Philippine Reproductive Health Bill Passed on Second Reading in Congress

The World Youth Alliance (WYA) regrets the passage on the second reading of the Reproductive Health Bill by the Philippine House of Representatives on Thursday, December 13. 113 lawmakers voted in the affirmative, while 104 voted no and 3 abstained. The RH Bill was approved on this reading, which is the most critical voting period for a law. A Senate vote is expected to occur on Monday, December 17, followed by a third reading in Congress on Thursday, December 20. WYA asks those in the Philippines to urge their lawmakers to oppose the Bill in the Senate and on the third reading.

For over four years, WYA has opposed the Bill. This is due to the fact that it relies on the false premise that a government-run population management program is necessary for development, in addition to including serious violations of freedom of conscience and inadequate attention to maternal and child health.

The controversial RH Bill has been stalled in Congress for the past 14 years. The Bill gives the government of the Philippines the mandate to provide reproductive health services and commodities to the population, with an emphasis on poor women. Although WYA welcomed the inclusion of positive amendments in October 2012, we remain dissatisfied with the lack of protections in the Bill to ensure that the dignity of every person is respected. The new amendments were added in an effort to make the Bill more palatable to its opponents—and it seems that this contributed to the high number of affirmative votes.

Despite these amendments, the version of the Bill that was passed in the second reading remains highly problematic. At the Thursday vote, all levels of the gallery were filled with supporters from both sides of the camp, with those against the bill wearing red and those in support wearing purple. WYA members and staff, students, young professionals, teachers, non-government officials and religious leaders were among those present.

Hon. Antonio Alvarez, Representative of Palawan, voted against the Bill. He noted that the services contained in the Bill are “already covered by a multitude of laws” and stated that “the problem is not legislation, but implementation.” He also spoke of the importance of food and livelihood, which are the priority needs of the people of the Philippines, not contraception. It was a tight race to have a majority lead, and the final count was announced at 2:00 AM.

The October amendments improved certain aspects of the Bill. The Bill now specifically states that population promotion and/or stabilization will not be used to achieve development goals (Sec. 3j). Another improvement is the insertion of language that recognizes the value of modern natural methods of family planning and knowledge of fertility cycles, instead of an exclusive focus on contraception (Sec. 3e & Sec. 4a). It is critical to note that international law does not enumerate a right to any particular form of family planning. This means that countries are not obligated to provide access to one form of family planning over another. In meeting the family planning needs of its population, the Philippines is not under obligation to provide contraceptives, and contraceptives should not be equated with family planning.

If adopted, the Bill could have highly negative implications for the Philippines. For instance, the Bill includes the caveat that “parents bring forth to the world only those children that they can raise in a truly humane way” (Sec. 2). Such weak language on the right to life does not accord the necessary protections warranted by the inherent dignity of every person. Similarly, the Bill notes the importance of granting flexibility to sectarian schools with regard to sexuality education (Sec. 16). This language fails to safeguard the rights of parents to oversee the education of their children, and would be improved by the explicit mention of parents’ rights.

The Bill states that poor women and men shall receive reproductive healthcare, services and supplies for free (Sec. 2). WYA remains concerned that the provision of these services will have the effect of incentivizing people to have fewer children when they would otherwise have more children, in violation of their right to determine freely the number and spacing of their children. Poverty eradication, not the provision of RH services to the poor, should remain the priority of the Philippine government. This means attention to good governance and ensuring access to healthcare, education, nutrition, sanitation, housing and all the other fundamental conditions necessary for the flourishing of the person. It is only a society that cultivates innovation and creativity that will see the fruits of authentic sustainable development.