Go Out & MULTIPLY DEBATES

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Fetuses are dumped everywhere – in Church yards, creeks, bay areas and dumpsites. A female overseas Filipino worker left her newborn baby in the toilet of an international plane on her flight back to the country. There are now over 92 million Filipinos, according to the National Statistics Office, making the Philippines the 12th most populous nation in the world. But trashing dead fetuses and leaving live newborns in airplanes are not means of curbing the population growth.

The Reproductive Health (RH) Bill which has languished in both houses of Congress for the past 14 years largely because of the Catholic Church’s strong opposition again being made into a priority bill in the new Congress. In September during his visit to the US, President Noynoy Aquino have inadvertently stirred the hornet’s nest when he told a The Filipino Channel (TFC) organized town hall meeting in San Francsico that “government might provide assistance to those without means if they want to employ a particular method.” And the debates this year took epic, melodrama soap-operatic proportions wherein people are expected to “abangan ang susunod na kabanata” (watch out for the next episode).

Just to give a sort of flashback a retired Catholic bishop threatened civil disobedience by the public as well as excommunication or the very least voluntarily not receive Holy Communion to those who will support the bill; a popular tourist guide, clad in a national hero costume, protested in front of the main altar of the Manila Cathedral holding a placard with the word “Damaso”, referring to the hated Spanish friar in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and telling the Church to “stop involving yourselves in politics!”, and the exchange of opinions of members of the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” organizations.

In October, there was a moment of ceasefire as the government and the Catholic Church held a dialogue. The Church opposed the RH bill and the distribution of contraceptives. President Aquino, on the other hand, said the choice of family planning method is better left to parents with the state ready to assist those who prefer artificial ways but has no means to avail of these. And the debate was brought back into the halls of Congress House Minority Leader and Albay Representative Edcel Lagman and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago are pushing RH in Congress and Senate, respectively. In this kind of an issue, several legislators chose to keep their silence and avoided their usual grandstanding.

A report by Ana Mae G. Roa of Business World Online enumerated the salient features of the RH bill other than the use of contraceptives which the Church has isolated the discussions and debates. The bill also features the strengthening the Population Commission, provision of skilled midwives in every city and municipality to achieve a minimum ratio of one midwife for every 150 deliveries per year, emergency obstetric care in each province and city, maternal death review based on guidelines to be issued by the Department of Health in consultation with the Population Commission, hospital-based family planning, mobile health care service per congressional district, and age-appropriate RH education.

Also provided for are certificate compliance from the family planning office that couple has received adequate instruction and information on family planning, responsible parenthood, breastfeeding and infant nutrition before the local civil registrar issues a marriage license, capability building of community-based volunteer workers on delivery of RH services; attaining a non-mandatory, non-compulsory ideal family size; nondiscrimination on hiring, regularization and employment of women or selection for retrenchment; support of private and nongovernmental health care service provider, and sustained public awareness campaign on RH.

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