Monday, April 25, 2011

The RH Bill, its intent and main issues

The Purpose of the Bill
There are so many poor families in the Philippines. Worse, poor families have more children, and therefore they have the tendency to become even poorer, resulting into even more and more families becoming poor.

Being poor, they need more help from government because they cannot pay for their own healthcare, education, housing, etc. And when there are more poor people, there are more people who go hungry and easily agitated that national security (peace and order) is also threatened. To put it bluntly, government sees it that the poor are a drain to government resources.

The plan of the RH bill (or RP bill) is to attract poor people into using contraceptives. Not just giving contraceptives for free, the bill will also promote it heavily including to young people from poor families, make it available everywhere, especially where there is a huge concentration of poor people, and give the poor people monetary incentives (tying the CCT program with it) to use them.

There is another purpose of the bill, which is to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STD) including AIDS. However, again, this purpose is directed to the poor, whose related future healthcare expenses in case of STD are foreseen to be shouldered by the government.

Some people may be saying other purposes for the bill, say, “freedom to choose”, for “women's rights”, to “lessen abortion”, “maternal health”, etc. These are all misleading and merely used as arguments to promote the bill and nothing else.

Of course, it should be understood that the Catholic Church and others who teach against the use of contraceptives and prophylactics will be against the bill. On the other hand, the manufacturers of contraceptives and similar devices will surely support the bill. Rich countries, and owing to our special relationship with them, the US, also will support it as they don’t want the potential of more poor families from poor countries knocking on their doors, asking for help (jobs), competing against their own citizens and bringing security threats with them.

The question is, should we or should we not support the bill. In order to answer this question, we should be able to look into the issues.

First, how much does the bill really costs?
The first issue that must be understood is a question of economics. Those against the bill say this is another drain on the government’s resources. The money to be used here is a dole-out and dole-outs are never good. The money could be used instead in improving the education of our children or on infrastructures that could help make more jobs available. We cannot even be sure that the money used to finance the bill will be used properly and we are even less sure that it will bring the expected results. Costing at least a Billion Pesos a year (and it is not unreasonable to guess it could cost more than P20B per year), this argument is straightforward.

Meanwhile, those who are for the bill says this money is definitely worth it. They see it as an investment that will result in net savings to the government, savings gained from less government expenditures on education, healthcare, housing, security, etc. This argument is also plausible. However, for reasons unknown, the proponents do not present the economic impact (in figures) of the bill. Surely they would know that it is up to them to prove that the plan would work, economically that is. (Note: In fairness to the proponents, perhaps they have presented it but which was not picked up by the mass media).

One component of the bill that could also have a negative impact in the country’s economy and therefore needs clarification is the provision where employers are required to make available and provide Reproductive Health services free to their employees. This means that employers are partly financing the bill directly which surely is another addition to the cost of doing business in the country. The proponents of the bill therefore should also factor in this negative dent, when explaining the economic impact of the bill.

Sadly, this important issue is not discussed openly, leaving ordinary people both for and against the bill holding on straws to support their arguments.

Second, the Constitutional Issue.
Another issue, this one brought up by people against the bill, is its constitutionality. The Constitution of the Philippines expressly says that the State shall protect life from conception or from when life begins. The problem is we do not have a definition as to when life begins. Is it from fertilization (Catholic belief) or from implantation?

This became an issue because most if not all contraceptive pills now in the market have multiple modes of action, a fail-safe mechanism to decrease further the chance of pregnancy. This means that pills avoid ovulation, destroy the egg cell in case ovulation still occurs and prevent implantation if fertilization still occurs.

If the bill therefore does not make distinctions between those contraceptive pills with or without “abortifacient” properties, and endorses both, which the present form of the bill does, it runs into this constitutional issue.

At this point, everyone is ready to say he or she is against abortion. Even the bill is against abortion and expressly says so. The problem is, we do not have a definition of what constitutes abortion, making any express opinion against abortion less useful. If you believe in the Catholic teachings that life begins from fertilization, then perhaps you are against the bill. If not, this issue does not concern you as much.

Third, the freedom to exercise one’s religion.
The RH bill in its present form requires employers to provide their employees free access to reproductive health devices such as condoms and contraceptives. The bill, again in its present form, also requires healthcare providers, hospitals, institutions and individuals, to at least provide information on where such services can be availed of by whoever requires them. The problem is when the subject employer or the healthcare provider is a member of a religious organization whose teaching says that the provision of such services or information is against their beliefs. Shouldn’t the bill at least provide exemption in this case?

Again, if you are an employer or a healthcare provider who follows the teachings of the Catholic Church (e.g. Catholic-ran hospitals), you will be against the bill unless such provisions are removed or at least amended to exempt you. To support your cause, you will even surely point out that part of the constitution that protects your right to practice your religion. Of course, the proponents of the bill are not inclined to allow any or such an exemption considering that about 80% of the citizens are Catholics and may avail of such exemption (if there is). If on the other hand your beliefs do not limit you on such, this issue again does not concern you, except when an exception is included.

Aside from the above, I do not see any other major issue worth considering at this time. The Catholic leaders oppose for example the teaching of use of contraceptives to students. However, even without the bill, the Department of Education already has the power to do that and could be dealt with entirely as a different issue. Meanwhile, I have heard people rant against the dominant religious organization for blocking this bill. Of course, such ranting is useless and in fact misplaced. Everyone, including church leaders have the right to express their objection to and exert pressure against legislation that they deem wrong. Those who are for it has the right to do that as well. But people should not resort to spins and cheap propaganda. People must stick to issues and discuss the points on the bill that really matter.

Amazingly though, it deserves pointing out that even when the people are not provided enough information on the real issues for and against the RH bill, support for it and even vilification of those against it has gained ground. Even those who cannot find any good from government on practically all other issues, from both the executive and legislative branches, are joining the present administration to support the bill. It is quite obvious that the mass media supports the legislation, and is proving once again that wherever they go the rest of the country goes. So, it is easy to predict the bill will be passed sooner than later, but it does not mean as citizens we should not look at the issues.

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