Archive for October, 2008

My Speech during the 1st Philippine Cooperative TEAM Shop in General Santos City

Posted in Inner Thoughts, Speeches with tags , , on October 25, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

I was invited to deliver the Keynote Addtess during the 1st Philippine Cooperative TEAM Shop in General Santos City.

The conference had the theme “T.E.A.M. -Together, Everyone Achieves More” and I was requested to deliver a message on “My Vision for the Cooperative Movement in the Philippines in Response to Global Challenges”.

Below is the speech I delivered:

I am deeply honored to be the speaker during this conference of cooperatives, the first of its kind in the country. The First Philippine Cooperative-TEAM Shop is a noteworthy endeavor that is a step towards the right direction in the development of cooperatives in the Philippines.

Perhaps it is appropriate that at the outset, I extend my congratulations to the National Cooperative Development Council, the Government of Gen. Santos City, the City Cooperative Development Council, the Regional Cooperative Development Councils in Regions XI and XII and last but certainly not the least, the Cooperative Development Authority. Truly, this initiative is proof of your proactive stance in advancing Philippine cooperativism.

TEAM…T. E. A. M. The acronym stands for the conference’s theme, “Together, Everyone Achieves More”.

The theme is a reiteration of the real spirit of cooperativism, where the combined strength of its members serves as the driving force behind the success of a cooperative. Ideally, the input of the individual combined with those of others results in the higher output of the cooperative as a whole.

It should not take a genius to realize that cooperation and combination leads to increased productivity as well as equitable sharing of benefits. It is a principle that is older than any political ideology prevailing now. From pre-historic times up to the modern era, the idea of joining forces, forging alliances and pooling resources has always been known to Man.

One would think that with the wisdom that goes with that principle, people would always give premium to banding together in unity. But what do we see in our country now? The Philippines is so divided, and the division criss-crosses between political ideologies, religious denomination, social strata, ethnic origin, even school affiliation.

The country’s division has contributed to our slow progress, and our country is often said to be taking two steps back for every step forward.

But cooperatives offer a glimmer of hope. Above the clutter and noise of national division, cooperatives offer a chance for the people to tap into the best qualities of the Filipino and achieve economic gain and stability.

Cooperatives have a universally accepted set of principles:

  1. Open and Voluntary Membership- where the lines of division is overcome with an open membership based on self-determination
  2. Democratic Control – where leadership is determined by collective decision
  3. Member Economic Participation – where every member has an equitable share in the capital and profit.
  4. Autonomy and Independence – where the direction of the coop is determined by the members free from external influence
  5. Education, Training and Information – where members learn from the organization and information is made available to everyone
  6. Cooperation among Cooperatives – where the cooperative moves in cooperation not only among its members but also among other cooperatives
  7. Concern for the Community – where cooperatives consider the sustainable development of the community and environment they move around in.

These principles give me a hope that in the backdrop of the chaos in national politics, cooperatives will more than make up for the flaws in present day society. It makes me confident that in the face of the global challenges the Philippines’ faces, cooperatives will be the catalyst of change that will usher in prosperity for our countrymen.

What is my vision for cooperatives in these trying times?

1. Cooperatives will be the preferred economic activity by the masses.

A majority of our people, the masses, are considered economically challenged. Many lack the educational attainment that would land them a well paid job, and almost all do not have the resources to become entrepreneurs by themselves.

While these dire circumstances may make a bright future seem unreachable, cooperatives provide people the opportunity to engage in productive economic activity without the demands of a venture by themselves.

2. The diversity of cooperative activities will lead to complementation, not competition.

There are various types of cooperatives with various kinds of activities. But there are times when similarities occur, and sometimes, those similarities lead to competition so intense that the cooperatives cancel each other out and both end up losing.

But there is a way to take advantage of diversity. If cooperatives concentrate on core activities and make themselves distinct from others, the concept of specialization will enable cooperatives to co-exist and prosper.

This is where your concept of One Coop Type – One Project comes in. The concept will make cooperatives avoid destructive competition and allow market niches to flourish. The specialization will also lead to excellence in the outputs of coops, since the concentration produces mastery of activity.

3. The cooperatives will be able to expand its business borders from the domestic market to the global market.

The mastery of a particular activity will enable cooperatives to turn out quality products or services and be more competitive. If coops are able to attain world class standards in their outputs and sustain that ability, they can penetrate markets in other countries as well as gain the confidence of the domestic market.

4. The cooperative movement will become so successful that not only will the movement be the preferred activity of Filipinos, but the movement will become the model to be emulated by other countries.

It is not unrealistic to dream that there will come a time that the Philippine cooperative movement will become the model for other countries. We are already on the road towards achieving the level of cooperative excellence and success, and as long as we are consistent in our efforts to improve cooperativism, it will not be long until the world will recognize our leadership in the cooperative movement.

These are but some of the aspirations we have for the Philippine cooperative movement. I do believe that these are realistic and attainable. But once again, we have to go back to the issue of unity and cooperation.

The question is : Is the cooperative movement ready to take on the challenge?

I believe it is. Proof is this conference that you have held for the first time. It is my desire that this conference will start the ball rolling towards the vision that we have for the cooperative movement.

But being ready to take on the challenge is only the beginning. The next step should be the adoption of a shared vision, plot a course of action, diligent implementation of the plan and an honest to goodness evaluation of what has been achieved.

As you go back to your respective areas after this conference, take along with you the lessons you have learned, the insights you have heard and the linkages you have made. These shall be valuable in your efforts to make your cooperatives successful.

And as I end this message, I leave you with this quotation which I think is relevant to our theme today:

“If you want to be incrementally better:Be Competititve. If you want to be exponentially better: Be Cooperative.”

May you all have a blessed day ahead!

Thank you very much!

A Tale of Two Countries

Posted in Inner Thoughts, Travel with tags , , , on October 17, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

It’s good to be home. Well, after one week of being out of the country, I sure do miss my four boys. My wife and I just arrived from a trip to Cambodia and Singapore. I attended a conference on the Role of Parliament in Defense Procurement in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. On the way home, we visited Singapore since the connecting flight was via Singapore Airlines’ hub. I haven’t been to the land Lee Kwan Yew built and this was an opportune time.

I had very productive conference in Phnom Penh. Aside from delivering a speech on Defense Procurement in the Philippines, I also learned from the processes and policies implemented in other ASEAN countries.

The trip also gave me an important insight on leadership and nationhood as I visited two countries with contrasting histories, characteristics and  destinies. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned by Filipinos from these two countries.

First, Cambodia. I do not mean any disrespect to the Cambodia people, but I would say that a trip there would give Filipinos a respite from the depression that they have about their own country. Many Filipinos have many complaints about their own country–the poverty, the chaotic streets, the congested sidewalks, corruption in government, etc, etc….the list of complaints could go on and on…

But a visit to Phnom Penh would immediately give a Filipino a boost of pride on how “modern” and “orderly” our cities are. If you think that Metro Manila streets are a nightmare to drive in, wait till you experience the streets of Phnom Penh. Motorcycles are the kings of the road, with the concept of traffic rules seemingly alien to the riders. It could even be said that traffic signs and lights are mere suggestions, not regulations in Phnom Penh.

It is also apparent that the years of economic, political and social hardship has stunted the development of the city’s infrastructure. COmpared to Metro Manila, the Philippine capital gives you a sense of being in the First World.

On the contrary, our visit to Singapore gave me a feeling of envy. If I saw Phnom Penh as being behind Metro Manila, Singapore gave me a reality check…Metro Manila is still not First World.

First of all, Singapore’s cleanliness puts Metro Manila to shame. Never mind what others say that Singapore can do it because they are just a small country. The fact of the matter is that not any of Metro Manila’s 17 cities and municipalities alone could even measure to Singapore’s cleanliness and orderliness.

I have been to many cities with Chinatowns around the world — Washington D.C., Montreal, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney—but this has got to be the cleanest Chinatown I have ever seen! It’s so clean that it’s become so un-Chinatown!

Another thing that amazed me that in spite of all the development and the trappings of a modern city, they were able to maintain the healthy balance of greenery and concrete. The tree-lined streets gave the feeling of being in a garden, even though all around you are glass, steel and concrete buildings.

The contrast between the two cities–Phnom Penh and Singapore—went beyond the physical. You can also sense the difference in how the people put order in their lives. Phnom Penh is obviously still under the transition from having gone through a war-torn era while Singapore is already way ahead of their uncertain beginnings when they were separated from Malaysia.

But with their differences they also had their similarities. For one, both Singaporeans and Cambodians have a strong sense of nationalism. The Singaporeans, at the beginning of their nationhood, were like outcasts who had to fend for themselves. Through visionary leadership and a determined citizenry, they overcame the odds and even overtook many of their neighbors. Their accomplishment fuels their national pride and desire to maintain that feat.

The Camobodians, on the other hand, had a very traumatic history of violence and oppression marred by genocide. As a result, their country lagged behind, becoming the region’s basketcase.

But their experience gave them the resolve to never allow war to tear their country apart again. Their collective experience as a people led to a collective decision to shun division and move together forward. Although they are still behind in terms of infrasturcture and economic development, they are now at the beginning of a new revolution—that of taking their place in the league of countries that miraculously rose from the ashes and become one of asia’s wonders. It won;t be long before they will be at par with Vietnam and soon after that, Thailand.

With the examples shown by Cambodia and Singapore, one is compelled to ask oneself—how does the Philippines fare? If a visitor came to the Philippines, what would be the impression?

There are many things about the Philippines that make me cringe. But I think there are more things that make me hopeful. All we need to do now is get our acts together.

So What if the Americans Supported the MOA-AD?

Posted in Governance, Philippines and the Filipinos, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , , , on October 16, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision on the petition filed regarding the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the Government of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), many comments and opinions have been forwarded reacting to and even dissecting the Supreme Court decision.

I have my own views on the MOA (which I hahve written in my blogs) and I would have settled for the Supreme Court decision. I was not even going to react to other people’s comments, preferring to just say, “the Supreme Court has decided…your opinions will remain opinions.”

But there is one reaction that I found incredlous, especially coming from the person who said it. He is the last person I would expect to say such comments.

I refer to a quote of Senator Joker Arroyo I read in an article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer where he was reported to have said that the MOA-AD was supported by the US:

On the phone from the United States, Sen. Joker Arroyo pointed out that the high court’s ruling practically rested on one vote, and that “a change of one vote changes the picture.”

Arroyo noted that the tribunal was “sharply divided” on the issue of an expanded Bangsamoro homeland.

“For a decision with such far-reaching consequences, the high court was sharply divided, 8-7, and it could pose more problems in the future,” he said.

“A change of one vote would make the minority opinion the majority decision, and conversely, the minority decision would become a dissenting opinion.”

“Rarely” has this happened, he added.

Arroyo also said the US government had implicitly supported the MOA-AD.

“It should be stated that the act that the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional had the indirect encouragement and blessings of the US. This is attested to by the joint statement titled ‘Fixing Mindanao,’ released by the immediate seven former US ambassadors to the Philippines,” he said.

Arroyo was referring to the statement that appeared on the Sept. 30, 2008, issue of the Asian Wall Street Journal, which was in support of the MOA-AD.

The statement, which appeared as an opinion piece, was jointly written by former US Ambassadors Stephen Bosworth, Thomas Hubbard, Richard Murphy, Nicholas Platt, Francis Ricciardone, Richard Solomon and Frank Wisner, along with US officials Chester Crocker and Eugene Martin, and Astrid Tuminez, senior research associate of the US Institute of Peace Philippine Facilitation Project.

I don’t exactly know what the good senator, who has the image of a staunch nationalist, said during the itnerview (because sometimes interviews have their way of being edited and coming out misconstrued), but the report as written gave me the impression that he was justifying the MOA-AD because after all, it was supported by the Americans, as jointly written by seven former US ambassadors. Of course, everybody knows that even the current US ambassador was supposed to have been a witness to the signing of the MOA if it had pushed through.

Senator Arroyo’s quote even seemed to be meant to contrast the decision of the Supreme Court, implying that the SC was wrong in making that decision on a matter that is supported by the United States.

I do hope that the Senator, whom I respect, was misquoted. Because my opinion is SO WHAT IF THE AMERICANS SUPPORTED THE MOA?

While I look upon the United States as an important ally of the Philippines, it cannot be denied that they always act with their own interests as their primary concern. Meaning to say, if they supported the MOA, it is not out of the goodness of their heart or particular desire for the welfare of the Philippines. They support it because it is in their best interest.

The constitutionality of the agreement is a purely Filipino concern and no foreign opinion or position should matter. The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of legal questions in the Philippines, as provided for in the Constitution. Their supreme mandate is the defense of the Constitution so if there is any question of constitutinality, their final word is holy. It is ridiculous to even consider what foreigners think about matters brought to the Supreme Court.

What is their interest in Mindanao? There may be many, but one that would stand out is the American company Exxon’s  project to drill oil in the Sulu Sea. How would the MOA-AD play out in this project?

Well, under the proposed MOA-AD, the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity would have been empowered to enter into agreements with foreign governments or entities pertaining to their economy and use of natural resources. The MOA also provided the BJE with their own Exclusive Economic Zone with the determination of their territorial boundaries prescribed in the MOA.

So with the Americans supporting the MOA, one can be sure that the BJE will be a friendly entity to the United States, free from the restrictions presently being enforced by our Constitution.

Oil is a major motivation for the United States to get involved in a country’s affairs. Iraq was and is not just about the atrocities of Saddam Hussein and the welfare of the Iraqi people. It is first and foremost about the control of oil in the Middle East.

What about other countries in the world where conflict, oppression and strife has caused human suffering? What involvement did the United States have? What about the genocide and war crimes in Darfur? While the US is funding a monitoring team there, the United States is not motivated to act against the government in Sudan in the same way as they did in the case of Iraq.

So in the case of the MOA-AD, so what if the Americans supported it? The Supreme Court has decided. Let that be the final word on the matter.

The Reproductive Health Bill —House Bill No. 5043

Posted in Governance with tags , , on October 8, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

For anyone and everyone who is interested in what is contained in The Reproductive Health Bill (the version that is presently being tackled in plenary debates in Congress), I have taken the liberty to post the entirety of the bill. This is so that people will be informed as to what is written in the bill and being debated upon.

The judgement is left to the reader.

Republic of the Philippines

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Quezon City, Metro Manila

FOURTEENTH CONGRESS

FIRST REGULAR SESSION

HOUSE BILL NO. 5043

(In substitution to HB Nos. 17, 812, 2753 & 3970)

Introduced by Honorables Edcel C. Lagman, Janette L. Garin, Narciso D. Santiago III, Mark Llandro Mendoza, Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel, Eleandro Jesus F. Madrona

AN ACT

PROVIDING FOR A NATIONAL POLICY ON REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH, RESPONSIBLE PARENTHOOD AND POPULATION DEVELOPMENT, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES

Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the Philippines in Congress assembled:

SECTION 1. Short Title. – This Act shall be known as the “Reproductive Health and Population Development Act of 2008”.

SEC. 2. Declaration of Policy. – The State upholds and promotes responsible parenthood, informed choice, birth spacing and respect for life in conformity with internationally recognized human rights standards. The State shall uphold the right of the people, particularly women and their organizations, to effective and reasonable participation in the formulation and implementation of the declared policy. This policy is anchored on the rationale that sustainable human development is better assured with a manageable population of healthy, educated and productive citizens. The State likewise guarantees universal access to medically-safe, legal, affordable and quality reproductive health care services, methods, devices, supplies and relevant 16 information thereon even as it prioritizes the needs of women and children, among other underprivileged sectors.

SEC. 3. Guiding Principles. – This Act declares the following as basic guiding 20 principles:

a. In the promotion of reproductive health, there should be no bias for either modern or natural methods of family planning;

b. Reproductive health goes beyond a demographic target because it is principally about health and rights;

c. Gender equality and women empowerment are central elements of reproductive health and population development;

d. Since manpower is the principal asset of every country, effective reproductive health care services must be given primacy to ensure the birth and care of healthy children and to promote responsible parenting;

e. The limited resources of the country cannot be suffered to be spread so thinly to service a burgeoning multitude that makes the allocations grossly inadequate and effectively meaningless;

f. Freedom of informed choice, which is central to the exercise of any right, must be fully guaranteed by the State like the right itself;

g. While the number and spacing of children are left to the sound judgment of parents and couples based on their personal conviction and religious beliefs, such concerned parents and couples, including unmarried individuals, should be afforded free and full access to relevant, adequate and correct information on reproductive health and human sexuality and should be guided by qualified State workers and professional private practitioners;

h. Reproductive health, including the promotion of breastfeeding, must be the joint concern of the National Government and Local Government Units (LGUs);

i. Protection and promotion of gender equality, woman empowerment and human rights, including reproductive health rights, are imperative;

j. Development is a multi-faceted process that calls for the coordination and integration of policies, plans, programs and projects that seek to uplift the quality of life of the people, more particularly the poor, the needy and the 21 marginalized;

k. Active participation by and thorough consultation with concerned non-government organizations (NGOs), people’s organizations (POs) and communities are imperative to ensure that basic policies, plans, programs and projects address the priority needs of stakeholders;

l. Respect for, protection and fulfillment of reproductive health rights seek to promote not only the rights and welfare of adult individuals and couples but those of adolescents’ and children’s as well; and

m. While nothing in this Act changes the law on abortion, as abortion remains a crime and is punishable, the government shall ensure that women seeking care for post-abortion complications shall be treated and counseled in a humane, non-judgmental and compassionate manner.

SEC. 4. Definition of Terms. – For purposes of this Act, the following terms shall be defined as follows:

a. Responsible Parenthood – refers to the will, ability and commitment of parents to respond to the needs and aspirations of the family and children more particularly through family planning.

b. Family Planning – refers to a program which enables couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information and means to carry out their decisions, and to have informed choice and access to a full range of safe, legal and effective family planning methods, techniques and devices.

c. Reproductive Health – refers to the state of physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the

reproductive system and to its functions and processes. This implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life, that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so, provided that these are not against the law. This further implies that women and men are afforded equal status in matters related to sexual relations and reproduction.

d. Reproductive Health Rights – refers to the rights of individuals and couples to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children; to make other decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence; to have the information and means to carry out their decisions; and to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.

e. Gender Equality – refers to the absence of discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex, in opportunities, allocation of resources and benefits, and access to services.

f. Gender Equity – refers to fairness and justice in the distribution of benefits and responsibilities between women and men, and often requires women-specific projects and programs to eliminate existing inequalities, inequities, policies and practices unfavorable to women.

g. Reproductive Health Care – refers to the availability OF and access to a full range of methods, techniques, supplies and services that contribute to reproductive and sexual health and well-being by preventing and solving reproductive health-related problems in order to achieve enhancement of life and personal relations. The elements of reproductive health care include:

1. Maternal, infant and child health and nutrition;

2. Promotion of breastfeeding;

3. Family planning information and services;

4. Prevention of abortion and management of post-abortion complications;

5. Adolescent and youth health;

6. Prevention and management of reproductive tract infections (RTIs), HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmittable infections (STIs);

7. Elimination of violence against women;

8. Education and counseling on sexuality and sexual and reproductive health;

9. Treatment of breast and reproductive tract cancers and other gynecological conditions;

10. Male involvement and participation in reproductive health;

11. Prevention and treatment of infertility and sexual dysfunction; and

12. Reproductive health education for the youth.

h. Reproductive Health Education – refers to the process of acquiring complete, accurate and relevant information on all matters relating to the reproductive system, its functions and processes and human sexuality; and forming attitudes and beliefs about sex, sexual identity, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy and gender roles. It also includes developing the necessary skills to be able to distinguish between facts and myths on sex and sexuality; and critically evaluate and discuss the moral, religious, social and cultural dimensions of related sensitive issues such as contraception and abortion.

i. Male involvement and participation – refers to the involvement, participation, commitment and joint responsibility of men with women in all areas of sexual and reproductive health, as well as reproductive health concerns specific to men.

j. Reproductive tract infection (RTI) – refers to sexually transmitted infections, sexually transmitted diseases and other types of infections affecting the reproductive system.

k. Basic Emergency Obstetric Care – refers to lifesaving services for maternal complication being provided by a health facility or professional which must include the following six signal functions: administration of parenteral antibiotics; administration of parenteral oxytocic drugs; administration of parenteral anticonvulsants for pre-eclampsia and eclampsia; manual removal of placenta; and assisted vaginal delivery.

l. Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric Care – refers to basic emergency obstetric care plus two other signal functions: performance of caesarean section and blood transfusion.

m. Maternal Death Review – refers to a qualitative and 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.

n. Skilled Attendant – refers to an accredited health professional such as a licensed midwife, doctor or nurse who has adequate proficiency and the skills to manage normal (uncomplicated) pregnancies, childbirth and the immediate postnatal period, and in the identification, management and referral of complication in women and newborns.

o. Skilled Attendance – refers to childbirth managed by a skilled attendant under the enabling conditions of a functional emergency obstetric care and referral system.

p. Development – refers to a multi-dimensional process involving major changes in social structures, popular attitudes, and national institutions as well as the acceleration of economic growth, the reduction of inequality and the eradication of widespread poverty.

q. Sustainable Human Development – refers to the totality of the process of expanding human choices by enabling people to enjoy long, healthy and productive lives, affording them access to resources needed for a decent standard of living and assuring continuity and acceleration of development by achieving a balance between and among a manageable population, adequate resources and a healthy environment.

r. Population Development – refers to a program that aims to: (1) help couples and parents achieve their desired family size; (2) improve reproductive health of individuals by addressing reproductive health problems; (3) contribute to decreased maternal and infant mortality rates and early child mortality; (4) reduce incidence of teenage pregnancy; and (5) enable government to achieve a balanced population

distribution.

SEC. 5. The Commission on Population (POPCOM). – Pursuant to the herein declared policy, the Commission on Population (POPCOM) shall serve as the central planning, coordinating, implementing and monitoring body for the comprehensive and integrated policy on reproductive health and population development. In the implementation of this policy, POPCOM, which shall be an attached agency of the Department of Health (DOH) shall have the following functions:

a. To create an enabling environment for women and couples to make an informed choice regarding the family planning method that is best suited to their needs and personal convictions;

b. To integrate on a continuing basis the interrelated reproductive health and population development agenda into a national policy, taking into account regional and local concerns;

c. To provide the mechanism to ensure active and full participation of the private sector and the citizenry through their organizations in the planning and implementation of reproductive health care and population development programs and projects;

d. To ensure people’s access to medically safe, legal, quality and affordable reproductive health goods and services;

e. To facilitate the involvement and participation of non-government organizations and the private sector in reproductive health care service delivery and in the production, distribution and delivery of quality reproductive health and family planning supplies and commodities to make them accessible and affordable to ordinary citizens;

f. To fully implement the Reproductive Health Care Program with the following components:

(1) Reproductive health education including but not limited to counseling on the full range of legal and medically-safe family planning methods including surgical methods;

(2) Maternal, peri-natal and post-natal education, care and services;

(3) Promotion of breastfeeding;

(4) Promotion of male involvement, participation and responsibility in reproductive health as well as other reproductive health concerns of men;

(5) Prevention of abortion and management of post-abortion complications; and

(6) Provision of information and services addressing the reproductive health needs of the poor, senior citizens, women in prostitution, differently-abled persons, and women and children in war AND crisis situations.

g. To ensure that reproductive health services are delivered with a full range of supplies, facilities and equipment and that service providers are adequately trained for reproductive health care;

h. To endeavor to furnish local Family Planning Offices with appropriate information and resources to keep the latter updated on current studies and research relating to family planning, responsible parenthood, breastfeeding and infant nutrition;

i. To direct all public hospitals to make available to indigent mothers who deliver

their children in these government hospitals, upon the mother’s request, the procedure of ligation without cost to her;

j. To recommend the enactment of legislation and adoption of executive measures that will strengthen and enhance the national policy on reproductive health and population development;

k. To ensure a massive and sustained information drive on responsible parenthood and on all methods and techniques to prevent unwanted, unplanned and mistimed pregnancies, it shall release information bulletins on the same for nationwide circulation to all government departments, agencies and instrumentalities, non-government organizations and the private sector, schools, public and private libraries, tri-media outlets, workplaces, hospitals and concerned health institutions;

l. To strengthen the capacities of health regulatory agencies to ensure safe, high-quality, accessible, and affordable reproductive health services and commodities with the concurrent strengthening and enforcement of regulatory mandates and mechanisms;

m. To take active steps to expand the coverage of the National Health Insurance Program (NHIP), especially among poor and marginalized women, to include the full range of reproductive health services and supplies as health insurance benefits; and

n. To perform such other functions necessary to attain the purposes of this Act.

The membership of the Board of Commissioners of POPCOM shall consist of the heads of the following agencies:

1. National Economic Development Authority (NEDA)

2. Department of Health (DOH)

3. Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)

4. Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)

5. Department of Agriculture (DA)

6. Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG)

7. Department of Education (DepEd)

8. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)

9. Commission on Higher Education (CHED)

10. University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI)

11. Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP)

12. National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC)

13. National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW)

14. National Youth Commission (NYC)

In addition to the aforementioned members, there shall be three private sector representatives to the Board of Commissioners of POPCOM who shall come from NGOs. There shall be one (1) representative each from women, youth and health sectors who have a proven track record of involvement in the promotion of reproductive health. These representatives shall be nominated in a process determined by the above-mentioned sectors, and to be appointed by the President for a term of three (3) years.

SEC. 6. Midwives for Skilled Attendance – Every city and municipality shall endeavor to employ adequate number of midwives or other skilled attendants to achieve a minimum ratio of one (1) for every one hundred fifty (150) deliveries per year, to be based on the average annual number of actual deliveries or live births for the past two years.

SEC. 7. Emergency Obstetric Care – Each province and city shall endeavor to ensure the establishment and operation of hospitals with adequate and qualified personnel that provide emergency obstetric care. For every 500,000 population, there shall be at least one (1) hospital for comprehensive emergency obstetric care and four (4) hospitals for basic emergency obstetric care.

SEC. 8. Maternal Death Review – All LGUs, national and local government hospitals, and other public health units shall conduct maternal death review in accordance with the guidelines to be issued by the DOH in consultation with the POPCOM.

SEC. 9. Hospital-Based Family Planning – Tubal ligation, vasectomy, INTRAUTERINE DEVICE INSERTION and other family planning methods requiring hospital services shall be available in all national and local government hospitals, except in specialty hospitals which may render such services on an optional basis. [Such services shall be covered by PhilHealth benefits and government funding for financial assistance to indigent patients.] For indigent patients, such services shall be fully covered by PhilHealth insurance and/or government financial assistance.

SEC. 10. Contraceptives as Essential Medicines. – Hormonal contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectables and other allied reproductive health products and supplies shall be considered under the category of essential medicines and supplies which shall form part of the National Drug Formulary and the same shall be included in the regular purchase of essential medicines and supplies of all national and local hospitals and other government health units.

SEC. 11. Mobile Health Care Service. – Each Congressional District shall be provided with a van to be known as the Mobile Health Care Service (MHCS) to deliver health care goods and services to its constituents, more particularly to the poor and needy, as well as disseminate knowledge and information on reproductive health: Provided, That reproductive health education shall be conducted by competent and adequately trained persons preferably reproductive health care providers: Provided, further, That the full range of family planning methods, both natural and modern, shall be promoted. The acquisition, operation and maintenance of the MHCS shall be funded from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of each Congressional District. The MHCS shall be adequately equipped with a wide range of reproductive health care materials and information dissemination devices and equipment, the latter including but not limited to, a television set for audio-visual presentation.

SEC. 12. Mandatory Age-Appropriate Reproductive Health Education. – Recognizing the importance of reproductive health rights in empowering the youth and developing them into responsible adults, Reproductive Health Education in an age-appropriate manner shall be taught by adequately trained teachers starting from Grade 5 up to Fourth Year High School. In order to assure the prior training of teachers on reproductive health, the implementation of Reproductive Health Education shall commence at the start of the school year one year following the effectivity of this Act. The POPCOM, in coordination with the Department of Education, shall formulate the Reproductive Health Education curriculum, which shall be common to both public and private schools and shall include related population and development concepts in addition to the following subjects and standards:

a. Reproductive health and sexual rights;

b. Reproductive health care and services;

c. Attitudes, beliefs and values on sexual development, sexual behavior and sexual health;

d. Proscription and hazards of abortion and management of post-abortion complications;

e. Responsible parenthood;

f. Use and application of natural and modern family planning methods to promote reproductive health, achieve desired family size and prevent unwanted, unplanned and mistimed pregnancies;

g. Abstinence before marriage;

h. Prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and other STIs/STDs, prostate cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer and other gynecological disorders;

i. Responsible sexuality; and

j. Maternal, peri-natal and post-natal education, care and services

In support of the natural and primary right of parents in the rearing of the youth, the POPCOM shall provide concerned parents with adequate and relevant scientific materials on the age-appropriate topics and manner of teaching reproductive health education to their children. In the elementary level, reproductive health education shall focus, among others, on values formation. Non-formal education programs shall likewise include the abovementioned Reproductive Health Education.

SEC. 13. Additional Duty of Family Planning Office. – Each local Family Planning Office shall furnish for free instructions and information on family planning, responsible parenthood, breastfeeding and infant nutrition to all applicants for marriage license.

SEC. 14. Certificate of Compliance. – No marriage license shall be issued by the Local Civil Registrar unless the applicants present a Certificate of Compliance issued for free by the local Family Planning Office certifying that they had duly received adequate instructions and information on family planning, responsible parenthood, breastfeeding and infant nutrition.

SEC. 15. Capability Building of Community-Based Volunteer Workers. – Community-based volunteer workers, like but not limited to, Barangay Health Workers, shall undergo additional and updated training on the delivery of reproductive health care services and shall receive not less than 10% increase in honoraria upon successful completion of training. The increase in honoraria shall be funded from the Gender and Development (GAD) budget of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

SEC. 16. Ideal Family Size. – The State shall assist couples, parents and individuals to achieve their desired family size within the context of responsible parenthood for sustainable development and encourage them to have two children as the ideal family size. Attaining the ideal family size is neither mandatory nor compulsory. No punitive action shall be imposed on parents having more than two children.

SEC. 17. Employers’ Responsibilities. – Employers shall respect the reproductive health rights of all their workers. Women shall not be discriminated against in the matter of hiring, regularization of employment status or selection for retrenchment. All Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) shall provide for the free delivery by the employer of reasonable quantity of reproductive health care services, supplies and devices to all workers, more particularly women workers. In establishments or enterprises where there are no CBAs or where the employees are unorganized, the employer shall have the same obligation.

SEC. 18. Support of Private and Non-government Health Care Service Providers. – Pursuant to Section 5(b) hereof, private reproductive health care service providers, including but not limited to gynecologists and obstetricians, are encouraged to join their colleagues in non-government organizations in rendering such services free of charge or at reduced professional fee rates to indigent and low income patients.

SEC. 19. Multi-Media Campaign. POPCOM shall initiate and sustain an intensified nationwide multi-media campaign to raise the level of public awareness on the urgent need to protect and promote reproductive health and rights.

SEC. 20. Reporting Requirements. – Before the end of April of each year, the DOH shall submit an annual report to the President of the Philippines, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives on a definitive and comprehensive assessment of the implementation of this Act and shall make the necessary recommendations for executive and legislative action. The report shall be posted in the website of DOH and printed copies shall be made available to all stakeholders.

SEC. 21. Prohibited Acts. – The following acts are prohibited:

a) Any health care service provider, whether public or private, who shall:

1. Knowingly withhold information or impede the dissemination thereof, and/or intentionally provide incorrect information regarding programs and services on reproductive health including the right to informed choice and access to a full range of legal, medically-safe and effective family planning methods;

2. Refuse to perform voluntary ligation and vasectomy and other legal and medically-safe reproductive health care services on any person of legal age on the ground of lack of spousal consent or authorization.

3. Refuse to provide reproductive health care services to an abused minor, whose abused condition is certified by the proper official or personnel of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) or to duly DSWD-certified abused pregnant minor on whose case no parental consent is necessary.

4. Fail to provide, either deliberately or through gross or inexcusable negligence, reproductive health care services as mandated under this Act, the Local Government Code of 1991, the Labor Code, and Presidential Decree 79, as amended; and

5. Refuse to extend reproductive health care services and information on account of the patient’s civil status, gender or sexual orientation, age, religion, personal circumstances, and nature of work: Provided, That all conscientious objections of health care service providers based on religious grounds shall be respected: Provided, further, That the conscientious objector shall immediately refer the person seeking such care and services to another health care service provider within the same facility or one which is conveniently accessible: Provided, finally, That the patient is not in an emergency or serious case as defined in RA 8344 penalizing the refusal of hospitals and medical clinics to administer appropriate initial medical treatment and support in emergency and serious cases.

b) Any public official who prohibits or restricts personally or through a subordinate the delivery of legal and medically-safe reproductive health care services, including family planning;

c) Any employer who shall fail to comply with his obligation under Section 17 of this Act or an employer who requires a female applicant or employee, as a condition for employment or continued employment, to involuntarily undergo sterilization, tubal ligation or any other form of contraceptive method;

d) Any person who shall falsify a certificate of compliance as required in Section 14 of this Act; and

e) Any person who maliciously engages in disinformation about the intent or provisions of this Act.

SEC. 22. Penalties. The proper city or municipal court shall exercise jurisdiction over violations of this Act and the accused who is found guilty shall be sentenced to an imprisonment ranging from one (1) month to six (6) months or a fine ranging from Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) to Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00) or both such fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court. If the offender is a juridical person, the penalty shall be imposed upon the president, treasurer, secretary or any responsible officer. An offender who is an alien shall, after service of sentence, be deported immediately without further proceedings by the Bureau of Immigration. An offender who is a public officer or employee shall suffer the accessory penalty of dismissal from the government service. Violators of this Act shall be civilly liable to the offended party in such amount at the discretion of the proper court.

SEC. 23. Appropriations. – The amounts appropriated in the current annual General Appropriations Act for reproductive health and family planning under the DOH and 44 POPCOM together with ten percent (10%) of the Gender and Development (GAD) budgets of all government departments, agencies, bureaus, offices and instrumentalities funded in the annual General Appropriations Act in accordance with Republic Act No. 7192 (Women in Development and Nation-building Act) and Executive Order No. 273 (Philippine Plan for Gender Responsive Development 1995-2025) shall be allocated and utilized for the implementation of this Act.

Such additional sums as may be necessary for the effective implementation of this Act shall be included in the subsequent years’ General Appropriations Acts.

SEC. 24. Implementing Rules and Regulations. – Within sixty (60) days from the effectivity of this Act, the Department of Health shall promulgate, after thorough consultation with the Commission on Population (POPCOM), the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), concerned non-government organizations (NGOs) and known reproductive health advocates, the requisite implementing rules and regulations.

SEC. 25. Separability Clause. – If any part, section or provision of this Act is held invalid or unconstitutional, other provisions not affected thereby shall remain in full force and effect.

SEC. 26. Repealing Clause. – All laws, decrees, orders, issuances, rules and regulations contrary to or inconsistent with the provisions of this Act are hereby repealed, amended or modified accordingly.

SEC. 27. Effectivity. – This Act shall take effect fifteen (15) days after its publication in at least two (2) newspapers of national circulation.

My Take on the Reproductive Health Bill (Part 2)

Posted in Governance, Inner Thoughts with tags , , on October 6, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

This is Part 2 of my series of blog entries regarding my thoughts on the Reproductive Health Bill. I thought of putting down into recorded words my thoughts on the matter as a way of fulfilling my accountability to the public.

Some people advised me not to be so public about my thoughts since the issue is a highly charged political question. Some “political experts” even told me that the best position to take in this controversial discussion is to be vague so as not to agitate either side of the debate. They also said if I write down my thoughts, there wouldn’t be a way for me to weave my way out of a situation that I might get into.

But isn’t that contrary to having accountability as a public official? Don’t I have the obligation to clearly state what my position is on the matter and explain why it is so? On important discussions where ultimately I will have to take a vote, isn’t the public entitled to know what my considerations on the subject are?

Anyway, at the risk of drawing the wrath of certain sectors, I decided to put on record what I think of the issue at hand. So I started Part 1 and posted it. Since I knew that my thoughts on the matter were quite lengthy, I intentionally cut up the whole thing into a series of entries.

I already had in mind what I will write down for Part 2 and how to present it. But a reaction from someone who read my Part 1 compelled me to amend my Part 2 and conform it to the reaction posted by the reader, who goes by the Multiply name of romanza2005.

(For those who have not read the reaction of romanza2005, please refer to my entry entitled My Take on the Reproductive Health Bill—Part 1)

First of all, romanza2005 worries about “undertones” in the blog entry I made. She even “takes offense” at the story of Grace, a constituent of mine.

I think it is incorrect to start a discussion based on undertones because there is no basis to that argument since undertones are merely perceptions of the reader. It cannot be said that such perceptions are the thoughts or intent of the writer. One would have to take what is written at face value, especially if the way the thoughts are written are straightforward and simple in presentation.

With regard to the story of Grace which romanza2005 feels there are undertones, it is clear to anyone who will objectively read it that I simply related the situation where Grace is in right now. That she has four children and one more on the way. That if she was able to stop having kids after her second child, she would have not gotten herself pregnant for a third, fourth and fifth child.

There was absolutely no suggestion whatsoever that she should “get rid” (as romanza2005 put it) of any of her children. IT was a narration of Grace’s desire to have limited her children if only she had the chance. Obviously, she did not contemplate abortion or getting rid of any of her children since she still has her first four kids and that she is now pregnant and will give birth soon. If she had wanted to “get rid” of any of her children, she could have availed the services of an abortionist , a hilot or patronized the “pang-pa regla” vendors beside Quiapo Church.

I do not see why romanza2005 is offended by a simple narrative of another person’s desire. After all it is Grace’s desire, and she is not imposing her desire or belief on anyone else.

My point in relating that story was to highlight the fact that there are those who desire to limit their children in accordance to what they can afford but there are no reproductive health services available for them. And while some sectors are pushing for the natural family planning method, NFP is not applciable to everyone, especially in cases where one of the partners is not willing or incapable of following the method.

Romanza2005 is correct in pointing out that Grace’s alcoholism is a problem. Because of his alcoholism, NFP is not applicable to them since Grace’s husband is incapable of waiting for the right time to lay with Grace especially when he goes home drunk. Romanza2005 is also correct when she suggested said : “If the Congressman really cares about the Filipino family and their ‘quality’ of life, why doesn’t he help the community by counseling the people on their addictions – whether it’s substance abuse like alcoholism, or gambling, or excessive shopping”.

It is obvious that she doesn’t know me personally and the work that I do in my district because if she did, she would know that in the community work that I do for my constituents, I integrate values formation and promotion of responsible parenthood, citizenry, and Christian living.

Even before I became congressman, I was already doing community work in these urban poor areas in my district, particularly the informal settler communities along the railroad tracks. In the seven years that I have been congressman of Muntinlupa, I have consistently gone to the grassroots as part of the social preparation for their eventual relocation out of the railroad tracks.

Unlike traditional politicians who would tell informal settlers that they will not be removed from where they are squatting, I went against the grain and convinced them that the best way for them to attain a better way of life is for them to be relocated. And the more challenging aspect of that is to convince them the relocation site will not be given to them free but they will have to pay monthly amortizations (although at an extremely low cost). Part of that social preparation is to teach them that instead of spending their money on booze, cigarettes or gambling, they should learn how to save and only spend for the basic needs of their families.

I must beg the indulgence of the readers if I had to wave my own flag a bit—but I think the statement which questions the work I do in my district by someone who obviously is speaking from a lack of information needs to be put in the right perspective.

Once again, romanza2005 is correct when she extolled the virtues of the Natural Family Planning Method. Nobody is disputing the fact that NFP is effective, if, as romanza2005 put it, “if couples learn to communicate, sacrifice and abstain from sex until a later time when the woman is infertile”

The key word in her statement that NFP works is IF. Because it is an affirmation of my position that NFP is only effective and applicable in situations where both the man and the woman are willing and able to use that method. What about situations where there is no mutual cooperation?

Which brings us back to the case of Grace. How can NFP work for them? Romanza2005 suggests that we cure Grace’s husband of his alcoholism first. It doesn’t take an alcohol rehab expert to tell us that curing alcoholism does not take place overnight. More so to teach him and Grace how to communicate. Even if it was to be provided free by the government, it would take a lot of time and effort to cure him. In the meantime, he will still be laying with Grace once in a while even during her fertile days….

To anyone who has really spent time in the urban poor communities, it is common knowledge that many of the men drink not because they developed from social drinkers to habitual drunks, but because it is their escape from the daily struggles they face in life. It is their way of forgetting their troubles, a way of enabling themselves to go home and sleep and avoid looking their waiting families in the eyes because it reminds them of their responsibility to provide. But the harsh reality is they are unable to do make ends meet. So liquor becomes the convenient escape.

Romanza2005 is once again correct in saying that proposed Reproductive Health Bill will not solve the problem. It is not seen by the proponents to be the miracle drug that will cure society’s complex problem. But it offers a solution that, when combined with others, will give the struggling Filipinos the ability to deal with the multi-faceted problems that they face.

Another suggestion by Romanza2005 is for Government to “train counselors and psychologists that can help these families overcome domestic abuse, alcoholism, debt”. A good proposition. In fact, government does have counselors and psychologists. But unfortunately, the number of families in such circumstances are so numerous and widespread around the country. It is unfortunate that the Government cannot afford to hire enough counselors and psychologists to cater to all these families. Right now, the Government’s priority is to hire more teachers who will teach the increasing number of students who attend public schools. It is a number that increases dramatically every year.

Romanza2005 got it wrong when she said the bill doesn’t mention abortion. It does. The bill categorically says that abortion remains illegal in the country. It reiterates the position that government will not allow abortion and neither do any of the bills sponsors and supporters espouse the legalization of abortion. Once again, it will be erroneous to insist on an interpretation that the bill will open the doors towards the legalization of abortion.

What the bill provides, however, is a policy of non-discrimination against the treatment of those who underwent illegal abortion.

It is a sad fact that even though the law prohibits abortion and society basically disapproves abortion, there are women who, faced with an unwanted pregnancy, avail themselves of the services of an illegal abortionist. This despite the very strong position of religious groups, society and the law against abortion. We simply cannot predict the confused and disillusioned pregnant woman who is scared of the stigma of a teenage or unwanted pregnancy if she decides to go to an illegal abortionist. AT this present time, it cannot be denied that there are those who offer and there are those who avail of this illegal service.

But matters are made worse when institutions or health practitioners aggravate the stigma of an illegitimate pregnancy terminated by an illegal practice when they refuse to give service to someone who has been in such unfortunate situations. Some get away with it without incident, but some also encounter post-illegal abortion complications. Where do these victims go to for care?

The absence of a policy on Reproductive Health, which includes post-abortion complications, denies these women the health care they rightfully deserve, and even aggravates the condition they are in. Many have even succumbed to such complications, which in the end results in the loss of life of not only of the baby, but of the mother as well.

There is no disagreement that the Natural Family Planning Method should be taught to the people. Romanza2005 even said that “the country would be better off by infusing every high school with lessons on The Billings Method, Natural Family Planning”, although I must add that any lesson to students about family planning should be presented in the right context. It should not be taught straightforward as a means to avoid pregnancy. It should be taught in the light of values and human sexuality.

What the bill proposes is to provide the people with the correct information on all the methods that are safe and effective for family planning. Ultimately, it will be the choice of the couple which method to follow, in accordance to their beliefs, convictions and acceptance. The bill does not prescribe any specific method to be imposed on anyone. It only provides for the availability of correct information and the services that couples decide to avail of.

It is incorrect to think that the bill will set aside the NFP method and only allow modern methods. Romanza comments that “The proposed policy on reproductive health as endorsed by the Congressman, though in rhetoric may sound ‘well-intentioned’ doesn’t address the issue of abstinence and the importance of monogamous relationship, so no wonder one can’t help but to question its ulterior motives.”

The bill does not need to prescribe abstinence because it is not the intention to prescribe a specific method to anyone. The simple language of the bill only prescribes the availability of correct information on reproductive health and the various methods of family planning. Although not stated, it includes NFP, abstinence, values education for monogamous relationships, and modern family planning methods.

The language of the bill is simple. It doesn’t prevent the promotion of monogamy and abstinence. The insistence on ulterior methods is misplaced.

There is one statement of romanza2005 which puts the blame on the incidence of teenage pregnancies on parents. She said “These teenage pregnancies could’ve been avoided if the parents taught them that sex should be between a husband and a wife..These teenage pregnancies could’ve been prevented if the parents taught their children to delay gratification, to wait, sacrifice, etc….”

I fully agree with romanza2005 that parents have the responsibility of teaching their children moral values and the correct attitude towards sex and pre-marital sex. There is no argument against that. Unfortunately, sometimes even the parents themselves have a wrong set of values when it comes to sex. They can’t teach their children about pre-marital sex because they themselves are involved in extra-marital sex. What moral values would you expect from such?

And what about the role that society plays? How many responsible and upright parents have had to face their son or daughter who engaged in pre-marital sex which bore fruit? What kind influence does society play in those situations?

That is why I am wary of studies on this matter that were undertaken in another country. Because there are differences in culture, traditions, practices, norms, values, and even legal frameworks which may have contributed to what the findings of the studies are. What we need are studies that are done in the Philippine setting so as to put everything in the right perspective.

I arrived at my position on the matter based on first hand, actual experience on how the people live, especially the marginalized sector. While others will insist their points based on studies made in other countries with cultures and societies alien from ours, and arguments that are detached from the real situation on the ground, I rely on what my five senses get from the ground.

If there is any question to my motives, I invite those who doubt to join me and see it for themselves.

The 2010 Elections—How Should We Vote?

Posted in Inner Thoughts, Politics and Politicians with tags on October 4, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

Many have said that Philippine elections and politics are all about personalities. That we choose our leaders not on what they stand for but for their personal endearment to the electorate. Perhaps we have enough proof of that, without even going into examples of beneficiaries of that disposition of the average Filipino voter. But there is reason to say that the Filipino voters are showing signs of electoral adolescence, slowly maturing from the habit of voting for personalities to voting on issues.

The 2007 elections revealed that issues prevailed over money and machinery, two of the basic elements of traditional politics (the other sinister elements being guns and goons). With the opposition almost sweeping the senatorial elections, the administration candidates were humbled, if not humiliated, despite their massive political machinery and abundant campaign war chest. A senatorial candidate who did not have the physical freedom nor the financial flexibility to go on a nation wide campaign easily won a senate seat, faring much better than one administration stalwart who had the harrowing experience of dangling in the 12th-13th slot before finally being proclaimed part of the winning circle.

This recent experience in Philippine elections gives us hope that in the forthcoming elections, the voters will once again move farther way from traditional politics and take with them the politicians. I believe that the political maturity of this country is a joint effort of the politicians and the electorate. Each can drag the other either way.

I was in a group discussion where we tossed around the table ideas about the forthcoming elections. With the nation set to choose its leaders twenty months from now, it isn’t too early for people to already talk about the elections, particularly what issues should take center stage for the people to consider in selecting the next leaders of this country.

As each of those in the discussion group spoke, various issues were forwarded as issues that should take center stage in the 2010 elections. On top of the list was Education, since almost everyone agreed that the only way Filipinos can rise from the pit of poverty is arm themselves with a good education that would make them productive. Imagine, if all the 88 Million Filipinos had a good education, then those who are for and against the Reproductive Health Bill will have one good reason to stop going against each other!

Another important issue that was common in everyone’s mind was the need to address graft and corruption. Indeed, that issue was played out to extremes by those in all shades of the political spectrum. The opposition had a grand time pointing fingers at the administration as the ultimate culprit while the administration proudly boasted of its anti-graft programs such as lifestyle checks and officials charged with cases in the Ombudsman (although the sincerity and success of those programs are also being questioned).

With so many issues that may occupy the political stage come 2010, what exactly are the Filipino voters looking for? How will the electorate decide who to support in the elections?

While I believe that all the issues mentioned above are important, I think one issue which encompasses everything is the people’s desire for a decent, inspiring, and visionary government, one that responds to the people’s needs and provides direction and hope to the nation.

If there is anything that the 2010 elections offer, it is the opportunity for the restoration of faith in government and the fresh start for the country. After years of political strife, endless bickering, outrageous scandals and controversies, the chance to bring back dignity and honor in government service and politics, to stir the people’s hearts into a renewed sense of nationhood where patriotism is the norm and traditional values a way of life. It is time for the Filipinos to feel good once again, to bring out the best in each one and to maximize the most positive traits of the country and its citizens.

With the elections coming in around twenty one months, we can expect a lot of potential candidates to come out of the woodwork, with everyone trying to pull the others down in order to rise above the clutter. The people will be drowned in wave after wave of issues designed to attract support from the electorate.

But the Bible says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness; then all good things will be added to you.” Therefore, if we desire righteousness in government, we should take steps to install a righteous government. The people must see through the smog of traditional politics and choose leaders who will not only represent positive change but will also exhibit renewed purpose, determined action and decent governance. Only then will the country’s needs be met, and the destiny of our nation fulfilled.

My Take on the Reproductive Health Bill (Part 1)

Posted in Governance, Inner Thoughts with tags , , , , on October 3, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

For the first time in so many years and congresses, the debate on the Reproductive Health Bill has finally reached the Plenary. The debates are now raging, not just in the session hall but even in the media, with particular emphasis in print through the successive paid ads by the opposing groups.

In previous congresses, the bill did not make it beyond the committee hearings. On hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise, since it gave the bill time to be refined so as to become more palatable to a wider social spectrum. The bill in its present form is far from what the original bill used to be, which could be said to have been crude in present terms.

All the debates over the years have contributed to revisions and inputs that addressed the concerns from various sectors.

In all these discussions on the proposed measure, legislators are asked one basic and compelling question—-“Where do you stand on Reproductive Health?”

I was in a forum with students of the Ateneo de Naga last month, and during the open forum, I was asked that question. Immediately, the thought that came to my mind was the fact that only a couple of weeks before, the university held a rally against Reproductive Health. Of course, that thought was quickly followed by a question to myself…How should I answer?

I answered the students’ question with a story. I related to them my grassroots experience, particularly with my constituents whom I deal with in the everyday performance of my job.

I told them the story of Grace, a constituent of mine who lives along the railroad tracks, one of thousands of informal settlers along the stretch of the right of way of the Philippine National Railways which cuts through 8 of the 9 barangays of Muntinlupa City.

Grace is 25 years old, and pregnant. I met Grace during one of my community visits and when I saw her bulging stomach, I asked her if it was her first baby, as is my habit whenever I see a pregnant woman during my rounds in the city. She said no, it is her fifth child, with the first one born when she was 18. Her husband is employed as a laborer, but only has work every now and then.

Asked if it was their desire to have that much children, she said if she had her way, she would have stopped having kids after the second. But they didn’t practice any family planning method since they didn’t know anything about it. She also said that when her husband comes home intoxicated with liquor, she has no way to turn down his advances. Lest he gets mad and violent. Obviously, Natural Family Planning will not work for her.

Other stories of my constituents include that of Marissa, a first time mother who was eight months pregnant when she availed of the free pre-natal medical mission that my office conducted. Marissa and her husband live with her mother in law in one of the urban poor communities in Muntinlupa. While she was waiting in line, one of the barangay health workers assisting us requested me to let Marissa go in front of the line, since she wasn’t feeling well and was bloated. I took a look at her and indeed, saw that her ankles were swollen, indicative of edema and pre-eclampsia.

I let her go in front of the line to see the OB-GYN and have an ultra-sound of her belly. The image revealed that Marissa’s baby was being compressed by an enlarged placenta and what appeared to be a myoma. The placenta also had dark blotches, indicative of an internal bleeding.

We immediately sent Marissa to the hospital, since it was determined that hers was an emergency medical condition. When we interviewed her, she admitted that it was the first time she had a pre-natal check up, since she did not have the money to go to a doctor, even in a government hospital. She said instead of spending for the fare going to the clinic, she just saves it up for their daily needs and saving for the baby’s needs when the baby is born.

Another story is that of Vilma, a utility worker in one of the Muntinlupa elementary schools. Aged 27, she has 3 children and her husband is a construction worker. Together, they earn around 10,000 pesos a month. After her third child, she decided to have a ligation because she felt that with three children to take care of, they wouldn’t be able to afford having an additional child without having to sacrifice some needs of the kids they already have. I asked her why she chose to have a ligation. Slightly embarrassed, she said she wanted to stop having children while at the same time fulfill her “marital obligations” to her husband. With a giggle, said it’s better than her husband find satisfaction elsewhere.

In a similar mindset is Rhodora, a school teacher who had a ligation after her second child, which was a special child. After her second kid, she wanted to have enough time and resources to attend to the needs of her special child, not to mention her first child as well. So she consulted her gynecologist and requested that the she undergo the procedure.

Her doctor refused, saying it is against his beliefs to do the procedure. Rhodora asked for a referral, and she was referred to a colleague of the doctor. But just like the first doctor, the second one also refused, trying to convince her not to proceed, citing that it is immoral. In the end, Rhodora had to look again for another doctor, since it she felt that the service she is looking for is being denied her on the grounds of personal beliefs of the doctors.

These are just some of the stories that I commonly encounter among my constituents. Such situations are most common in the poorer communities, resulting in high incidence of malnutrition, school drop-outs, maternal and infant death, birth complications and scarcity of family resources.

Since I regularly hold medical missions in my district, I get first hand experience and information on the health conditions in the communities. Hygiene is often a problem, especially that families live in confined spaces in the urban poor communities, so the spread of disease is more likely. One of my regular activities is the conduct of prenatal medical missions, There is not a mission where we do not encounter pregnant teenagers, the youngest of which has been 14 years old.

For example, not many people know that cervical cancer may be spread through sexual contact. Cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus, the cause of the common wart, which may be passed from male to female. Not many people know that hygiene plays an important part in preventing the spread and cause of cervical cancer, as well as prudent sexual practices. More importantly, not many know that cervical cancer is easy to detect and cure if diagnosed early. This is because there is no policy on reproductive health.

The fact of the matter is that many of the health problems encountered in the grassroots may be attributed to the lack of reproductive health services available to the people. While some limit themselves to the issue of population and birth control in the discussions about RH, the bill is not only about population and sex. It is more about the delivery of services to the people who are in need of it. The absence of a policy opens people up to medical risks and leaves them nowhere to go but to unreliable, ineffective and sometimes life threatening remedies.

A case in point is the proliferation of vendors right beside the Quiapo church who openly sell concoctions labeled “Pang-pa Regla”. It is common knowledge that many of those who patronize those vendors do so with the intention of getting rid of unwanted pregnancies. Even if they weren’t pregnant and just wanted to have regular menstruation, it is still the wrong place to go for treatment or service.

This is not to say that having Reproductive Health services will enable the availability of abortion. The bill expressly maintains that abortion continues to be illegal in the country. To say that the bill legalizes abortion is an outright lie and deception. My point in citing the “pang-pa regla” vendors is the fact that the absence of reproductive health services and information leads to people’s ignorance about reproductive health issues and their body’s reproductive systems. If they had the right information and services available, they would know that availing of the products sold by those vendors would not only be ineffective, it may even be harmful.

The intentions of the bill’s authors and supporters are not to legalize abortion, spread a culture of promiscuity or destroy the family. It is the intention of the bill’s authors and supporters to meet the needs of a significant portion of the population for reproductive health services and information. There is absolutely no intention to impose on couples particular methods that they should employ in planning their families. It is the intention of the bill to provide information to people about responsible parenthood, family planning, avoiding unwanted pregnancies and an informed choice on which method best fits their beliefs, convictions and needs.

To continuously insist that there are other ulterior motives other than the welfare of Filipino couples and families is to deny the existence of the problems faced daily by the people. To stop the adoption of a public policy on reproductive health is a denial of service to those who seek reproductive health care.

Some make it seem that the bill if passed into law will force people to use contraceptives. Even without the bill, contraceptives are available in the commercial market. What is not available in the present regime is the correct information about contraceptives and reproductive health. What the bill will provide if passed into law, is reliable and uniform information and services which people may avail of if they so desired. Whether it is modern or natural family planning method, the couple is left to decide after being properly informed.

Why do I support the bill?

Because there are those who have signified the need to have the correct information and reliable reproductive health services .

Because I have seen first hand during my service to my constituents the consequences of the continued denial of information and service to the people.

Because there are women whose bodies have been ravaged by multiple consecutive pregnancies even if they had not planned it.

Because there are women who have been physically abused by their husbands because they refused to indulge their spouses because “it is not the right time”.

Because I have seen too many teenage pregnancies which could have been avoided had these young women been informed about their adolescent reproductive system.

Because I have seen too many complications in pregnancies and births from the poor constituents that come to my office for medical assistance.

Because I have seen too many infant and maternal deaths, orphaned children, bereaved husbands.

Because I have seen children dropping out of school because their parents cannot afford to send all their children to school at the same time.

Because there are many malnourished children whose ability to learn has been impaired.

Because I have constituents who have acquired diseases that could have been prevented if only there was appropriate information and service available to them.

Some might say that instead of supporting the proposed measure, we should just allocate enough resources to other services such as education, housing and the eradication of corruption. There is no doubt to that. We should do those things. We are trying to do those things. But at the present situation, even if we are able to provide the right number of classrooms, the right number of teachers and all the books that the students need, the ability of poor families to send their children to school is hampered by their absolute lack of resources to provide for the cost of sending the kids to school —– transportation, snack, uniforms, other miscellaneous requirements, etc.

Statistics show that of 10 children who enter elementary school, only 6 go on to high school, and only 2 finish high school. And based on actual experience in my district, it is not due to the lack of classrooms or teachers. It is the day to day difficulty of surviving through life with the severely limited resources of poor families. Bottomline is, how can a child who does not finish studies lead the ideal productive life?

The intention is not to prescribe a limit on the number of children but to enable couples to decide their family size based on correct information and according to their desired number of children and capability to provide support.

Those who oppose the bill cite various statistics and studies all done abroad. I’m taking a position that is based on what I see with my own eyes as I perform my duties. I see the living conditions of my constituents on a daily basis, especially many of them come to my office to seek assistance for various reasons—health, education, livelihood, etc. On the other hand, I also see what government is trying to do with the little it has to serve the needs of the people.

It is unfair to those who support the bill to be labeled “anti-life”, “anti-family”, “pro-abortion” and many other monickers on the basis of a pre-conceived notions. If there is anyone who desire the best for the Filipino family, that would be the one who is most familiar to the daily struggles of the poor families. The question should not only be whether you are pro-life or not (because there is absolutely no one who is anti-life), but also if the people deserve quality of life.