Government ‘spending P8 billion’ to support RH services
MANILA — The most vocal critic of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill in the Senate asked his colleagues on Wednesday to vote against the measure since the government spends P8 billion annually to respond to problems the bill aims to address.
Citing items in the 2012 national budget, Sotto said the government set aside P167 million to support maternal and child health grants in local government units, P5.08 billion to improve health facilities, P122.86 million for the construction of maternity and birthing clinics and P300 million for the purchase of family planning supplies, among others.
The services are in compliance with 23 laws and department circulars that are deemed supportive of the bill, such as the Republic Act (RA) 9710 or Magna Carta for Women, RA 9262 or Anti-Violence against Women and Children, RA 8504 or Philippine Aids Prevention and Control Act of 1998, RA 7160 or The Local Government Code of the Philippines, and RA 9502 or the Cheaper Medicine Act.
Sotto, however, did not oppose provisions on institutionalizing mobile health care service, emergency obstetric and new born care, employing skilled health professionals on maternal and child health care and PhilHealth benefits for those undergoing delicate pregnancies.
He said condoms shouldn’t be treated as essential medicine as money for this must be used to fund medication for diseases like tuberculosis and hypertension.
“Malabis ang pagbibigay-halaga ng RH bill sa contraception, habang isinasantabi naman nito ang iba pang mahahalagang bagay, gaya ng pagpapagamot at pag-aalaga sa mga maysakit at namamatay [RH bill is giving much value to contraception, while disregarding other important matters, like giving of medication to the sick and those who are dying],” he said.
During his interpellation, Senator Ralph Recto supported Sotto’s view that the RH bill can be used as anti-population measure.
He said the country’s young population is a vital factor in reaching high economic growths in the future as limiting the number of people would do otherwise.
Sotto, once accused of plagiarism in one of his anti-RH bill speeches by an American blogger, said he delivered his final arguments in Filipino so that he will not be criticized again on the same ground.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sotto also denied on the floor that they are derailing the passage of the measure, saying they have to dissect the bill no matter how unpopular their position is.
Senate Bill 2865 sponsored by Senator Pia Cayetano is now under the period of amendments.
In the House of Representatives, lawmakers opposed to the RH bill on Wednesday stood pat and junked a proposed amendment that would require government to provide contraceptives only to the poorest of the poor.
“We cannot accept that contraceptives are essential medicines because pregnancy is never a disease,” Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez told reporters in an ambush interview after a two-hour meeting with House leaders.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II earlier said that authors of House Bill 4244 or the RH bill are working on a set of amendments, including one that will highlight the proposed law as an anti-poverty measure.
In the amended version of the RH bill, the government will provide contraceptives only to poor households that are identified in the National Household Targeting System (NHTS) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
The NHTS is currently used for the implementation of the conditional cash transfer program.
The amended RH bill will be the subject of discussion of the informal technical working group to be composed of representatives of Congress, the Executive, and the Church.
“That is a good step that we have a dialogue. Hopefully, we can agree on a bill, a win-win situation,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez, who earlier challenged quorum numbers, added that Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has promised them that members of Congress will be advised before the RH bill is taken up once more in the plenary.
“There will be no discussion of RH unless everybody is informed. There will be no surprises and no fireworks anymore,” he said.
House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, meanwhile, proposed that Congress abandon the RH bill and instead, the government should just provide funds to the DSWD for the procurement of contraceptives to be distributed to the poor.
“If the objective of the measure is that contraceptives distributed to those who should curtail number which are CCT beneficiaries, why don’t we just ask the DSWD to procure contraceptives?” Suarez said.
The RH bill is effectively shelved — at least, for now — since the House of Representatives will devote its time in the next two weeks to the General Appropriations Bill.
“It really wasn’t scheduled to be taken up yesterday and today. All the bills for the matter (are shelved), not only the RH because when we consider the budget, discussions on other bills will be deferred,” Gonzales said.
Congress will go on a break starting September 22.
In Malacañang, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda is hoping that the final form of the RH bill would be acceptable to majority of the population.
Lacierda said the Palace welcomes the proposal of House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte to exclude “hardliners” from the technical working group that is being formed to work on the Responsible Parenthood bill, which is said to be the watered down version of the RH bill being endorsed by President Benigno Aquino III.
“We hope reasonable men can come together and discuss amendments without passion and without extremist views,” he added.
He said the Palace understands that there will be supporters and opponents of RH bill but they are expecting that both parties would come up with reasonable measure.
Asked on the reported text brigade from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines asking the faithful to campaign against bill, Lacierda said: “We respect their position. That’s what they want to do and we cannot stop them. There’s a free marketplace of ideas but for us like we said, we are only for responsible parenthood.”
Malacañang, meanwhile, deferred to Congress the length of time to be poured for the period of amendments. (Virgil Lopez/Kathrina Alvarez/Jill Beltran/Sunnex)
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