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Commentary

Contraceptives and rabbits

/ 12:04 AM January 26, 2015

While there are no contraceptives for rabbits, for willing couples and women there are accessible and available legal contraceptives certified by the Food and Drug Administration under Section 9 of Republic Act No. 10354 (Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law).

Most people will continue to breed like rabbits, despite Pope Francis’ injunction, if they are denied or forbidden access to contraceptives. Regular abstinence and self-control are difficult disciplines to follow.

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Fr. Ruben Tanseco, SJ, in a 2004 column,succinctly depicted the frailty of natural methods of family planning: “The poor are already deprived of so many things, and to deprive them of lovemaking when they spontaneously feel like doing so is to make their lives even more miserable.”

The enabling core of the RH Law is freedom of informed choice. No man or woman is compelled to use contraceptives. No religious dogma against modern contraception is defied. The option is wide open. Government will assist only those who have made their choice to contracept.

But even before the passage of the RH Law, countless Catholic couples and adherents had already chosen to use contraceptives to limit the number of their children. This fact is beyond debate.

The RH Law’s implementation will benefit those who have made their option clear, and will inform and educate those who have not. Implementation of the law is the challenging task ahead. Enforcement is the indispensable sequel to the RH advocates’ crusade.

There was no magic wand to effortlessly effectuate the RH advocacy when Congress approved the RH bill, when President Aquino signed it into law, and when the Supreme Court unanimously declared that on the whole the RH Law is constitutional.

The ultimate magic wand will only come when the RH Law is faithfully and expeditiously implemented. There is no foolproof potion for success. Achievement is the product of indomitable will, the result of steadfast commitment, the outcome of earnest collective effort. RH advocates have manifested such sterling qualities before, and they will show these once more to pursue the law’s implementation. And implementation will run the gamut of the three great branches—the legislative, the executive and the judiciary.

Congress must appropriate adequate amounts for the implementation and resist all attempts to dilute or repeal the law.

It is important to note that the General Appropriations Act of 2015 has a P3.27-billion allocation for family health and responsible parenting in the budget of the Department of Health. An amount of P132.82 million is in the budget of the Population Commission as provision for grants, subsidies and contribution in support of population programs.

The DOH also has a P5.52-billion allocation for a health facilities enhancement program, which includes birthing facilities and programs for maternal and infant health.

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Unfortunately, neither the National Expenditure Program nor the GAA provides a specific amount for age-appropriate RH education for adolescents in private and public elementary and secondary schools. RH advocates in Malacañang and in Congress overlooked the importance of this funding. The solution is to source funds from the appropriations of the Department of Education.

The principal onus for the implementation of the RH Law is lodged on the executive branch, with the DOH as the lead agency, and also with the collaborating local government units that shall receive technical and financial assistance from the national government.

The creation of the National Implementation Team headed by former health secretary Espie Cabral, which will assist the DOH in implementing the RH Law, is opportune and necessary.

Also in focus is the indispensable role of the FDA, which has to complete and update its task of issuing recertifications and certifications of contraceptives that are not abortifacient. Medical studies consistently validate that contraceptives are not abortifacients.

The DOH, Department of Finance, and Department of Budget and Management must allocate and release the billions earmarked for public health, including RH, from the new sin tax revenues.

The executive branch, through the DOF, highlighted that the latest sin tax bill was a health, more than a revenue, measure. Accordingly, Section 8-C of RA 10351 unequivocally provides that after deducting the mandatory allocations, 80 percent of the remaining balance of the incremental revenue derived from the new Act shall go to universal healthcare under the National Health Insurance Program, the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals and health awareness programs, and 20 percent shall be allocated nationwide for medical assistance and health enhancement facilities program.

That provision necessarily includes allocations for RH because under the RH Law, there are RH complications covered for free by PhilHealth; the MDGs include improvement of maternal health, reduction of infant mortality and universal family planning; and health enhancement facilities programs likewise include RH.

Perforce, there must be actual appropriations for health from the sin tax revenues—not mere attributions, as was done in the past.

In the event cases are filed in court, including the Supreme Court, petitioners are reminded that the high court has spoken that the RH Law is constitutional, except for a few provisions that are mostly related to penalties and protection of minority views. It is expected that the high court will maintain its previous adjudication.

After an arduous 13-year crusade to enact the RH Law, no time must be wasted for its full implementation. Alacrity in enforcement must compensate for the inordinate delay in its passage.

While rabbits will never learn to contracept, people appreciate the import of reproductive self-determination.

 

Edcel C. Lagman is a former representative of the first district of Albay.

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