MANILA, Philippines - The Senate’s first hearing into the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Bill yesterday settled nothing except that support and opposition to the measure are split down the middle.
Almost 40 resource persons were invited to the hearing, including two former senators who claimed that the proposed bill filed by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago contains provisions which are unconstitutional.
Former senators Francisco Tatad and Joey Lina cited several provisions that violate different sections of the Constitution.
Tatad said that the issue is not about freedom of couples to choose what kind of family planning method they want to use but rather the move to expand the power of government to go into areas of human life where it has no business whatsoever.
He said that there were provisions in the bill that could already be implemented without an enabling law.
Lina, for his part, opposed the use of contraceptives and any other means of family planning outside of the natural method because of his argument that human life begins at conception.
“Any device introduced by the state to block the natural growth of the fertilized ovum is violating the Constitution,” Lina said.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, represented by lawyer Jo Aurea Imbong, also presented the position of the Church on the bill, which it believes is not intended to address purely health rights issues.
“Is it really a health rights issue or is the spate of reproductive health bills in the last 12 years part of a well-orchestrated and well-funded agenda to change lifestyles and social norms of our men and women, including adolescents as recommended by the International Conference on Population and Development?” the CBCP said in a statement.
Sen. Pia Cayetano, chair of the committee on health and demography, admitted that the issue is sensitive and contentious and would need more deliberation in order to come up with an objective recommendation.
On the other side of the fence, the University of the Philippines Center for Women’s Studies aired its full support for the bill of Santiago, citing current scientific evidence that supports the need for reproductive health services without falling into the trap of calling for population control.
“Neither the denial of contraception urged by the Roman Catholic Church nor its enforcement as urged by population control advocates will protect women’s health and rights and the welfare of their families,” said Sylvia Claudio, director of the UP-CWS.
The Reproductive Health Advocacy Network (RHAN), the umbrella network of 43 health and development non-government organizations, said that there is an urgency to address the maternal, newborn, teen and HIV problems cited in the bill, especially among the poorest sectors and geographically remote areas.
“Women who want to be pregnant should have access to the services that will keep them from dying during pregnancy and childbirth. Women and couples having difficulty conceiving should likewise be assisted,” said Dr. Junice Demetrio-Melgar, secretary-general of RHAN.
“And women and couples who do not want to conceive should have the information and means to prevent an unwanted pregnancy,” she added.
Cayetano said that more hearings would be conducted to hear the positions of all sectors.
Marvin Sy, Philippine Star