After 14 years of struggle, the Reproductive Health Bill has finally been passed into law!
Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III quietly signed the bill into law last December 21, 2012, four days away before Christmas – for me the best Christmas gift for Filipino women and youth especially us RH advocates who were tireless in our efforts to lobby, dialogue, march on the streets and campaign for the passage of the RH Bill into a law. The new law will now be called as Republic Act 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health of 2012. Owing to the controversy of the law, the Office of the President only confirmed it today after persistent rumors were circulated widely in the internet.
The road for passing the RH Law was not easy. Strong opposition coming from the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines has long delayed the passage of the law. Way back then, legislators from Congress and Senate under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were dominated by conservative Anti-RH representatives. A few like Representatives Edcel Lagman and Janette Loreto-Garin in Congress and Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor-Santiago have continued the fight despite of the overwhelming hostility of their peers to the RH Bill. Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo herself promoted an abstinence-only program during her 9-year tenure as president.
Ever since I was involved with RH advocacy back in 2009, I have observed that our movement has grown bigger and stronger. Young people have become more involved and have since been in the forefront of the movement. Women especially mothers have aired out their concerns of having a limited options for them in status quo. The deaths of 11 Filipino women a day due to pregnancy and child birth complications according to UNFPA makes the bill a necessity if not urgent. Celebrities like Tony Award winning actress Lea Salonga, singer songwriter Jim Paredes, Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, reality-show actors Tom Rodriguez and Princess Lieza Manzon, and even enlightened Catholic priest like Fr. Joaquin Bernas have lent their name and prestige in promoting awareness and discourse on the issues of the RH Bill.
The administration of President Aquino bolstered our hopes that the bill will become a law when at the very start of his election campaign; he promised that he will support the RH Bill. Although there were times when he seems to be bowing to the pressure of the Catholic Church, his determination to deliver his election promises equaled with our vigilance to hold him accountable to his promises triumphed at the end of the day. It would be the second time in Philippine history that the government defied the Catholic Church since the Rizal Law which makes me feel happy that a government like President Aquino can stand up for the general good and welfare of the Filipino people.
Not talking about the Anti-RH does not give justice to the struggles and the gain we had right now. I admire their equal eagerness for the RH Bill NOT to become a law. They have their own reasons to oppose the bill and I respect it. Some of it may sound absurd just like how Senator Sotto reasoned out that “since we ban plastics, why are we legalizing condoms”. In a controversial measure like RH Bill, we have expected a lot of opposition to it. Although opposition to the bill can be a major obstacle, we welcome them because it sparks discourse and intellectual discussion which benefits the people at the end of the day for it guides them in making their own informed decision.
At the end of the day, an inevitable showdown of numbers happened. Last December 12-13, the members of the House of Representatives having reached a quorum decided to vote on whether or not to terminate the Period of Amendments for the bill and pass it for the Second Reading. Pro-RH gained the needed 109 votes to pass the bill for second reading during the first round of voting. A close fight ensued as the second round of voting was declared. With 113 votes for the RH, 104 against, and 4 abstain the bill was passed for Second Reading.
Finally, on December 17, both Senate and House of Representatives voted in their respective chambers with 13-8 in the Senate in favor of the bill and 133-79-7 in the House of Representatives in favor also of the bill. Then a Bicameral Conference Committee convened to reconcile the RH Bill versions of the two chambers of Congress. After its ratification, it was presented to the President for his signature. At this point, even if Mr. Aquino does not sign it, it will become law after 15 days.
By the way, it may not be the perfect RH Law that one aspires about because of some compromises that it had to give such as teaching Comprehensive Sexuality Education not compulsory in private schools among others but hey, it is still an achievement. Priority is given to teaching it to public schools where the bulk of students go to get their education. We can remedy that. What is more important right now is to be involve in crafting the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the RH Law which will serve as guide on how the law will be implemented and of course, the full implementation of the law when it take effect.
After celebrating our RH Law victory, let’s move forward and act for the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill and the Freedom of Information Act in the Philippines!