Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mourning the RH Bill

For years, the Philippines relied on foreign aid for free contraception in barangay health centers. About two years ago, that outside assistance was phased out in an attempt to force the government to grow some balls. While the Reproductive Health Bill had its flaws, it certainly would have been a suitable starting point for changes in current population policies.

Now, the Reproductive Health Bill is dead. I suppose it would be moot for me to be writing about it now, but the issue hasn’t disappeared just because the legislation has perished.

On Filipino Voices, Nick laments the death of the bill and is dismayed that cowardice has taken precedence over political will. He writes:
The solution for many of these politicians is to do nothing, because of the “morality” issue. Because it is not government’s role to dictate. And yet, they acknowledge all too well that population is indeed a problem, and will still pursue a policy of doing nothing. It’s hypocrisy, and each and every candidate that opposes or has contributed to the death of this bill is indeed rife for attack when it comes to this all too important issue.

In an article on "Why Gibo Teodoro changed his mind on (the) RH bill," Rochelle Sy Chua writes:
Gibo believes that our moral guardians must be responsible for reproductive health because it is a question of morality and a personal choice. However he thinks that moral guardians must be responsible and accountable for our population management.

Gibo Teodoro has this belief that a government's role in reproductive health is to support a couple's moral choice (not influence it). Gibo Teodoro chose to withdraw his support for the bill because he thinks that we are not dealing with the problem but we get involved only in a debate that nobody wins.

However, I think Gibo Teodoro forgets that the Church-- our moral guardians have already been in charge of our reproductive health for centuries since we have been a Catholic and very religious Country for that long. That's why we have a population problem because our moral guardians have failed. Isn't that why we are debating reproductive health today because our population problem is already an issue? So, why should we give them a chance when they have already failed?

I agree with both writers.

Because they lacked courage, Gibo and the others chose to free themselves from dealing with a sensitive, but essential, issue. These so-called leaders call reproductive health a "moral" concern and delegate its resolution to "moral guardians." Who are these moral guardians they speak of? In turning their backs on a moral issue, these politicians forfeit their own capacity to rouse and instill moral values in the people they wish to lead. Who then do we look to as our moral compass if not our leaders?

Many surmise that politicians tread carefully around the issue because they fear the influence of the Church. Backing reproductive health leads to serious ramifications like, perhaps, the loss of support. This would spell political suicide, especially so close to the May elections. It is an age-old anomaly, this involvement of the Church in state affairs. Mentioning it feels redundant because it has always been characteristic of this intensely religious country.

Lodged firmly in the national psyche is the Church’s deliberate stand against the RH bill. However, despite the religious origins, it is still just a way of thinking. Thought can be influenced by education. For a reproductive health bill to stand a chance in this country, something no less than a paradigm shift in national consciousness may be necessary. Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but we must believe that it can happen.

Reproductive health is so much more than population control. It promotes safe motherhood, providing women with necessary medical options to safeguard their health. It allows individuals to choose if and when to have a child, lessening the number of unwanted pregnancies. Reproductive health seeks to prevent abortion and the fatalities resulting from it. It encourages an environment where children can be raised to healthy adulthood with choices and adequate resources. It educates and prepares young people, offering security against sexually-transmitted diseases. Reproductive health aims, overall, to enhance human well-being.

On the other hand, population control seems to have been perceived as the end-all for the RH Bill. Ultimately, it is the outcome that the bill's supporters hope for. The Philippine population, large as it already is, steadily expands at an annual rate of 2.16%. Overpopulation leads to over exploitation, and inevitable loss, of natural resources. Many Filipinos live in rural areas and rely specifically on these finite resources. They are also unequipped and uninformed: their families continue to grow, producing more mouths to feed. The level of awareness is equally low in a substantial portion of the urban population. These people also live in challenging circumstances and struggle through the same, impoverished conditions.

The need for a reproductive health bill is a moral issue, but it is also an economic issue and a governance issue and, therefore, a political issue. Those-who-would-be-President promise to lift the Filipinos out of poverty and improve their quality of life. Passing an RH Bill, or at least putting it to vote, should have been the first step to do it.

So, what shall we do, now that the RH Bill is dead? For now, the fight falls to the individual. For now, personal choices and our own understanding will be our contribution and testament to this policy. We are to be the advocates of a bill that is not truly dead, one that will hopefully find its way back to a more enlightened Congress. For now, the people must speak in place of a leadership that has chosen to be mute in the face of adversity.

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