Archive for congress

Noynoy Aquino Did Not Become A Hostaged President

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2010 by Ruffy Biazon

Politics is a realm that neither political analysts nor fortune tellers can accurately predict the outcome. The reality is that the outcomes are determined by the interests of the politicians which they hold dearly to themselves as a poker player would his cards. Anlaysts can only do an educated speculation, fortune tellers can only do blind guesses.

Politicians’ interests and game plans may change as the seasons do, depending on the situations during a particular time, or the convenience at that moment. That makes them unpredictable, which is sometimes a necessity in the cut-throat world that they move around in.

I am happy to admit that one analysis I made while in the thick of the campaign of the last national and local elections did not materialize into reality. Yes, I’m happy that it did not materialize. That analysis, which I posted in my blog ( Noynoy Aquino Could Be a Hostaged President ), pictured a scenario where both chambers of the Philippine Congress are dominated by opponents of Aquino, with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo heading the House of Representatives and Manny Villar leading the Senate.

The basis of that analysis is the fact that both politicians had a good number of allies (at that time, at least) that should have been enough for them to take hold of the helm in their respective chambers. That, combined with the usual expectation for politicians of such stature to crave for the post of top banana and the craving to get back at political opponents, served as the foundation of the analysis.

But to my surprise, neither seemed to have exerted effort not exhibited the desire to make life difficult for the new president. Perhaps the overwhelming mandate and the people’s high trust and confidence in President Aquino was enough to dissuade them. Or they lost their allies to political expediency, each of them characteristically looking out for their own interests. Or, uncharacteristically for politicians, they both lost the desire for power and the need to get back at their rival.

I am thankful to Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Sen. Manny Villar for not acting like typical traditional politicians. Ordinarily, one would expect a typical trapo to use the situation to get back at the opponent who defeated him or do everything to use the position to protect herself.

Whatever it is, I am just glad that President Noynoy Aquino enjoys the goodwill and support of both chambers. Both Houses have super majorities that support the President, led by personalities who have expressed cooperation, if not complete support, to the new administration.

Indeed, President Aquino is a blessed man. Not just because he won the Presidency in a relatively easy manner (considering that he decided to run just 5 months before the campaign began), but because as he begins his term of office, he has a high trust rating from his constituency and the support of the two chambers of Congress.

I pray that those around him will not waste this golden opportunity for the Philippines to be great again.

June 4, 2010- A Significant Day in the House of Representatives

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , on June 5, 2010 by Ruffy Biazon

To the average Filipino on the street, June 4, 2010 was supposed to be just another day that will uneventfully pass just as the previous one and those before it have done in that person’s lifetime. In fact, for most of our countrymen, that day was nothing different from any other day, even including June 12, Independence Day, or July 4, Fil-AM Friendship Day or June 20, Father’s Day. To a big majority of Filipinos, everyday is the same, a day to survive the challenge of day-to-day existence.

But to those who have cared enough to take action for quite a number of years now, June 4 was a special day. It was the day that they had been waiting for since the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines was given life by the people’s voice in the plebiscite that institutionalized our country’s charter. It was supposed to be the day that the Freedom of Information Bill, mandated by the Constitution, was to finally become a law that would guarantee the people’s right to know how its government serves its constituents. After more than a decade of lobbying, June 4 was supposed to be Victory Day.

To me, June 4 was of special significance because it is the last session day that I will attend, my last day at work as a legislator. Although my term officially ends on June 30, I still intend to earn my pay by working for the welfare of my constituents until that day. But for me the work done in the committee hearings and plenary sessions is the essence of being a lawmaker.

After nine years as a member of the House of Representatives, I wanted the last day of session to be not just a day that would cap my three terms in routine fashion, but a day that would close with the passage of an important piece of legislation. I was eager to end the day with a vote ratifying the FOI Bill.

For the Secretariat of the House of Representatives, they prepared for this last day. For the first time in the history of the House, they prepared a special program for the closing session to honor the members of the House for the work that they have done in the Chamber. They intended to present to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd term members mementos of their membership in the House and compiled bounds of their legislative performance in a ceremony that certainly necessitated much preparation on their part.

It was just one day, but it had different meanings for different people. Actually, everyday is like that. What may be an insignificant, ordinary day for one is in fact, a special, life-changing or even historical day for some. It really just depends on what point for view we are coming from.

And so it was that June 4, 2010 was a significant day in the House of Representatives. While elsewhere in the country, anniversaries were celebrated, eulogies were being delivered, babies were being born, employees were punching out after their shifts, someone just lost his job…the session hall of Batasang Pambansa, the People’s House, was gradually getting filled with people attending the last session day of the 14th Congress.

The proponents, advocates and supporters of the Freedom of Information Bill filled sections of the gallery wanting to be personally present the minute that the vote of ratification institutionalizes this landmark piece of legislation. Many of them labored long and hard just for the bill to reach this day and they waited with anticipation for the proceedings to begin.

Actually, what was left was just a routine step of the process of passing a bill into law—ratification. The bill had already passed through the three readings of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It had also passed through bicameral conference. The Senate had ratified it, so the only thing left was the ratification by the House. Ratification was a simple ayes and nays vote of the House, the members not even required or expected to explain their votes. After that, it could be considered institutionalized as law. But in all its routine nature, it was a special piece of legislation.

The rest of the gallery was filled by employees of the House Secretariat, after having been directed to attend the ceremony to honor the Members of the House. Of course, also in the hall were the usual observers of the proceedings of the House, congressional staff and probably some curious citizens who happened to have time to spare to watch the proceedings.

But what promised to be a “special routine session” turned out to be quite an emotional one, with contrasting sentiments that pulled me in opposite directions.

The Members of the House were more psychologically prepared for the Honor Ceremony in the closing session. I would compare it to the emotions one had during high school graduation, the bittersweet feeling of wanting to move on in life while at the same time hanging on to the memories of good times spent with friends.

The honor that was to be given by the Secretariat also had its significance, since they were the people who served as our backbone during our work in Congress, and they were the ones who can truly make an objective judgment on how each and every congressman performed as a legislator.

Late by almost and hour, the session as finally resumed (it was just suspended in the previous session day) and the motion to ratify the Freedom of Information was immediately made by the Majority Floor Leader. As immediate as the motion was filed, the quorum was also immediately questioned.

Just by looking around the hall, it was difficult to make a judgment if indeed there were enough warm bodies present to constitute a quorum. When I entered the hall, there seemed to be not enough legislators on board. But with Malacanang joining the call for the passage of the bill, I did not expect that there would be a problem in the bill’s ratification. Nevertheless, congressmen began trickling in not long after the session was underway.

The session was suspended in order to resolve the issue that was raised. In this line of work, the adage “the squeaky wheel gets oiled” sometimes best describes this kind of situation. Many times in the past, when the quorum question is raised during a debate on a very important bill, the issue is settled after a little discussion with the one who raised the question during suspension.

After about thirty minutes of suspension, the session was resumed and the roll was called. Obviously, the quorum question was not resolved so the names of the members of congress were called one by one, with the secretariat staff ticking off the names in their list. At the end of the roll call, the Secretary General reported to the Speaker that 128 members of the House responded to the call. With that, the Speaker declared that with 128 members, there is no quorum and therefore, according to the rules, the House cannot conduct legislative business and would have to adjourn.

As expected, this ruling was met with vehement objections and impassioned pleadings from the proponents and supporters of the bill. Legislators pushing for the bill alternately took the floor questioning the results of the roll call and calling on the speaker to use a particular provision in the rules allowing the House to arrest the members who are absent. Understandably, emotions ran high and a bitter exchange threatened to mar the proceedings.

In the end, the Speaker stood pat in his ruling and adjourned the last session of the 14th Congress. What was intended to be a “special routine closing” and parting of friends now turned into a highly polarized legislative battle among peers. Definitely not what was envisioned as a last day of work for this Congress.

Naturally and rightfully so, those supporting the bill felt betrayed and cheated, and cast judgment on the House for failing to pass such an important measure. As I was doing live tweets of the proceedings over Twitter, I could see the numerous reactions of people online castigating the House most especially the Speaker. All the frustrations were posted and perhaps if not for the facility of the internet, people might have gone out to the streets to vent their anger.

The session had been adjourned but the honor ceremony still had to be undertaken. Actually, many had begun to think that it might not be appropriate anymore to have the ceremony. I felt it would not be taken well by the public who had just been treated to disappointment by the very House that would now give distinction to its members.

After quite a while of lingering, the Deputy Secretary General for Committee Affairs went on the public address system to inform everyone that the leadership of the House had decided to forego the honor ceremony, in deference to what the public might construe as the congressmen giving themselves a pat on the back after the emotional, divisive and controversial adjournment.

Her voice was cracking and straining under what seems to be a failed effort to hide her emotions. Clearly, she was distressed with what was happening. She went on to say that although the House leadership already made that decision, they in the Secretariat tried to convince the leadership to proceed with the ceremony. After all, she said, this ceremony, the first time held in the House’s colorful history, was initiated and prepared by the Secretariat to give due honor and recognition to the members of the House whom they had worked with on many important accomplishments of the institution. She pointed out that being first hand spectators to the performance of the legislators, they would like to proceed with the presentation of mementos and plaques of appreciation.

Indeed, while there are many highlighted occasions that the House had not displayed the righteousness that the people expect and deserve, there are many more unnoticed moments of low profile accomplishments that only the secretariat were witnesses to. They wanted to give due recognition to these accomplishments by way of the honor ceremony.

And so it was that under the contemptuous glare of the public, the House proceeded to honor its members. It basically consisted calling out the 1st-term, 2nd-term and 3rd-term members of the House in front of the hall and presenting them with plaques of appreciation and book-bound volumes of each legislator’s performance record (bills filed, laws passed, speeches delivered and transcripts of interpellations) and a CD version of the same. For the graduating congressmen, a Congressional medal was also presented in honor of completing the whole three terms in the House.

For me, it was a well appreciated gesture on the part of the Secretariat. What they presented was a symbol of the acknowledgment of the work I had done these past nine years. The mementos and volumes they gave me were things that I can present to other people to show that the mandate given to me by my constituents were not wasted and this was incontrovertible proof that I had earned the pay that people granted me the privilege to receive.

Indeed June 4 seemed to be an ordinary day. For some, it was. For others, it was a day that the House of Representatives failed the people. For me, it was the final day of a special period in my life when I had the privilege of being able to directly contribute to the welfare of this nation. Sad to say though, that by this final act of the House, the last thing in the people’s mind would be that the 14th Congress betrayed them.

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE TOTAL NUMBER OF REGISTERED VOTERS IN THE PHILIPPINES?

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2010 by Ruffy Biazon

What’s the exact number of registered voters in the country in the May 10, 2010 elections? Initial canvass reports in the Senatorial Canvass showed 153,902,003 Filipino voters. The Canvassing and Consolidation Server (CCS) in the Presidential and Vice Presidential Canvass indicated that there are 256,733,195 registered voters.

Which of the two is the correct number? Actually, both are wrong.

Without even checking references, one would immediately know that both figures are incorrect because it is common knowledge that the Philippine population is just about 89 million. Since these figures are supposed to be system generated (meaning that they are automatically produced by the program of the Consolidation and Canvassing Server), these can be called defects of the product supplied by Smartmatic. Or in a more benign-sounding techie terminology, these are “glitches”.


Photo at left shows the Report No 1 of the National Canvass Report for Senator, certified by three Comelec Commissioners indicating the wrong number of registered voters in the Philippines. Photo at right is the close up of the document. The error in the CCS of the Presidential/Vice Presidential Canvass was the subject of discussion between Senate President Enrile and Smartmatic officer Cesar Flores during the first day of canvassing.

The “glitches” did not go unnoticed, though. In the senatorial canvass, representatives of the candidates, not having outgrown the habit of closely scrutinizing canvass documents during old, manual system where errors were aplenty, went over the system-generated report (which is supposed to be reliable because of less human intervention) and discovered the incorrect entry.

Comelec and Smartmatic officials apologized for the glitch, promising to correct it. Most of those in the canvassing teams of the candidates brushed it off, although when it was reported to me by my staff, I took a little bit more serious note of it. This was during the morning session of the canvassing.

When the Board of Canvassers (BOC) printed out the afternoon report, the first thing my staff did was to check if the error was corrected. It was not. It was then that I decided I had to go to the PICC to personally check on the documents and inquire about the process. At that time, I didn’t know it was a system generated report.

At the PICC, I was able to talk to Cesar Flores and I conveyed to him my support for an automated election. I then queried him about the reports that are being generated, particularly the reports per province as they are received by the BOC, because there are no reports being generated. The BOC simply reports out the consolidated tally, without us knowing the breakdown of results per province, unlike in the old system where you know the results that come in per province and you can cross check it with your field reports.

After our short chat, I was informed by my staff that the afternoon report was not corrected. It still contained the error in registered voters. I was also able to talk to a Comelec technical person who told me the Canvass Reports are system generated and that they will look into the error. After getting non-responsive answers to my questions, I left my staff to monitor the canvassing further.

When it was revealed through a report by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile that a similar error was found in the CCS of the Presidential / Vice Presidential Canvass Board, red flags were raised in my head. Two separate systems, one error. But the curious thing is that while the nature of the errors were the same, the outcomes were different.

Of course, when both errors were discovered, the logical thing to do was to correct them. Not only was it logical, it was imperative. So the CCS in the Senatorial Canvass was corrected and the registered voters in the CCS of the Presidential /Vice Presidential Canvass was adjusted.

Most people settled down after those assuring actions were made. But wait, hold your horses!

In the canvass of the senatorial race, which has the same voting constituency as the President and Vice President, the figure that was indicated in the Total Registered Voters field after the correction was 51, 317, 073. Below is an image of the document, National Canvass Report No. 3 indicating the new number of registered voters which was used all the way through to Report No. 8.

But as revealed in the discussion during the first day of canvass for President and vice President, the figure that Smartmatic and Comelec used in correcting the erroneous entry in the number of registered voters is 51,292,465. I remember Senator Enrile asking what figure they used to change the wrong entry and if they were sure with the number as I was listening to the proceedings in the radio. True enough, those figures are the ones reported in the news.

With the two Consolidation and Canvassing Servers once again having differing numbers of registered voters, I decided to check which one was accurate. Where else will I turn to but the Commission on Elections? So I visited their website and clicked on the page where the registered voters were indicated.

Lo and behold, a figure different from both numbers appears in the website of the Comelec itself. In their tally, there are 50,723,733 registered voters in the Philippines as January 2010. To my knowledge, the last day of registration was October 31, 2009 per Comelec Resolution No. 8585, so this should be the correct figure. There couldn’t have been additional voters between January 2010 and February 9, 2010 when the campaign period started. Besides, this is the Comelec’s website, which should be updated with the latest data considering the importance of their work now.

Image of the Comelec website indicating a figure for registered voters different from both the CCS from the Senatorial Canvass and the CCS from the Presidential / Vice Presidential Canvass.

I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt. After all, it might be that the COmelec website was not updated. So I did a double checking using a document I knew to be reliable (or it should be, unless it, too, is faulty). I referred to the Certificate of Canvass in my District, Muntinlupa City.

I checked the registered voters in Mutninlupa as indicated in the Certificate of Canvass for that city, certified by the City Board of Canvassers. It indicated that Muntinlupa City’s registered voters totaled to 291,333, as shown in the image below:

I cross-checked it with the figure in the Comelec website and they matched:

This shows that the data on the Comelec appears to be the correct data since the information pertaining to Muntinlupa City’s voting population is the same with the information contained in the Certificate of Canvass for the same city.

The question now is how come the information in the two Consolidation and Canvassing Servers are not only different from the information in the Comelec website but even different from each other?

It appears that three official sources have their own data with regard to the total number of voting population that the Philippines has. Smartmatic downplays the error in the Presidential and Vice Presidential Canvass as “innocent glitches”. But the fact that it happened also in the Senatorial canvass gives it a more than just an “innocent glitch” flavor. In addition, the error in the Presidential / Vice Presidential Canvass was discovered ahead of the one in the Senatorial Canvass which was even included in the first two reports signed by the Comelec Commissioners. That negligence caused the Comelec Commissioners to affix their seal of approval on something that was erroneous on something as basic as the total registered voters. In the case of the CCS for President and Vice President, the error was found out only after the Senate President did his official task of initializing the server.

Let me clarify though, that even if it does not take a genius to figure out how this error could be used for cheating, I am not saying that these observations are enough to suspect cheating. I am not looking at this as an indication of fraud but rather as an indication of sloppy work on the part of the supplier of the system.

But as the explanation was given that the program mistakenly added the voting population of each level of the reporting (from PCOS to Municipal Board to Provincial Board to National Board, etc.) the layman in me has enough common sense to question that it would take major programming “error” to mistakenly put into the program an instruction to add a mathematical formula (either addition or multiplication) in a field that is supposed to be static.

The so-called IT experts of Smartmatic and (those who worship them) want us to believe and take in hook line and sinker all that they say. I would want to, but I only believe something after it has passed scrutiny using my educated and ignorant questions. So far, some of their answers to questions have only bred more questions (like Mr. Flores’ explanation about the wrong date stamps on ERs being caused by clocks resetting while in transit. I countered that if a clock is reset, it is reset to a default “beginning of time” such as 01/01/1900 and not just resetting to a few days or few months back from the correct time. But that’s another story…)

Once more, with feeling…I am not complaining that I was cheated. I am not accusing anyone of cheating. But I do say that there’s enough to accuse someone of sloppy work. Sloppy work that the Filipino people are going to pay more than 7 Billion Pesos for.

Some people would probably ask, what should we do then? Well, I say we tell those who are responsible that they have sloppy work and tell them that right in their faces. Then we find ways to penalize them. Because if we take a lackadaisical attitude towards this negligence (or much worse, if we take their side and even defend their errors), it will surely come back and thumb its nose in our faces again in 2013.

President Arroyo Should Turn Over the Reins of Government if She Runs for Congress

Posted in Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , , on November 30, 2009 by Ruffy Biazon

President Arroyo Should Turn Over the Reins of Government if She Runs for Congress

President Arroyo should either resign or go on leave if she pursues her desire to run for the 2nd Congressional District of Pampanga. Of course, her counsel Atty Romy Macalintal will argue that there is no legal impediment for her to seek another elective post. That is a well known fact. The law does not compel her to vacate her post either by resignation or going on leave. I won’t even go into a discussion on delicadeza. We all know what the answer to that issue.

But I offer other reasons why she should give the post of president to someone else who can take full charge in a full time capacity the role of leading this nation during the elections.

The Maguindanao Massacre was definitely a politically motivated incident, one that is expected to have repercussions all the way to election day. It may even have spill over effects to neighboring provinces and spread throughout ARMM. In fact, one of the president’s allies is even proposing that martial law be imposed in that part of Mindanao to ensure peace and order.

Being a presidential election, other hotspots are expected in other parts of the country, hence the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police will surely be on their toes in maintaining peace and order during the elections. This is the reason why I had earlier proposed that the Armed Forces Chief of Staff be extended beyond his retirement date of March 10, 2010, just so that the AFP will not have a change in leadership in the middle of the campaign period.

Being the Commander in Chief, the president should be full time in overseeing the enforcement of laws and measures to maintain peace and order during the elections. The president should not be sidelined by the concerns of her campaign for another elective post, a local one at that. We should not gamble with the president merely allowing an underling (especially the current acting Secretary of Defense Bert Gonzales) to carry out her instructions as she campaigns. Someone should take over the responsibility and accountability during that time.

Another matter which necessitates the full time attention of the President is the implementation of the first automated elections in the country. IT will be best for the country not to have a president distracted and preoccupied with a candidacy in the local elections while this historic venture into uncharted waters is being experienced by the country.

The president’s legal eagles and political pundits will simply repeat their script to defend the president’s decision to run—that there is no legal impediment to her candidacy. And it would be foolish for people to expect delicadeza to prevail. So if she wants to run, let her run.

But what I would like to raise at this point is the duty of the Office of the President ( the position, not the person) to ensure that the elections will be clean, credible and peaceful. She cannot do that full time if she will be a candidate for a local position in 2010. So if she wants to run, then she should turn over in accordance to legal processes the reins of power to someone who is not running for office and can perform the job full time.

Of course that would be the Vice President.

God bless the Philippines!

The Lone Ranger Cha-Cha in the House

Posted in Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , , on June 3, 2009 by Ruffy Biazon

The passage of House Resolution 1109 proposing to amend the Constitution is another blow to the already tarnished reputation of the House of Represenatives. It is appalling that the leadership ignored the sentiments of the people which reject moves to amend the constitution at this time. It gives the House the image that it is callous to public opinion and will only give due attention to matters that pertain to its members’ personal and political agenda.

It is also deplorable that in the undue rush to pass the resolution, the House leadership chose to deny members of the House their right to express their positions on such an important measure. The untimely motion to end the debates aborted the interpellation of congressmen who were already lined up to ask questions. At one point, one congressman who rose to ask a parliamentary inquiry was simply ignored, as if the presiding officer was blind and deaf.

I myself was not spared, when I indicated my desire to explain my objection to the motion to approve the resolution. I was denied the right with the threat of simply being ignored like my other colleague.

The “Lone Ranger” Cha-Cha , where the Senate is likewise ignored by the House of Representatives convening itself as a Constituent Assembly, is immoral and smacks of political arrogance in that it practically ignores public opinion, legal advice and processes and institutional courtesy.

The haste with which it was calendared and forced to a vote exemplifies the House’s distorted sense of priorities, with the Cha-Cha resolution edging out important and urgent measures such as the Agrarian Reform Bill. It goes to show that if the leadership really wants a measure passed, it can do so, in contrast to other measures which languished in the legislative mill without meriting the leadership’s attention.

Finally, the viva voce vote on such a significant measure clouded any semblance of transparency, denying the people the knowledge of how their representatives voted on the resolution to amend the constitution. As a result, accountability for their votes is nil, allowing the members of the House to hide under the cloak of anonymity.

Although drowned out by the majority “yes” votes, my “no” vote is one that I will hold myself accountable to, and am proud to say is reflective of my constituents’ sentiments on the matter.

A Typical Day in My District Office

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , on May 8, 2009 by Ruffy Biazon

Sessions and committee hearings in the House of Representatives are held Monday to Wednesday. Those are usually full days for congressmen, since hearings are held in the morning, usually starting at 9:30 AM until 4:00 PM. The different committees conduct hearings simultaneously, so if a congressman is a member of multiple committees or is following several bills, the congressman usually hop from one committee to another.

At 4:00 PM, the plenary session begins, which usually goes on until around 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening.
So what do congressmen do after the session and hearing days? Those are the days that are spent with the constituents, catering to their needs and delivering service.

Time with the constituents means going around in the communities for various activities such as consultations, inauguration of projects, visits to funerals and wakes, weddings, baptisms, fiestas, sports events, etc. Things to do and go to never run out.

Congressmen also have district offices where constituents may go to for services. People go to the district offices for medical assistance, application for scholarships, help for problems in the community association, housing and many other varieties of personal and collective concerns.

I asked my staff to take photos of of a typical day in my district office to show what it looks like on an ordinary day that I’m there.
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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.