MANILA, Philippines - Now that the impeachment trial of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez is out of the picture, the Senate can focus on passing laws, including the reproductive health (RH) bill. Sen. Pia Cayetano, chair of the Senate committees on health and demography, and youth, women and family relations, said all sides must be heard on issues concerning the bill.
Cayetano called on leaders of the Catholic Church not to use threats and disinformation to push forward their campaign against the bill.
Some bishops have threatened to excommunicate Catholic government leaders supporting the bill.
“No religion can dictate what it wants, otherwise we would become a church-state,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano maintained that the bill would not force any method of contraception on the public.
“The beliefs of Catholics would be respected and that will always be reflected (in the law). If they are not allowed to use any kind of contraceptive then no one will force them to use it,” she said.
She said, however, that the government has the obligation to make contraception methods available to other people whose religions do not forbid it.
Cayetano also responded to the arguments of critics of the bill about having to use their taxes to pay for contraceptives which they have no intention of using and promoting.
She pointed out that the funding for the RH program of the Department of Health would cover a wide range of programs, including the establishment of health centers and lying-in clinics, salaries of doctors and midwives, as well as purchase of equipment and contraceptives.
“So just because you don’t use a particular service that doesn’t mean that this should not be included in the expenditures of the national government for the general welfare,” she said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he still does not know how the bill would progress in the Senate because Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III have expressed opposition to the measure.
“I don’t know, but these people, even if they are the leaders of the Senate, (if a) majority of the senators want to sponsor it on the floor, I think they will give in,” he said.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV advised supporters and critics of the RH bill to study the bill carefully before voicing their opinions about the measure.
“The public are unwittingly supporting the RH bill because they (are) being led to believe that the measure would control population growth and allow access to contraceptives,” he said.
“But the thing is, contraceptives can be accessed freely now and the DOH, in fact, has been distributing contraceptives even without the RH bill. Also, there is no provision in the RH bill that would help control the population,” he added.
Trillanes is also concerned about the provision of sex education to grade five students.
“Only the parents know when their kids are ready to be educated about sex and it’s definitely not when they are in Grade 5. Are we ready for a scenario wherein kids would one day approach their parents and say, mom, we were taught how to put on condoms in school today,” Trillanes said.
Labor group Partido ng Manggagawa said that if women would be allowed to vote on the measure, “it would definitely (get) a 100 percent vote of support.”
“The RH bill will guarantee women’s right to their own bodies,” said Judy Ann Miranda, secretary general of the group. – With Sheila Crisostomo