Wednesday, April 20, 2011
A Filipino Mom's Manifesto versus the RH Bill
With all the world crises and natural catastrophes in the past months, we’ve been distracted from the socio-cultural and economic disaster that’s very badly about to hit the Philippines if it’s not averted.
I’m referring to “An Act Providing a Comprehensive Policy on Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development” now pending in the 15th Congress as House Bill 4244.
The Bill was approved at the Committee on Population and Family Relations on 21 February 2011 and it’s now at Plenary.
The 1st Session at Congress adjourned on 25 March, resumes for a month from 9 May to 9 June, and then adjourns for the summer. The 2nd Session begins on 25 July. A lot of damage can happen within that remaining month.
Many Filipinos have been opposing this bill since the 12th Congress of 2001-2004, when it began as a shabby cut-and-paste Philippine version of the Programme of Action of the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994. That’s the motivation: the UN agenda, both good (economic development) and bad (curb the population growth of Third World nations, supposedly because they threaten world security and resources.)
In the 13th Congress of 2004-2007, and again in the 14th Congress of 2007-2010, the Bill was repeatedly tweaked and reintroduced, each time gaining ground due to the aggressive lobbying of its authors.
In this 2010-2013 Congress, it was approved within six months at the Committee level. Are there many Bills of national importance that could sail through the process that quickly? Why the rush?
The same faces in Congress (I’m referring to you, Cong. Edcel Lagman) led the co-authors in quickly going through the crucial step of “public hearings” at the Committee on Population. What was evident was that public opposition to the Bill was restricted and virtually given no chance to be heard. Yes, they called public hearings that were for show.
The title alone is double-speak
Long before I did advocacy work as a volunteer for the Alliance for the Family Foundation in 2004-2007, I used to think comments like mine were all paranoia and part of a delusional “conspiracy theory.” But if we remove the laudable platitudes and strip this bill to its essentials, you will see why there is great danger in RH 4244.
An example is the title featuring “reproductive health.” It’s counter-intuitive that this Bill actually promotes the decision NOT to “be reproductive.” They focus on reproductive health in the title, only to include in the contents everything that restricts having children.
Second example is that term, “responsible parenthood.” It’s a beautiful idea that’s now misused. It has a moral character, the use of conscience; it is the foundation of married love and family life. You can read about Pope John Paul II’s comments on responsible parenthood here:
In HB 4244, the term has been twisted to mean that responsible parents are those who have one or two children only. It’s right there: Section 20 establishes the ideal family size at two children. “Ideal Family Size. – The State shall assist couples, parents and individuals to achieve their desired family size within the context of responsible parenthood…and encourage them to have two children as the ideal family size. Attaining the ideal family size is neither mandatory nor compulsory. No punitive action shall be imposed on parents having more than two children.”
Is this provision legally appropriate? The entire bill refers to how the ideal size will be achieved. Why say there’s an ideal size, put in place all the mechanisms for it, and then try to assuage our anxiety by saying it won’t be punitive?
Population control programs have backfired
We know from watching other countries’ experience that any kind of population target/norm leads to social programs that bring abuse and irreversibility. How we view our children isn’t a changeable thing. Once a generation begins to believe that pregnancies are to be feared and even reviled, whether you’re poor or not, you can’t just switch on a sudden desire for children and large families.
See how Singapore is struggling to correct its 1970s population control policy, which led to a decline in total fertility rate to 1.1 child per woman, well below the replacement rate of 2.1 (two children to replace the two parents). The government implemented in 2001 a Baby Bonus scheme, and even enhanced it in 2004. Yet the children just aren’t coming. Singaporeans are not enticed with the cash gifts or matched savings as against the perceived burden of having children. So to keep the population of Singapore from declining, the government launched an immigration policy. This in turn has caused social repercussions and the need to set up quotas to favor employment of local residents over talented immigrants.
Take another example: China. In March, the Chinese government, alarmed about the problems its 30-year-old population policy has caused, announced that couples would be allowed to have a second child.
China launched in 1978 its severe “One-Child Family Policy” or “Policy of Birth Planning” which has since led to a fertility rate of 1.7 through the killing of the unborn and infants who are “unwanted,” because they are girls (female infanticide), or because they are second children. Contraceptive use is now a high 87% with a heavy reliance on sterilization. Abortions are often forced on women who are pregnant with their second child.
The result has been disastrous, not only from a human-rights viewpoint, but also from a demographics viewpoint. The elderly population will jump from 5% in 1982 to over 15% by 2025, thus requiring 70% of the elderly to be supported by their children, in the absence of government pension coverage. It’s called the “4-2-1” problem of one child financially and emotionally supporting his two parents and four grandparents. The phenomenon of the spoiled “only child” is breeding a generation called “little emperors.” Then there’s the gender imbalance: the ratio of Chinese males to females is estimated at 1.17:1 as opposed to the sex ratio of 1.03-1.07 in industrialized countries. All these consequences are causing concerns about the future of China.
Western countries have to extend their retirement age. The Economist is one of several publications calling the alert that “Current plans to raise the retirement age are not bold enough” to address the effect of declining population growth on the world economy:
The lesson here? Set up population programs and you will probably get (by hook or by crook, with the implementation tactics of abusive local government officials and medical practitioners), the result you asked for 25-30 years later – but by then you’ll realize that they’re not the results you wanted. You can’t just do a U-turn then!
All these lessons of history are being ignored. Instead, the Philippine legislators are still talking about population as a burden on the economy.
But it’s better to provide direct solutions to poverty: countryside development so that the cities are not congested, good education and training for entrepreneurship or technical skills, housing programs, a healthy investment climate that will create more jobs, and most of all, addressing corruption. What are our legislators doing about those needed solutions?
The legislative process has been rushed
Another complaint I have is with the legislative process. In the previous Congresses, the Bill even went through the farce of being heard at the Committee on Health. It was clearly a population control bill from the onset. Now there seems to be no shame in promoting the bill through the Committee on Population. Well, on 21 February 2011, the Committee agreed with the authors on the rationale and the means by which to control the size of our families.
At the Committee level, where there were many organizations registering their interest to be heard, most of those who were given the opportunity to speak were pro-HB 4244. I know of the frustration of so many groups who prepared their position papers and were told there was insufficient time for them to be heard. I doubt papers that were submitted are actually reviewed by the Committee members – they simply would not have the time. So much for making public hearings truly representative of the views of the people.
Why, oh why, Pres. Aquino? (Not surprising, but still shocking in his stand.)
President Benigno Aquino III has formally announced his position on the Reproductive Health bill:
The President says that he is in favor of giving couples “the right to choose how best to manage their families” but at the same time he also says, “In a situation where couples, especially the poor and disadvantaged ones, are in no position to make an informed choice, the state has the responsibility to so provide.”[sic]
That is contradictory. It shocks me that the President would refer to our rights, and then claim that the government knows best in the case of the poor and disadvantaged, and will thus take over those rights.
Lip service (or “Yeah, yeah, we’ll grant you rights. Smirk, smirk.”)
This view also encapsulates the most significant reason I oppose the bill: it pays lip service to human rights, and the rights of married (or unmarried) couples to have their families in accordance with their beliefs.
For instance, Section 3g on Guiding Principles states that programs will be promoted that will “enable couples, individuals and women to have the number and spacing of children they desire with due consideration to the health of women and resources available to them.” Here, the first part calls for the freedom of couples to make responsible choices, but the second part implies that the State does not trust women to give “due consideration” to their health and resources.
This is the reason that family planning supplies (in other words, the pill and condoms) shall be considered “essential” among medicines (Section 10). It’s the reason all those working in local government units, even barangay-level health workers and volunteers who should be doing other duties, will be tasked to “give priority to family planning” (Section 13). It’s the same reason that congressional districts will be purchasing vans as “mobile health care services” to provide family planning products (Section 15) – free pills and free condoms, with free door-to-door delivery at that!
These provisions sound draconian to me, almost as if we’re in some kind of anti-population communist-style “cultural revolution.”
These provisions demonstrate that when government mandates population control (in the guise of health and responsible parenthood), government interferes with the rights of the family.
Sex education away from your parents – the better to brainwash you, my dear
Sex education will be mandatory from 5th grade through high school. I’ve always agreed with experts who say that education in chastity or the meaning of sexuality and conjugal love should be done at home by the parents. These matters are for parents to impart privately and lovingly in their home, where they can share with their kids their moral values and beliefs. It’s not going to happen overnight, nor should a specific timetable or curriculum be followed, just because the child has hit 5th grade. It could be discussed sooner for a particular child, or later. Also, how would public school teachers cope with the additional stress of sex education integrated with all their subjects, while already burdened with inadequate training to teach basic reading and math? How would parents become mentors and guides if this right is usurped by the state?
Besides, does classroom sex education work? In the United States, there’s been a substantial increase in teen-age pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases despite three decades of sex education. So how can the Philippines now introduce something that may not achieve its objectives?
Contraception is a mentality, and its methods do fail
Let’s talk about the “effectivity” of these family planning products and services. Time and again, we are told that contraception will reduce the need for unintended (they call these the unwanted) pregnancies and illegal abortions. Is that really true?
Unintended pregnancies seem to happen 50 percent of the time in both the Philippines and the United States, if we’re to believe the surveys. Yet the Philippines has a relatively low contraceptive prevalence rate (about 50 percent) and the US has a 90 percent rate. The US government even says that contraceptive use is “virtually universal.” (US CDC Fact Sheet on “Use of Contraception and Use of Family Planning Services 1982-2002)
Despite the fact that 9 out of 10 American women are using contraception, a third of them (3+ of 10) have had at least one abortion in their lifetime. Moreover, over half (54 percent) of U.S. women who had an abortion in 2000 were using contraception in the month they became pregnant. (Guttmacher Institute’s Fact Sheet on Induced Abortion)
When abortion is the back-up contraceptive
If we go by country-level linkages between contraception and abortion, there is NO EVIDENCE THAT CONTRACEPTION PREVENTS ABORTION. Guttmacher’s March 2003 study concluded: “In many populations, rising levels of contraceptive prevalence are not associated over time with falling levels of abortion. It is likely that much of this divergence from the predicted inverse relationship can be explained by simultaneous changes in the TFR, which may mean that the proportion of couples practicing contraception is not keeping pace with the proportion desiring smaller families…. The parallel rise in abortion and contraception in some countries occurred because increased contraceptive use alone was unable to meet the growing need for fertility regulation in situations where fertility was falling rapidly.”
Read it again: the more contraception increased, the more abortion increased. The researchers (of the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of abortion provider Planned Parenthood) note that this occurred wherever fertility was falling rapidly. The research indicates that when people decide (or when the government pressures them) to have fewer children, and failed contraceptives don’t provide the answer, they turn to abortion. This is the demographic change that will happen in the Philippines.
There’s actually no need to review study after study showing this link. Janet Smith described the circumstances of unexpected pregnancies very well: “Those using contraception who get pregnant unexpectedly are generally very angry, since they did everything they could to prevent a pregnancy. The pregnancy is seen as a crisis. The married have often planned a life that is not receptive to children and are tempted to abort to sustain the child-free life they have designed.” It’s what you’d expect when you become “child-averse.” She continues, “contraception facilitates the kind of relationships and even the kind of attitudes and moral characters that are likely to lead to abortion.” (Janet Smith, The Connection between Contraception and Abortion)
The IUD and the pill are abortifacients
Then there is not just a link but also an actual causality through the use of contraceptives as abortifacients. The IUD and most birth control pills cause early-term abortion in preventing implantation in the uterus of a newly fertilized ovum. Without knowing it, the mother with an IUD or who is on the pill has caused the death of a human being in his or her first few days of life.
Therefore, it is not true that providing contraceptives will allow society to avoid unintended pregnancies and abortions. Even widespread contraceptive use will not eliminate the “need” for abortion as a “last resort” for those who have been molded to think that children are unwanted.
You say abortion is illegal in the Philippines today, so this won’t happen. We can project towards Philippines 2100: if HB 4244 passes, abortion is the next step in that slippery slope towards “respect for, protection, and fulfillment of reproductive health and rights” (Section 3b). The generations to come will “enjoy” the full range of “reproductive choices” – except that the unborn child doesn’t have a choice; only his or her mother does.
Violates my freedom to write this blog
Under HB 4244, a blog entry like this could be illegal and subject to imprisonment and penalties. That’s because my writing could be misconstrued as “maliciously engaging in disinformation about the intent or provisions” of the proposed Bill. If you’re a parent, you could be sued if you object to this Bill’s infringement on your relationship with your teen-aged kids. And if you’re a health service worker in the government, your conscience had better be put to sleep the rest of your career. Or do what Ligaya Acosta did (you can google her name or look up Human Life International): quit when she realized what health officers were doing wrong.
My money, your contraceptives? “The poor don’t deserve kids.”
Finally, on the use of taxpayers’ money for contraceptives we do not want. The budget for family planning is expected to be a whopping PhP 3 billion (US$70 million) a year. The funds are going to be taken from the hard work of devout Filipino Catholics (80 percent of the population) and others who are opposed to the Bill.
If indeed Filipino consumers want these products, shouldn’t the private sector provide the supply at market cost? The authors say that the poor cannot afford them, and that they are the ones in most need of contraception. That leads to the condescending, elitist view that the poor do not deserve to have many children since they are always irresponsible about raising them.
But the poor among us want basic health care – vaccinations, medication for heart and respiratory problems, prenatal care, and so on. They want jobs. They want their children to be given the education they never had. They are not happy to be shouted at when they are in labor in a public hospital, or told while they are groggy after the birth of their second child that they better have themselves ligated. They want to be recognized with dignity and given opportunities to be more productive and to become better parents.
Divergent views contravening the Constitution
Suggestions have been made to craft a bill that will reconcile these divergent views. It’s just not possible, because the very premise of HB 4244 contradicts the beliefs of many Filipinos who believe in the sanctity of life and of the family. It also goes against the religion of 80 percent of Filipinos. Since the Philippines is predominantly Catholic, a population control bill that promotes the state-funded use of contraception has no place in it. It also contravenes the Constitution, which provides that “the State shall equally protect the life of…the unborn from conception.” (Article II Section 12)
Amendment tactics of 15 March
On 15 March, the main author proposed several amendments to the Committee on Population in an effort to get the bill approved. The 2-child ideal will be deleted, the national budget will handle payment for the reproductive health mobile services, and so on. I’m not swayed by these tactics. They’re palliatives. Reproductive health services will be pushed to control population growth, regardless of the deletion of these provisions.
Sadly, I know that Cong. Lagman and his co-authors have already won in many ways: by poisoning many minds that our large population can’t bring anything positive, that having more than two children is something shameful, and that those who oppose this bill are Catholic bigots who don’t understand economics. They’ve already introduced the flawed idea that contraception is an essential part of marriage, they keep referring to the maternal deaths caused by illegal abortions (to prepare us for the time they need to be legalized, while ignoring the deaths of the unborn), they have caused divisiveness in families and in society.
The only way we can show Congress that we haven’t been fooled and that we stand firmly for the Filipino family is to write them stating our opposition, use opportunities in the media to discuss the issues, and to share with friends our views.
I apologize for going on and on during the Holy Week (and no photos today). But just like our Lord said on Holy Thursday, “Could you not watch one hour with me?” (Mt 26:40b) I hope that you may join me and become more vigilant against this Bill.