Sen. Pia: RH Bill to benefit poor mothers

News Release
24 August 2011

Sen. Pia says RH Bill to benefit poor mothers; Sen. Marcos declares support for measure

Mothers in poor communities who wish to plan the number and spacing of their children, but cannot afford modern family planning methods, will benefit significantly from the passage of the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill now being debated in Congress.

This was one of the main points stressed by Senator Pia S. Cayetano, one of the principal sponsors of Senate Bill No.2865, the chamber’s version of the RH Bill, on the second day of plenary debates on the measure held earlier this week.

She said under SBN 2865, local government units (LGUs) will be mandated to make RH services available to their constituents, particularly to mothers who would want to avail of modern family planning methods, but just do not have the means to buy contraceptives due to poverty.

At the continuation of the interpellation of Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III, a staunch critic of the RH Bill, Cayetano gave a human face and a name to the RH Bill debates. She cited the real-life case of ‘Emma,’ whom she described as a resident of San Andres, Manila, a devout Catholic who works by assisting nuns, and a mother to seven children.

As much as Emma would like to avail of contraceptives from her local health center, Cayetano noted that such modern family planning devices are unavailable in public health facilities in Manila. This is by virtue of a decade-old ordinance banning contraceptives in the city that was passed under its former Mayor Lito Atienza.

“[Emma’s] children cannot continuously go to school because of poverty. She would buy pills ‘on and off’ because she does not have enough money. Let me put it on record that this is not an effective birth control method because [the pill] only works when you use it regularly,” she explained.

“What would the good senator propose that we do as a body for this particular woman?” Cayetano asked Sotto.

To which the Majority Floor Leader replied: “Then I will go to the DOH (Department of Health) and I will go to the public service programs. Sa telebisyon lang ho, napakadaming public service programs na tumutulong sa ganyan. (On television, there are many public service programs offering help for such cases.)”

“Sa Mayor naman, ‘pag ipinilit natin ito, (if we force this on the mayors) it will be contrary to the autonomy of the LGUS,” Sotto added.

In response, Cayetano stressed that it is vital for RH services to be made available and accessible to women in their own town or barangay, as opposed to making them avail of these services elsewhere. She noted that for most of the poor, any additional expenses would already pose a problem, like the transportation fare they would need, for instance, to travel to and from their barangay all the way to the DOH or a television station in the hopes of getting assistance.

Expounding further, Cayetano cited her own experience in helping poor families avail of free surgical operation for children with cleft lip and palate [normally referred to as 'bingot' in Filipino] through a foundation she established in memory of her son, Gabriel, who died in 2001.

“The majority leader had a good suggestion: Pumunta po sa DOH (go to the DOH). I had a son who died, he had a cleft lip, and in his memory, we help indigent children [with similar conditions]. I have to pay for their transportation, money, their food for the whole day. In other words, sagot ko na po yung operasyon, pero kung hindi ko babayaran yung pamasahe they will not go to the PGH (I’ll already pay for the operation but if I won’t pay for their transportation fare, they will not go to the PGH). That’s because they do not have P10 or P20 to spend additionally for transportation. So that is the difficulty with asking that they go to the DOH.”

Sotto instead suggested that the poor go to their barangay hall to ask money for transportation.

“Sa barangay nya. Hindi sya makahiram ng pamasahe? Marami hong remedy kung gusto e pagka ayaw, maraming dahilan. Pwede kong i-reverse e…Dyan sa situation na binabanggit nyo na si Emma: Ano ngayon ang gagawin ng RH Bill kay Emma?” he asked Cayetano. (Then go to the barangay. They can’t borrow transportation money? There are many remedies…I can reverse the question on Emma’s situation: What can the RH Bill do for Emma’s case?)

In reply, Cayetano said the RH Bill requires that both the national and local governments are in tune with the national policy on reproductive health and make such services available to their constituents.

“Patay tayo dyan!” was Sotto’s immediate reaction. (Then we’re done for!)

“Bakit tayo mamatay dyan?” asked Cayetano. (Why? How come?)

“Patay tayo dyan, babarilin tayo ng LGU. Local Autonomy eh. Supreme Court ang dating natin dun,” Sotto warned. (Then we’re done for, LGUs will get back at us. That’s local autonomy. It will reach the Supreme Court.)

To which Cayetano, a lawyer, calmly responded: “If you look at the Local Government Code (LGC) that gives autonomy to the LGUs, they are still mandated to follow certain policies and public health is a policy directive that emanates from DOH…We cannot leave it [RH services] to the disposition of the local government personality to decide based on their moral [beliefs]. It is our job [as senators] to provide the policy so that LGUs will be guided accordingly.”

Sen. Marcos stands up for RH Bill

At this point, Cayetano’s statement drew support from Sen. Ferdinand ‘Bong Bong’ Marcos Jr., who stood on the floor to share his own experience as an LGU executive and likewise manifest his support for the RH Bill.

“In my experience in local government, this kind of problem comes to us very often. And it is precisely this reason why I have thrown my hat in support of the RH Bill,” declared Marcos, who also chairs the Senate Committee on Local Government.

“If there is a mandate from the national government that the LGU can ask for assistance under the auspices of this proposed law [RH Bill], then I guarantee that every local government official will try everything possible, do everything they can to help,” Marcos added. “It is not being done – not because it is not the desire of the LGU to help –but because there is no clear guidance as to how these kinds of problems are handled, and secondly, there is no funding for the LGUs to be able to provide that service.”

He continued: “And it does not always boil down to money. Kung minsan, kailangan natin silang turuan: ‘alam ninyo may paraan naman na ‘di kayo magkaroon ng problemang ganito.’ [LGUs can also teach them that there are ways to prevent the problem they now face.] It is the education facet of the RH Bill that is very, very important…If we give the capability to the LGU, then they would be able to exercise that ability and provide better assistance to their constituents.”

Pia: Family planning is important to women

Lastly, reacting to a remark made by Sen. Sotto that contraceptives should be the least of local governments’ priorities, Cayetano opined: “I don’t believe that contraceptives should not be a priority. It does not have to be number one priority, but if you look and take the time to speak to these women, it is very important to many of them to plan their families.”

Citing another case, she related: “Bing is a 38-year-old scavenger in Manila. She has five living children who were born less than a year apart. One baby died at delivery and she had to send two of her children to the province because she cannot afford to support them in Manila, and those who were left with them, she cannot keep them in school. These are problems that these women face. And if they give birth to their last child, they will explore the option of planning her family. She will explore the option of begging, whether it’s from the barangay captain, to help them find a way not to get pregnant.”

She added: “If you look at history, women traditionally are the ones who suffer with their children. It is the women who have to balance the [household] budget and they are the ones who are forced to make decisions like sending their children to the province, giving up their children to a neighbor, giving up their children to a stranger, leaving their child at the [door] of a rich neighbor, leaving their children inside a basket in the church. Women do these not because they do not want to be a mother to these children, but because they do not know how to feed their children. And they will explore; they need to find ways to support their children and plan their families.”

“So that if yung limang anak nila ang pinaghahatian ay isang tasang kanin lang, eh sana yung susunod nilang anak ay hindi muna maipanganak hanggang di pa nila kayang buhayin yung lima.” (If in a family, five children are sharing from just one cup of rice, the RH Bill will help the parents plan the birth of their next child while they still cannot provide for the needs of their five children.) #

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