So the people may know, and consistent with their constitutional right to information on matters of public concern (Section 7, Article III), the highlights of the debate in the Lower House regarding the RH bill also deserve some media attention like those Congressional hearings on government anomalies and corruption. The congressional action on this bill is as vital to the future texture of our country’s moral fabric as its action on the stinking corruption currently being exposed.
Fortunately, some hardy and vigilant souls of strong and unwavering faith, decided to conduct their own Congressional watch. One of them, Ms. Rosa Linda G. Valenzona has been privileged to attend the debates and would like to share some of the happenings during the plenary session of our Honorable Congress men and women.
For starters, Ms. Valenzona brought out some noteworthy points. First is Lagman’s insistence that the bill does not seek to legalize abortifacients. So for those questioning the abortifacient effects of the pill and the IUD, the sponsors have redefined the moment of conception as implantation not fertilization. Then she also pointed out that “although Lagman claims that the bill does not have any demographic targets he quotes the Medium Term Plan to reduce population growth rate to 1.9% by 2010”. Considering however that the CIA Fact Book itself reports in the web that our population growth rate in 2008 has already declined to 1.991% and therefore “we are way ahead of target”, Ms Valenzona wonders why P5 billion would still be spent on population control! Could this money conveniently find its way into some people’s pocket?
In her report, Ms. Valenzona concentrated on the interpellation of Congressman Del Mar of Cebu on the sponsorship speech of Congressman Lagman, more specifically the following salient features:
First, on Lagman’s claim that the bill champions informed choice, Del Mar pointed out that access to contraceptives is free and unrestricted in spite of WHO findings that oral contraceptives cause breast, liver and cervical cancer. They are not even required to be labeled as cancer-causing or hazardous to women’s health but instead classified as essential drugs when they are not “medicines” at all as pregnancy is not a disease. Thus he suggested that the contraceptives must have a similar warning as that given to the public on the use of cigarettes. To all these objections, Lagman could only utter unfounded conclusions branding them as “myths and fallacies”. But Del Mar reminded Lagman that aside from other Constitutional provisions that he specifically listed, the bill may also violate Article XVI Section 9: “The State shall protect consumers from trade malpractices and from substandard and hazardous products”.
Del Mar further pointed out that the bill does not promote “informed choice” because in reality “most of the funding will go to the artificial methods, like purchase of birth control pills, condoms and sterilization process etc. and hardly anything will be spent for natural family planning method which does not really entail any expense. And yet part of this funding will come from Catholic taxpayers in violation of their beliefs. Thus for transparency Del Mar finally suggested that the bill should be entitled “An Act Providing for a National Policy Promoting Contraceptives and Sterilization”, which drew applause from the gallery
Then Del Mar took Lagman to task for fast tracking the law-making process and disenfranchising the Pro-Life groups in voicing their objections to the bill during committee hearing and for considering that three hours dedicated to hearing the citizens group as sufficient “comprehensive hearing”. Del Mar claimed that the failure to give proper hearing to the Family Associations wanting to register their objections to the bill cannot be justified by Lagman’s claim that similar versions of the bill had already reached plenary debates in past Congress since the rules of Congress demands that the bill should start from scratch.
Eventually Del Mar’s procedural questions gave him an opportunity to take Lagman to task on the fact that HB 5043 was a substitute bill for 4 other versions and was in fact written by PLCPD! He brought to light the avowed mission of a foreign funded NGO such as PLCPD – to formulate vital national policies on population. He also pointed out that David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the leading promoter of population control in the Philippines, has strongly criticized the Philippine government for allegedly stopping the procurement of contraceptives. In words of Del Mar: “What special right Mr. Speaker does this foundation (referring to Packard Foundation, funders of PLCPD) have to criticize the internal policies of the government, which are denied other foreign entities? Does this not constitute meddling in the internal affairs of the government?” Del Mar also pointed out that PLCPD’s active role in legislation might be an intervention in the sovereign business of the Congress, foreign funded as it is. To stress his point he reminded the body that Batas Pambansa Bilang 39 requires foreign funded domestic agents to register with the Philippine government and disclose their foreign principals and their respective interests before they could begin lobbying in Congress on any measure.
Reacting to Lagman’s proud claim that no fresh appropriations had been budgeted for HB 5024 Del Mar pointed out that this was achieved by appropriating amounts budgeted for DOH and POPCOM together with 10% of the Gender and Development budgets of all Government agencies under RA 7192 (Women in Development and Nation Building Act). Del Mar said that this is actually in violation of the Constitution (Article VI, Section 29) where it is mandated that money collected on any tax levied for a special purpose should be treated as a special fund and paid out for such purpose only. Moreover nowhere in RA 7192 is there a mention of Reproductive Health.
Del Mar also reminded his colleagues that if HB 5024 were already a law all his statements against the artificial methods and against the measure in general would have landed him in jail. He foresaw a floodgate of prosecution because the vagueness of the terms “knowingly withheld information” and “intentionally provided incorrect information”, means that anyone can be sued in court. Everyone will “cower in fear of prosecution for committing any of these acts”. Lagman retorted that only “malicious misinformation” would be penalized but instead of clarifying the matter he left the interpretation to the Courts! Del Mar then pursued the matter further by pointing out that the mandatory nature of the age-appropriate reproductive health education could incarcerate parents who resist having teacher attend these classes. He also brought up the adverse effects in the marital bond of the provision of non-requirement of marital consent for sterilization and vasectomy; the non-requirement of parental consent for reproductive health services to abused minors; the penalties facing Catholic health workers who are conscientious objectors.
To end his interpellation, Del Mar thus offered the following amendments-deletion of the prohibited acts, the penalty provisions, and the appropriation provision. But Lagman rejected these as killer amendments which virtually delete the bill’s basic provisions.
From the on-going debate, it is getting clearer that the RH Bill could only be approved by the honorable members of the House of Representatives if they succumbed to other “overriding” causes than the benefit and interest of our country and our people especially our family and children.