Philippines needs RH bill, UN bodies say

By Sheila Crisostomo, The Philippine Star

Posted at Aug 04 2012 01:32 AM | Updated as of Aug 05 2012 02:08 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) underscored the need to pass the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, even as the Catholic Church will hold a prayer rally today at EDSA Shrine to oppose the passage of the measure.

WHO, UNAIDS, and UNFPA yesterday said the Philippine population is growing with more people living in poverty and more young women getting pregnant.

UNFPA country coordinator Ugochi Florence Daniels said the RH bill is important for the Philippines to achieve its health-related targets in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) like maternal health, HIV/AIDS and infant mortality.

The three agencies have reiterated their stand on the RH bill days before the House of Representatives is set to vote on Tuesday if debates on the measure should continue or not.

Daniels said that passing the bill is vital to enable couples to decide on the size of their family by making information and services available to them.

UNAIDS country coordinator Teresita Bagasao said that the lack of an RH law contributes to the increase in HIV/AIDS cases.

“More than 90 percent of new infections in the country are because of sexual transmission. That is high and these were caused by unprotected sex. Those who are getting infected are getting younger and it speaks of lack of access to adequate information that will equip our boys and girls, young men and women with information. We need those provisions in the RH bill,” she said.

According to WHO country representative Dr. Soe Nyunt-U, the issue on reproductive health and responsible parenthood is the same across all regions and “should not be misused as a political tool.”

Meanwhile, an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday asked those participating in the anti-RH bill prayer rally to wear red today and on Tuesday when lawmakers cast their vote on whether to terminate debates on the measure.

Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said the rally dubbed “Prayer Power Against the RH Bill” would be held from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

He said simultaneous prayer rallies would be held in Cebu, Iloilo, Davao, Legaspi in Albay, Lucena, Quezon, Tacloban, Roxas in Capiz, Borongan, Samar, Cagayan de Oro City, Baguio, Dagupan and Zamboanga.

Senate leaders to join CBCP rally

While the CBCP did not send out formal invitations to politicians, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto and Sen. Gregorio Honasan will be attending the Church-led rally to dramatize their sentiments against the RH bill.

Honasan said he has started to form a belief on the issue but still wants to hear the arguments of those concerned regarding the RH bill.

“Whether you are a re-electionist or not, especially in my case, it’s hard to put doubt on the motives of our leaders on this. I have yet to interpellate because whatever our decision on this, the implication will have an impact on future generations,” Honasan said over radio dwIZ.

Meanwhile, a former secretary-general of the National Economic and Development Authority defended President Aquino’s support for the RH bill.

Felipe Medalla, board member of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, noted the RH bill is primarily associated with sex education “but the President’s point of view is more aligned with what the bishops were saying... except that the bishops say that the only acceptable method is natural family planning.”

SB: House to focus on RH bill first

The House of Representatives will first tackle and decide on the RH bill before it turns its attention to the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said yesterday.

The chamber is set to hold a crucial vote on Tuesday on whether to end debates on the RH bill. If the debates are terminated, the measure would enter the period of amendments and be set for approval on second reading.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chairman of the House committee on public information, said the FOI bill, which seeks to allow public access to government records, would be tackled by his panel as soon as the RH bill is approved or rejected on the floor.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, principal author of RH bill in the House, said Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s current opposition to the measure is a complete turnaround from the stand she took on the issue seven years ago.

On Jan. 25, 2005, Lagman said then President Arroyo signed a statement of support for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) on behalf of the Philippine government.

Arroyo has vowed to lead her allies in voting against terminating debates on the RH bill. – With Evelyn Macairan, Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Mike Frialde