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Reproductive Health bill 12 votes shy of House approval

BIPARTISAN SUPPORT grew for a bill that seeks to address the country’s high population growth rate, with the measure only 12 votes shy to be approved in the House of Representatives.

The so-called Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood, and Population Development Act of 2008 or House Bill (HB) 5043 has been co-authored by 108, from 103, out of 238 congressmen. The bill needs 120 votes to be approved on second reading.

Plenary debates on HB 5043 was temporarily suspended Tuesday to give way for discussions on the proposed 2009 budget, said Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman (1st district), the bill’s principal author who also disclosed the total number of co-authors.

He added discussions on HB 5043 will resume in November to give way for budget deliberations.

"[The overwhelming support] just means that the likelihood of the bill’s passage is high, despite the oppositors’ delaying tactics There might be a delay due to the budget hearings, but there’s still time for [it’s approval] this year, after session resumes in November," he told BusinessWorld in a telephone interview.

The bill, cleared by four committees — health, population, family relations and rules — has been opposed mainly by the Roman Catholic Church.


Some of the bill’s salient features are mandatory age-appropriate reproductive health education; including contraceptives in the purchase by state hospital of medicines and supplies; requiring local governments to employ an adequate number of midwives or attendants for a ratio of one for every 150 deliveries per year; to have an emergency obstetric care maternal death review; and provide mobile health care services.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has since lobbied against the bill, calling it a means to legalize abortion and encouraging promiscuity by promoting the use of contraceptives.

Archbishop Paciano B. Ancieto, head of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, claimed the bill’s supporters will eventually reverse their decision.

"This is not a statistical contest. We will pray for our legislators so that they will ask for divine assistance. We hope that they will be enlightened — they are educated men and women, they have their own conscience, and this is a test of maturity for them," he said in an interview Tuesday night.

Parañaque Rep. Eduardo C. Zialcita (1st district), an anti-reproductive health advocate and chairman of the Pro-Life Caucus, said a bill funding programs such as mandatory sex education for schoolchildren from Grade 5 to senior year in high school and promotion of contraceptive use should not be passed.

"There are so many other important bills that need to be discussed, along with them so many programs that are in need of funding — and it should be those programs to which we should give funds," he said in an interview.

A counterpart bill is pending committee approval at the Senate. — Business World, October 2, 2008

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