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April 9, 2011

Commentary On The Reproductive Health Bill

Having read the very hotly-debated Reproductive Health Bill pending in the Philippine Congress, I am inclined to make my own reaction regarding the provisions as written in the bill.

Sec. 16: "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;" Comment: "If the proponents of the bill are strongly clamoring for Separation of Church and State as their strong defense and justification for the passing of this bill, why then include in the proposed Sex Education the teaching of Values Formation? Is it the responsibility of the State to teach its citizens values or is it in the proper domain of the Church? If indeed the State can teach Values formation, which values are we referring to here? Christian values as dictated by the Bible? Muslim values as dictated by the Koran? Or other denominational values as dictated by their own religious authorities? While there are such things as Universal Values, is the State therefore in the moral authority to dictate and identify what these universal values are? Who will be teaching the Values Formation aspect of this Sexual Education? Will it be a religious person? A priest? An imam? A pastor? A psychologist?

SEC. 18. Certificate of Compliance

"No marriage license shall be issued by the Local Civil Registrar unless the applicants present a Certificate of Compliance issued for free by the local Family Planning Office certifying that they had duly received adequate instructions and information on family planning, responsible parenthood, breastfeeding and infant nutrition." Comment: If the 'adequate instructions and information on family planning' is contrary to one's faith and religious belief and the couple opt not to be 'instructed' by that which is contrary to their religious belief, will the State continue to deny them the license to marry? If it is required therefore to get 'instructions' on how to 'plan' one's family, does it make the State almost omnipotent to the point of being able even to 'interfere' or 'dictate' the marital affairs of its citizens? If indeed there is a Separation of Church and State and the act of marriage is in a sense seen by most people as more than just a binding contract but a 'Sacrament' and therefore a religious affair, does this make the State step into the domains of the Church by regulating marriage?

SEC. 28. Prohibited Acts

"The following acts are prohibited:
(c) Any employer or his representative who shall require an employee or applicant, as a condition for employment or continued employment, to undergo sterilization or use or not use any family planning method; neither shall pregnancy be a ground for non-hiring or termination of employment." Comment: Many private (some are Catholic) schools would have a written or a non-written policy regarding students who got pregnant. They are either suspended or expelled. Why is the bill silent in this? Can it also be the right of a student who got pregnant, whether married or unwed, to continue studying in the same school if she chooses to do so without fear of being discriminated by both the School and the students at large? Another scenario would be, if an employee is working in a company who has high company values and morality and that part of the rules and regulations of the company is to avoid getting pregnant if unwed or not married, can the said company not terminate the said employee if she got pregnant and she was not married?

Same Section: "The following acts are prohibited: (e) "Any person who maliciously engages in disinformation about the intent or provisions of this Act." Comment: how is maliciously defined? If a priest or pastor or imam preaches from his pulpit against all or some of the provisions of this Act that he or she feels is contrary to his or her Religion's teachings, will that person be penalized?

I do not wish to argue the morality of the use of artificial contraception. I leave that to the theologians and experts. Don't get me wrong. I am for lowering maternal deaths and infant deaths. I am for accessibility to health care for women and children. In fact, if only our local government units have been focusing on this problem long ago, we should not have had reached this stage. With or without this law, it is a primary concern for every LGU to ensure accessibility to health care services to women, men and children which do not only cater to their reproductive health but to other health concerns. But the reality is, and I write based on experience, not many LGU's would want to hire health care professionals. Not many LGU's would want to invest on infrastructure for health. Not many LGU's would want to purchase medications and equipments to supplement health care services. Not many LGU's would want to enroll their true indigents to Philhealth. There have been a few LGU's who have done so and were able to maintain zero maternal deaths and this is not because of a high contraceptive prevalence rate. They were able to do so because they made accessible their health care services to their constituents, rich or poor.

Perhaps the only motivation for this bill is really to legislate the use of artificial contraceptives, make it legal and make it a priority of the State. The rest of the provisions are basically a given and are actually for the most part are being implemented by some LGU's (e.g. Maternal Death Review Board, etc). Whether that is right or wrong is yet another subject of debate.

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