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Profiles in Courage: Philippines Passes Reproductive Health Bill

January 02, 2013

Benigno Aquino III, Fidel Ramos, Edcel Lagman, Pia Cayetano, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Cesar Virata, Janette Garin, Enrique Ona, Bellaflor Angara Castillo,  Esperanza Cabral, Jaime Galvez Tan, Alberto Romualdez,  Lizzie Zobel, Oscar Lopez, Ramon del Rosario, Ernesto Pernia, Felipe Medalla, Junice Melgar, Lina Bacalando,  Rodrigo Tano,  Chi Vallido, Mary Racelis, Rina Jimenez David. And many more that could fill an entire newspaper.

They are the President, Congressmen, Congresswomen,  Senators,  NGO activists, business leaders, former Presidents, Cabinet and former Cabinet Secretaries, faith leaders, academics, professional association leaders, housewives,  and ordinary people of The Philippines.

What do they have in common?

They are “profiles in courage” for persevering for at least 14 years to finally giving the Filipino people, especially the poor, knowledge of and access to reproductive health through the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (known as the “RH bill”) --recently signed by President Aquino. The bill, at its simplest, states that women and men can “decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information and means to carry out their decisions.”

 The unmet need for family planning [in the Philippines] is one of the highest in the world. This is the story of these courageous people but it’s also a story of resolution in staying the course, abiding with scientific evidence and facts, and the nobility of staying positive against on onslaught of insults and misinformation. And it is about the conviction of a President whose courage and leadership on day one of his presidency placed the issue to the Filipino people to be debated and argued publicly and finally acted upon through the historic passing and approval of the bill. As Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said, finally, there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

Poll after poll has consistently highlighted the overwhelming support of the Filipino people for the “RH Bill”.  For after all, what is more life affirming than saving one third of mothers from dying in childbirth, than providing access to lifesaving modern methods of contraception that are safe and effective so that mothers can avoid high risk pregnancies, pregnancies  when they are too young,  or births too closely spaced?

Research findings have shown that about 1.8 million unintended pregnancies (more than half of all pregnancies) occur in the Philippines every year. The unmet need for family planning is one of the highest in the world at 22 percent. The Philippines is one of the few countries in the world where the maternal mortality rate has actually increased, after steadily declining over the last two decades.

The latest finding from the 2011 Family Heath Survey (FHS) showed that 7,800 infant deaths can be prevented through family planning every year. Making these services available and affordable to all, especially the poor, can potentially reduce by half the risk of deaths for newborns and infants through spacing births alone.

A powerful position paper prepared by 30 prominent economists published in the country’s premier newspaper, Philippine Daily Inquirer, made a compelling case for the RH bill from an economic, health, social and political point of view supported by hard data and research findings stating,

“All told…RH and FP offer a win-win solution…They lift the well-being of individual women and children, and benefit the economy and the environment as well.” 

As Melinda Gates aptly puts it in Foreign Policy magazine Why Birth Control Is Still a Big Idea:

“Contraceptives unlock one of the most dormant but potentially powerful assets in development: women as decision makers. When women have the power to make choices about their families, they tend to decide precisely what demographers, economists, and development experts recommend…they do not do it because they are worried about GDP, but because they’re worried about their children’s futures.”

This bill may not be perfect, given the sacrifices needed to get through the legislative process, but on one count it is already extraordinary. Never before has the entire nation been engaged, from the poorest to the richest, from across the archipelago, young and old, educated and uneducated, Catholic, Iglesia ni Kristo, Muslim or Protestant, in an unparalleled educational process in which common sense and science prevailed.

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