New DOH chief backs reproductive health bill

Newly-designated Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral recently repeated her support for the reproductive health (RH) bill pending in the House of Representatives, saying it is needed to help ease the country’s population problem.

Cabral made the remarks during a surprise appearance at the conferment ceremonies for businesswoman Loida Nicolas Lewis as Eminent Person on population, given by the Forum for Family Planning and Development in Pasig City on January 15.

It will be recalled that Cabral stated her support for a national modern family planning program when she was Department of Social Welfare and Development secretary, going against the Malacañang line of backing only the Catholic Church-approved natural family planning as a national program.

She said that there are many members of the Arroyo Cabinet who support the RH bill, but it was she who, by chance, opened up to members of the media.

Cabral’s predecessor in the Department of Health, Francisco Duque III, strictly toed the Malacañang line during his tenure.

'Good for family'

In the course of her remarks, Cabral revealed that she and Lewis were in school together at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

In her own acceptance speech, the New York-based Lewis acknowledged that the RH bill is good for women, good for couples, and good for the family—and must be passed soonest.

Lewis, who chairs the TLC Group that operates a chain of convenience stores in major cities in China, is also a major sponsor of a Church-based microfinance project that has, since 1998, lifted from poverty thousands of women and their families in her home province of Sorsogon.

But the prospects of the RH bill being passed before the 14th Congress adjourns on February 5 are uncertain.

One of the bill’s main features is the support for a government-run national family planning program that centers on the use of modern family planning methods such as the pill, condom, vasectomy, and ligation, as well as natural family planning.

The Catholic Church opposes modern family planning methods as “abortifacient” (induces abortion), a charge denied by its proponents.

Church critics say that studies show that natural family planning is the least effective among the family planning methods mentioned, resulting in unwanted pregnancies that many times lead to illegal abortion.

20 years long

The sponsors emphasize that the program is intended to meet the needs of low-income women and couples; and that smaller families enable women to work or engage in their professions full-time.

The bill, under the guidance of its principal author, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, has been ready for debate in the plenary session—an achievement by itself.

Lawmakers have been trying for almost 2 decades to pass RH bills but have never succeeded in getting them out of the committees.

In this Congress, Lagman and his partners have said that they have the momentum and the numbers to pass this long-pending legislation.

But Speakler Prospero Nograles has angered the bill’s supporters with a surprise announcement that the 14th Congress has no time to pass the bill as the debates will crowd out other priority legislations that need to be approved by February 5.

This surprise move is taken by some observers as a big break for the Catholic Church, which opposes the bill, and its allies in Congress.

To reinforce this move, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has issued a statement urging Filipinos not to vote for candidates in the 2010 elections supporting anti-family legislation, a reference to the RH bill.

Strong public support

Some political scientists say the threat of the CBCP is hollow as there is no Catholic vote in the country. The election of Fidel Ramos, a protestant, as president in 1992 is often cited as proof to support this view.

In fact, the RH bill has strong public support as shown by the series of 4 surveys—one national and in 3 selected cities—conducted by the Social Weather Stations in 2009.

An average of around 65% of respondents say they approve of the RH bill and its advocacy of modern family planning methods.

The bill also has the support of experts, notably the faculty members of the University of the Philippines School of Economics, who together endorsed it.

Despite these, none of the candidates in the 2010 presidential race have so far come out backing the RH bill. (Newsbreak)

Source: ABS-CBN New website, Jan. 26, 2010

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