HB 96 : The RH Bill | Part 2

Before i continue with the series on HB 96, allow me to clarify a few things.  I was born and raised Catholic.  And to a degree, i hope i still am and i do strive to be more Christ-like.  The previous article is not to be considered an attack on the Church nor on the personhood of Fr. Arellano.

If you will re-read the previous entry, the article remains objective such that it provides supporting facts. Fundamentally, i am advocating the use of reason and informed choice.  Unlike Carlos Celdran’s stunt, it is not in me to disrespect the Church or any religious institution especially when it is within its right to faith, or while people are in celebration of the Holy Mass.

The Dual Liberating Aspect of Faith and Reason

The one thing i learned from being educated in Salesian schools is that Don Bosco, who by espousing the Preventive System advocated three principles:  Reason, Religion and Loving-Kindness. Such that Reason is not indistinct with understanding Religion or vice versa.  And that regardless of our opinions, that we should treat people with respect and loving-kindness.  One value of education is grounded on people having an informed choice.  I have always believed that Faith is enriched by Reason.  It is both a right and a gift.  But blind belief is something else.  Wasn’t it Jesus Christ himself who said:  “Give to God what is due to God.  And give to Caesar, what is due to Caesar.”?

I believe that despite the stand of Church leaders on the issue of the RH Bill, there needs to be a respect for man’s ability to reach an informed choice.  I am only hoping that as we promote informed choice, that we also base them not with misleading statements but with reason.  Some of you might say that that is why it is easy for children to reach heaven because of their innocence.  Yes, it is because they have no sense of malice. Innocence does not mean blind faith.  It means the absence of malice.  That’s why we make it a point to send children to school.  The value of education is to harness inquisitive minds and exercise a kind of reasoning that minimizes myths and bias, if not to completely removing it.  True reasoning is not tantamount to malice.  True reasoning allows for alleviating misguided fears by knowing opposing views, thereby being able to make a choice.  The exercise of true reasoning produces an enlightened mind and a freer soul, and a more enriched Faith.

The Definition of Reproductive Health

Reproductive health is so much more than merely sexual health.  In my opinion, i think a lot of us forget this.  We only seem to focus sometimes on the sex part and the underlying activities associated with sex than the true coverage and range of reproductive health.  But what is it, really?

In 1994. the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) was held in Cairo, Egypt.  One of the highlights of the conference was the creation of a reproductive health framework towards sustainable global human development.  This framework was called the Programme of Action, by which 179 countries participated.  The Philippines participated in this conference.  (The Philippine President at that time was Pres. Fidel V. Ramos.)  The ICPD definition of reproductive health is part of the global Millennium Development Goals (MDG) as framed in Target 5.2 of the UN MDG. [1]

In Section 7.2 of the ICPD Programme of Action . Reproductive Health is defined as (emphasis mine):

Reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes.  Reproductive health therefore implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.  Implicit in this last condition are the right of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, as well as other methods of their choice for regulation of fertility which are not against the law, and the right of access to appropriate health-care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant.  In line with the above definition of reproductive health, reproductive health care is defined as the constellation of methods, techniques and services that contribute to reproductive health and well-being by preventing and solving reproductive health problems.  It also includes sexual health, the purpose of which is the enhancement of life and personal relations, and not merely counselling and care related to reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases. [2]

What i like about this definition is that it primarily underlines three things:

  • self-determination and freedom of choice
  • right to access methods, techniques and services
  • accords the sovereign right of countries to regulate fertility so long as it is lawful and legal for their countries to do so.

Is Reproductive Health a “code” for Legalizing Abortion?

Atty Jo Imbong, CBCP’s Legal Office Secretary was once interviewed in the ABS-CBN news discussion program Strictly Politics with Pia Hontiveros in connection to a discussion of the Reproductive Health Bill when it was still filed as HB 5024 during the 2008 Congress.  She stated plainly that the position of the CBCP regarding the filing of the RH Bill was (and still is):  “That legislators have no authority to pass immoral laws.” Furthermore when asked if the RH Bill promotes abortion, she stated that in the ICPD Programme of Action “wherein in paragraph 7.6,  abortion is really included in the terminology of Reproductive Health.” [3]

Now let’s go back to the ICPD Programme of Action and allow me to quote the full contents of Section 7.6.

All countries should strive to make accessible through the primary health-care system, reproductive health to all individuals of appropriate ages as soon as possible and no later than the year 2015.  Reproductive health care in the context of primary health care should, inter alia, include:  family-planning counselling, information, education, communication and services; education and services for prenatal care, safe delivery and post-natal care, especially breast-feeding and infant and women’s health care; prevention and appropriate treatment of infertility; abortion as specified in paragraph 8.25, including prevention of abortion and the management of the consequences of abortion; treatment of reproductive tract infections; sexually transmitted diseases and other reproductive health conditions; and information, education and counselling, as appropriate, on human sexuality, reproductive health and responsible parenthood.  Referral for family-planning services and further diagnosis and treatment for complications of pregnancy, delivery and abortion, infertility, reproductive tract infections, breast cancer and cancers of the reproductive system, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS should always be available, as required.  Active discouragement of harmfulpractices, such as female genital mutilation, should also be an integral component of primary health care, including reproductive health-care programmes. [2]

It must be said, though. that the context of the inclusion of abortion in Section 7.6 is further defined in Section 8.25 of the Programme of Action.  So, it does not condone abortion but places the context of abortion in very strict parameters.   Section 8.25 is a defining remark on ICPD’s  global and unequivocal stand against abortion.  To quote the section, it states:

In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning.  All Governments and relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations are urged to strengthen their commitment to women’s health, to deal with the health impact of unsafe abortion as a major public health concern and to reduce the recourse to abortion through expanded and improved family-planning services.  Prevention of unwanted pregnancies must always be given the highest priority and every attempt should be made to eliminate the need for abortion.  Women who have unwanted pregnancies should have ready access to reliable information and compassionate counselling.  Any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process.  In circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe.  In all cases, women should have access to quality services for the management of complications arising from abortion.  Post-abortion counselling, education and family-planning services should be offered promptly, which will also help to avoid repeat abortions. [2]

In taking sections 7.6 and 8.25, it can be surmised that abortion is recognized as either considered legal in some countries and illegal in some countries.  The inclusion of abortion in section 7.6 is also in recognizing that some countries do have legalized abortion.  However, since some countries consider abortion punishable within their own Constitutions, ICPD makes an encompassing recognition to the sovereign rights of the countries that do have abortion laws.  In the case of the Philippines, abortion is a crime as stipulated in Articles 255 to 259 of the Revised Penal Code. Therefore, the inclusion of the word abortion in 7.6, (as referenced from section 8.25) is not a wholesale promotion of abortion within UN member countries as it continues to recognize the sovereign right of these members to exercise their own Constitutional mandates.

The Benefits of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals

A lot of people tend to make unhealthy speculation about the merits of the RH Bill by saying that “foreign countries are pushing the RH Bill to control the population.” [4] It was in a recent article on Philippine Star that i read this remark by Atty. Jose Sison.  These speculations,riddled with conspiratorial angles are, at times, destructive such that it is prone to misinformation and exaggeration. (I was quite disappointed too that Atty Sison chose to believe that overpopulation is a myth.)  The primary reason for our legislators in pushing for the RH Bill is because we are a member of the United Nations and sought, like all member-countries, to have a sustainable human development framework for the world.  I replied to Atty Sison in this regard which i shall  re-post here in full:

We already have an Anti-Abortion Law (which is stipulated in Act no. 3815). Instead of introducing HB 13, why not redefine what constitute abortion and effectively determine contraception and conception from there? HB 96, on the other hand, has its merits in the granting of universal access of health care to all women and children, even those who may suffer from the complications of abortion.

A decrease in the rate of population in the country does not mean we should be complacent about it. The inequality of distribution of wealth and resources is not just a matter of the richer having more or the poorer having less. The inequality of distribution is fundamentally because resources are scarce. (Therefore, economics.) They are not abundant as we all think they are. Population, i believe, still has linkages to poverty and access to universal health care. In a study conducted by the PIDS and ADB in 2005, it was indicated that family size is a contributor of household poverty. Life is not about existence. Isn’t it also about quality?

Also, as part of the UN, we did sign off on our Millennium Development Goals – is this saying that other countries are controlling our sovereignty? I don’t think so. However, we do live in a global village wherein the standards of poverty and access must be equal wherever you go in the world. I think we should rise behind our Philippine-silo mentality and embrace that we are part of the world and should strive to live a life that is world-standard.

Atty. Sison, don’t get me wrong. This is all in the name of healthy discourse.

Unlike the previous commentors of the article who had been fortunate to get a response from the good lawyer, Atty Jose Sison stopped commenting when i made my input.  No color there.  But i had only wish he had.  Because i wanted to read his response too.  Sadly, i didn’t get any.

I know that in my previous blog entry, i had said that this entry will focus on linkages between population, poverty and corruption.  However, i am getting dull and boring if i continue all of that within this article.  So i might as well get a part 3 going as a next entry.  So, my apologies.  At any rate, i would like to leave you with a news analysis by one of the most admired minds of this country.  Professor Winnie Monsod explains how far we are in meeting our Millennium Development Goals.

‘Til next time….Have a safe weekend and i hope the Philippines can come out of the coming typhoon “Juan” (international name: Megi)  prepared and with zero casualties.  Stay safe.  God Bless the Philippines.

Reference Sources:

[1] Millennium Development Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health Care.  United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Accessed from: http://www.undp.org/mdg/goal5.shtml

[2]  Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population Development (ICPD).  September 1994 : Cairo, Egypt.  Accessed from: http://www.un.org/popin/icpd/conference/offeng/poa.html

[3] Taken from excerpt videos of statements of Atty. Imbong during July 2008 airing of Strictly Politics by Pia Hontiveros on the discussion on Reproductive Health.  Accessed from:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPfvTFFVPQc

[4] Sison JC.  Better Bill To Swallow.  08 October 2010: Philippine Star.  Accessed from: http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=619024&publicationSubCategoryId=64

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