The country’s biggest business organizations on Thursday threw their support behind the Aquino administration in its efforts to give Filipinos universal access to family planning services.
And they’re willing to put their money where their mouths are.
At the Summit on Family Planning in the Business Sector, representatives of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Employment Confederation of the Philippines (Ecop), Makati Business Club (MBC), Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) and Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) signed a “manifesto of support” calling for a national modern family planning program.
The business groups also promised to “mobilize investments for family planning and other reproductive health services” and implement family planning programs for the poor as part of their corporate social responsibility.
“We, the participants… declare our commitment and support to national efforts toward ensuring universal access to family planning in the advancement of reproductive rights of poor women,” the declaration said.
It advocated the enactment of national reproductive health and population management policy and programs and “allocation of funds for the implementation of this vital policy.”
The declaration also called for “accelerating the reduction of the unmet needs for family planning and in ensuring the promotion of informed choice, universal coverage and delivery of quality (family planning) information and services.”
Among those present at the summit held at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City were former Prime Minister Cesar Virata, former Foreign Secretary Roberto Romulo, former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Health Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa, United Nations Population Fund country representative Ugochi Daniels and UK Ambassador Stephen Lillie.
“I think it would be appropriate to give you a quote—I assure you it’s a quote; I’m not plagiarizing—from (the late US President) John F. Kennedy who said ‘Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” Romulo said in his welcome remarks.
“I think this sums up what you can do for the country,” added Romulo, chairman of the Zuellig Family Foundation.
It was a dig at Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, who is facing an ethics complaint for quoting without attribution material from the speech of the late US Sen. Robert Kennedy and other foreign works in three speeches against the reproductive health (RH) bill pending in the Senate.
Diokno called on President Aquino to be more passionate in pushing for the passage of the RH bill.
“I hate to say this but it is in (Mr. Aquino’s) hands. If he is as passionate as he was in the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, he could have this done,” Diokno said.
Stuck in Congress
The RH bill is stuck in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, with legislators facing reelection next year worried about a backlash from the influential Catholic Church, which is leading the opposition to the bill.
Commenting on the business groups’ falling into Mr. Aquino’s column, Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, reminded the businessmen that having a large consumer base and work force would be in the country’s interest “in the long run.”
“Contraceptives are big business, too. We hope our business leaders realize that in the long term population control and the contraceptive mentality is inimical to their own business interests,” Castro said. “A large population means a large economic base and a large consumer base,” he said.
“A fairly large young population ensures a productive labor force,” Castro added.
The Church will not relent in its opposition to the RH bill. It is “in the business of saving souls, and will do everything to fulfill her mission,” Castro said.
He said the RH bill was “a symptom of a graver problem, moral and social degeneration.”
The Church, he said, “will help effect the needed moral and spiritual reform and renewal both within the Church and in society.”
Absenteeism in House
A watered-down version of the RH bill has fallen victim to absenteeism in the House.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II on Thursday said the House should decide once and for all whether to enact the bill.
“Maybe there is a need to call the members to a caucus and for the Speaker to tell them that on this day we will move [on the RH bill] . . . Win or lose, that’s it,” Gonzales said.
If there is a quorum on the set date, he said, the House should proceed to tackle the proposed amendments or the substitute bill.
If there is no quorum on that day, then that should be taken as a sign that there is simply not enough support for the measure, he said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Thursday said he would call the members to a meeting to discuss pending legislation, including the RH bill.
In the Senate, the principal author of the RH bill, Sen. Pia Cayetano, called on her colleagues Thursday to quit fence-sitting and put the bill to a vote.
Cayetano asked Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile when he would introduce his amendments but he refused, saying he was not ready with his proposed amendments to the measure.
Cayetano said she was disappointed and offended by Enrile’s gesture, which she considered a reflection of his regard for women and reproductive rights.
“I find it offensive that what I consider human rights—access to reproductive health and contraceptives—can be put aside by one high government official as if the lives of women are not that important,” Cayetano said in Filipino and English.
“I cannot deny that it is disappointing for me and a bit offensive for a colleague to tell me he does not care or plan to allot the bill time in plenary,” she said.
Cayetano blamed her colleagues’ opposition to the bill on consultants who gave them wrong advice.
“Their objective is not to bring this [measure] to a vote and I will not agree,” she said.
At the PICC, Diokno said the business community was behind family planning because, as a 2007 Ecop study showed, providing family planning services to employees “increases business profitability, improves labor productivity, and raises the quality of life for workers and their families.”
“If there were 30 million less Filipinos, I can assure you that we would have a budget surplus instead of a budget deficit,” Diokno said.
Romulo said the Ecop study showed that while family planning “substantially enhanced business productivity,” it also showed “that by providing the right environment, employees were ensured a safe pregnancy.”
“The question today is what role can the business sector play. Out of the country’s population of 93 million, 37.5 million are employed. Thus, in my opinion, the contribution of the business sector to address family planning needs can go a long way,” he said.
The summit participants promised to “promote the establishment of family planning as a core business or as a social enterprise to facilitate the provision of family planning services, especially to small companies that cannot afford to set up their own service-delivery programs.”
They also committed to pursue “public-private-partnerships modalities and strategies” for improving direct and support services for family planning and other reproductive healthcare services not “only in the workplace but also in poor communities.”
The labor code requires companies that employ at least 200 people to provide family planning services to its employees, but Herbosa said the business community’s commitment to family planning was very significant.
“The magnitude of the challenge on family planning is too great for the government to address alone,” Herbosa said.
He noted that private sector participation was instrumental in combating polio, leprosy and malaria in the Philippines.
“We eradicated polio in this country with a partnership with Rotary International. We actually eliminated leprosy with the use of free drugs from a private family and we actually have one of the lowest incidence of malaria cases with the help of Global Fund and the Pilipinas Shell Foundation,” Herbosa said.
“So, this partnerships have all led to previous successes, especially in infectious diseases. I see no reason why we will not be able to succeed in the area of family planning and reproductive health,” he added. With reports from Cathy Yamsuan and Leila B. Salaverria