The cruelest cut
It took 14 years and a tortuous struggle before the Reproductive Health Law was finally passed in 2012 despite attempts by conservative groups and the Catholic Church to derail the measure.
But three years since its historic passage, the landmark law that provides couples an informed choice along with natural and artificial methods of family planning, as well as sex education for young people, among other features, remains in stasis, held hostage by stalling tactics by its opponents—from charges of being unconstitutional to petitions against some contraceptives claimed to be “abortifacients.”
Despite the longstanding resistance to the RH Law, recent news that Senators Loren Legarda and Tito Sotto had maneuvered to lop off P1 billion from the RH fund came as an unpleasant surprise, the cruel cut described as “shocking, immoral and ill-timed.” Well, “well-timed” might be the better description, it being an election year when courting the (unproven) Catholic vote wouldn’t hurt.
After all, Church leaders are known to conveniently ignore the biblical admonition to “render unto Caesar…” How else explain their hoisting tarps outside a Bacolod church in the 2013 elections, branding pro-RH candidates as members of “Team Patay” (Team of Death)? And Church leaders say only natural family planning is acceptable, never mind that most impoverished women—those most in need of protection—are trapped in violent situations where the choice is often sex or domestic abuse from partners for whom reasoning is an alien concept.
The budget cut of P1 billion denies these women (and impoverished couples) access to medically safe, nonabortifacient and effective RH services and commodities, because the fund was earmarked by the Department of Health for free supplies of condoms, IUDs and birth control pills.
Sotto, who opposes the RH Law, had proposed the cut, citing the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order but callously ignoring that the TRO covers only certain hormonal contraceptives. For her part, Legarda denied sneaking in the cut in the budget deliberations as chair of the Senate finance committee, saying that all information about the national budget was made available to both chambers of Congress before it was enacted into law. She said part of the money would go to the air defense needs of the military, with China’s increasing presence in disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea, and to some education projects.
Still, the RH Law’s main authors, Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Pia Cayetano, find the fund cut “unacceptable,” and point out that the lack of funding would render the law “inutile.” Indeed.
“The P1-billion budget cut threatens to deprive some seven million women of [RH] services. This abandonment is immoral in a country where some 200 out of 100,000 women who give birth die,” Santiago said.
The cut would also mean depending on private and foreign donors for contraceptive supplies—a possibility that is unsustainable and would resurrect the charges of “contraceptive imperialism” initially raised by the law’s critics.
What is particularly galling is that Legarda has always described herself as prowomen and proenvironment. As a green advocate, she should have made the connection between the environment and the impact of a runaway population on the planet’s dwindling resources; she should have figured out how a huge carbon footprint could drain the gains made in reining in global warming and climate change.
Legarda has defended the budget cut as a response to the low (29 percent) use of the family planning program’s budget of P3.27 billion in 2015, with 71 percent, or P2.3 billion, still to be obligated for the next six months. These remaining funds are still available in 2016 and could augment deficient resources, she said.
Well and good, so it must be asked: Why did the DOH use up only 29 percent of funds appropriated for the program? What tedious processes have delayed full implementation of the three-year-old law, and what measures can speed them up?
Imagine what was lost: in the words of a UN Population Fund official, “important investments on comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care … to achieve a more educated and healthy population, a more productive workforce and a growing economy.”