Philippines still divided on reproductive health bill

Posted at 05/09/2011 3:10 AM | Updated as of 05/11/2011 2:14 AM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Philippine society remains divided on the reproductive health (RH) bill, if the heated debate on "Harapan" aired by ABS-CBN and ANC on Sunday night is any indication.

Key proponents of movements either supporting or rejecting the RH bill took part in the discussion, which was hosted by Julius Babao and Karen Davila.

The debate sought to clarify issues about the bill now pending in Congress, amid vitriol spilled by both sides on social media, the pulpit, on the streets, and elsewhere.

House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, one of the proponents of the measure now called Responsible Parenthood-Reproductive Health Bill, fired the first salvo in the debate.

He cited United Nations data showing that 11 women in the country die every day due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.

He also mentioned surveys made by Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia showing that a majority of Filipinos support the RH bill.  "Ang RH bill ay hindi tungkol sa religion. Ito ay tungkol sa karapatan, kalusugan, at kaunlaran," he said.

Lagman added that it is not only about contraceptives but also maternal health, abortion prevention, HIV-AIDS management prevention, and efforts to stamp out violence against women.

Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez, who is opposing the bill, took the opposite road and said he and the other guests would not be present at the debate if their mothers followed family planning.

He also claimed that contraceptives raise breast cancer rates and do not prevent HIV infections, citing Thailand.

Golez also said the Philippines' population growth rate is going down. "Di na kailangan ng RH para bumaba."

He and Lagman would trade barbs later on during the debate over Golez's statistical data, with his fellow lawmaker from Bicol accusing him of fabricating figures.

The 2 legislators were not the only ones on the hot seat.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines' Fr. Melvin Castro drew raised eyebrows when he said tubal ligation, a popular medical method involving the cutting women's Fallopian tubes to prevent them from becoming pregnant again, is considered as a sin by the church.

University of Sto. Tomas' (UST) Dr. Josephine Lumitao, who is also opposing the measure, said the method, called "pagpapatali" in Filipino, is a sterilization procedure. 

She said Fallopian tubes should only be removed or cut if they are diseased. "Mutilation kung hindi. Hindi ako nagli-ligate," she said.

Dr. Esperanza Cabral, a former health secretary, said Lumibao has the right to refuse conducting tubal ligation on her patients. "Pero wala siyang karatan na sabihin sa iba na wag magpaligate," she said.

She stressed that the measure is aimed against abortion. "Walang abortion na isinusulong ang RH Bill."

Cabral also said Golez failed to mention data oral showing that oral contraceptives can decrease a person's chances in having cancer in other parts of the body.

Pro-life activist George Balagtas and Dr. Sylvia Estrada Claudio, director of the University of the Philippines' center for women's studies also presented their arguments either rejecting or supporting the RH bill.

Claudio focused her attention on the Catholic Church's influence on the debate.

She said Catholic leaders in the country should respect diversity of religion and opinion.

"I'm not a Catholic. Hindi totoo na lahat ng Pilipino ay Katoliko. That is not society," she added.

Castro, meanwhile, insisted that the RH bill is against God's laws. "We are opposing God's will to procreate."

Overpopulation and responsible parenthood

Former Interior and Local Government Secretary Joey Lina said he is opposing the RH bill because the Philippines' problem is not overpopulation. "We are poor not because we are many. We are poor because of mismanagement... corruption," he said.

He added that developed Asian countries like Japan and South Korea have more people per density compared to the Philippines. "ung saan mas marami ang tao, doon mas mataas ang antas ng buhay," he said.

Dr. Johnrob Bantang, a spokesman for for some UP teachers and students, supported Lina's stand.

He said overpopulation is not hindrance to economic and human development.

Lagman answered by saying population density is a fallacy. "Ang tamang sukat ng development ay population growth rate. Population is directly linked to development," he said.

Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, meanwhile, cited poll data showing that 9 of 10 married Filipinos want family planning. "Hindi ba dapat sila tulungan ng gobyerno?" she asked.

She added that the Vatican allows reproductive health laws in other countries. "Pero tayo dito sa Pilipinas hindi?"

Carlos Celdranm, an outspoken critic of the Catholic Church on the reproductive health issue, raised temperatures in the debate and directly addressed those opposing the measure.

"We've been talking about his for 16 years. People like you have always been shooting this down. Why haven't you implemented with your ideas? Kung hindi effective ang solusyon niyo, you're not doing your job. Come up with a solution right here an dnow or you are part of the problem," he said.

Sex and sensibilities

Other personalities from the 2 sides of the fence also crossed swords over sensitive issues such as sex education and abortion.

"Hindi po ang gobyerno ang may karapatan humubog sa moralidad ng mga bata," Alliance for Families' Girlie Noche.

UST's Dr. Aguirre, meanwhile, used another angle in attacking the RH bill. She said sex education has been around for years and cited a study stating that 9 of 10 Filipino youths are not sexually active.

Akbayan's Risa Hontiveros, on the other hand, believes that sex education must begin in the fifth grade, when changes occur in the bodies of boys and girls .

"Alam ko ring hindi lahat ng magulang gusto ito pag-usapan," she added. "Huli na masyado pag itinuro ang sexuality education sa 2nd year high school."

The Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines' Beth Angsioco said the RH bill is not solely for sexual education. "Nandoon din po yung values formation," she said.

Angsioco also mentioned a study showing that 80% of Filipino youths do not know anything about fertility issues.

Garin, meanwhile, reiterated her stand that the RH Bill is against abortion. "Bilang doktor, hindi kami papayag gawing legal ang abortion sa Pilipinas," she said. "Contraceptives not abortifacients."

The discussion continued until the early hours of Monday morning.

SMS, online poll results

Even the results of the SMS and online polls held during the show failed to end arguments on key issues.

In the SMS poll, 69.58% of votes cast reject the RH bill while 30.42% support it.

In the separate online poll held on the Harapan microsite that livestreamed the debate, 63.91% support the RH bill while 36.09% oppose it.

The debate continues.