Government backs RH bill – Ona

Published by rudy Date posted on March 19, 2011

MANILA, Philippines – Health Secretary Enrique Ona has reiterated his call for the passage of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, saying that poor families that wish to limit the number of their children should be assisted by the government.

In a speech during the National Conference of Catholics for Reproductive Health held at the GT Toyota Center in the University of the Philippines-Diliman campus last Thursday, Ona gave assurance that President Aquino has not wavered in his support for the bill.

“With the current government, we can all say that we have a better chance to advance our advocacy. The stand of the Aquino government on the enactment of (the bill on) responsible parenthood and reproductive health remains consistent,” Ona said during the conference attended by more than 2,000 community leaders, civil society organizations, members of academe, youth, media and government.

Citing the National Health and Demographic Survey 2008, Ona claimed that the fertility rate of women who belonged to the poorest 20 percent of the population was 5.3 while their desired fertility rate was 3.3.

“This means that couples who belong to the very poor actually want to have fewer children but they are unable to accomplish this because of lack of access to family planning services,” he said.

The actual fertility rate of women from the richest 20 percent, on the other hand, was 1.9 while their desired fertility rate was 1.6.

Ona said that affluent women have the knowledge and access to reproductive health services so they are able to plan their families better than their poorest counterparts.

“Let me just emphasize that we are not forcing them to have smaller families. What the government would like to ensure is that the moment these couples, especially the poor, decide to plan their families, the means and methods they choose to use to carry out their reproductive decisions are made available to them,” he added.

The health chief has sought the immediate passage of the bill to adequately protect families, especially mothers.

“The road to the establishment of a national population and reproductive health policy is indeed long and winding. For after the 11th Congress when this bill was first filed, we still find ourselves in this gathering at this moment with the same call. A common ground between religion and public policy on reproductive health has been so elusive,” he said.

Ona added that public discourse had dragged the issue into mere rhetoric at the expense of poor mothers dying because they cannot achieve their desired fertility; adolescents getting pregnant due to lack of information; and poor families seeing helplessly their children suffering from ignorance and poor health because of too many children to support.

The conference was organized by the Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc., Health Action Information Network and Catholics for RH to let the “voices of the Catholics” on the issue be heard.

At the end of the conference, participants came up with a draft manifesto showing their support for the legislation.

“As Filipino Catholics, we do not adhere to the position of the Roman Catholic Church leaders that only natural family planning methods should be supported, promoted and used as the only option available to Filipino couples. For us, this is a violation of one’s right to information and access to medically safe, legal and safe options to plan one’s family,” the manifesto stated.

Anti-RH

Radio Veritas, a Church-run radio station, said a majority of congressmen representing Metro Manila districts are reportedly against the passage of the RH bill.

Radio Veritas said that in a radio survey it conducted, it appeared that nine of the 19 lawmakers in Metro Manila support the Catholic Church’s position.

They are Marikina 1st District Rep. Marcelino Teodoro; Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo; Parañaque 1st District Rep. Edwin Olivarez; Caloocan 1st District Rep. Oscar Malapitan; Parañaque 2nd District Rep. Roilo Golez; Quezon City 1st District Rep. Vincent Crisologo; Pasay City Rep. Imelda Rubiano-Calixto; Manila 4th District Rep. Theresa David-Bonoan and Manila 5th District Rep. Amado Bagatsing.

On the other hand, six of their peers in Congress support the legislative measure, namely Manila 6th District Rep. Ann Rosenda Campo; Malabon Rep. Veronique Josephine Lacson-Noel; Caloocan 2nd District Rep. Mary Mitzl Cajayon; Makati City 2nd District Rep. Marl-len Abigail Binay; Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon and Quezon City 3rd District Rep. John Jeorge Banal.

Meantime, four others said that they are still in the process of studying the RH bill. They are Taguig 2nd District Rep. Sigfrido Tinga; Marikina 2nd District Rep. Federico Romero-Quimbo; Manila 2nd District Rep. Carlo Lopez; and Quezon

City 2nd District Rep. Winston Castelo.

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines secretary-general Monsignor Juanito Figura said they are organizing a thanksgiving Mass on Wednesday, March 23, at 9 a.m. at the Manila Cathedral to express their gratitude to all those who defended the sanctity of life by blocking the passage of the RH bill.

Sticker campaign

In a related development, a nationwide organization calling itself Families Against the RH bill is taking the offensive in the lobby against proposed legislation on government-funded distribution of contraceptives.

The group is holding a simultaneous sticker campaign in various parts of Metro Manila, Bataan, Pampanga, Baguio, Bacolod, Cebu, Davao and Cagayan de Oro City this morning.

TV personality and former national athlete Christine Jacob-Sandejas, one of the convenors of the Families Against the RH bill, said initial funding for the stickers was contributed by the members, but to sustain the campaign, the organization will ask recipients for donations of P5 per sticker.

In Balanga City, Mayor Joet Garcia will lead the distribution of 10,000 stickers today, which will be followed by a province-wide rally on March 26. –-Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) with Evelyn Macairan

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