‘Far from being redundant, RH Bill is urgent, necessary’

News Release
30 August 2011

Pia: ‘Far from being redundant, the RH Bill is an urgent, necessary measure’

The Reproductive Health (RH) Bill cannot be dismissed as a mere duplication of existing laws. Far from it, the measure’s passage would lead to the adoption of a clear-cut and cohesive national policy on reproductive health and responsible parenthood that should guide the programs of the Department of Health (DOH) and local government units (LGUs).

This was stressed by Senator Pia Cayetano at the continuation of plenary debates at the Upper Chamber last week on Senate Bill No.2865, the proposed ‘National Reproductive Health Act of 2011.’

Answering interpellation questions from RH bill critic and Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Cayetano, one of two principal sponsors of the measure, disputed the former’s contention that the RH Bill was unnecessary since it was merely duplicating existing laws.

“To say that [the RH Bill] is unnecessary simply because there are other laws that touch on a similar matter… [is not] a sufficient reason not to pass this law,” she emphasized.

Sotto had been pushing for the bill’s rejection, arguing that it contained provisions that are similar to those of existing laws such as the Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710), Presidential Decree No.965, which requires marriage license applicants to receive instructions on family planning and responsible parenthood, as well as Administrative Order No.2008-0029 of the DOH, which lays down the agency’s MNCHN (Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health and Nutrition) strategy.

Cayetano clarified that the Magna Carta of Women is a general law, while the RH Bill is a specific law that seeks to enhance certain rights as enshrined in the Magna Carta, particularly on the right of women to health: “The Magna Carta speaks of many rights of women, and only one of which pertains to reproductive health.”

She continued: “There are laws that address many issues in RH, but none of these laws are specific to RH the way [SBN 2865] is intended to be. If we look at the very title of the Magna Carta of Women, it covers many issues that affect women, and RH is definitely a part of it. So to that extent, the members [of the 14th Congress] who passed the Magna Carta of Women included RH. But that would not, in any way, prevent or prohibit us [members of the 15th Congress] from now passing an RH measure that is very specific.”

She also maintained that it had been a sensible practice of lawmakers when crafting a bill to include or cite similar provisions from existing laws to signify that their proposed measure is being consistent and in consonance with the objectives of these related laws as passed by previous Congresses.

“These [similar provisions] are included, precisely, to emphasize that this is the objective, without any room for misconstruction or other interpretation,” she explained.

Further stressing the necessity of the RH Bill, Cayetano cited the situation in her very own barangay, which attempted to pass a local ordinance that would restrict the use of contraceptives within its jurisdiction and among residents. [Note: The barangay ordinance, even after undergoing several revisions, had been overruled by the Muntinlupa City council for violating national laws.]

“Without a governing policy on RH, or for that matter, a law, many local government units choose not to make available reproductive health [services] to their constituents. Worse, in the case of Brgy. Ayala Alabang, they came up with a barangay ordinance that was so restrictive so as to prevent even married couples to have access to the kind of contraceptives they use without divulging very personal information.”

“The necessity of this bill is made obvious by the different policies being implemented and the non-existence of RH policies in many LGUs,” she added, citing the contrasting cases of Manila City, which has a local ordinance that bans contraceptives, and Tagum City in Davao del Norte, which has been successfully implementing a local RH policy to complement the city’s socio-economic development programs.

On the issue of the RH Bill sharing similar provisions with DOH Administrative Order No.2008-0029, she explained: “The problem with administrative orders is that they are not at par with laws and so this can change from [one] administration to [the next] administration.

“The difference between administrative orders (AOs) and laws is that [the former] do not have the equal standing as a law,” she said, noting that AOs can be changed anytime by the current secretary of the particular department, or altogether disregarded, depending on the priorities of an incumbent President compared from his or her predecessor.

Cayetano noted that the Philippines already had three male presidents (Ferdinand Marcos, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada) who were known to be supportive, or open, to RH, and two female presidents (Corazon Aquino and Gloria Arroyo) who were ambiguous about their position on RH, probably because of their personal religious beliefs.

There is urgency to pass the bill, she added, especially since the previous President (Arroyo) refused to support reproductive health programs in the course of her nine-year rule, while the current President (Aquino) who is supportive of the RH Bill, could very well use the measure to implement RH policies as he deemed necessary to support his national development objectives in the next five years of his administration.

Still, Cayetano expressed openness to any proposed amendments that Sotto may have, especially if these would help streamline the bill’s provisions and further clarify its objectives.

“As a sponsor, I would be very happy to accept his Honor’s amendments on items which he believes are redundant or unnecessary. The door is not closed and I am very open to improving this bill.” #

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