People in the Philippines these days have a renewed interest in talking about the Reproductive Health Bill or House Bill 96. But with all the talk going around, i wonder if people have actually read the bill before giving an opinion. I would strongly advocate reading the proposed bill as filed by Representative Edcel Lagman prior to succumbing to knee-jerk reactions. Here’s a pdf copy: http://bit.ly/a2hYKI
Many people have expressed their opinions about the bill, most times without even knowing what it truly states or without understanding the social realities by which it is conditioned upon. After reading the bill, i have come to a conclusion that i support its fundamental premise and a majority of its precepts, although i have a few reservations on some minor areas. In this blog entry, supporting literature is provided in order for the reader to draw his own insights about the meaning of the bill.
(I will refer the RH Bill as HB 96, the congressional nomenclature as we go along, so as not to confuse it with other RH Bill’s proposed in the past)
Misinformation and Myths about HB 96
One of the things that i am saddened about us Filipinos is our emotional and uninformed reaction to controversial issues that are carried by the bill. The Catholic Church, as an example, have also contributed to bringing more misinformation about the bill.
Sadly, a priest who my family personally knows, may have erred in his research about the bill such that he may have introduced erroneous facts to the faithful. One example is this video below.
In the video posted by AHF International on YouTube, Fr. Edgardo Arrellano mispostulates the following as facts:
- That the bill promotes a 2-child policy. The use of the word “policy” is misleading in this regard. Nowhere in the bill does the government enforce a policy on family size. It does, however, recommend an ideal family size of two children. To quote Sec 17 of the bill:
The State shall assist couples, parents and individuals to achieve their desired family size within the context of responsible parenthood for sustainable development and encourage them to have two children as the ideal family size. Attaining the ideal family size is neither mandatory nor compulsory. No punitive action shall be imposed on parents having more than two children. (1)
- That for Filipinos, the ideal family is having 5-7 children. This statistic is completely misrepresented by Fr. Arellano. In a survey conducted by NSO in cooperation with USAID, the 2008 Philippines National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) shows that 42% women-respondents answered that having 2 children is the ideal family size. 28% preferred having 3 children, 14% preferred 4 children. Only 8% said they preferred 5 or more. It must be noted that 12, 469 households participated in the survey where also 13,594 women between the ages of 15-45 interviewed for this survey nationwide. (To see the complete 2008 NDHS Report, click here.) (2)
The NDHS was used by Lagman to in determining the suggested family size in Sec 17 of the bill.
- That the bill proposes sex education at Grade 2. Another grossly erroneous reading of HB 96. In Sec. 13 of the proposed HB 96, the mandated age-appropriate sex education begins at 5th grade up to 4th year high school.
- That children will be taught pornography by teachers. The use of the word “pornography” by Fr. Arellano is accusatory and stated with bias. Nowhere in the bill does it even allude that sex education makes use of pornographic material. The statement also undermines the capacity of teachers and educators to exercise academic and educative maturity in teaching sex education. Sex education is not pornography. The exact wording of Sec 13 of HB 96 is as follows (emphasis mine):
Age-appropriate Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education shall be taught by adequately trained teachers in formal and non-formal educational system starting from Grade Five up to Fourth Year High School using life-skills and other approaches. Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education shall commence at the start of the school year immediately following one year from the effectivity of this Act to allow the training of concerned teachers. The Department of Education (DEPED), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), TESDA, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the Department of Health (DOH) shall formulate the RH and Sexuality Education curriculum. Such curriculum shall be common to both public and private schools, out of school youth, and enrollees in the Alternative Learning System (ALS) based on, but not limited to, the following contents: psycho-social wellbeing, legal aspects of RH, demography and RH and physical wellbeing.
Age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education shall be integrated in all relevant subjects and shall include, but not limited to, the following topics:
a. Values formation;
b. Knowledge and skills in self protection against discrimination, sexual violence and abuse, and teen pregnancy;
c. Physical, social and emotional changes in adolescents;
d. Children’s and women’s rights;
e. Fertility awareness;
f. STI, HIV and AIDS;
g. Population and development;
h. Responsible relationship;
i. Family planning methods;
j. Proscription and hazards of abortion;
k. Gender and development; and
l. Responsible parenthood.
The DepEd, CHED, DSWD, TESDA, and DOH shall provide concerned parents with adequate and relevant scientific materials on the age-appropriate topics and manner of teaching reproductive health education to their children.
- Philippines as the moral conscience of the region and allusions to the Holocaust. Father Arellano cites that the “Philippines being the only Catholic nation in Asia, wherein two-thirds of the population dwell, is the conscience of this region.” This statement is laden with Catholic hubris. Asians do comprise approximately two-thirds of the world’s current human population (more accurately 66% of people in the world are Asians). But to say that Filipino Catholics is the conscience of the region is alienating all other major religions in Asia: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. The statement is highly non-ecumenical and it disrespects other beliefs which also espouses moral consciences. Fr. Arellano goes on further by stating that if we “remove the moral conscience of this region, then Holocaust can be worse than Hitler’s 6 million.” Now, that’s a leap. The bill does not promote genocide. It is not aimed at reducing a race so that a dominant race can hold power. The analogy is misleading and flawed, if not exaggerated for effect.
- The Philippines is the only Catholic Constitution in the whole world. This is utterly flagrant and completely wrong. History tells us that the Philippine Constitution was very much a replica of the US Constitution, whose framers were very secular such that the separation of church and state was one of its abiding principles. The meaning of the separation of Church and State underlines that there should be no State-sponsored religion. So how come, Fr. Arellano asserts that ours is a Catholic Constitution? (For one, i was taught in the schools run by the order Fr. Arellano belongs to and this was a lesson i learned from them.) Furthermore, this statement also alienates our Muslim brothers and sisters in Mindanao.
- That the bill is anti-constitution because it goes against the Abortion Law. Nowhere written in the bill does it advocate the use of abortion. The word “abortion” appears 8 times in the bill within the context of either upholding the abortion law or decreasing the incidence of it. The bill however extends medical health care to those women who suffer complications due to abortions, such that their treatment is made without prejudice and bias to their act. Allow me to quote the use of the word “abortion” in the different sections of the bill:
Page 1| Found in the explanatory notes section: Precise and regular use of contraceptives can decrease abortion rates by as much as 85% (Allan Guttmacher Institute)
Page 2 | Found in explanatory notes section: Having the ability to plan and space children will afford women more employment and educational opportunities and will significantly lower abortion rates. The bill will also prevent infant and child deaths.
Page 2| Found in explanatory notes, 5th primary objective of the bill : The RH bill will most definitely help lower the incidence of abortion by preventing unplanned, mistimed and unwanted pregnancies which are the ones usually terminated.
Page 5| Found in Section 3.i : While nothing in this Act changes the law against abortion, the government shall ensure that all women needing care for post-abortion complications shall be treated and counseled in a humane, non-judgmental and compassionate manner.
Page 7| Found in Definition of Terms Reproductive Health 19.c : proscription of abortion and management of abortion complications. (Author’s note: please note that the use of the word PROSCRIPTION means “decree prohibiting something”).
Page 10| Found in Sec 13.j discussing sex education to include : Proscription and hazards of abortion
Also it must be said that the format of most of our laws consist of a separability clause (in HB 96 it is in Sec. 26). The separability clause states: If any part or provision of this Act is held invalid or unconstitutional, other provisions not affected thereby shall remain in force and effect.
- That the bill is anti-labor. Fr. Arellano misleadingly states that the Philippines’ number 1 export is its laborers. Actually, semiconductors and electronic products are still the number one export commodities, according to the CIA World Factbook. There is also his flawed notion that laborers can be exported. Chino Fernandez of Anti-Pinoy.com said it well. This is tantamount to slave manufacture. Also, our overseas labor employment comprise only of nearly 3% of the entire Filipino labor force including approximations of undocumented OFWs. (3) (4)
- That the bill is anti-Church. To look at this argument, we have to take it in its inverse. Should the bill and all other laws be pro-Church? Apart from separation of Church and State principles, and also our own Bill of Rights, there is no objective reason why the Church should advocate that this bill be pro-Church. Laws are made for its universality and not for narrowed special interests. It protects the rights of everyone, even those of non-believers. The right of self-determination is within State’s interests, such that the health and population growth of its constituents affect the economy and development of the State. The moral choice to use or not to use contraceptives within HB 96 is still an individual prerogative. It is not an imposition.
Underlying Principles of HB 96
The background of HB 96 comes from over 10 years of population management and development concerns, alleviation of poverty, advocating women’s reproductive health and upholding children’s welfare. The explanatory note of the HB 96’s gives an abstract of where the bill is coming from. The bill centers on the premise that “reproductive health has long been considered a basic universal human right“. It speaks about the “right to health and sustainable human development.” (1)
The explanatory notes further states its stand. It is necessary that we quote the paragraph in full (emphasis is mine):
The proposed bill is pro-poor, pro-women and pro-life. Its principal beneficiaries will be the poorest of the poor and the marginalized. Reproductive health and family planning significantly improves maternal health and lowers maternal morbidity. Having the ability to plan and space children will afford women more employment and educational opportunities and will significantly lower abortion rates. The bill will also prevent infant and child deaths. Family planning will likewise mean larger investments in children’s health and education and better health outcomes for children. With resultant lower maternal and infant deaths and capacity for more investments in health and education, RH is definitely pro-life.
The HB 96 has its owns flaws, and like all laws are not drafted perfect. However, spreading and making falsified claims on what it is versus what is really written is manipulative, if not naive. In the next entry about HB 96, i will discuss linkages between population and poverty and how it impacts the Philippines and its growth.
(1) Lagman, EC. Proposed House Bill No. 96. “The Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2010” 15th Congress. First Regular Session. House of Representatives. Republic of the Philippines. Copy as filed on 01 July 2010. Accessed from: http://www.pngoc.org/Download%20Section/HB%2096%20as%20filed.pdf
(2) National Statistics Office (NSO) [Philippines], and ICF Macro. 2009. National Demographic and Health Survey 2008. Calverton, Maryland: National Statistics Office and ICF Macro. Accessed from: http://philippines.usaid.gov/resources/key_documents/NDHS_2008.pdf
(3) Rivera E. Redefining the Labor Force Network: Some Inputs from the Philippine Experience. International Labour Office. December 2008 : Geneva, Switzerland. Accessed from: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—integration/—stat/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_100704.pdf
(4) Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) [Philippines]. 2009 Overseas Employment Statistics. Accessed from: http://www.poea.gov.ph/stats/2009_OFW%20Statistics.pdf
(5). Fernandez C. Catholic Arguments against RH Bill are Spiritually Backward and Misinformed. March 2010. Available from the Anti-Pinoy website. Accessed from: http://antipinoy.com/catholic-arguments-against-rh-bill/
(6) “RH Bill: A Moral Evil: Fail” by Discreet Infidel. October 2009. From the blog site: http://discreetinfidel.blogspot.com/2009/10/rh-bill-moral-evil-fail.html