By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The House of Representatives and the Senate is set to take a recess this week for the Holy Week break. Sessions will resume on May 7. There are speculations that if the impeachment process has been completed by then, the Congress will finally vote on the controversial Reproductive Health Bill.
In a press conference in Quezon City, authors of the Reproductive Health Bill in the Lower House, together with advocates, call on the Congress to pave the way for the “passage of the decade long, pending Reproductive Health bill and make it see the light of day,” the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation, Inc. said in a statement.
“Women and children are dying unnecessarily with President Benigno S. Aquino III’s failure to deliver much needed health care services to women,” Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan said, “Hemorrhage, eclampsia and sepsis infections are easily preventable causes of maternal and infant deaths yet Filipinos continue to suffer and die of these everyday because facilities are inadequate and there are no skilled healthcare professionals for childbirth.”
In January 2012 alone, the Department of Health has documented 50 incidents of maternal deaths in Metro Manila. On March 19, 2012, two new incidents of abandoned babies in Quezon City and in Davao were reported.
In a Philippine Star report, Roddie Santiago, a village officer, said the mother of the newborn baby found in Quezon City probably intended her baby to live because the mother tied it in such a way that you would not mistake it for trash. “The problem is she might not have the sufficient resources to support the needs of the newborn, forcing her to abandon the baby,” the report read.
“What could be more glaring than that? Clearly, we have a problem in reproductive health concerns of mothers, young people, among poor couples particularly,” Ramon San Pascual, executive director of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation Inc.
Former Health secretary Esmeralda Cabral, who also attended the press conference, said the government’s National Demographic and Health Survey in 2008 already showed the need for passing the Reproductive Health bill.
“It has been two years since Aquino was installed as president. Yet, the Reproductive Health bill remains far from being passed,” Cabral said.
She said that in two years that the Aquino administration has failed to pass the reproductive health bill, lives of both mothers and children have been at stake. There have been deaths due to infections and complications brought about by childbirth that could have been prevented if there is access to pre- and post-natal care.
Mortality rate of mothers reveals glaring statistics. According to the Department of Health, 11 mothers die daily. The lifetime risk of maternal death in the Philippines is 1 for every 140, compared to developed countries where the ratio is 1 every 8,000.
“This could have been prevented if only women have access to skilled midwives and health centers,” Cabral said.
The 2008 government survey also revealed that 25 children die for every 1,000 live births even before they celebrate their first birthday. Spacing of childbirth could have lessened the risk of infant deaths. Children who are born less than two years have a higher morality rate, which is 35 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to the 18 per 1,000 live births for those born three years after the previous birth.
Cabral said the government findings show that about one third or 800,000 births every year are unwanted pregnancies. The survey also reveals that 10 percent of women ages 15 to 19 years old are already mothers or are pregnant with their first child.
“Of course, they would say that to prevent early pregnancy, teenagers should not get involved with premarital sex. If it is possible for any parent to guard their children 24 hours day, then there is no need to pass the Reproductive Health bill,” Cabral said.
The National Demographic and Health Survey shows that more than half of married Filipino women are using family planning methods, both modern and traditional. More than half of married Filipino women or 54 percent do not want any more children. The government survey also reveal that 22 percent of married women have unmet need for family planning, where nine percent is for spacing and 13 percent for limiting the number of their children.
“If women want more children, they can have as many as they can because the Reproductive Health bill does not stop them from giving birth. If they do not want to or if they want to do birth spacing, the Reproductive Health bill will provide it,” Cabral said.
Ilagan said mothers need skilled midwives and health centers equipped with birthing facilities. Government findings show that 56 percent of births occur at home, which is more common in rural areas, about 70 percent, compared to urban areas’ 40 percent.
“Women need free pre-natal and post-natal care to ensure healthy pregnancies and childbirth,” Ilagain said, “These are necessities that are being neglected by women because they have actually become luxuries for the poor and marginalized.”
No quorum to vote for RH bill?
The Reproductive Health bill has already passed all committee hearings and interpellations from other members of the House of Representatives. But the Lower House could still not vote on the controversial bill because of lack of quorum, supposedly because of the impeachment process against Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, where some congressmen serve as prosecutors.
Last March 8, during the 101st commemoration of the International Women’s Day, Ilagan said they hoped that the Lower House would be able to pass the Reproductive Health bill. “But still, no quorum.”
“The RH bill, which has been filed and re-filed since the 10th Congress never got the chance to reach the voting period and see the light of day for our women,” San Pascual said, “RH supporters have witnessed how leaders of Congress succumbed to the whims of some bishops and Catholic leaders, thus continuing the delay of the bill.”
According to San Pascual, the Reproductive Health Bill, which was considered as one of Aquino’s priority bills during his first State of the Nation Address, has seemingly taken a back seat because of the impeachment process.
He added that all possible rational questions during hearings have have already been exhausted because the Reproductive Health bill has been interpellated many times before. “Clearly, the anti-RH main strategy is to delay the process until we ran out of time, until election period sets again,” San Pascual added.
He urged the Congress to pass the Reproductive Health Bill under the Aquino administration before “it becomes too late and we end up deeply buried in problems related to health, economic and social status of women.”
Is Aquino waveringl?
When asked if President Aquino has already wavered its support for the Reproductive Health bill, Ilagan said she cannot answer for the president.
“Only Aquino can say if he is still supporting the Reproductive Health bill,” Ilagan said, “To see is to believe. Action speaks louder than words.”
She added that it is apparent if the president wants a specific bill to be passed. But there seems to be no pressure coming from President Aquino. Last year, Ilagan said, President Aquino had the perfect timing for pushing for the passage of the Reproductive Health bill because it is among the highly discussed issues at that time. But he did not make it.
But for the authors and advocates of the Reproductive Health bill, their commitment remains unwavering.
“Are we going to wait for these statistics to become worse than it is?” Ilagan said.
RH, only among other burdens of Filipino women
For Ilagan, passing the reproductive health bill is not the sole solution to end poverty. “But it would mitigate the burden that Filipino women are confronting.”
She said that as prices of oil and basic commodities continue to rise, women are spending less for health and, thus, jeopardizing not just their personal health and their pregnancies but the health of newborns as well.
Gabriela has been pushing for a reproductive health bill that will provide Filipino women a comprehensive healthcare way beyond the distribution of contraceptives and population control services. “Enacting a reproductive health policy that will help ensure women’s full access to health care will help prevent a maternal and childcare crisis situation in the country,” Ilagan said.
Ilagan also urged the public to be more aggressive in countering the the campaigns against the Reproductive Health bill. As response to the reported prayer rally for the rights of the unborn, she said, it is only rightl that we also protect the rights of those who are already born.