Sounding Board

Once more, the RH bill

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Last Saturday I received an anonymous message through the Internet that said: “Anti-RH bishops do not speak for the entire clergy. We, the silent Catholic clergy, support the RH [bill]. Poverty dehumanizes. To address it brings us closer to God. Pass the RH [bill].”

That makes my Internet pal a candidate for exclusion from the Church and consignment to eternal fire by Archbishop Ramon Arguelles. Yet the message expresses a sentiment close to the heart of Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle himself who, in an interview by the Tablet, said, “The Church cannot and must not pretend to have easy answers to the dilemmas facing men and women today. Instead, it must be an attentive and listening Church—only that way will people believe that God listens to them too.”

He went on: “The Church must be a humble Church, modeling herself more on Jesus and being less preoccupied by her power, prestige and position in society.” Still more: “I realize that the sufferings of people and the difficult questions they ask are an invitation to be, first, in solidarity with them, not to pretend we have all the solutions. [People] can resonate and see the concrete face of God in a Church that can be silent with them, can be as confused as they are, also telling them we share your situation of searching.”

Jesus Christ Himself would not make a facile Arguellian condemnation of my Internet pal.

The Reproductive Health bill has traveled a long road and I myself have written about it and have likewise been consigned by some to the lower regions. I know that in its unamended form the bill is not perfect, and I myself, mainly on constitutional and moral grounds, have offered criticism and suggestions. I am not about to give up in my effort to help Congress come up with a bill acceptable to all.

There is now, it seems to me, an openness among legislators that is encouraging. A couple of weeks ago the House of Representatives accepted a substitute bill containing very significant amendments. It is hoped that the bill will be subjected to the amendment process and approved before the House breaks for Christmas.

The amendatory bill first came out in April. No action was taken on it by the House. The following were the salient provisions:

Section 13. Role of barangay health workers. Instead of saying that they should “give priority to family planning work,” simply say they should “help implement this Act.” This should obviate the complaints that family planning is being given undue emphasis.

Section 15. Funding mobile health services. Charge the funding to the national government instead of to the Priority Development Fund (PDAF) of congressmen while at the same time allowing individual lawmakers to use their PDAF.

Section 16. Mandatory age appropriate sex education. Give parents the option not to allow their children to attend mandatory sex education while at the same time giving assistance to parents who want assistance in this matter. This is in conformity with the primary right of parents.

Section 20. Ideal family size. Delete the entire provision. This will preclude further misinformation about the meaning of this provision.

Section 21. Employers’ responsibility. Delete this because it is simply a restatement of Article 134 of the Labor Code. Deleting it will preclude further debate.

Section 28(e) Prohibited acts. Delete the provision that penalizes “any person who maliciously engages in disinformation about the intent and provisions of this Act.” There already are penal limits to freedom of expression.

In addition to the above amendments already proposed by the authors of the consolidated bill there are others that are worth considering. Let me mention a few:

On age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education:

1.) Private schools can opt to provide an alternative sexuality education curriculum based on the school’s religious beliefs or values. The government will monitor that there is a curriculum being implemented, whether the standard one or the alternative one. This is now in the substitute bill.

2.) If a public school cannot provide enough adequately trained teachers or there are public school teachers who cannot teach the government’s curriculum because of religion-based objections, the proper government agency would send trained instructors to teach the sexuality education classes.

3.) An additional topic for the curriculum is the role of religious freedom and conscience in choosing the means of planning families.

On prohibited acts:

Any health care service provider, whether public or private, who shall require a person to undergo a sterilization as a condition for providing basic health care or emergency care or health care assistance to indigents shall be penalized.

What were first presented last April were mere proposals. They still are to fay. But the acceptance of the substitute bill for plenary debate gives hope that there will be an RH law before Christmas.  Rep. Edcel Lagman, the original author of the bill, might therefore receive his Christmas gift.  It will not be a perfect law. But every law we have, even the Constitution, is a work in progress. There are many valuable points in the bill that can serve the welfare of the nation and especially of poor women who cannot afford the cost of medical service.  There are specific provisions that give substance to these good points. They should be saved.

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