roups solicit support for RH bill on Valentine's Day

02/15/2011 - FROM picket in the Senate to giving out condoms in a public market, supporters of reproductive health (RH) bill used the Valentine's Day to intensify their call for the passage of the controversial measure.

In Pasay City, around 50 women members of Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) carried red pillow hearts to push for the bill's passage in the Senate, which was recently excluded in the list of Aquino administration's priority legislations.

To their dismay, PM and other groups voiced disgust over President Benigno Aquino III's decision to put the RH bill at the backseat despite his apparent support for the measure early on.

"Eleven poor working women are dying every day from pregnancy and birth delivery complications alone. Don't we want an end to this continued 'daily slaughter' of women? With the passage of the RH bill, we can avoid losing 4,015 precious women's lives per year," said PM secretary-general Judy Ann Miranda.

She also enumerated some of the beneficial provisions under the House's consolidated version, namely: increased number of midwives to attend to pregnant women and upgrading of health facilities to address emergency obstetric care.

Part of the bill as well is PhilHealth coverage expansion to include family planning and reproductive health conditions, as well as paid half-day leaves per year of pregnancy for women workers' pre-natal consultations, among others.

Over at Nepa-Q Mart in Quezon City, members of the Akbayan Party gave away free condoms to the public to continue the initiative made last year by then health Secretary Esperanza Cabral.

"Love yourself. Love your partner. Love your family. Be safe. This is the message we want to convey to the public. The campaign to push for the passage of the RH bill is not only about securing and protecting our rights, it is also fundamentally about love," said Akbayan Representative Arlene "Kaka" Bag-ao.

The Health department did not continue Cabral's move as RH backers criticized anew the powerful Catholic Church for its opposition to the use of condoms.

"Even without condom distribution, the people are having sex. There is so much information about sex, but the organized dissemination of correct information is lacking. The policy does not promote sex; it promotes informed choices and decisions," Bag-ao noted.

Meantime, former Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros advised the Catholic Church to help provide the public with the widest array of options, and spread the correct information about sexuality and reproductive health.

"It is the Filipino people's right to make informed choices, and to have a healthy life," she said.

Condoms 'an insult'

An official of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said the distribution of condoms is an insult to the Filipino people.

"If they gave me condoms, I'll feel insulted. Why give condom to me? Do you think I am planning to have sex? Do you think I don't have self-control? Is that how they view the people?" said Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo.

He is referring to groups who distributed condoms in public places during the celebration of Valentine's Day.

The groups are composed of Akbayan Party led by Bag-ao and Hontiveros.

According to Pabillo, who is also chairman of the CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action Justice & Peace, it would have been better if the groups distributed food to the poor people.

"If you really want to help the poor, why not give them food or work? Why give them condom? Condom is not the solution to our problems," he said.

He added that giving free condoms only encouraged the people to be irresponsible and be unfaithful to their partners.

"It's as if they are telling the people to do whatever they want since they are protected. But does it really protect you? Again, sexual act outside of marriage is wrong," he said.

CBCP Media Director Monsignor Pedro Quitorio echoed Pabillo's statement, saying what the group did is not appropriate to the purpose they are claiming.

RH issue unites prelates

Twenty-five years after Edsa People Power 1, members of the CBCP are being united again against one issue, indicating that a popular uprising may not be too far-fetched anymore.

Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani said the issue over the RH bill is uniting the CBCP for only the second time since the days leading to the Edsa People Power 1 in 1986.

"Minsan pa lang nangyari sa kasaysayan ng CBCP sa loob ng 50 nakaraang taon na nagpahayag ang mga obispong Pilipino na unanimous sila. Yun po ay bago mag-Edsa 1, bago mag-people power revolution... talagang unanimous," recalled Bacani in his homily during the interfaith anti-RH rally at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) grounds in Pasay City.

A repeat of what happened in 1986, he added, would not be far behind if the Aquino administration continues to allow the advancement of the RH bill in Congress.

"We strongly reject the RH bill and we are unanimous... Siguro naman po, mas gugustuhin ni President Aquino na may people power na kakampi niya kaysa kalaban niya," said Bacani.

The retired prelate's tirades came after the CBCP issued a strongly-worded Pastoral Statement urging the faithful to "pray together, reason together, decide together, act together" against the many threats to human life, specifically the RH bill.

Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz also stressed on how serious the CBCP is in fighting the RH bill, saying "there's nothing more precious for the Church other than life".

The Filipino bishops have been divided in several other issues aside from the RH bill, such as jueteng and other forms of gambling, Charter Change, and the rejection of the former regime of now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The CBCP has been the strongest opponent of the RH bill, saying it is an anti-life measure since it promotes the use of artificial contraceptives.

Appeal to Aquino

Meantime, the pro- and anti-RH groups are united in asking President Benigno Aquino III to once and for all give a definite stand on the controversial measure.

In a phone interview, Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development Foundation Inc. (PLCPD) Executive Director Ramon San Pascual said it is about time for Aquino to finally give his exact position on the controversial measure.

"We agree with the anti-RH view that PNoy should make a definitive stand," added San Pascual.

On Sunday, Pro-Life Philippines President Eric Manalang asked Aquino to stop dilly-dallying on his position on whether he is for or against the highly-disputed bill.

This was after Malacaรฑang made an earlier pronouncement that the RH bill is one of its priority bills but was ultimately excluded in the 17 measures listed to be presented to the legislators.

However, San Pascual stressed that in making his definite stand, Aquino should strongly consider who really supported his candidacy at the time when he was still a senator that is pushing for the RH bill.

"That stand should be based on his promise of responsible parenthood as articulated in his social contract with the people way back during election," said the pro-RH advocate.

"His compass should be his own promise by which he was supported overwhelmingly by the electorate," San Pascual added.

For his part, Manalang refused to accept Aquino's latest pronouncement over the fate of the RH/RP bill, saying it remains to be a vague position.

"We are just asking for a yes or no statement. Yes or no if he will protect life from fertilization to death. That is all what we want," Manalang said. "If he still does not say yes or no, then he continues to vacillate on the issue." (Sun Star)

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