Senators slam RH budget cut

Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Principal authors of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law in the Senate are up in arms over the P1-billion cut in the budget for its implementation.

Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Pia Cayetano issued strongly worded statements condemning the huge cut in the 2016 General Appropriations Act, describing it as “unacceptable.”

It is irreconcilable that Congress, which enacted the RH Law after much hardship in 2012, would three years later render that same law inutile, Santiago said.

“The P1-billion budget cut threatens to deprive some seven million women of reproductive health services. This abandonment is immoral in a country where some 200 out of 100,000 women who give birth die. The enemies of reproductive health never sleep. We, too, must not rest in fighting for women’s health,” Santiago said.

Batangas Archbishop Ramon Arguelles is pleased with the budget cut, believing that the money is better spent on boosting education, like constructing school buildings and producing more books, and livelihood opportunities for adults.

The P1 billion went primarily to the purchase of warplanes, which Sen. Loren Legarda said is “timely” given the issue in the West Philippine Sea.

Former Albay lawmaker Edcel Lagman, the bill’s principal author in the House of Representatives, accused Sen. Vicente Sotto III of sabotaging the implementation of the law, pointing out that the House adopted President Aquino’s proposed P1.157-billion allocation for the procurement of “modern and natural family planning supplies” in the 2016 budget.

Lagman said Sotto caused the deletion of P1 billion, effectively reducing Aquino’s proposed funding to only P157 million.

Sotto encouraged Lagman to appeal before the Supreme Court or the Senate committee on finance before blaming him.

Sen. Cayetano is surprised over the cut as she criticized Legarda for allowing the huge reduction. Legarda chairs the finance committee and led the Senate contingent in the bicameral panel that reconciled the Senate and House versions of the 2016 budget. 

“At every stage of the 2016 budget process, I had asked for details. This was work in progress and the detailed amendments were not readily available. Thus, we work on the basis of trust – that the chair of the finance committee would not make significant changes without informing the body, or in the case of RH, no major changes will be made without informing me, knowing that I sponsored the measure,” Cayetano said.

The budget was signed into a law by Aquino on Dec. 22. Although Aquino could have vetoed it, he failed to do so despite having endorsed the RH Law.

The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) said in a statement that the cut completely reverses the gains in the fight to provide women with safe and effective contraceptives.

Romeo Dongeto, PLCPD executive director, said the use of modern family planning methods contributed to the decline in maternal mortality ratio, which refers to deaths per 100,000 live births, although the country still failed to achieve the goal of only 52 deaths per 100,000 live births.

He stressed that denying couples better reproductive health choices impacts on health and on the capacity to provide children with adequate food, healthcare and education. In the long run, it will impact on the country’s workforce productivity and national economy.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) also cautioned the government on the budget cut as it asked for a reconsideration of the decision.

Yoriko Yasukawa, UNFPA regional director for Asia and the Pacific, said the “failure to sustain this commitment (to fund family planning programs) can swiftly reverse gains and put the country in a more difficult position to achieve its vital development target to reduce maternal deaths.”

“For a country with a large population of young people such as the Philippines, important investments should be made on comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care, including access to contraceptives, to achieve a more educated and healthy population, more productive workforce and growing economy to maximize the potential of the huge population,” the UNFPA said.

International rights group Oxfam said the legislators did not uphold the law when they slashed the RH budget.

“By striking off the P1-billion allocation for contraceptives, senators are detracting from their duty to protect the poorest Filipinos from the risks of further poverty, maternal death and HIV,” Justin Morgan, country director of Oxfam Philippines, said.      

Legarda explained that the P1-billion RH Law fund was realigned to various agencies, including the Department of National Defense, which was given an increase in its budget of close to P11 billion for the upgrading of air assets.– With Jess Diaz, Mayen Jaymalin, Paolo Romero, Jose Rodel Clapano













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