Among the biggest and most controversial issues faced by the Philippines today is the great debate over the Reproductive Health bill. Opinions stemming from various sectors of society have surfaced, influencing the way the public think. But now we question, whose opinions matter most? Who are telling the whole truth? What exactly must the public believe and why?
Studying the full text of the bill, a few realizations came to mind. One important realization for me was the thought that both the Church and the proponents of the bill have only one thing in mind, that being the best interest of the people. However within this great similarity lies a great difference as well. The opinions of the proponents and of the Church vary greatly when one questions the means of attaining the best interest of the people. In a nutshell, the proponents believe that this can be achieved through proper family planning, enforcing a rather new system of healthcare and by encouraging responsible parenthood. The Church on the other hand believes that ultimately, the best interest of the people can be accomplished through hard work, responsible decision making and through a different version of responsible parenthood.
The supporters of the bill would define responsible parenthood to be something similar to controlling the number of children based on the total income of the parents, and controlling it in such a way that makes use of contraceptives. For the Church however, responsible parenthood would be synonymous to both parents taking responsibility for their actions. It would mean that they accept the consequences of having sex. If taking that kind of pleasure would merit another baby and a whole new dimension of hard work, responsible parents would comply even if it could mean a more difficult life for them. For now, the side of the Church may seem taxing and for some, maybe even cruel but what I believe is that at the end of the day, families who comply to the Church’s definition of responsible parenthood are the best families, simply because it is within those families where genuine love, perseverance and self sacrifice are best seen.
Analyzing the bill through different perspectives, I can see that the bill is definitely not one big cross mark teachers would put on failing papers. In my opinion, the bill isn’t a failure due to the fact that despite a few evident flaws, there are still so many good things proposed.
Like previously mentioned, through reading the bill, anyone can deduce that the legislators only want what is best for the people. I personally, was able to feel the genuine concern the proponents of the bill had for women and for the poor. Take for example Section 9 which talks about the maternal death review. Here it says that they will conduct an “in-depth study of the causes of maternal death with the primary purpose of preventing future deaths through changes or additions to programs, plans and policies.” I believe this is good because practices like this could help improve future systems and therefore save more lives in the process. Through this, the inevitable loss of one woman could be a loss that would save thousands of lives. Another part that I particularly like can be found under provision H of Section 4 stating that the government will provide for “treatment of breast and reproductive tract cancers and other gynecological conditions and disorders”. I also like provision F of that same section wherein legislators talk of eliminating violence against women. I like these because they show authentic concern for the health and well being of women. I believe that these things are needed in our society today because in status quo, women are dying and children are being left without mothers to care for them as they grow.
Apart from this, there are several other provisions in the bill that I am particularly in favor of. I am in favor of Section 5 (Midwives for Skilled Assistance, stating that there must be one fulltime skilled birth attendant for every one hundred fifty people giving birth) and Section 6 (Emergency Obstetric Care). I agree to these because given the situation of the Philippines today, there is a need not only for more but also for better services to be offered to women who are about to give birth and those who have just finished giving birth. From what I see, it is possible that there are many women afraid to give birth because present conditions are painful, uncomfortable or dangerous. Having better facilities and services might even encourage child birth. And while some people may be against this, I find nothing wrong with having many children because children are indeed the hope of the future.
Also, there are parts of the RH bill that I am in favor of simply because they don’t seem to bring any grave detriments to any involved party. Falling under this would be Section 21 of Employer’s Responsibilities and Section 18 on the Certificate of Compliance. Section 21 prescribes employers to be aware and respect the conditions of pregnant women. In line with this, I find nothing wrong with helping women better care for themselves and for their children. Also, Section 18 isn’t exactly the best proposal in the world because it mentions that people cannot get married without having proof that they have been taught about “responsible parenthood, family planning, breastfeeding and infant nutrition.” I am against the way local Family Planning Offices will be informing couples about responsible parenthood and family planning but taking into consideration the present state of our country, where a terrible number of people marry without proper knowledge of the consequences that come with marriage, I feel that a Certificate of Compliance wouldn’t do too much harm. I believe that it is better that couples are given even the slightest idea of what they are getting into when they get married, rather than them entering an in dissolvable contract without fully understanding the repercussions that come with such a decision.
Provision 9 of Section 3 together with Section 8 on Maternal and Newborn Health Care in Crisis Situations and Provision C of Section 4 aren’t exactly pleasing to hear because they talk about post abortion care. Despite this, I am in favor of them because I see that at those points in time, there is nothing that the state, the family nor society can do to reverse the situations. The past has passed—a woman underwent an abortion and is suffering the brutal consequences of it. While there are those who might think that she is deserving of the pain she’s going through, thinking with the “buti nga!” mentality, a real Christian would not add insult to injury. At that point she is already experiencing severe emotional distress (considering that for normal people it’s not easy to abort a baby), and allowing her, a dying mother, to wait hours for a doctor who would condemn her and not even treat her properly, would be nothing but cruel. I am totally against abortion but I care for women and the people who need them which is why, like Jesus mentioned, I condemn the sin and not the sinner.
With a rather lengthy discussion of the parts I like about the RH bill, I feel that it’s about time to go back to my main point which is that the said bill is unreasonable, immoral, unconstitutional and probably even pointless.
To start off, I am against all parts of the Reproductive Health bill that talk of giving “proper” sex education and reproductive health information, as seen in Section 16 (Mandatory Age-Appropriate Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education) and in provision 7 of Section 3. At first read, the proposed topics to be taught on sex education may not sound too bad, however, things are almost always easier said than done. It looks so nice to see a neat outline of the lesson plan but out of a hundred teachers, how many will be following that guideline strictly and how many will be able to successfully teach all those topics effectively and correctly? Teachers are no perfect beings and they are all entitled to their own opinions. If say, a teacher fails in his/her duty to teach sex education properly and make a child learn all the correct values, we can say that the entire provision for sex education has failed as well. Sad part is, the room for failure in this category is the size of the moon especially with the high student-teacher ratio, which only makes it more difficult to monitor if the students are getting the correct ideas or not. In short, sex education is severely flawed and therefore must not be put into practice, not now and preferably not ever.
Apart from the failure of sex education, the RH bill has failed in many other aspects. I see that family planning, the alleged role of POPCOM, reproductive health rights and certain reproductive health care services are failures as well. To begin, section 4 defines family planning to be “a program which enables couples, individuals and women to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children, acquire relevant information on reproductive health care, services and supplies and have access to a full range of safe, legal, affordable, effective natural and modern methods of limiting and spacing pregnancy.” In this passage alone there are already a number of faults. Firstly, on couples deciding “freely and responsibly” on how many children they are to have and when they are to have them. There is a flaw here because no one can guarantee that each and every individual will decide on this responsibly. There is also no guarantee that planning out the number of children will help the country in any way seeing as the source of poverty lies not with overpopulation but with the government’s incorrect allocation of goods, services and supplies. If the government just used the money for the RH bill to send families to a more rural area and ensure that they are able to live financially stable yet peaceful lives, then the problem of poverty will be a step closer to being solved. Spending billions on family planning and on methods to limit and space pregnancies will be a complete waste of valuable funds especially because it’s addressing a wrong problem and pushing the nation nowhere but back. Regarding the same passage, there is a loophole when one says “safe, legal, affordable and effective natural and modern methods of limiting and spacing pregnancies.” There is a loophole because one can say that drinking or doing something could be safe for the mother but no one can guarantee that it would be safe for the child or the possible life. There has been a heated debate on when life really begins, whether it is at conception or at implementation. Either way, there will continue to be a possibility that the use of these “safe” methods would be abortive but no one would even know it because everyone was told that all methods given by the government for family planning are “completely safe and effective.” Furthermore the “relevant information on reproductive health care, services and supplies” is rather faulty because we are unsure if the body giving out the information is indeed reliable and correct, which is why very similarly to this, sex education and counseling might not work in all cases.
Another part I disagree with is Section 7 on Access to Family Planning. I really dislike this section because I firmly believe that we can’t just plan a family the way we plan our meals for the day. Children are a gift from God and an end of marriage. Preventing pregnancies defeats the purpose of marriage. It is not right to have the pleasure of sex and not take the responsibilities that go with it. They are like two sides of a coin that can’t be separated. If no one attempts to divide a coin in two (such as separating the head from the tail) then no one should try to separate pleasure from responsibility.
Additionally, there is a segment on the bill that advocates gender equality. Putting myself in the shoes of the proponents of the bill, I would be thinking that women are being oppressed because they aren’t given the choice to decide whether or not they want to have a baby. In line with this is Section 4 on reproductive health rights and Section 20 on the Ideal Family Size. To me, I believe that all these are pointless and useless. First of all, women aren’t being oppressed when they are not given the choice to have a baby or not. I can say this because the moment they entered the agreement of marriage, (and it should only be in the context of marriage that they have sex) they renounced any right whatsoever relating to personal preference regarding the number of children. It may not have been explicitly stated in the marriage contract but I am sure that one would vow a “for better or worse” with his/her spouse and therefore, both vowed to take on the consequences of all the actions and decisions they have made together, including possibly a baby and harder work for them if it would mean so. And because of this I can say that reproductive health rights aren’t supposed to exist in the first place. Couples and individuals aren’t supposed to be given the right “to decide freely and responsibly whether or not to have children; to determine the number, spacing and timing of their children…to have relevant information; and to attain the highest condition of sexual and reproductive health” because that is a right belonging solely to our Creator, a right that belongs to no man on earth because it is definitely not man who creates life but God.
There is another portion of the bill that I found acceptable in practice but incorrect in principle. Section 19 on Capability Building of Barangay Health Workers would’ve been good because it is always great to pay people for the work they do, however I wanted to question why, of all things, must we pay people to promote reproductive health? Why not invest more money in hiring people to build homes or clean the streets so at least living conditions will be improved in a feasible, tangible manner? Why must so much be invested in the promotion of reproductive health care if this care isn’t going to bring any immediate, visible solutions to poverty?
Now that we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly we can arrive at a few conclusions and generalizations with regards to the bill and from there we can make resolutions on how all of us must act. Firstly, seeing the good and the bad in the bill brings about better understanding for both parties—pro and anti RH. Looking at things through a clear glass helps those against the bill see that indeed, the RH bill as well as its supporters are not complete monsters. To those who support it, they are given an in depth view of why the Church and so many individuals are so radically advocating against it.
At the end of the day, whose side can we say won? Both want only what is best for all parties involved, mainly the women, the children, society and the poor. But what I believe is that determining the winner lies in finding out which side’s arguments are better grounded not only on reality but also on the truth. In line with this, the winner for me would be those against the RH bill, not because I am some zealous Christian but because an in depth analysis of the bill has helped me decide for myself which side would indeed better help the country not only in the present or in the near future but also in the many generations ahead.
In summary, I am against the bill because of the following reasons
[1.] Advocating the RH bill is a lost cause. Even if women might be granted a few additional rights, it doesn’t mean that they will make them more free. Freedom comes with responsible decision making and with choosing the good, not only what is good for the self but also for the baby, the family and society. I would then define responsible to be a person thinking immensely of the implications of his/her actions and accepting the consequences of them, whatever they may mean. Responsible would not mean taking the easy way out and using contraceptives that (a.) may be abortive (b.) encourage various diseases and serve as a magnet for certain kinds of cancers (c.) defeat the purpose of marriage.
[2.] Secondly I am against the bill because the different projects proposed by the bill are too risky. With them, the country runs the risk of encouraging a more irresponsible youth and the risk of wasting millions of pesos on a projects that could do nothing more than push the nation backwards. People must not forget that pregnancy is not a disease and that people are the number 1 resource of a country.
[3.]The previous statement springboards me to the third reason which is that the RH bill will not even fix the problem of poverty. With millions dying every day, does the government really have funds to spend on pills that will decrease the number of children? Question is, do we really want to decrease the number of children? I don’t think so. Decreasing the number of children would mean decreasing the number of potential doctors, engineers and leaders who could completely change the country for the better in the coming future.
Furthermore, of all the possible avenues to take to resolve poverty, I question, why must we use one of the most expensive and most controversial? Would it not be better if we spend on something with quicker and more tangible effects like spreading people out and giving them decent places to live in and lasting sources of livelihood? It would probably cost just a bit more than the RH bill but the people who will benefit won’t just be the present women, men, children and society but also the future women, men, children and society. Benefitting such a number of people is an incredible value in itself. Therefore, if we want more people to be able to eat, the RH bill is something we should all strive to beat.