The responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (known to many as the RH or Reproductive Health Law) was a landmark measure, passed in dramatic fashion after a lengthy legislative struggle. But as this newspaper and others warned soon after passage, the next battlefront in the RH wars would likely include the budget. What good would the law’s progressive provisions be if these were inadequately funded, or not funded at all?
The 2016 General Appropriations Act offered alarming proof: Without so much as a by-your-leave to the law’s principal sponsors in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the new law’s budget was reduced at the bicameral committee level by P1 billion. The Department of Health was forced to realign some of its allocations to make up for the shortfall.
The firestorm of outrage that broke over the mystery of the suddenly reduced budget—led by Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor Santiago and ex-Rep. Edcel Lagman—has helped focus attention on the new battleground. The results of Pulse Asia’s Ulat ng Bayan survey for February 2016 should provide, not only more ammunition for the defenders and supporters of reproductive health, but even reinforcements.
A clear and overwhelming majority of Filipinos of voting age, some 86 percent, support public funding for family planning and related services—the kind of services included in the Reproductive Health Law. About the same number said the candidates running for office in the May 9 elections should include family planning in their agenda.
“The people have spoken,” Executive Director Romeo Dongeto of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development said sensibly. “Candidates should prioritize family planning and ensure the full implementation of the reproductive health law.”
Other survey findings include a double-digit increase in the number of Filipino voters who say they view family as a “very important” issue, from 53 percent in 2010, the last presidential election year, to 64 percent. A simple majority of voting-age Filipinos, or 52 percent, said youth aged 15 and up should enjoy access to reproductive health services in government hospitals and other facilities.
To be sure, the level of support for reproductive health issues varies from region to region. In the Cordillera Autonomous Region, 90 percent of the respondents said they saw family planning as a “very important” issue. In the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the figure was only 33 percent. Pulse Asia research director Ana Maria Tabunda offered an explanation: “Only one of three voters in the ARMM [saw] family planning [as] very important, maybe because they have other important issues like poverty, water and power supply.”
But overall, the national aggregates are striking. “This survey shows there is unanimity among Filipinos [who believe] that spacing between births, planning the family and limiting the number of children have an impact on fertility,” Commission on Population Executive Director Juan Antonio Perez said.
“National officials should make sure that there is provision for family planning, while local officials should make sure that services are actually provided. It’s a working relationship between the national and the local governments to get the work done,” Perez added.
The RH mandate is clear. Can the politicians read it otherwise?
Unfortunately, given the immaturity of our political systems, the answer is yes. Anti-RH politicians like Sen. Tito Sotto are running for reelection—not so much on well-defined platforms or specific campaign promises as on their personal celebrity. Upon reelection, however, they will choose to read their new mandate as including their opposition to the reproductive health regime.
All the more reason, then, for enough RH advocates to win seats in the Senate and in the House, and for the next president to commit to the full and fully funded implementation of the RH Law.
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