THIS WEEK, business groups showed their recognition of, and desire to help, solve the national population problem when key members of the Bishops-Businessmen?s Conference for Human Development (BBC), the Makati Business Club (MBC) and the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) publicly pledged to work together to propose a compromise bill on reproductive health (RH).
The pledge was made by BBC national co-chairman Vicente T. Paterno, MBC chairman Ramon R. del Rosario, and MAP national issues committee representative Peter L. Wallace at the end of a BBC-MBC-MAP forum, ?Perspectives on the Reproductive Health Bill,? held at the AIM Conference Center in Makati last Wednesday. (As co-chairman of the BBC?s program committee, I was the emcee. I write this summary on my own account, not as forum rapporteur; errors are mine, and omissions are due to lack of space. More information on the forum can be requested from BBC executive director Belle Beluan (firstname.lastname@example.org and mbeluan@yahoo. com), who recorded the proceedings.
The forum?s program intentionally excluded legislators for or against the RH bill, and instead sought views from business, the clergy, and civil society. All the main speakers are serious practicing Catholics. The first was former health secretary Jaime Galvez Tan, a product of San Beda College and the UP College of Medicine, who has spent many years working with the poor. Although he and his wife are natural family planning (NFP) practitioners, he favors the RH bill because the poor find NFP too impractical. Lacking the means to avail of the family planning techniques they most prefer, they experience unwanted pregnancies very often, and as a result thousands of them seek and undergo illegal abortions.
If passed, the RH bill would mandate availability in government hospitals of tubal ligation, vasectomy and IUD insertion, and classify hormonal contraceptives, intrauterine devices, etc. as essential medicines to be stocked by government hospitals and health units. It prohibits public officials?here Dr. Tan referred to a former mayor of Manila?from restricting the delivery of family planning services. It mandates age-appropriate RH education starting from Grade 5 to 4th year high school.
The second speaker was lawyer Ricardo J. Romulo, educated by the Christian Brothers, a doctor of laws from Harvard, and a Knight of the Papal Order of St. Gregory. His speech, ?H.B. No. 5043 Treads on a Slippery Slope,? agrees with the RH bill?s call for effective measures of population management, but disagrees, on grounds involving freedom of religion, that it is essential to criminalize acts and conduct that involve sensitive issues of morality and conscience. He recommends deleting the bill?s Sec. 17, which makes employers obligated to provide free RH services to employees, and its Sec. 21, which lists prohibited acts that may be penalized (in Sec. 22) by one to six months imprisonment and/or a fine of P10,000 to P50,000. (Later, in the open forum, I clarified that penal provisions were not covered by the SWS polls cited as showing popular support for it.)
The third speaker was Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J., D.D., with basic education at the Ateneo de Manila, a master?s from UP and a doctorate in development from the University of Wisconsin. As BBC national co-chairman, he was responsible, with Ting Paterno, for initiating the forum in the first place. His paper, ?Pastoral Guidelines and Core Values in NFP Promotion,? says that a growing number of couples (a) want to practice family planning, (b) prefer NFP, if adequately informed about it, and (c) want to choose among NFP methods according to their own circumstances (he recommends the Standard Days Method, which requires avoiding sex on days 8 to 19 of the menstrual cycle). While being quite clear that NFP methods are the only ones allowed by the Catholic Church, Archbishop Ledesma did not comment on the RH bill except to say that NFP methods should always be included in the government?s population information program.
The fourth speaker was lawyer Jo M. Imbong, who represented Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, D.D., head of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life. She is executive secretary of the CBCP legal office and corporate counsel of the University of Asia and the Pacific. Although educated entirely in public schools, up to her law degree from UP, she is totally opposed to the RH bill. She denies the existence of a population problem. Instead, her talk, ?Agenda,? focuses on the coincidental appearance of terms like ?population and development? and ?informed choice? in a Nixon-era confidential document called National Security Study Memorandum 200 (NSSM200), declassified a few years ago, which saw overpopulation in less developed countries as a threat to US security. ?No country has reduced its population growth without resorting to abortion,? is her smoking-gun quote from NSSM200. She depicted the RH bill as part of an imperialistic agenda of the US, the UNFPA and other family planning advocates.
The main speeches were followed by remarks from a sponsors? panel. MBC?s Roberto de Ocampo was against the RH bill because, in his opinion, the government can accomplish the bill?s objectives even without it. Both MAP?s Peter Wallace and BBC?s Ting Paterno saw the population problem as so urgent that the business sector should help to find its solution. And that, at the end of all comments from the floor, finally led to the pledge to work for a compromise.
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