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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Retire the Reproductive Health Bill

From Sen. Francisco Tatad's blog:

House Bill No. 5043 is titled “An Act Providing For National Policy On Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development and For Other Purposes.” Until it reached the floor for debate, I had thought it sufficient to dwell simply on the general principles of legislation and the basic provisions of the Constitution on human life, family and marriage to show that the bill has no place in our law.

The first point I tried to make is that there are certain activities of man as man, which are not subject to state regulation of any sort. These involve fundamental human rights that precede and transcend the State, such as the right to breathe, the right to think, the right to feel, the right to love, the right to hope, the right to believe.

The State has no business instructing the citizen, by law, how to breathe, how to think, how to feel, how to love, how to hope, how to believe. Under our Constitution, it may not even instruct congressmen how to interpellate, journalists how to write, broadcasters how to read the news.

Anyone who understands what has been said so far should have no difficulty understanding that the State has no business instructing married couples that they should first contracept or get themselves sterilized before they could engage in sexual intercourse.

The bill’s proponents seem completely unable or unwilling to grasp this rather plain and simple point. They seem to believe that they can legislate anything they want to legislate simply because they sit in Congress. This is a serious moral and intellectual disorder which finds support only in totalitarian states where the legislator need not sit in Congress. We are not yet a totalitarian state.

The second point I tried to make is that no proposed statute can possibly prosper which seeks to amend, or go around or against the Constitution outside of the constitutional amendatory process. And HB 5043 more than amply does this.

Article II, Section 12 of the Constitution is, or ought to be, a sufficient bar to HB 5043. “The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.”

The provision, though not self-enforcing, needs no interpretation. Family life is sacred; it possesses a quality that belongs primarily to God. The family is the starting point of society and should be left alone to do its work as a family; the State’s duty is to protect it against all threats, including those coming from the State itself. The moral character of the youth is not likely to be developed by concentrating their minds on hedonistic sex.

By this provision, the Constitution bans abortion, but not contraception or sterilization. But can the State be an honest protector of the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from the moment of conception if its first business is to prevent women from conceiving? Of course, not. So the necessary implication of Sec. 12, Article II is a ban on state-sponsored or state-mediated contraception and sterilization, even though there is no such ban on private parties.

Even without the above provision, the whole Article XV on “The Family” should suffice. This recognizes marriage as “an inviolable social institution,”“the foundation of the family,” which shall be “protected by the State.” It further recognizes the Filipino family as the “foundation of the nation” and obliges the State to “strengthen its solidarity and actively promote its total development.” It further obliges the State to defend “the right of spouses to found a family according to their religious convictions and the demands of responsible parenthood.”

Unless the Constitution has become a mere scrap of paper, these provisions should have barred the House of Representatives from approving HB 5043 at committee level. Even if all the economic justifications, which had been thoroughly discredited, had more teeth, the moral and constitutional bar, which the bill has failed to hurdle, should have prompted the committees to send it to the archives.

But there was a brazen attempt to steamroll the bill. Four reproductive health bills had been referred jointly to the House committees on health and on population and family relations. On April 29, 2008, the committees heard three of the four bills. They set a second hearing for May 21, 2008. But when the committees met on that date, the presiding officer announced that they would now deliberate on “the substitute bill” to the four bills. And on one member’s motion, the committees approved “the substitute bill.” No further hearing.

This was in violation of the constitutional provision, and a rule of the House, which mandate adequate consultations with families or family associations. The statement that the same bill had been heard in previous congresses, even if true, is irrelevant and immaterial, since all bills that fail to be acted upon by a particular congress die at the end of that congress. If any bill be refiled in a new congress, it should go through the legislative mill as though it was being filed for the first time.

Nowhere in the records does it appear that the joint committees ever instructed any officer or group of officers to consolidate the bills into one. The chair’s statement and the member’s motion spoke of “the substitute bill” as already in being, without need of a motion that it first be created.

Normally, bills are consolidated by a technical working group (TWG) created by the committee or joint committees upon a member’s motion to consolidate. There was no such motion, and no TWG was ever created. Where then did the substitute bill emanate?

Upon interpellation, the sponsor, who surprisingly is not the committee chair endorsing the bill, but rather the principal author himself, was reported to have said that the authors of the four component bills did it.

If true, it was highly irregular. Why? Because at that stage the bills were already under the joint committees’ jurisdiction and control, and nothing on record shows they had asked the authors to consolidate.

If false, which seems more likely, a serious ethical question arises, which completely vitiates the integrity of the proceedings, and which must be resolved by the House ethics committee, before which it should now be raised.

This is not a trifling technicality. There is loud talk in the House that the substitute bill, as well as the original component bills, was produced by a foreign-funded non-government entity, called the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD). PLCPD falls under the classification of “foreign agent,” according to the Foreign Agents Act of 1979, which I had the honor of initiating at the interim Batasang Pambansa.
The fact that all the reproductive health bills in the House and the Senate tend to read and sound alike, both in style and in content, and that PLCPD had been running ads urging passage of the bill, while David and Lucile Packard Foundation, one of its foreign funders, had criticized the government for the slowdown in its purchase of contraceptives, seem to provide more than ample basis for the loud talk in the House.

What foreign interests are behind the wild and moneyed push for this bill? Why are so many foreign-funded NGOs, featuring brand and customary “nationalists”, trying to ride roughshod over the Constitution and Catholic objections to it on moral and constitutional grounds?

The answer may be downloaded on the internet. Population control has a long history. It began in antiquity, but it became an invasive global political force in 1974 after Henry Kissinger came up with National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM) 200, titled “Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for US Security and Overseas Interests.”

This secret document created the template for the global population action plan that called for a two-child family worldwide by the year 2000. Since then the greying and dying of the population of the West has exposed the folly of this plan. But some people still want to dance the dance. Just who are making them dance?

Regardless of the motives and agendas imbedded in HB 5043, as a piece of legislation, it is shot through with holes. It cannot survive an honest House. As stated in the beginning, the bill is titled, “An Act Providing For A National Policy On Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development, And For Other Purposes.”

The Constitution provides that “every bill passed by the Congress shall embrace only one subject which shall be expressed in the title thereof.” The bill’s failure to reflect its penal nature is a constitutional violation; the fact that it contains three separate subjects – reproductive health, responsible parenthood, and population development -- which it tries, unsuccessfully, to link together, is another.

But the bill’s most obvious and ultimately insurmountable defect is that it seeks to “provide” a national policy where the Constitution already provides one. You read this in Article II, Declaration of Principles and State Policies, eloquently spread out from Section 9 to Sec. 18 or further.

Congress can only implement the policy laid out in the Constitution. It cannot hope to replace or revise it. Of course, one may now try to amend the title to say that the bill is “implementing” the constitutional policy rather than trying to provide a new one. That, however, cannot stand. The contents of HB 5043 do not at all reflect the substance of the constitutional policy; they rather seek to deny, assault and pervert the same.

One final point. Assume (arguendo) that the constitutional policy did not at all exist, the government’s contraceptives and sterilization program – illegal as it is – already exists. You only need to play back then Health Secretary Johnny Flavier’s proud boast before his NGO crowd at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo to confirm it. The fat outlays inserted in the present and next year’s budgets for reproductive health further confirm it.

After all is said and done, is HB 5043 not, in fact, an attempt to legalize an illegal program that has been there for years?

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