'RH bill being rushed just to meet MDGs?'

by Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 18 2010 05:47 PM | Updated as of Oct 19 2010 09:55 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Is the Philippines rushing to pass the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill just to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG)?

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile posed this question during Monday's health and demography committee hearing on Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago's bill, SB 2378, which provides for a national policy on reproductive health and population development.

Held together with the Senate committee on women and family relations as well as the committee on finance, the hearing also tackled how the country has been doing in meeting the MDGs, specifically in reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and eradicating HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

The MDGs are 8 international development goals that UN member-countries and 23 international organizations have committed to achieve by 2015.

"Am I to understand that this bill is now being presented under pressure because of these MDGs?" Enrile asked.

Sylvia Claudio of the University of the Philippines Center for Women's Studies explained that even without the MDGs, the RH bill must still be enacted into law.

"For health reasons alone, we need this bill so we can reduce the unnecessary deaths of women by providing the comprehensive sets of services that are illustrated in this bill," she said.

Claudio added that the measure also has economic benefits. Poor families with few children, she said, can allocate their resources better.

Seemingly unconvinced, Enrile asked the question again: "Is there pressure on us to adopt this bill?"

Murmurs filled the conference room, with some in the audience saying, "Yes."

Enrile had earlier said he has not made his stand on the RH bill, which, among others, mandates government to make contraceptives accessible to people.

At the hearing, those against the RH bill called it unconstitutional.

Former senator and pro-life advocate Francisco Tatad said the bill is an "attempt to expand the power of the state in areas of human life where it has no business whatsoever."

Tatad lauded certain provisions of Santiago's bill, such as those providing for free healthcare services, but said those do not need new legislation in order to be implemented.

Joey Lina, also a former senator, pointed out that most contraceptives induce abortion. Thus, he said, providing contraceptives violates the Constitutional protection for the unborn child.

"Human life begins at conception," he said. "Any device introduced by the state to block the natural growth of the fertilized ovum is violating the Constitution."

Dr. Santiago del Rosario of the Philippine Obstetrics and Gynecological Society argued, however, that contraceptives pills are not meant to block the growth of the ovum.

"The contraceptive pills are given to patients to prevent ovulation," Del Rosario said. "There is nothing to fertilize. There is no abortifacient action."

Former Health Secretary Alberto Romualdez also expressed support for the bill, claiming a rise in the country's population and higher maternal mortality rates among the poor because of the previous administration's refusal to adopt a reproductive healtrh policy.

Romualdez said the bill will not only help the Philippines meet the MDGs, but also help the people, "particularly those groups in our population who are poor."

Most of the non-government organizations invited to the hearing also supported the bill.