IF THERE is any consolation in the current debate on the reproductive health bill, it is the space provided for the public to take part in the discourse which has been traditionally held by the religion of men. This historical hold these men have on the issue is not even a matter of faith that they are taking a stance against women's greater control of their reproductive health but the persisting view that women are unworthy to decide for themselves.

Where maternal deaths and early pregnancies are increasing, access to relevant information on reproductive health that will allow women to make informed choices could save lives.

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A report released by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that the government should "adopt as a matter or urgency the Reproductive Health bill awaiting approval by Congress and ensure that the bill reflect the rights of children and adolescents as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child."

The recommendations came from the combined 3rd and 4th reports of the Philippines to the UN submitted early this year on its compliance to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, where the country is a signatory. A parallel report was submitted by the NGO Coalition made up of 15 organizations dealing with children's concerns.

"The Committee remains seriously concerned at the inadequate reproductive health services and information, the low rates of contraceptive use [36 percent of women relied on modern family planning methods in 2006] and the difficulties in obtaining access to artificial methods of contraception, which contribute to the high rates of teenage pregnancies and maternal deaths," the report said.

The RH bill remained pending for years in the House of Representatives due to the lack of political will to pass the law. According to the UN report, the government has a lot to do to ensure access to reproductive health counseling and provide all adolescents with accurate and objective information and culturally sensitive services in order to prevent teenage pregnancies, including providing access to variety of contraceptives and improving knowledge and conscience on family planning.

It also urged the government to strengthen formal and informal sex education for girls and boys with focus on the prevention of early pregnancies, including the need to strengthen HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns.

There are encouraging results though. Studies shows that seventy-one percent of adults favor the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill, while 76 percent want family planning education in public schools.

Groups have taken stand.

The HIV/AIDS Network also registered support for the passage of the bill, which will put in place a national reproductive health policy. The bill makes reproductive health education mandatory in schools; requires local governments to have emergency obstetric care and maternal death reviews, as well as to provide mobile health services. It also provides increased HIV prevention, care and support.

Pray tell, if these choices are not well enough for women and children, what could these men offer? Email comments to roledan@gmail.com