RH debate highlights: Sept.28

RH debate highlights: Sept.28

“Is there gender discrimination in Philippine society?”

Debate between RH bill sponsor Sen. Pia Cayetano & Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile
Senate plenary interpellations on Senate Bill No.2865
28 September 2011

Note from the Web Administrator: As part of efforts to keep the public updated on developments in the Senate regarding the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, the official website of Sen. Pia Cayetano, in partnership with RH bill proponents, will be posting highlights and selected quotes from the plenary debates on Senate Bill No.2865, the proposed “National Reproductive Health Act of 2011.”

Now about to enter its sixth week, the RH bill debates in the Senate started in August 22 and is expected to drag on in the coming weeks, maybe even months, as senators opposed to the measure attempt to raise all sorts of issues to prolong the deliberations. Despite this and other challenges, the RH sponsors led by Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor-Santiago have committed to see the bill through until its eventual passage by the Senate.

Highlights of interpellations on SBN 2865
28 September 2011

• On unequal treatment of women:

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE): The bill speaks of the principle of equality before the law of women and men. Is there any unequal treatment of women and men under our legal system?

Sen. Pia S. Cayetano (SPSC): Yes. It is there to ensure that under our law, enjoyment of all our rights is protected. (Cites examples to show women do not enjoy full equality with men, such as the case of the wife of a peasant who puts in equal time and amount of work at home and to tend to their children while her husband is working in the fields. And yet her ‘work’ is not officially recognized for contributing to her family’s income and the economy.)

JPE: But (in these examples), the ‘equalities’ are not imposed by the law, but socially, culturally…

SPSC: Yes. This is exactly why there needs to be a law. So equality will be guaranteed. Law is needed, in this case, for a woman to be able to maximize her potential and take care of her family.

• On ‘stopping procreation’ and realizing women’s full potentials

JPE: So the purpose of RH bill is for a woman to stop procreation so a woman can develop her full potential? In other words, the purpose of the bill is for a woman to limit procreation while giving her unlimited pleasure and to realize her full potential?

SPSC: No, that is not the objective of the bill. The bill’s objective is to be able to provide reproductive health care, especially to women, so that if she (or the couple) chooses to limit number, time or space births she will be able to do it and the services will be available to her in order that she will be able to provide for her children.

JPE: So the purpose really is not to limit procreation altogether but procreation of the poor?

SPSC: No. This is a health measure. Anyone has health needs; everyone has RH needs. People who can afford health care from private practitioners can do so but our purpose is to provide RH care for everyone who would need it.

JPE: The bill does not seem to distinguish recipients of contraceptives. They are available for the poor and the rich. Why not prioritize the poor?

SPSC: (Cites Constitutional provision on right to health.) It is the duty of the state to guarantee this right. For everyone. Those who can afford can seek services from their private doctors. What is important is for these services to be available to everyone, especially to the pauper. We would welcome recommendations on how to improve delivery of services at the proper time.

• On gender equality and the Bill of Rights

JPE: Isn’t the Bill of Rights sufficient to guarantee gender equality?

SPSC: If all we had to rely on is the Bill of Rights under the Constitution, then what is our purpose as lawmakers? We are here to make sure that we make laws to protect the rights our Constitution guarantees.

JPE: The bill makes reference to the “disadvantaged position of women in our society.” In what way are women deemed to be at a disadvantaged position in our society? They are the commanders in chief in the homes, we have women senators, etc.

SPSC: (Cites as an example the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Law or RA 9262) Because the female sex is considered physically weaker, women are often the recipients of violence.

JPE: In what way are our women disadvantaged vis-à-vis men in the society?

SPSC: The Family Code, especially in the property regimes where the husband’s decision prevails in case of disagreement between husband and wife. What justifies that arrangement when the husband and wife should be and are partners in the relationship?

JPE: Farmers, fisherfolk are all or mostly men.

SPSC: Women’s work is what may be considered as “invisible work.” Women’s work may be unpaid but their contribution in the household is equal to that of men.

JPE: Men have physically taxing work. I venture to say that more men die at sea or bitten by snake out in their farm than women dying while giving birth.

SPSC: In this modern day and age, our country still has one of the highest mortality rates for mothers. We hear more news about men dying at sea because it is considered newsworthy. But why is it that a woman who dies while giving birth is not considered newsworthy?

JPE: The ‘nature of the genders’ is that women are supposed to stay at home and tend to the problems of the home and the children, and the men go out, risk their lives, in order to earn a living. So one ‘compensates’ the other.

SPSC: That view embodies the position that men have held for decades or probably for centuries: That the men’s work is the only work that matters

JPE: In the barangay where I grew up, women give birth at home without any doctor and yet, no one has died. I don’t know why they die in hospitals.

SPSC: That is not the case in most other barangays, which are not as lucky as your barangay. The fact is that many women die while giving birth.

• On the definition of RH

JPE: Definition of RH includes the phrase “not merely the absence of disease or infirmity…” Would it not be sufficient if this phrase is removed?

SPSC: No. That is important because one may appear healthy but the element of “absence of disease or infirmity” needs to be there for purposes of prevention of disease or infirmity (Cites example of a healthy wife with HIV-positive husband.)

JPE: Definition of RH also implies that women and couples are able to enjoy a safe and satisfying sex life. Should sex life be safe and satisfying as part of RH?

SPSC: Yes. Because there are instances when sex may be satisfying but it’s not safe. So it’s an RH concern. There are also be cases when sex is safe but may not be satisfying, such as in instances when the woman is worried because she cannot afford or does not want to get pregnant yet. This is also part of RH.

[JPE's interpellation is suspended]

• Sen. Sotto’s interjection

Sen. Vicente Sotto III: Who will be the recipient of contraceptives? How will they be distributed?

SPSC: Contrary to allegations, contraceptives including condoms and pills will not be distributed everywhere and to anybody. Women and couples seeking services will receive counselling and provided with information to help them decide the mode of family planning that best suits them according to their needs, beliefs and other circumstances.

[Period of interpellation is suspended and expected to resume on Monday, October 3.]

Photo: Sen. Pia Cayetano answering questions from Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile

Acknowledgment: Thank you to Ms. Au Quilala for helping us out in summing up Wednesday’s plenary debates.

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