Pro-life, Pro-choice invited to first RH Bill hearing

The Philippine Senate will continue to hear important legislative measures during its two-and-a-half week break that began on Thursday.

Senator Pia S. Cayetano, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, today announced that “it’s all systems go” for the chamber’s initial hearing on the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill on Monday, October 18.

The hearing to be jointly conducted with the Committee on Youth Women and Family Relations and Committee of Finance will take up Senate Bill No.2378, “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health and Population and Development,” authored by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

Also on the agenda is Senate Resolution No.238, introduced by Cayetano, which seeks to look into the status of government efforts to reduce child mortality, maternal deaths, and incidents of HIV-AIDS in line with the country’s commitments to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Leaders from opposing camps on the highly sensitive measure, the so-called Pro-Life and Pro-Choice groups, were invited by the joint Senate panel as well as experts from the medical community, the academe, and heads of concerned government agencies.

Heading the list of ‘Pro-Life’ resource speakers invited by the committee are: Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, Chairman of the Commission on Family and Life of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP); Lawyer Jo Imbong, CBCP Legal Counsel; former Senator Francisco Tatad, a known critic of the measure; Feny Tatad of the Bishops-Legislators Caucus; and Eric Manalang, President of Pro-Life Phils.

The ‘Pro-Choice’ camp will be bannered by Dr. Junice Melgar, Secretary-General of the Reproductive Health Advocacy Network; Roberto Ador, President of the Family Planning Organization of the Phils.; Ramon San Pascual, Executive Director of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development; and a host of other non-government organizations.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon ‘Dinky’ Soliman and Executive Secretary Emmeline Verzosa of the Philippine Commission on Women are among the government officials invited by the joint committee. In past media interviews, Ona, Soliman and Verzosa have all indicated their personal support for the RH Bill.

Among the experts expected to attend are: Dr. Regta Pichay, President of the Philippine Obstetrics and Gynecological Society; Tomas Osias, Executive Director of the Commission on Population; and Cayetano Paderanga, Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority.

Cayetano is expecting the RH debates to be sober and productive following the CBCP’s decision to agree to a ‘ceasefire’ and hold a series of dialogues with President Benigno Aquino III, who favors a policy for an informed choice on birth control.

She said the measure will help the government in dealing with the country’s high maternal mortality rate, noting that 11 Filipino mothers die at childbirth every day due to poverty and lack of access to maternal health facilities and professional care.

“The Catholic Church has the right to propagate its teachings to its flock but the State also has its duty to provide public health services, including reproductive health. I urge mutual respect from the contending camps and I hope both will agree to common provisions that will help legislators come up with a measure that is both comprehensive and responsive to our current needs,” she concluded.

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