Thoughts on RH bill-A A +A
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
I AM constrained to make my opinion known because of several invitations I received from my fellow youth leaders asking me to speak about RH Bill, affix my signature in a Manifesto and push for its passage. This article may come as a surprise to them and probably brand me as traitor to the cause and most ingrate among the guests.
Half of my existence has been devoted to advancing causes for the youth which include among others advocacy on leadership, environment, youth development, good governance, peace and development, entrepreneurship, etc. and of course reproductive health-the most funded advocacy/program. I got a list of funders both local and international, just make a proposal then once approved, voila, funds would just be downloaded to your organization’s account, but I did not avail of this.
Many opinions have already been published with regard to the pros and cons of the Bill. Many anchored their discussion on economics and politics; others on religion and freedom; some on sex and rights but many expressed their opinion purely based on the opinion of others. But I shall speak based on the trainings on RH that I had; based on the modules and briefing papers parallel with my trainings on peer counseling/education (PE) on the prevention of STI/HIV/AIDS and behavior change communication (BCC) for those people living with HIV.
I came to know of the issue so intensely discussed when I joined the 6th National Youth Parliament (NYP) in 2006 held in Tagbilaran City, Bohol. NYP is a biennial gathering of youth leaders all over the country as mandated by Republic Act 8044 under the care of National Youth Commission (NYC). I was so lucky to have joined the 6th batch because it was the most or well-funded youth parliament ever. I got elected also as the Regional Convener for Region X with Atty. Romeo Cabarde (staunch advocate of RH Bill) from Davao as our Island Convener. In that parliament one of the most heated issues is ARH or Adolescent Reproductive Health. But that was not my chosen issue or advocacy. I chose cyber youth and defended it in the plenary and was approved then eventually adopted by the Regional Development Council with National Economic Development Authority whom I lobbied much with the great help of Atty. Eddie C. Cuaresma, the Northeastern Mindanao Area Officer of the NYC. Fortunate enough, the cyber youth advocacy won an award and I was accorded the distinction of “Outstanding Youth Advocate” given by the Office of the President through then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.
As Regional Convener then, I often received training invitations from various groups and funders on different advocacy but the most invitations I received were for the ARH. And so I enjoyed so much perks and including travels funded by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) through the NYC and by other organizations. But despite the perks and numerous trainings that I received, still I did not advocate for ARH despite also of opportunities extended. Why? Simply because in my personal assessment, view and reflection, to advocate RH collides with a larger part of my religious (conscience) and cultural (values) beliefs as both Catholic and a Filipino.
Now, the proponents of the RH Bill strongly say that “the RH bill is not about sex. Neither is it about religion. It is about health, rights and sustainable human development.” I completely disagree. When we talk about reproductive health, sex is an imperative topic, central of all discussions. Of course sex does not only refer to the biological characteristics which define and differentiate humans as males or females but necessarily includes sexual intercourse. Let us try to dissect by reading and understanding the definition of Reproductive Health which most advocates carry the International Conference on Population and Development Program (ICPD) or the Cairo definition of Reproductive Health which states:
“Reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system, and to its functions and processes. Reproductive health therefore implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. Implicitly in this last condition are the right of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, as well as other methods of their choice for regulations of fertility which are not against the law and the right of access to appropriate health-care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant. In line with the above definition of reproductive health, reproductive health care is defined as the constellation of methods, techniques and services that contribute to reproductive health and well-being by preventing and solving reproductive health problems. It also includes sexual health, the purpose of which is the enhancement of life and personal relations, and not merely counseling and care related to reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases.”
The definition speaks for itself. It talks about sexual intercourse that may or may not result to pregnancy and the methods on how to go about birthing and birth spacing. And the intended recipients are the couples. But by and large the definition applies to every woman wanting to or engaging in sexual activity whether for pleasure or copulation.
Pro RH argue that the increasing maternal and infant mortality rate; rising cases of pregnancy related complications; HIV infections; and unwanted/unplanned pregnancy are alarming and mainly due to lack of knowledge of reproductive health and sexual rights and health care access and services. And if go by statistics, according to CEDAW Watch Philippines (2009) that every day in the Philippines 5 women die due to pregnancy related complications, 8 people are infected with HIV and 536 teenage girls get pregnant unplanned. And to end these, the RH Bill must be passed. But I doubt very much that in most cases mentioned, the woman concerned was really ignorant about her sexuality or that she engaged in sex without knowing what it is. It is always my stand that it is not ignorance about sex and its consequences that lead reproductive problems such as those mentioned but irresponsibility and promiscuity.
The real intention of the bill is population control that is why women will be given right, control, and freedom over their body. They can choose to have sex anytime or not at all. They can choose to be pregnant or not at all. They are also given right to use of contraceptives like condoms, pills, withdrawal and IUD’s and access to health services. And this is dangerous especially to young women or even adolescents because they have easier access to contraceptives and no one is stopping as the law is protecting them. Parent’s authority over their children will be lesser they can no longer scold their youngsters if they have condoms because the law protects them. Thus it will open the floodgates to casual sex. The law for sure promotes promiscuity. Sex then becomes very ordinary and a commodity. Anytime a woman can engage in sex without fear of getting pregnant or acquiring infection anyway contraceptives and services are readily available and most importantly she has the choice, the control and the freedom over her body. This is what the pros call “informed choice.”
Also, if a woman chooses not to use contraceptive and in the event she gets pregnant but does not want it and knowing that the law gives her right of control and freedom over her body, what do you think she will do? No matter how the pros will sugarcoat that the bill does not advocate abortion, in the hindsight it becomes a choice and freedom. This is what the pros call “right.”
Young people are the favorite target of the Bill.
RH advocacy is two-fold.
First there is this information diffusion through giving lectures and seminars about RH and distribution of IEC materials. I like this part but not the second part which is the introduction of services and birth control methods with emphasis on Modern or Artificial Family Planning where one gets free access to condoms, pills, withdrawal, ligation, vasectomy and IUD and other allied services. Marie Stopes International and the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP), member of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, are giving these services.
The second part I believed is what the Church strongly opposing which is in direct contradiction of Pope Paul VI’s 1968 Encyclical Letter “Humanae Vitae” which prohibits the use of Artificial/Modern Family Planning and rather promotes only Natural Family Planning and Responsible Parenthood.
The funds and pressure
Whether the pros would deny or admit it, part of the equation in advocating RH is about is the population explosion that is why family planning is encouraged and the use of contraceptives. Thus, it is wrong to say that it is not about population control and contraceptives but “rights” because if the RH bill does not intend to control population then the government should better forget its commitment to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG). And the most important part of the equation of RH Bill passage is the huge and handsome funds that the government may receive from international funders aside from funds that the Philippine government itself may allocate. That is why the government is too eager to pass the bill because of the funds and the international pressures of the United Nations in order that by 2015 the MDG goals numbers 4, 5 and 6 ( reduction of child mortality; improve maternal health;, and combat HIV/AIDS) would be achieved. If we try to remove the budget allocation and international funding for RH, I am very sure many will become suddenly uninterested. Of all the youth advocacies that I know and I am actively involved with, RH is the only one that has the business side.
Reproductive concerns can always be addressed and solved without necessarily passing a bill. The Philippine government, in cooperation with the non-governmental local and international organizations, needs only to intensify information drive on basic reproductive issues and how to avoid it the natural way minus the allocation for condoms and other forms of artificial contraceptives. Just increase allocation on existing health services delivery like sending midwives, nurses and physicians to far flung areas without necessarily introducing artificial or modern family planning methods. As taxpayer, I would not approve legislation that would fund for the purchase of condoms of whatever flavor. In conscience and in principle I cannot countenance seeing my adolescent nephews or nieces buying condoms.
As a Catholic, I am bound by the teachings and pronouncements of the Church and I can always defend and argue about it. When the Church speaks ex cathedra on matters of faith and dogma I can do nothing but to obey and if not I have no reason to stay Catholic.
In one of my wall posts in my Facebook I said: Remove the funds and handsome foreign aids, RH Bill will die a natural death.
Is it not that God gave Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and sands in the seashore? Of course God is the chief advocate of Pro-life in the natural and responsible way.
God did not worry about over population, food, shelter, etc. And why He did not worry? Mahatma Gandhi has the answer: There is so much supply in this world for man's NEED and NOT for man's GREED.
(P.S. Thank you Sun.Star for the stuff [personalized Sun.Star bag, wall clock and shirt] you gave to contributors during your anniversary.)
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 16, 2012.