Sponsorship Speech for the Reproductive Health Bill by AKBAYAN Rep. Risa Hontiveros

24 09 2008

Sept. 22, 2008

Pro-life. Pro-abortion. Anti-Marriage. Anti-family. Mr. Speaker, the danger of reducing each other into labels is that it obscures the clarity that is always direly needed amidst division and confusion. When applied deliberately, with the intention of establishing borders or building walls, labels become instruments of fundamentalism and dehumanization, as if those who do not agree with us are less than human, impure, and mere targets of resentment.

We have begun our plenary deliberations for the National Policy on Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood, and Population Development Bill, a controversial but crucial measure. Inflicting our tantrums upon this chamber and the public in general will gain us nothing. Sobriety, Ginoong Speaker, and the triumph of reason should govern our conduct as members of the House. Huwag natin idaan sa galit o pagmamaktol ang ating pagpahayag ng ating posisyon sa isyu na ito.

What happened last week must not be repeated. The integrity of the process was put into question as a means to delay the process: there was an allegation of signature-forging, and the authors of the bill in question were labeled “magnanakaw”. It was not just decorum that was abandoned, Ginoong. Speaker, but something more basic: decency, respect for dissent, willingness to engage in debate, and the ascendancy of rules.

To reduce a constitutional mandate to appropriate public funds for a health program as mere ‘pagnanakaw’ is not just insulting, Ginoong Speaker, but a travesty of Congress’s mandate. It shows supreme ignorance of why this institution exists. As AKBAYAN representative, I am a proud author of the reproductive health bill; the public funds appropriated for the programs proposed went through a vote in the Appropriations Committee and were subsequently approved. To call that act ‘pagnanakaw’ insults the committee, the members of the House who went through a legitimate process, and the entire chamber itself.

The proponents of the measure are accused of being interested only in the appropriated funds for the program. This is entirely untrue. The appropriation will directly go to DOH and the Population Commission to finance services and products needed to implement the program. Mauuna ang AKBAYAN sa pagsisiwalat ng anumang katiwalian sa pag-gamit ng pondong ito dahil ito ay dapat mapunta sa mga pamilyang Pilipino, sa mga kababaihan at hindi sa bulsa nino man, o sino man sa mga mambabatas na nandito ngayon at kung sino mang opisyal ng pamahalaan.

Democracy entails healthy debates and respect for differences. Kung gusto ng mga sumangsang-ayon o kumokontra sa panukalang ito na mag-rally, maari nila itong gawin. Pero wag natin i-derail o hadlangan ang proseso, Ginoong Speaker. This achieves nothing, a great disservice to the Filipino people who expect Congress to do its job, and to do it well. Let those who oppose the bill lay down their arguments, and let those who support it present their points. Let us not fan the flames of confusion, but instead be instruments of reason.

Let us not lose track of why this debate is happening in the first place. AKBAYAN calls on legislators, members of the Catholic and other faith communities, fellow women, fellow feminists, husbands and partners of women, and the public in general to step back from this climate of antagonism and listen with an open mind as to why this bill is relevant, important, and why it must be urgently enacted.

We need this bill because of abortion, and not for it. Right now, the Philippines is in the midst of an abortion crisis, according to various media institutions, with World Health Organization putting the number of abortions at 800,000 annually. Walong daang libong abortion, walong daang libong kababaihan, Ginoong Speaker. Binibigyan tayo ng numerong ito ng ideya kung gaano kalala ang problema, pero hindi nito kayang maipakita ang sanhi kung bakit ganito ang nangyayari.

Kahit doblehin o triplehin pa natin ang walong daang libo, hindi nito kayang ipakita kung ilang beses nabibiyak ang puso ng isang teenager na babae na nabuntis nang wala sa kanyang kagustuhan. Forty-five percent of the pregnancies in the country are unwanted, according to the same global organization; if only wanting and not wanting could indeed be truly divided in percentage and decisions parceled into solid numbers, then perhaps it would have been simple to subdivide and process this issue so that choices can easily be made.

Unfortunately, a pregnant teenager without a choice cannot indulge in such calculated decisions. Ang alam lang nya ay dapat syang tumigil sa pag-aaral dahil sa kahihiyan o dahil di pwede at di tinatanggap ang pagiging buntis ng isang babaeng di kasal sa ilang paaralan. She will probably be forced to marry the father of the unborn child, or to marry someone else, anyone, just to avoid the disgrace and humiliation. Her mind would most likely try imagine the hundreds of thousands of pesos that would need to support the child, compute it against the salary and support that she would ever get. While the amount may not exceed figures that we have, it would be the most insurmountable and difficult number that she would ever encounter.

Tatakbo na lang ba sya, pupunta ng probinsya at magpapakupkop sa kung sino man na nakakaintindi? Kung hindi, papaano kung sya ay palayasin? How is the act of uprooting or rejection measured, Ginoong Speaker? Is it in terms of the number of times that she would miss a family celebration, like a birthday, or the certainty of not being able to speak to one’s parents ever again?

Should she just resort to abortion, just like others before her? Hundreds of thousands of pregnant women have taken this path, and we pass judgment on them as if they made an easy choice. Nothing is easy for a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy. Those who have chosen to abort an unwanted pregnancy would most likely end up undergoing unsafe procedures, would probably swallow hazardous potions and unsafe pills sold right in front of the Quiapo Church, and suffer from abortion-related illnesses. They will forever be scarred as criminals, accused of violating our moral standards, our laws, and even the constitution.

If our pregnant teenager ends up bleeding from an unsafe abortion procedure and encounters a doctor who decided to perform a postabortion dilation and curettage without anesthesia to punish the sinful woman, would statistics be able to tally the number of times that the thought of death had crossed her mind? Could it scope the width of each cry, every whimper, that she has to swallow just so she could retain her sense of dignity and self-worth?

The Department of Health said that 100,000 abortion cases end up in the hospital annually, while other experts have said that the data is underestimated. Kaya bang bilangin ng ilang numero ang sakit at kahihiyan? Hundreds have died out of post-abortion complications, some of them were refused treatment by doctors while others refused to go to hospital out of fear. If it were only ten, would it be more acceptable?

No easy choice, Ginoong Speaker, not even for those who opted to bear the child. There are those who resort to unsafe abortion, then there are mothers who are forced to take desperate measures. Last week, a mother, Janeth Ponce, forced her children to drink a bottle of toilet bowl cleaner, and then later drank the poison herself. Her suicide note revealed her family’s wretched situation. We can always cull up numbers to know how many potential Janeth Ponce’s are out there – an SWS survey says that this year alone, the number of food-poor families rose to 7 million, families who are living, if such a word still applies, with less than P60 a day. We don’t need to crunch numbers to know that poverty is most brutal among unplanned families.

Janeth must have earned enough the previous day to be able to purchase a bottle of liquid toilet cleaner, the cheapest of which costs less than P40. She and her children will join other symbols of poverty – Mariannet Amper, the 11 – year old child who committed suicide in Davao City, Mang Pandoy, and many others – and their names will probably land in next year’s State of the Nation Address. Gagamitin ang pangalan ni Janeth Ponce at ng kanyang mga anak para bigyan ng mukha ang statistics ng kahirapan, pero di nito kaya ipakita kung papaano nilason ng desperasyon at kawalan ng pag-asa ang kaibuturan ng isang ina. One could never approximate what she must have felt when she was buying that bottle of toilet cleaner unless one realizes that her anguish began much earlier, that her hopelessness began when she was deprived of a choice to live a life of dignity.

“Go forth and multiply” – we authors of the bill are often reminded of this biblical phrase to question our support for the measure. Surely, we are being asked by our faith to multiply the vastness of the life’s beauty, and not the desperation of mothers who face each childbirth with dread, with worry, with hopelessness.

No numbers, no statistics, can ever measure the complexity and hardship encountered by mothers facing an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy. And no labels like anti-life or pro-abortion, Ginoong Speaker, can correct the dehumanization of women facing this condition.

Ginoong Speaker, for AKBAYAN, the primary goal of the bill that we are about to tackle is to restore the dignity of our women, especially poor women. Ang gusto lamang ng bill na ito ay bigyan ng patas na karapatan ang mga mahihirap na babae at pamilya na mamuhay ng marangal. Life is about choice, exercising the free will endowed by the Creator, in order to achieve fullness of life and human dignity. And the choice before our House is to cast our votes in conscience on this secular matter of public policy. Yes, public policy, as borne out by a Pulse Asia survey this year, in which more than 40% of respondents said: I am Catholic and I want reproductive health policy.

Reducing this bill as a pro-abortion measure renders invisible the harsh realities that we seek to address. AKBAYAN recognizes that we all come from different religious or ideological persuasions, but we must at least unite that families must be given a choice to plan their families according to methods that suit their faith and condition.

The bill aims to ensure that the national government has the central responsibility to provide reproductive healthcare and family planning services and information. It creates a Commission on Population that has the mandate to coordinate and implement reproductive health and population management programs. It also hopes to make several reproductive health programs available, such as: hospital-based family planning in all national and government hospitals; provision of reproductive health products and supplies, which shall be considered as essential medicines and supplies and shall be part of the National Drug Formulary; inclusion of age-appropriate reproductive health education for students and young Filipinos; provision of Mobile Health Care Service (MHCS) to deliver health care goods and services in each congressional district; and encouraging private practitioners to join their colleagues in non-government organizations in rendering such services free of charge or at reduced professional fee rates to indigent and low income patients.

The bill likewise affirms that abortion remains illegal under our laws and our constitution. We appeal to all to stick to the text of the bill, without embellishments. In our division we must not lose our integrity and our sense of truth.

Many of us in Congress have decided to vote on this measure according to our own conscience. Indeed, this is one contentious issue that would cut across party lines and partisanship. But a conscience vote need not be a vote made with the mind closed. We can disagree, but let us disagree according to the principle of truth. Let us unite where we can, compromise if possible, divide the House if necessary, but let us take the bill for what it truly is. Ginoong Speaker, nawa’y sa kabila ng ating pagkakaiba-iba, magsama-sama tayo na manindigan para ibalik ang dangal ng mga kababaihan at ng pamilyang Pilipino. Maraming salamat po!

Click HERE for a copy of the RH bill and HERE for a copy of the bill’s fact sheet and explanatory note.