By Patricia Vega
In his first State of the Nation address, President Noynoy Aquino broached the idea of public-private partnerships as a means of generating funds for infrastructure and other public service needs. A government willing to work with the private sector to ensure the delivery of basic services should be receptive to public suggestions for a people-centered policy agenda — or so civil society would like to hope.
At the recently concluded 3rd National Multi-Sectoral Policy Conference on Human Development, various civil society groups and people’s organizations came together to develop and propose a legislative agenda for the 15th Congress and the Aquino administration. Working groups—comprised of the conference participants—were created to discuss pressing issues on health, the environment, labor, trade, agrarian reform and rural development, women, children, human rights, education, and governance and fiscal reforms.
RH backed by health, women, and children’s groups
The successful passage of the Reproductive Health bill remains the major concern of the non-profit sector, perhaps as a response to the Department of Health’s proposed legislative agenda that chooses to prioritize Universal Health Care. RH is not totally excluded from the said agenda, but is instead embedded as a component of health delivery services, whose improvement is also recommended by the department. For their part, the Health working group also recognized the importance of universal health care and added it to the policy agenda, along with the increase in budget and regulatory powers for the health department, and the use of sin tax revenue for health services; other issues raised during the discussion were issues pertaining to health care workers, and the improvement of infant and young children feeding (IYCF) programs.
Groups with interests addressed by the RH Bill also called for its successful passage. The Women’s working group’s policy agenda had a two-pronged approach: amend or effectively implement existing bills, and propose new legislation. The RH bill joins the divorce bill, anti-prostitution bill, kasambahay bill, and maternity leave bill in the group’s list of proposed legislation. The working group on Children also included in RH in its recommendations, alluding to the bill’s provisions for infant and child health and nutrition; the group’s extensive agenda focused on measures preventing violence and ensuring a safe living environment for children, equal opportunities for children regardless of birthright, and the improvement and strengthening of venues for children’s participation.
A number of proposed bills were also championed by multiple sectors. The Magna Carta for Informal Sector Workers is supported by both Labor and Women’s groups. Labor also shares the recommendation of the Freedom of Information act with the Governance and Fiscal Reform group. Both Trade and Agrarian Reform and Rural Development working groups advocate the establishment of a Philippine Trade Representative Office and a Department of Fisheries, while both Agrarian Reform and Environment participants agreed on the passage of land use and alternative mining bills.
The long and short of it
Some working groups kept their suggestions short. The Human Rights group chose to adapt the Commission on Human Rights’ own legislative agenda, while the Education group identified three major issues: a higher budget for basic education, universal pre-schooling for all, and the passage of the Magna Carta for Students. In addition to identifying priority legislation, the Environment group proposed a review of the BioFuels law in light of food security issues; a baseline study on environmental bills; and an inquiry into the use of environmental fees and taxes.
Other groups were more detailed in their discussions, categorizing their recommendations for the legislative and executive branches, respectively. Aside from suggesting possible legislation, the Trade, Governance, Labor, and Agrarian Reform groups emphasized the importance of monitoring the status of these bills, ensuring the proper implementation of existing laws and amending them to fit international standards, and assessing the impact of these laws on their respective stakeholders.
A consolidated version of the policy agendas was presented to Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte on the second day of the conference. Speaker Belmonte accepted the agenda on behalf of the 15th Congress, noting that he personally supported most of the recommended policies.
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