Death and reproduction
About the only part of President Digong’s hour-and-a-half, wandering and meandering State of the Nation Address (Sona) that I agreed with (and even cheered!) was his mention of the need to “put into full force and effect” the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health [RH] Law.
This, he explained, was necessary “so that couples, especially the poor, will have freedom of informed choice on the number and spacing of children they can adequately care and provide for, eventually making them more productive members of the labor force.”
A single paragraph in an address, of which the first, major part was devoted to justifying the hundreds killed in the wake of his own declared “war on drugs,” as he reiterated his commitment to the fight and called on all law enforcers, including even mayors and barangay chairmen “not to lower (your) guard.” He exhorted them: “Double your efforts. Triple them, if need be. We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier and the last pusher have surrendered or are put either behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish.”
But I suppose we must be grateful the President mentioned reproductive health at all in his address. And that he singled this out of the many other health-related concerns the government confronts, unless we consider lead poisoning (from all those bullets!) as a health concern.
Anyway, I hope the mention of the “full implementation” of the RH Law will have an impact on Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and the other Supreme Court justices who were in attendance at the Sona. After all, one of, if not THE major obstacle to fully implementing the law is the TRO the Supreme Court handed down a year ago against the distribution of contraceptive implants.
The implants, using the brand name Implanon, cannot be distributed or used by any government health facility while the TRO is in place. Even worse, the TRO also prohibits the Food and Drug Administration from providing or renewing permits for all other forms of contraception, which means, says former health secretary Janette Garin, that contraceptives may no longer be available for all Filipino men and women here in the next two years.
Can we count on the Supreme Court to lift the TRO anytime soon?
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Lawyer Clara Rita Padilla, executive director of the NGO EnGendeRights, also agrees with the President on his advocacy for the “full implementation” of the RH Law.
“We really need the provisions of the RH Law to be implemented fully,” she said in a statement. “We badly need the DepEd and the CHEd to implement a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum from elementary through college especially since one out of every 10 adolescent women aged 15-19 are already mothers and we have 25 new HIV cases a day.” Indeed, it’s said what we face today is an “epidemic” of adolescent pregnancies.
At the same time, said Padilla, “our unintended pregnancy (rate) is high with three in 10 births unwanted or mistimed, and only 38 percent of women aged 15-49 use modern contraceptives. Due to high unintended pregnancy, high incidence of rape with one woman raped every 71 minutes, unavailability of emergency contraception, lack of access to safe and legal abortion and even lack of access to humane, and nonjudgmental, compassionate post-abortion care, we have three women dying every day from complications from unsafe abortion.”
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About the same time that President Digong was delivering the Sona, in Geneva, the committee for the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) released its review of the Philippine government’s compliance with the convention.
Echoing the President’s recommitment to the full implementation of the RH Law, the Cedaw recommended that the government “further accelerate its achievement of substantive gender equality and the full realization of women’s human rights.”
Padilla, as executive director of EnGendeRights, submitted an individual “shadow report” on violence against women, marriage and family relations to the Cedaw committee, and joined in a joint shadow report with OutRight Action International on lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender persons. It also joined with three international organizations and other local NGOs on the reproductive rights situation in the country.
A key finding, said Padilla, is that the committee recommended that “the state party clarify the status of the Convention in the Philippines’ domestic legal order and ensure the precedence of its provisions over national laws in cases of conflict.” (The Magna Carta of Women enfleshes in local law most of the provisions of the Cedaw.)
The committee also recommended that the government “ensure that such laws are applied and interpreted in conformity with the provisions of the Convention.” Said Padilla: “This recommendation is important in our advocacy work to eliminate discrimination against women in laws, policies and practices.”
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Signatories to the Cedaw are periodically asked to submit reports on the state of compliance of State parties to the provisions of the Convention. For many years now, the Cedaw committee has repeatedly stressed the need to respect the reproductive and sexual rights of Filipino women, including a review of legislation that blocks full access in law by women. This includes the continuing legal barriers to abortion, and the lack of state responses to the problem of violence against women. But first, let’s fully and meaning fully implement the RH Law now!
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