Make RH Law real
For advocates of women’s rights and of antipoverty measures, President Duterte’s vow during his State of the Nation Address to push the full implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act comes as a relief.
The RH Law was held hostage in Congress for 14 years by the Catholic Church and conservative sectors, and was finally passed in 2012. But it has yet to be implemented, as it is constantly confronted with obstacles on its way to fruition.
The law mandates the national government to make reproductive health services accessible and available to poor families through information, sexuality education in school, and the provision of free contraceptives. Among the sharp tacks strewn on the road by anti-RH Law forces were questions of constitutionality (since resolved in its favor) and a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court on long-term contraceptive implants despite their safety being assured by the Food and Drug Administration. The TRO, issued in June 2015, remains in place.
The latest hurdle was put up by Senators Loren Legarda and Tito Sotto, who quietly slashed P1 billion from the RH budget for medications, vaccines and RH supplies and realigned it to beef up air defenses. The cut startled the RH Law authors, then Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor Santiago, who described the act as “a budget passed under the cloak of deception,” and “an immoral abandonment of some 7 million Filipino women” in need of RH services.
Mr. Duterte’s announcement also comes on the heels of disheartening news that teenage pregnancy rates in the Philippines have remained the highest in Asia, despite a general decline worldwide in the last 20 years.
According to the UN Population Fund, one in 10 Filipino women aged 15-19 is already a mother—a situation that impacts negatively on their future and one that could have been abated by access to sexuality education, which is one of the provisions of the RH Law.
The push for the RH Law’s implementation also comes at a crucial time, just more than a year before some
90 percent of contraceptive brands will no longer be available in the market, including P248 million worth of hormonal contraceptives set to expire soon.
According to RH Law advocates, unless the Supreme Court’s TRO on hormonal contraceptives is lifted, these implants now stocked in Department of Health warehouses will expire and go to waste by 2018. Investments made in the training of health practitioners will likewise be wasted.
RH advocates point out that with the TRO prohibiting new certification or approval by the FDA, no new contraceptives would be endorsed to supplement, or even replace, those expiring in 2018. They add that this would limit couples’ choices and deprive them of their reproductive health rights.
But with the President firmly behind the RH Law, it is hoped that the obstacle course to reproductive rights would decisively be demolished.
Fortunately, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo has been quick to follow up the President’s directive, saying on Tuesday that she would order her department’s offices to include reproductive health in the government’s conditional cash transfer program. She also said the agencies responsible for implementing the RH Law should make sure that women and children are given access to correct information on reproductive health and other services to allow them to make informed choices.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the law’s main authors, meanwhile outlined several priority provisions of the law that need immediate implementation: procurement by the DOH of medically safe, legal, effective and nonabortifacient contraceptives and devices for distribution to the poor and to local government units; retraining of barangay health workers so they can competently assist in the full implementation of the RH Law; immediate formulation of an RH curriculum by the Department of Education for public school adolescent students, which may be adopted by private schools; and extensive training of teachers who will handle reproductive health classes for adolescents in the coming school years.
“Let us have children by choice, not by chance,” Lagman said, adding that the RH Law is about human rights, inclusive growth and sustainable development.
Indeed, couples should be informed that they have a choice in planning their family according to their means. At the same time, they should be provided with the resources—and the law—to live by that choice.
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