MANILA, Philippines - The reproductive health (RH) bill's title in the Senate may have changed, but for a senator opposing it, the measure is essentially the same: a population control program.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile laughed when asked for his reaction to an amendment made by RH bill sponsor Sen. Pia Cayetano that removed the phrase "population and development" from the bill's title.
At the start of the period of amendments on the controversial measure, Cayetano replaced "population and development" with "responsible parenthood." Thus, the title of the bill is now "An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenthood."
For Enrile, however, this changes nothing. "Population control pa rin," he told reporters on Thursday. "Hindi mo na mabubura 'yon. That's already in the record."
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said in his "turno en contra" speech on Wednesday that the RH bill is a population control measure masked as a health bill.
He said the bill is unnecessary and cited statistics that show the Philippines is not overpopulated.
Cayetano: RH won't control population
In an interview after Wednesday's session, Cayetano insisted that the RH bill does not seek to control the country's population.
She said the change in the bill's title reflects this.
"Whatever is pegged on population is based on choices of individual families," she said.
Cayetano also reiterated in an earlier interview that the bill, once enacted into law, will not force anyone to take contraceptives.
"Hindi ko siya puwedeng saksakan ng IUD o ng kung ano man," she said, referring to mothers who may refuse to take contraceptives. "Unfortunately, it's her right to be a bad mother. And that is so horrible, but that is her right."
Aside from changing the bill's title, Cayetano removed a provision on mandatory care for women with post-abortion complications, adding a subsection stating: "All complications arising from pregnancy, labor, and delivery shall be treated in a humane and compassionate manner." She added a sentence making it clear that abortion is "a criminal act in accordance with existing laws."
Cayetano also deleted the phrase "as essential medicines" after family planning supplies, and included the phrase "The Philippine National Drug Formulary System."
Opponents of the RH bill are strongly opposed to contraceptives being classified as essential medicines.
"It's there in the Philippine Drug Formulary. It's acknowledged as an essential part of that list," Cayetano said.