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RH law to take effect Jan. 17

MANILA, Philippines - The Reproductive Health (RH) Law that President Aquino signed before Christmas takes effect in mid-January as the government tries to manage the country’s ballooning 95-million population.

Republic Act 10354, entitled “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health,” was published in the business section of The STAR yesterday.

Section 30 of the law provides that “this act shall take effect 15 days after its publication in at least two newspapers of general circulation.” The law was signed by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.

The new law also effectively repealed and “modified” RA 7392, or the Midwifery Act.

“This act shall be liberally construed to ensure the provision, delivery and access to reproductive health care services, and to promote, protect and fulfill women’s reproductive health and rights,” the provision also stated.

Aquino kept his promise and signed the RH bill into law last Dec. 21, or shortly after the Senate and the House of Representatives ratified the measure before Congress went on their annual Christmas break.

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The much-debated RH bill that the Catholic Church has vehemently opposed for more than two decades is now a law, which will be carried out by the executive department as soon as the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) are released.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona said the church could still take part in the formulation of the IRR.

Ona said he sees no problem if the church will want to be part of the committee that would be drafting the IRR. 

“Anyone can nominate and then the committee will choose,” he said.

The law mandates the secretary of the Department of Health (DOH) or his representative to serve as chair of the committee that will draft the IRR.

The committee will be composed of authorized representatives from the Department of Education, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippine Commission on Women, Philippine Health Insurance Corp., Department of the Interior and Local Government, National Economic and Development Authority, League of Provinces, League of Cities and League of Municipalities.

Four members would come from non-governmental organizations to be selected by the health secretary.

While the committee was given 60 days to come up with the IRR, Ona said they might be able to complete it within the month.

“In essence, there’s actually nothing new. Everything is in the law and all we have to do is go into some details. We’ll make sure that the IRR is (in accordance with the law),” he added.

It took more than a decade before Congress passed the measure due to strong opposition from the church that believed it was promoting abortion and promiscuity.

Proponents of the RH bill approved through the bicameral conference committee one of the most contentious pieces of legislation in history, which included the right to a “safe and satisfying sex life.” 

Aquino had certified the RH bill as urgent after advocates won by a very slim margin in the House on second reading, even if he rallied nearly 200 House members previously and urged them to finish the debates by making a “conscience vote.”

Sen. Pia Cayetano, principal author in the Senate, along with her House counterpart, Reps. Edcel Lagman of Albay and Janette Garin of Iloilo, acknowledged the urgent label on the measure hastened the RH bill’s approval in both houses of Congress.

The bill seeks to improve public access to reproductive health services, including natural and artificial family planning options.

It also promotes better maternal care, responsible parenthood, and youth education on sexual and reproductive health issues.

Cayetano said the phrase “safe and satisfying sex life” was retained in the definition of reproductive health in the controversial measure.

“Of course, I will maintain that (provision). And it ended with the word consensual,” she said.

Senate Bill 2865 defines reproductive health as “the state of complete, physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes.”

“This implies that people are able to have a safe and satisfying sex life, that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so. This further implies that women and men attain equal relationships in matters related to sexual relations and reproduction.”

Under the law, all accredited public health facilities shall provide a “full range of family planning methods which shall include medical consultation, supplies and necessary and reasonable procedures for poor and marginalized couples having fertility issues who desire to have children.”

“No person shall be denied information and access to family planning services, whether natural or artificial, provided that minors will not be allowed access to modern methods of family planning without written consent from their parents or guardians, except when minor is already a parent or has had a miscarriage,” the law stated.

It also provides for “age- and development-appropriate reproductive health education to adolescents” to be taught by adequately trained teachers in formal and non-formal milieus.

This will also be “integrated in relevant subjects such as, but not limited to, value formation; knowledge and skills in self protection against discrimination; sexual abuse and violence against women and children and other forms of gender based violence and teen pregnancy; physical, social, and emotional changes in adolescents; women’s rights and children’s rights; responsible teenage behavior; gender and development; and responsible parenthood.”    – With Sheila Crisostomo

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