AS IS all too common with government programs, it’s the poor—particularly poor women—who have little voice, small presence and even a lot less power, who become the biggest losers when money is scarce and there are competing claims for it.
This seems to be the case with the P1-billion cut from the budget for the purchase of family planning supplies of the Department of Health. Reports have it that the amount was removed from the DOH budget by senators sitting in the bicameral conference committee that approved the national budget.
I wonder if the news would have been met with the same disconcerting silence if the P1 billion was cut from defense, agriculture or even education. Is it because contraceptives are not considered “essential”? Not a necessity?
“It is a disservice to the poor,” commented former President Fidel V. Ramos, adding his voice to a growing chorus led by Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor Santiago who spearheaded the charge, as it were, for the passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law. The budget cut, of a not-minor amount, effectively castrates (if you can use such a term for a piece of repro health legislation) the program, as protesters proclaim. This is because, contrary to popular misconception, family planning supplies are not “luxuries,” but rather essential commodities, essential to the health of women, men and babies.
Already, health commentators are saying the budget cut imperils not just family planning, but even the fight against HIV/AIDS, since condoms are part of the parcel of supplies that would have been made available by the cut. The country is facing a huge HIV/AIDS crisis, with the number of new cases, bucking a worldwide trend, increasing in these parts.
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RAMOS added that the budget cut “will now affect the ability of the Department of Health to provide life-saving services that benefit the poor.” But the former president said a solution is at hand since it could still be remedied “by a supplemental budget by the 16th Congress and/or a more generous budget for RH by the next president and the 17th Congress.”
Benjamin de Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development, on which FVR serves as an “eminent person,” observed that the budget has always been to “serve the poor particularly in direct-service oriented departments like the DOH, DepEd, or DSWD.” So removing such a huge amount from the DOH budget “is tantamount to reducing and limiting access to health services (for) the poor who are the biggest users and recipients of public services.” The rich, said De Leon, are unaffected because they could always afford the services they need and want. But the poor, he noted, “are hardest hit by this move that clearly lacks good judgment and better decision-making.”
In reaction to the adverse reactions to the budget allocation, Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on finance, said that contrary to assertions of other senators, all information about the national budget were made available to both houses of Congress before it was enacted into law. “All senators were given a copy of the bicameral conference committee report before they voted to ratify,” said Legarda. “The first page of the report shows both the increases and decreases in the budget of all agencies including the Department of Health.”
The process of deliberating on the budget of government departments is an annual procedure that every one of them undergoes, said Legarda. But couldn’t Legarda have taken a more proactive stance in behalf of women who will suffer the most when they lose access to contraception?
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I DON’T know if this would have prevented the contraceptives budget cut, or even directly improve the status of Filipino women, but the year has begun with a “strong campaign”—led by some 48 governments, led by Colombia’s female ambassador to the United Nations, and by NGOs led by women experts on the UN—to elect the first woman secretary general of the UN.
An online report explains that the “UN remains the world’s top global body for peace and security,” while the secretary general “sets and implements the UN’s priorities under agreement from member governments and is the most powerful civil servant in the world.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s term ends in December.
“Already there are a half dozen women actively vying for the job,” the report says. Of the official declared campaigns, four Easter European governments have put forward names; two of them women. Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, director general of Unesco, enjoys an early lead, staking out her issues as “civil and political rights, mutual respect, knowledge about each other, promotion of freedom of expression as part of peace, good governance, and human rights.”
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ANOTHER candidate is Vesna Pusic, foreign minister of Croatia, while Western Europe has many high-level women candidates—presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers.
Also mentioned as in the running is Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and head of the UN Development Program. But while often mentioned as the “dream candidate,” observers say they do not think German Chancellor Angela Merkel is going to leave domestic politics at this stage.
But governments from Latin America are also canvassing for “one of their own” as the next UN secreteray general, including Susana Malcorra, Argentina’s new foreign minister; Karen Christiana Figueres Olsen of Costa Rica, who led the “contentious” climate change negotiations; Colombia’s foreign minister Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar, who is now leading the negotiations with the FARC guerrillas; and former president and head of UN Women (and recent Philippine visitor) Michelle Bachelet.