043 will help women who are at a higher risk of maternal death avoid unplanned pregnancies.

“Too young, too old, too many, too soon” illustrates the undesirable aspects of unplanned pregnancies and avoiding pregnancies in women who fall under this category will dramatically reduce maternal deaths.

Family planning will not only lead to a decrease in overall pregnancy rates. The WHO emphasizes that with the proper use of contraceptives, “the fall in maternal mortality is likely to be even greater than the fall in the pregnancy rate.” This means that the risk associated with each individual pregnancy had been reduced.

There are several possible ways in which this could happen:

  1. Fewer births to very young women. The bodies of women under 18 years are not yet ready for pregnancy and childbirth and it is for this reason that in the Philippines, 75% of maternal deaths happen to 15 to 19 year old women.
  2. Fewer births to older women. Similarly, women above 35 years are at an increased risk of hemorrhage, pregnancy-induced hypertension and uterine prolapse. Therefore, reducing the proportion of pregnancies among older women would decrease maternal mortality levels.
  3. Fewer high-parity births. Studies show that women who already have four or more children have a substantially increased risk of maternal death. Frequent pregnancies are also often associated with less prenatal care and lower likelihood of supervised delivery.
  4. Fewer short birth intervals. Short birth intervals are also linked to increased risk of an adverse outcome for the mother because studies show that a woman’s body needs no less than three years to recover from pregnancy and childbirth. Thus, the shorter the gap between pregnancies, the greater is the likelihood of maternal death.

 

Family planning prevents abortions

 

It must also be underscored that family planning does not only saves lives, it is directly related to the decrease in abortion rates.

The WHO has unequivocally asserted that family planning is “the most effective intervention to prevent unintended pregnancy and abortion.”

HB 5043 is also very clearly anti-abortion. Its objective is to ensure that women and couples have access to all methods of family planning in order to prevent unplanned pregnancies. According to the 2003 NDHS, 44.3% of all pregnancies in the country are unplanned principally because of the lack of information on and access to family planning services. It is for this reason that the incidence of induced abortion in this country is 500,000 annually.

Contraceptive use and abortion have an inverse correlation. The more women use effective contraception, the less likely they have unwanted pregnancies that will be terminated through abortion. Research by the Gûttmacher Institute also reveals that the use of contraceptives can reduce abortion rates by 85%.

RH and FP are essential to the achievement of key MDGs

The Philippines has committed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 of which Goal No. 5 is the improvement of maternal health. MDG Goal No. 5 has recently been amended to include reproductive health. Goal No. 5 now includes the achievement of “universal access to reproductive health”.

Consequently, the following are the four new indicators for monitoring MDG No. 5 apart from maternal mortality ratio and proportion of births attended to by a skilled health professional: (1) contraceptive prevalence rate; (2) adolescent birth rate; (3) antenatal care coverage; and (4) unmet need for family planning.

It is important to underscore that six of the eight MDGs are linked to reproductive health and are covered by the elements of RH as enumerated in House Bill 5043.

RH and Goals 4 and 5 on maternal and child health and survival

An important element of reproductive health as provided in HB 5043 is maternal, infant and child health and nutrition. This is crucial to ensuring the health of mothers and infants and in the reduction of maternal and infant mortality under Goals 4 and 5.

Family planning, another vital element of RH, is central to maternal and child health because the WHO states that intervals of six months or shorter between childbirth and an ensuing pregnancy are associated with elevated risks of maternal mortality and intervals of 18 months or shorter are associated with elevated risk of infant mortality, low birth weight and pre-term delivery.

This is why a national policy on RH is crucial in order to drastically lower maternal mortality rates in the country.

RH and Goals 2 and 3 on universal primary education and gender equality

In the Philippines, childcare is still considered primarily the role of mothers and/or older sisters. Therefore, it is not uncommon for girls to drop out of school because they are forced to care for siblings as the family continues to expand. Family planning will help ensure gender parity in school and foreclose this inequity being imposed on girls.

Another element of RH is the elimination of violence against women which will not only promote the basic human right to live a life free of violence but is also central to achieving gender equality.

Moreover, family planning will lead to bigger investments in health and education, improved quality of childcare and more educational and employment opportunities for women. All these will go a long way in achieving Goal 2 on universal primary education and Goal 3 on promoting gender equality.

RH and Goals 6 and 7 on HIV-AIDS and the environment

Still another element of reproductive health is the prevention of HIV-AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Renewed efforts to curb the spread of HIV-AIDS and other STDs as advocated in the RH bill will help government achieve part of Goal No. 6 on combating HIV-AIDS.

Slower population growth through family planning will also relieve the strain that a burgeoning population exerts on an environment increasingly threatened by human activity and will help us attain Goal No. 7 on environmental sustainability.

RH and Goal No. 1 on poverty and hunger

Guaranteeing the right of women and couples to reproductive self-determination will also ultimately help government achieve Goal No. 1 on the eradication of hunger and poverty.

A decline in fertility rates will help open a demographic window of economic opportunity similar to what happened in South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. With fewer dependent children relative to the working-age population, these countries made additional investments on health, education, food security and other basic social services which spurred economic growth and helped reduce poverty.

By promoting and protecting the right to reproductive health, we will clearly have a better chance of achieving the MDGs.

Make every mother and child count

The time has come to put an end to the relegation of women and maternal health to the backburner of the national agenda. We must exert all efforts to make every mother and child count. I am confident that RH advocates in Congress can count on the support of the Lady Local Legislators League of the Philippines to actively and forcefully campaign for the enactment of a national policy on reproductive health, responsible parenthood and population development.

I am truly thankful that many local councils have passed their own versions of the RH bill like those adopted by, among others, the provinces of Aurora, Ifugao and Tawi-Tawi; the cities of Olongapo, Sorsogon and Davao, and the municipalities of Talibon in Bohol, Sagada in the Mountain Province and Lebak in Sultan Kudarat. This is clearly a reflection of the exemplary political will of local leaders.

However, the country still needs a comprehensive, rights-based and adequately funded RH statute that is national in scope.

Passing the buck to LGUs when it comes to the formulation of population policies and implementation of family planning programs is at best, impractical. At worse, it is simply bad governance.

The crafting of population policies and their effective execution cannot be relegated to LGUs for the following reasons: 1) More often than not, local leaders wait for policy directives from the national government; 2) A decrease in population growth will not be an incentive to LGUs because increases in the amount of IRA an LGU receives is directly proportional to the increase in its population; 3) If an LGU provides access to all forms of family planning methods, it can expect a surge of migrants who would want to take advantage of its FP programs to the detriment of actual residents (this is exactly what happened in Quezon City when its health centers were swamped with Manila residents who were deprived of family planning services and supplies for nine years during the incumbency of former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza); 4) The fiscal resources and technical expertise of each LGU differs; and 5) Local executives are more susceptible to the pressures that will be brought to bear by religious institutions in the implementation of RH programs and policies.

The people have spoken: Filipinos want the RH bill passed

 

Survey after survey for the last two decades, document the increasing number of Filipinos, principally Catholics, who favor family planning, including contraceptive use. Consider the results of the latest Pulse Asia survey conducted in October 2008:

  • 93% of Filipinos consider it important to have the ability to plan their families;
  • 82% of Filipinos believe government should teach couples about all methods of family planning;
  • Another 82% of Filipinos say that it is the government’s duty to provide the people with knowledge, services, and materials on all methods of family planning; and
  • A considerable majority of Filipinos (63%) want the RH bill to be passed into law with only 8% expressing opposition to the measure.
The SWS survey conducted in September 2008 shows similar results:
  • 71% of Filipinos are in favor of the RH bill;
  • 76% of Filipinos agree that there should be a law requiring government to teach family planning to the youth; and
  • 68% believe that there should be a law requiring government to distribute legal contraceptives like condoms, pills and IUDs
The SWS survey disaggregated the data to reflect sentiments of Catholics regarding contraception, the inclusion of family planning in school curricula and the RH bill. The results are instructive:
  • 68% of Catholics believe that government should distribute free contraceptives to those who want them;
  • 76% of Catholics agree that there should be a law requiring government to teach family planning to the youth; and
  • 71% of Catholics favor the passage of the RH bill versus only 68% of non-Catholics who endorse the bill.

The people have spoken. They want to be able to plan their families. They want government to give them family planning information and services. They want the RH bill passed. They need the RH bill passed.

We need to enact HB 5043 because it promotes and protects the right to health, the right to informed choice, the right to reproductive self-determination, and the right to sustainable human development.

A non-coercive measure that will provide accurate and reliable family planning information and services and help people become responsible parents even as it will increase their chances of improving their lives is definitely pro-poor, pro-women and pro-life.

Well-off, educated, accomplished and independent women like you have always exercised their right to responsibly plan their families. Please do not let your less fortunate sisters be deprived of the same right that you enjoy.

There is no reason for any of us to be afraid of the RH bill. But there are 4,500 reasons to support the bill – the 4,500 Filipino mothers who die every year from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. There are additional 8,000 reasons to fight for reproductive rights – the 8,000 babies who annually do not survive their first month of life. And another 2.6 million reasons to stand up for the bill – the 2.6 million poor Filipinas who want to plan their families but are unable to do so because they lack information on and access to family planning services.

Clearly, there are more than enough reasons to fight for HB 5043 because family planning indeed saves lives; reproductive health is essential to women’s overall health and its protection and promotion will determine whether or not a woman will have a say in her own future.

MAKE HUMAN RIGHTS REAL
(Privilege Speech delivered by REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN on 10 December 2008
on the occasion of World Human Rights Day and the
60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) unequivocally proclaimed this sixty years ago. Thus, when an infant is born, the fundamental question that we must confront is not whether the newborn is an asset or a liability, but, how we can protect his or her right to life or survival and other basic human rights so that the newborn may live in freedom and dignity.

In other words, we must assure the existence of an enabling environment where every child born can live in freedom and dignity.

The Philippines holds the distinction of being the first signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In accordance with the UDHR and the subsequent international covenants on human rights, the erstwhile United Nations Commission on Human Rights once reminded the world that the “ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can be achieved only if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights.” (E/CN.4/1998/25)

Our task as policymakers, therefore, is to enact laws which create the “enabling conditions” that will facilitate the fulfillment of human rights. These laws and policies likewise set standards to hold the State accountable for non-compliance with its international treaty obligations on human rights.

It is high time that we adopt the rights-based approach to governance. Using this approach, it is well to bear in mind that human rights are interdependent as they are nested within a common broad setting. Verily, the realization of each distinct right may be hindered or enhanced by the prevailing social, cultural, economic and/or political conditions that determine the status of other rights.

Reproductive health as a human right, for example, cannot be divorced from certain economic conditions. Take the case of maternal mortality which may negate the newborn’s right to life or survival.

A closer look at maternal mortality would reveal three sets of causes. The first are the immediate causes: postpartum hemorrhage, obstructed labor/ruptured uterus, toxemia/eclampsia, postpartum sepsis, abortion complications, and infectious diseases, i.e., malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS. The second are the intermediate causes labeled as “the three delays”: (1) delays in recognizing complications; (2) delays in transporting the mother; and (3) delays in receiving care at the facility. The third cluster of causes are societal and which are deeply rooted in the social, cultural and economic conditions that increase mortality ratio; norms and values that discriminate against women, the poor and marginalized cultural communities; and a highly skewed distribution of economic resources between developed and developing countries (Joseph L. Mailman, Maternal Mortality as a Human Rights and Gender Issue).

A pregnant mother in a far-flung barangay whose pregnancy is considered high risk because she has had too many children one after the other may die of eclampsia not only because of the failure to monitor her blood pressure and to undergo regular prenatal check-ups but also due to her inability to receive the proper information and access to family planning methods that would have helped her plan and space her pregnancies. Kahirapan, kawalan ng pamasahe papuntang health center and the fact that she was denied her right to reproductive health are the causes of this tragedy that happens to 10 Filipino mothers daily. Poverty, inaccessible and inadequate health care facilities and services, and lack of health care providers and access to RH services violate the right to health and ultimately the right to life of the mother and the unborn. Clearly, the duty of the State to respect, protect and fulfill the rights to health and life hinges in no small measure on the development of the economy and the reduction, if not eradication, of poverty. Ms. Regan E. Ralph, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, in her article on “Challenges in Promoting Women’s Reproductive and Sexual Rights” succinctly concluded that: “From the human rights perspective this means that we need to develop enforceable reproductive health norms and not just invoke the language of rights. And finally, it means that we do more to understand and address the social justice dimensions of health.” (underscoring supplied)

It is in this light that we can better appreciate the interrelation between the first and fifth Millennium Development Goals. Goal 1 is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, aiming to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day. Goal 5 seeks to improve maternal health, targeting to reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio and to achieve universal access to reproductive health.

These Millennium Development Goals illustrate the overriding interdependence of the rights to health and life and sustainable development.

From a broader human rights perspective the inequalities in the distribution of income and wealth between the developed and developing countries hamper the realization and enjoyment of human rights in the disadvantaged nations.

Consistent with the human rights approach to policy formulation the legislative advocacy of reproductive health, responsible parenthood and population development is not a rhetorical guarantee of freedom of informed choice and access to a wide range of natural and modern family planning methods and devices or a liberal use of human rights language. This advocacy is anchored on a strong belief in the equally urgent need to institute genuine and concrete reforms in the socio-economic environment.

Inordinate deregulation, liberalization and privatization worldwide undermine the economies of developing countries and threaten the betterment of living conditions, the very purpose of the right to development. They hinder the realization of the human rights to: food, health, shelter, education, work, and security even as they are anathema to justice, equality and the rule of law.

Non-fulfillment of these rights and democratic principles trigger protests and political dissent from enlightened citizens and long-suffering masses. To suppress these mass protests and to stifle political dissent, the State resorts to illegal arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and inhuman treatment of persons deprived of liberty, and extrajudicial killings or summary executions.

It goes without saying that violations of civil and political rights are interlinked with violations of economic, social and cultural rights. It is not enough to bring the perpetrators to justice and put an end to the culture of impunity. Equally, if not more important, is to reform the system that spawns these human rights violations.

The global challenge to policymakers the world over on the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is how to create the enabling conditions that would fulfill the entitlement enshrined in the Declaration’s Article 28 which states that: “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.”

Six decades after the UDHR was adopted, the most basic human rights to health, education, shelter, living wage together with the right to dissent, reproductive self-determination and lives free of violence and want, are still illusory for millions of Filipinos.

The Members of this August Chamber, perforce, must pass with deliberate alacrity the pending bills on Anti-Torture, Anti-Enforced Disappearance, Human Rights Victims Compensation, Reproductive Health and Population Development, and Extension of the Land Acquisition and Distribution (LAD) component of CARP that will truly protect, promote and fulfill the most fundamental of human rights and help make the sixty year old UDHR truly tangible and real.
MAKE HUMAN RIGHTS REAL
(Privilege Speech delivered by REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN on 10 December 2008
on the occasion of World Human Rights Day and the
60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) unequivocally proclaimed this sixty years ago. Thus, when an infant is born, the fundamental question that we must confront is not whether the newborn is an asset or a liability, but, how we can protect his or her right to life or survival and other basic human rights so that the newborn may live in freedom and dignity.

In other words, we must assure the existence of an enabling environment where every child born can live in freedom and dignity.

The Philippines holds the distinction of being the first signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


SPONSORSHIP SPEECH ON HB NO. 5116 OR THE PROPOSED FY 2009 GENERAL APPROPRIATIONS BILL
(Delivered by REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN, Senior Vice Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, on 02 October 2008)


At no point in our recent history has the annual budget assumed a greater primacy than it has today as the world is buffeted by the following international developments of crisis proportions:

  • Continuing escalation of the prices of food and other basic commodities.
  • Fluctuating price of fuel at high levels.
  • The Wall Street financial market fiasco.
  • And possibly an even worse calamity, the rejection by the US House of Representatives of the US $700 billion bailout plan, even as it is reported today that the US Senate has approved the bailout plan which would necessitate further bicameral Congressional action.

Sponsorship Speech on House Bill 5043

“An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development”
(delivered by REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN on 16 September 2008)

House Bill No. 5043 or “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development” should unite us, not divide us.

We are all confronted by common problems spawned by an inordinately huge population which we must collectively address, like:

  • High maternal and infant mortality;
  • Escalating incidence of abortions;
  • Growing number of malnourished and stunted children;
  • Increasing proportion of children of school-age who are out of school;
  • Serious social costs of labor migration;
  • Dearth of local employment;
  • Scarcity of food supply;
  • Inadequate mass housing; and
  • Despoliation of the environment.

We must open our minds to the import and merits of the Reproductive Health Bill and reject contrived criticisms, expose barefaced lies, refute malicious innuendoes, and resist menacing threats.

We must not fear to legislate because it is courage which is the handmaiden of a good and vital law.

This bill is not solely about pills, condoms and IUDs. Neither is it about sex, morality or religion no matter how desperately its oppositors claim it is.

It does not legalize abortion nor does it seek the legalization of abortifacients.

The bill is rights-based and does not have a demographic target. It is even a misnomer to call it a “birth control” measure.

There is no bias for or against natural or modern family planning methods because both will be promoted with equal vigor to truly assure freedom of informed choice.

The bill is principally about rights, health and sustainable human development. The bill is fully transparent. There is no hidden agenda. There are no caveats.