INQUIRER.NET

Another roadblock

Despite the passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Law in 2012, and surviving a constitutional challenge at the Supreme Court in 2014, barricades continue to be raised against the implementation of the law by the Department of Health.

The latest roadblock was set up just last month, when the DOH budget for 2016 was passed, but with the allocation for contraceptives scrapped by a bicameral conference committee.

In what certainly sounds like an understatement, Health Secretary Janette Garin said the scrapping of the family planning budget “will affect our program a lot,” because, she pointed out, “many mothers are dependent” on the free supplies distributed by the DOH. The 2016 budget for contraceptives reportedly amounted to around P1 billion, intended to purchase family planning commodities such as condoms, pills and IUDs.

In an interview, Garin said the DOH plans to seek help from its health partners and donors so that the program can continue.

While contraceptives and family planning supplies are available from private drugstores and clinics, most poor mothers still depend on the government for their regular supply. But Garin added that local governments can also implement their own procurement, distribution and monitoring program “consistent with the provisions of the law and DOH guidelines.”

But the implementation by local governments of the RPRH Law depends a lot on the level of commitment of local government leaders. This is still up in the air since the national elections in May could signal big changes in the makeup of local government leadership. For instance, Sorsogon Mayor Sally Lee, after supposedly undergoing a “religious experience” after a typhoon, has banned the use of modern contraceptives in her city. How many mayors and governors, perhaps, will be so inclined to follow Mayor Lee’s example after the elections?

* * *

THIS is a scenario seemingly set up by the Supreme Court when it ruled, in one of the eight exceptions it included in its RPRH Law decision, that local executives could not be required to support the law and uphold its provisions, striking down a requirement for disciplinary action against any officials who refused to implement the law.

In an interview, Garin bemoaned the scrapping of the budget for contraceptives, saying that her department “will now be again dependent on donors.” For decades, the family planning program was largely dependent on foreign donors—most notably the US Agency for International Development—to provide modern contraceptive supplies. That is, until foreign donors, expressing frustration at the lack of government initiative on addressing the population situation, announced that they would be putting a stop to all donations of contraceptives. The United Nations Fund for Population stepped into the ensuing breach, but one of the goals of the RPRH Law was precisely to place full responsibility on the Philippine government to put in place measures to check our rate of population growth.

In the same interview with reporters, Garin said a major problem was that the budget for the procurement of family planning commodities was continually under threat of being removed “every time the budget passes both houses of Congress.” This year, under our very noses, that budget has been removed entirely.

* * *

ONLY recently, it was revealed that the Philippine population is expected to hit 100.4 million this year—quite a huge figure given that we breached the 100-million figure only last 2014, or two years ago.

Public reaction to the news seemed quite muted, surprising given that the impact of population growth has been felt in many areas, from the environment to food security, from education to the availability of jobs.

Making this country livable and keeping hope alive for all Filipinos but especially the young are the responsibility not only of the government—or of those vying for our votes—but ours, too. And part of that responsibility is ensuring that our personal behavior, including our sex lives and fertility, takes into consideration not just our personal gratification and pleasure but also the greater good of all.

What were the legislators who wiped out the DOH budget for contraceptives thinking? Don’t they have families of their own? Don’t they have children whose futures depend on what we do today—including keeping our reproductive behavior in check, or at least at manageable levels?

Maybe the legislators don’t feel the pinch too much, or perhaps they’re trying to win the good graces of Catholic leaders and other opponents of reproductive health. But have they talked to beleaguered mothers and fathers despairing of ever improving their families’ lives? Have they asked young people what their dreams are and how impossible these seem given their material circumstances?

* * *

ALREADY, we seem to have started the year on the wrong foot. I suspect that the coming elections have a lot to do with the muddle-headed actions of our legislators, but it is up to us

voters to let our voices be heard through the polls and tell our officials it’s time they step up to their responsibilities.

For starters, we should start making the RPRH Law, its implementation and budget, part of the electoral agenda, and start asking candidates for both national and local posts what they intend to do about finally fully implementing the law.

Outbrain