Pass the RH Bill Now

FROM THE STANDS By Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) Updated March 06, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (0)

Twenty-four years ago, on March 1, 1988, then President Corazon Aquino issued Presidential Decree No. 224 declaring the first week of March as Women’s Week and March 8 as Women’s Rights and International Peace Day. PD 224 recognizes Filipino women’s active participation “in the struggle for national independence, for civil liberties, for equality of the sexes, and for human rights.” Women’s groups in the country come together to celebrate the many victories they have gained throughout what they call “herstory,” and reflect on the struggles and lessons learned and renew their commitment to continue their struggle for true equality and liberation.

Filipino women have gone a long way in making contributions to the betterment of the country, but the poor women cannot be said to have better lives, especially because they are burdened with unwanted pregnancies and that’s largely due to their not having knowledge of reproductive health information nor access to reproductive services. According to Dr. Junice Demetrio-Melgar, MD, secretary general of the Reproductive Health Advocacy Network (RHAN), this situation has led to unwanted pregnancies, illnesses or death due to preventable maternal complications as well as increasing incidence of unsafe abortion, teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS. Every day, said Dr. Melgar, 11 deaths occur due to pregnancy-related complications; multiply that by 11 years, and you come up with around 44,000 deaths which could have been prevented had the women been given access to information on reproductive health services.

Concern for women’s reproductive health and preventing unwanted pregnancies and maternal and infant mortality led to the organization of a press conference in Quezon City last week, its theme calling on Congress to deliberate on and vote on the Reproductive Health bill lying dormant and perhaps may be stilled again for another Congress. The conference was organized by the Philippine NGO Council on Population, Health and Welfare Inc. (PNGOC), which is headed by executive director, Dr. Eden R. Divinagracia. PNGOC is a national umbrella network of 97-member NGOs that believe that NOW is the right time for the passage of a Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood, and Population Development policy to recognize the needs of women, children and families.

Other resource persons were Partylist Representatives Luzviminda Ilagan and Angelo Palmones, Rose Marcelino, Population Commission deputy executive director, and Bishop Rodrigo Tano, of the Interfaith Partnership for the Promotion of Responsible Parenthood. All of them bemoaned the lack of interest, if not vehement opposition of some members of Congress to discussing and passing the bill due to political and church pressure.

Bishop Tano said the greatest enemy of the RH bill is ignorance. He said there are so many distortions being said about the bill, one of which is that it promotes abortion. Not true, not true, he said. “We are pro-life, we promote the dignity of the human person, we are for the common good.” In fact, Dr. Melgar chimed in, the bill will reduce by half the number of abortions, resorted to by women who do not have access to family planning services.

The ongoing Impeachment Trial has further delayed the passage of the bill, with only a handful of congressmen sitting at the plenary session hall, around 50 attending the trial, and a bigger number outside the halls of Congress, namamasyal, or attending to personal matters, said Rep. Palmones. It’s ironic, said Palmones, that students who have three absences from school are suspended or expelled, while House representatives are not where they have been elected to be. Perhaps, somebody from media offered, a bill should be passed penalizing absenteeism?

The meeting wound up with media being asked to help prod legislators to vote on the bill before March 23, their last meeting in Congress. The legislators will report back to their legislative duties in June. By then, the focus of their attention will be the 2013 election.

“Time is of the essence,” said Rep. Ilagan. “The bill must be voted now.”

Dr. Melgar said, “We are not suicidal, but we are desperate. If the bill is not passed, well, this is like huling hirit na ito. Then we’ll have to draft another bill for the next Congress.”

The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) will once again spearhead the country’s celebration of Women’s Month this March, this time focused on the role of women in combating climate change. This year’s theme is “Women Weathering Climate Change: Governance and Accountability, Everyone’s Responsibility.”

Activities celebrating Women’s Month are ongoing in many parts of the country. There’s the women’s day program on March 8, Thursday, 4:30 p.m., at Faber Hall, Ateneo campus in Quezon City. The invitation says, “Do come and let us celebrate ourselves — and the men who may have helped us be ourselves at our best.”

In Baguio City, the Mt. Cloud Bookshop will feature the Women’s Media Circle book, Memories Filipina Suffragist: A String of Pearls by Paz Policarpio Mendez, and a journal for Solo Mom, by Ana Santos.

On March 8, Sinag will be part of the Bloom all-women group exhibit, which opens at 6:30 p.m. at the Conspiracy Garden Café, 59 Visayas Ave., Quezon City.

ANTHILL Fabric Gallery of Cebu has just announced that Sinag’s papercut art frames are already included in their recently launched online store.  

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The International Women’s Month of March started in Cebu City with the holding of a special forum on “Sex + Extortion = Sexual Exploitation” at Ayala Cinema 2. In cooperation with the Philippine Women Judges Association (PWJA), the Zonta Club of Cebu held this special event in line with one of its major objectives, “Strategies to Prevent Violence Against Women.” Guest speaker was lawyer Katrina Legarda, a well-known advocate of women’s rights.

In attendance were students from Cebu’s main colleges and universities and members of civic women’s groups and organizations, women religious, and the Zonta Club of Cebu 2, Provincial Women’s Commission (PWC), and Cebu Women’s Network (CWN), among others.

Citing provisions of laws on violence against women, Legarda defined among others, types of sexual conduct, such as the blatantly direct, in abuse of authority, on a quid pro quo basis, “sextortion” in blackmail, sexual harassment and “sextortion” in a hostile environment. She also defined rape of children and minors, as well as on women and even those she termed “genderly neutral.” Related to the onset of modern technology, she cited antichild pornography, “sexting” and even cybersex.

After the lecture, Zontian Mila Espina facilitated a lively reaction session, first with reactors Tess Fernandez of Lihok Pilipina; Zontian Tess Chan, past president of Zonta 1 and vice president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce; and Atty. Alice Morada, board member of FIDA, CELLA and Lihok Pilipina. Ms. Legarda was given a standing ovation after which she received an appreciation award from Zonta 1. Members of the team of reactors also received appreciation awards. Zonta 1 vice president Lucy Colina gave the closing remarks.

In Baguio City, a National Women’s Day grand parade and program will be held. A highlight of the month-long celebration will be the Search for the Outstanding Women Leaders of Baguio. The annual search, which started in 2006, is now looking for exceptional women who are recognized symbols of leadership in the public or private sector and have made an impact in their chosen or appointed fields of endeavor.

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