CIVIL society groups, non-government organizations, and public leaders believed that the Reproductive Health (RH) bill has a huge chance to be enacted into a law in the incoming 15th Congress.

In the launch of the Third National Multi-Sectoral Policy Conference (NMPC) on Human Development Tuesday, groups engaged in health, women's rights, and education are hopeful that the bill will be prioritized in the new Congress.

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Akbayan Representative Kaka Bag-ao said that since President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III has stated his support on the artificial family planning methods, more Filipinos would be aware of the advantages of the health bill.

He added that majority and minority leaders have expressed their support for the bill, calling for the promotion of contraception and sex education despite the objection of the church.

"Some advocate groups are already preparing the answers to basic questions on the bill including those myths that are being created to divert the belief of the public on the RH bill," Bag-ao said.

Representative Edcel Lagman (First district, Albay) sponsored the bill in the 14th Congress. It reached plenary debates under the period of interpellations but was never approved.

Lagman has already re-filed the bill with Representative Janette Garin (First district, Iloilo) authoring another version.

But the controversial RH bill is seen to be opposed by another measure filed by Representative Roilo Golez (Second district, Paranaque) titled "Protection of the Unborn Child Act 2010", which was lauded by the Catholic Church.

Golez and Lagman have previously engaged in debates at the lower chamber on the RH bill.

For her part, Bag-ao said the Church should be enlightened that the measure does not seek to push for pre-marital sex, same sex marriage or abortion.

Catholics say 'No'

But early this week, the Catholic Church said it is ready to slug it out with the supporters of the controversial RH Bill when the Congress opens on July 26.

Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President Bishop Nereo Odchimar admitted that there are more lawmakers who are backing the bill than those who are siding with the bishops.

"It will be an uphill battle," the Tandag, Surigao del Norte prelate said.

Despite not having the number, Odchimar said they will not give up on their quest, as they will not simply bow out and hand the bill on a silver platter.

"We have our own duty and we have to speak out. We are not being cowed that just because they are many, we have to keep silent," he said.

The CBCP has repeatedly opposed the passage of the bill which they say is anti-life because it promotes artificial family planning methods.

Last week, Albay lawmaker Edcel Lagman is optimistic that the RH bill will finally be passed into law after repeatedly failing in past Congresses.

On July 1, the controversial bill was re-filed, it is now House Bill 96, which is dubbed as "Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population and Development.

Wish list

Meanwhile, various groups presented their wish-list of agenda to President Aquino, which include the immediate passage of the RH Bill.

The conference is organized by the Philippine Legislators' Commitee on Population and Development Foundation, Inc. (PLCPD) in cooperation with Fair Trade Alliance, WomanHealth Philippines, Department of Health, Plan Philippines, Education Network Philippines, Women and Gender Institute, Philippine Commission on Women and the World Wildlife Fund.

One week before Aquino delivers his first State of the Nation Address (Sona), PLCPD Executive Director Ramon San Pascual challenged him to prioritize the legislative agenda they presented.

"We urge President Noynoy to listen to us, incorporate our human development policy agenda, in his Sona, and consider it as priority measures of his administration," said San Pascual.

The representatives of the groups said it is important for Aquino to focus on trade, labor, education and health since the Millenium Development Goals (MDG), which aims to eradicate poverty, will end under his administration in 2015.

Plan Philippines Country Program Advisor Hope Tura, focusing on children legislative agenda, said that improving the education system is not just about construction of new classrooms but also improving the quality of teaching among others.

According to the Deparment of Health (DOH), 2.2 million children aged six to 12 and 3.4 million aged 12-15 are not in school and the numbers are steadily rising.

Bills being proposed by Plan Philippines include the Foster Care Law which seeks a mechanism for communities and families that can provide for needy children to be allowed to stand as foster parents.

Claude Claridad of Education Network Philippines is also pushing for early child care development for all and quality education for persons with disabilities among other.

"We believe education for all in 2010 is still possible when government invests international benchmarks of 20 percent of national budget or 6 percent of GDP to education while ensuring efficient use of resources," Claridad concluded.

The Fair Trade Alliance calls for support on 12 bills including the Magna Carta for Workers in the Informal Sector, which was filed by three lawmakers.

The trade group is also pushing for a creation of a Philippine Trade Representative Office and the amendment to the Labor Code to reflect present conditions.

The next step for the PLCPD is to present the agenda to Congress and Malacanang, for which a broad NGO-GO-Congress tripartite conference which will happen on the 3rd NMPC on August 17 to 18. (Kathrina Alvarez/FP/Sunnex)