Freedom of informed choice
President Duterte has made a laudable move in signing Executive Order No. 12, thereby reviving the moribund Reproductive Health Law.
This is not just because Mr. Duterte is fulfilling a campaign promise. As presidential candidate, he said he would fully implement the RH Law, and in his first State of the Nation Address, he reiterated his position, saying it “must be put into full force and effect so that couples, especially the poor, will have freedom of informed choice in the number and spacing of children they can adequately care and provide for, eventually making them more productive members of the labor force.”
The EO he has signed makes it crystal-clear with a self-explanatory title: “Attaining and Sustaining Zero Unmet Need for Modern Family Planning Services through the Strict Implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, Providing Funds Therefore and for Other Purposes.” Aside from the directive to appropriate a budget for this policy push, the EO essentially refocuses a large section of the government machinery to fleshing out the mandate of the law.
For starters, it orders the Departments of Health and of Interior and Local Government, along with the Commission on Population and other relevant government agencies, to work with local government units on RH programs and initiatives—and to monitor their compliance. The Department of Education is directed to craft “gender-sensitive and rights-based” sexuality education for inclusion in the school curriculum, while the Department of Social Welfare and Development is tasked to find ways to integrate the policy into the administration’s national poverty reduction and social protection programs. And PhilHealth will “implement benefit packages that ensure maximum benefits for family planning services.”
In an ideal world, Mr. Duterte did not have to resort to this EO. The law he is trying to reinvigorate was passed by Congress and signed by then President Benigno Aquino III back in December 2012. The issue of an official reproductive health policy codified in law had been the subject of an intense, 14-year-long debate and struggle, with the Catholic Church and various so-called “prolife” groups mounting sustained and fierce opposition. This,
despite survey after survey showing that the majority of Filipinos are in favor of legislation that would make it easier for them to access family planning services, including the use of artificial contraceptives—the main beef of the Church and its allies, which insist that a number of such contraceptives are abortifacients.
Before the ink was dry on the newly signed law, its opponents took the issue to the Supreme Court. Certain provisions of the law were subsequently invalidated in 2014, and then the whole matter skidded to its current standstill condition when the high court issued a temporary restraining order specifically on the certification of contraceptive implants in July 2015.
It’s been a year and a half since then, but the high court is seemingly in no hurry to resolve the case. Meanwhile, it has found the time to allow the grant of bail to former senator Juan Ponce Enrile who is charged with a nonbailable crime, junk the charges against former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and allow the burial of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The RH Law remains mothballed—a good policy with sound fundamentals and intent, its implementation welcomed by the majority of the public but essentially kept in limbo on sectarian grounds, because a certain portion of the population is seen to object to it on account of its religious feelings.
But not all Filipinos share those sentiments, and state policy must be for all. Mr. Duterte’s EO is a good step in breaking through this logjam, ensuring that state-backed reproductive health begins to work, finally, for everyone.
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