RH Bill Circus

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     In the seemingly never-ending discussions and debates whether or not the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill should be passed in Congress, the side shows became more entertaining than the main feature, making it HEALTHbeat’s Top Health News of 2011. Many stood and are still standing for what they truly believe in on the controversial issue, while many others are in the issue just for the pleasure of grandstanding. 

     Interesting news items on RH Bill were in abundance this year that putting it all here would require supplement pages. So, we picked a few that really tickled people’s imagination, if not caused more confusion.

     First off is the barangay ordinance in the posh community of Ayala Alabang that took effect on February 24 which seeks, among others, to penalize the sale and purchase of “anti-conceptional substance or devices." Suddenly, condoms, pills and other artificial family planning methods became prescription drugs and health devices.

     This is the community where former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral and international singer/actress Lea Salonga reside, and expectedly they were up in arms with the ordinance. But sadly, people living in that posh village are not all rich and famous who can have as many children as they want. Many of those affected are low income residents who live outside the walls of the village. Their access to health services became much more limited. They have to get them from nearby communities.

     According to news reports, the community council passed the ordinance because they wanted to be proactive in their pro-life stance. Their parish, St. James the Great Parish, is very active in fighting the passing of the RH Bill.

     Next came World Boxing Champion and Saranggani Representative Manny Pacquiao dwelling on the issue and receiving flak from Senator Miriam Santiago.

     On May 14, fresh from his successful title defense against Shane Mosley in Las Vegas, Pacquiao told radio dzMM that corruption is a bigger problem than overpopulation. He said that his opposition to the RH bill was based on his own decision and, more importantly, on his religious beliefs.

     He said, “Hindi naman ako pwede mag pro-RH dahil madasalin akong tao. May takot ako sa Panginoon. Ang boss ko kasi ang Panginoon. Ayokong labagin ang kautusan ng Panginoon.” He was further quoted as saying, “God said, ‘Go out and multiply.’ He did not say, just have two or three kids.”

     That was the cue for the feisty Senator Miriam Santiago, a sponsor of the RH bill, to give an unsolicited advice for Pacquiao to not meddle in the contentious debate. She also criticized his use of the biblical quote. Santiago said, “The Bible does not say, ‘Go out to the world.’ It sounds very much like God is encouraging us to go out and copulate in public. God said in the Bible, ‘Go forth and multiply.’ That meant that God wanted man, not necessarily to literally multiply, but to go out to work with the rest of the human beings of this planet and to apply the stewardship theory. Meaning to say, taking care of each other, who are all in the planet living together.”

     Santiago also said that there is an “element of hypocrisy” in Pacquio’s stand. “Pacquiao’s wife was quoted as saying that she uses the pill, while Pacquiao was quoted as saying that he applies discipline to space his children. In that case, apparently, Pacquiao would have to use violence on his wife because she is not living in conformity with his beliefs,” she said.

     This made “PacMom,” Mommy Dionesia, coming out “ready to rumble” in her son’s defense. She said, “Huwag ang anak ko ang pakialaman n’yo... Yung malaswa, yung malaswa!”  She also said her son has a right to express his opposition to the bill. She added, “Ano tingin nila kay Manny, tautauhan? Di ba congressman s’ya?”

     And on the issue that Jinkee Pacquiao, Pacman’s wife, using contraceptive pills, Mommy Dionesia exclaimed, “Noon pa gumagamit si Jinkee, noong bago palang sila mag-asawa. Pero ngayon, wala na.

     ”Well as for Sen. Santiago, “I’m speechless. That’s my only comment. That’s a silly topic... maghanap na lang tayo ng ibang kalaban.”

     Speechless may have also been the predicament of Senator Manuelito “Lito” Lapid in September who was finding it difficult to join the RH bill debates in the Senate  because of his poor English and ultimately because of his supposedly inadequate education.

     In Philippine Daily Inquirer report, Lapid said that his colleagues are lawyers who spent 10 years in law school while he spent 10 years practicing his action stunts. Lapid, a stunt man-turned-actorturned politician, added much as he wants to interpellate, his tongue is not used to English.

     His statements went viral on the Internet, with netizens giving reactions that range from sheer amusement to utter disappointment. Somehow, the RH bill issue has branched out to the issue of the qualifications of elected legislators who would vote for its enactment into law.

     Finally, Lapid had his time to question only Senator Pia Cayetano, one of the two sponsors of the bill, because Sen. Santiago was not present. Lapid, who has no position yet on the RH issue, wanted to clarify whether contraceptives cause birth defects in children. Inquirer quoted him as saying, “I have observed babies, especially in the provinces, who are born with club feet or a harelip. Do drugs cause that? Or what about those with [Down’s Syndrome]? Could that not be prevented? What causes that? Don’t the drugs a mother takes cause that?”

     The RH Bill has been the most divisive issue facing the country today. President Benigno S. Aquino III has made it as his administration’s priority bill and the Catholic Church has been vigilant in opposing its passage. Legislators are pitted against each other in the debates, and the media is having a grand fiesta in reporting every angle of the arguments. In fact, TV networks have produced their own RH bill debates in the mask of public affairs specials. The social divide has also been mirrored many times over on Facebook and Twitter.

     For the Department of Health, there is the strong link between reproductive health and maternal health. On October 14, during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Human Rights Conference on Promoting Maternal Health: Responding to the United Nations Millennium Development Goal 5, Health Secretary Enrique T. Ona said, “Health is a right that’s why it is important that each and every one of us has access to adequate health services and these include information and services on reproductive health.”

     He is also hopeful that the legislative measure on reproductive health and responsible parenthood will be passed into law to provide mothers access to reproductive health information and services, as cited numerous studies that show how mistimed and unplanned pregnancies put women at risk for maternal deaths. “The death of mothers during childbirth - the act which breathes new life into this world – is totally unacceptable,” Ona added.

     The year of the “reproductive” rabbit is said to bring peace and tranquility, but for HEALTHbeat’s No. 1 health news of 2011, the RH Bill is still an ongoing circus and debates may still not end any time soon.

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