RH Bill: Ito Ba Ang Tama?

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By CJ Sarmiento

Ano nga ba ang tama?

This is what Reproductive Health (RH) Bill advocates and opposers have been debating over a forum entitled, “RH Bill: Ito Ba Ang Tama?” the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP NCPAG) in August.

The forum used a curious title and publicity material for the forum. Their poster shows a Photoshopped bottle of beer, replacing the text with RH Bill instead of Red Horse beer. There is also the title of the forum “RH Bill: Ito ba ang tama?” implying a parallelism between concepts of the effect of the alcohol on the mind of the drinker and the rightness or wrongness of the bill.

Speakers at the forum talked about the issue of the RH bill in terms of its relevance to the poor and to women, and the feasibility of its implementation in the Philippines.

Most of the debaters used their being “mga Iskolar ng Bayan” to justify and defend their stand on the controversial RH Bill, a subject discussed hotly not only inside the Congress halls but also in the vast campus of UP.

UP alumni and Media and Legislative Liaison Officer of Pro-Life Philippines and Lito David remarked that if he didn’t study, taught and worked in UP, he would be supporting the RH bill. He said, “Nag-aral ako sa UP e.”

According to David, the RH Bill is just a framework and tool used by imperialists and capitalists to support their businesses. He convinced the youth to be critical of everything before they believe in something.

David also argued that the RH bill is already a “cut and paste bill.” He said that the Department of Health (DOH) already has existing programs and mandates for reproductive health, and it would be redundant if bill were passed.

He also claimed that surveys and statistics about women used by the RH supporters are not true. “Women die because of hunger, diseases and complications.”

On the pro-RH side, UP Professor Marivic Raquiza of NCPAG responded to David. Raquiza remarked as an “iskolar ng bayan,” everything that they present in the public, like surveys, statistics and figures are “all evidence-based and are products of critical thinking.” As a self-proclaimed activist herself she finds it insulting for to be considered imperialists simply on the basis of supporting the bill.

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Raquiza presented figures from the World Health Organization, saying that an educated population, low fertility rates, increased access to information, education and productive jobs lead to the economic well-being of a country.

With regards to the redundancy of the bill, Raquiza said that the legislation of the bill would assure women of universal access to reproductive health. Raquiza said, “it is classic in our country that a woman has to die in order to give birth.” Raquiza pointed out that the Philippines has one of the highest cases of maternal deaths in the world, with deaths resulting from complications like hemorrhage, sepsis, and obstructed labor.

On the issue of women’s welfare, UP College of Business Administration and Pro-Life Philippines member Professor Aliza Racelis used three arguments to justify her stand on the RH bill. First, according to her, women need only abstinence, healthy lifestyle and fidelity. Second, she used facts to illustrate her point that materials mentioned in the bill like birth control pills are dangerous to use. She said that such pills have been proven to be carcinogenic, and intra-uterine devices are prone to bacterial infection. Her last argument is that the bill is just a waste of tax paid by women who comprise a big part of taxpayers.

Together with Raquiza on the pro-RH bench was the National Chairperson of Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP), Elizabeth Angsioco, a well-known advocate of reproductive health. She emphasized that throughout the 16-year period that the RH bill has been pending in Congress, a total of 9.6 million adolescents got pregnant. According to the set of statistics she presented, these are disappointing realities in the country that the RH bill can solve.

She said that the provision of the RH bill to have mandatory and age-appropriate RH and sexual education will help young people understand reproductive health matters, and it will address the low awareness rates of the youth about sexuality and will also discourage youth’s participation in early marriage and pregnancy.

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The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) Executive Director, Ramon San Pascual, also from the pro-RH camp, mentioned that Davao, which was the earliest to implement reproductive health policies in their province, is now benefitting from the policy.

Towards the end of the debate, there was no obvious winner. But one thing is clear: this debate created more questions and influenced the youth in the audience to be more critical and proactive, especially given the fact that they will someday be in charge of this society. Whether pro- or anti-, the debaters succeeded in making the youth realize of the importance of their participation in matters like these for our country.

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