Supporters of House Bill 4244 a.k.a. Reproductive Health Bill will scoff at observations that Super Typhoon Pablo (international name Bopha) was a heavenly sign aimed to thwart the passage of the controversial population control policy.
Be that as it may, let us look closely at how Pablo turned lives upside down, momentarily for some, irreversibly for others already living in the fringes of society.
Pablo triggered the mass evacuation of peoples in Metro Cebu and outlying areas. Northern Mindanao bore the brunt of the rampaging storm as some 60,000 people moved to safer ground.
Storm warnings issued by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration triggered terrifying images of last year’s killer typhoon, especially in Cagayan de Oro City where Typhoon Sendong claimed more than 2,000 lives and left billions of pesos worth of damage to crops and property. The bitter lesson learned from the tragedy prompted many people to take precaution but some were not as lucky.
International wire reports placed the death toll at more than 100, with Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley provinces having the most number of casualties. Reports from Siquijor, Bohol and Dumaguete have yet to be confirmed, so the number of casualties could still go up. Economic losses wrought by past tropical storms always go in the hundreds of millions of pesos, and since Pablo charged with winds of not less than 160 kph, damage is incalculable.
It’s good to know local government units and national government agencies moved swiftly to mitigate human toll and suffering. Suspension of work and classes, sea travel in high-risk areas including air travel in routes crossing the storm’s path were carried out. Ahead of the weather disturbance, state agencies directed people living near creeks, rivers and coastal areas to evacuate.
Gold mining was halted earlier in Compostela Valley to subdue populations vulnerable to landslides, in particular in New Bataan town. Two platoons of army soldiers brought the villagers to a barangay hall and school building but the structures were no match for the raging waters. Nine army soldiers remain missing as I write.
I heard a number of local government officials in Region 11 on live TV the other night asking aid from national state agencies. Staples like rice, noodles and canned goods for tens of thousands of evacuees seemed like a tall order because most LGUs have very little calamity funds. One governor said he was only talking of victims housed in the poblacion, but he was certain that thousands more in far flung areas are waiting for much-needed assistance.
Pablo in 2012, but before it came Sendong (Washi) in 2011, Juan (Megi) in 2010, Ondoy (Ketsana) in 2009, Frank (Fengshen) in 2008 plus Reming, Ruping, Rosing, Kadiang, Loleng, etc. The death toll is in the tens of thousands and economic losses are hard to quantify.
The list of very destructive tropical storms that hit the country in the past decades has laid out in graphic terms our biggest challenge, which is none other than increasing and expanding the capability of local and national government agencies to respond to natural calamities. This measure should be complimented with laws aimed to lessen the impact of climate change.
Instead of spending taxpayers’ money on procuring condoms, contraceptive pills and other birth control supplies, and subsidizing sex education, the government should enable local government units to acquire skills in risk management and more access to state resources to bridge the needs of calamity victims.
Pablo is the 16th typhoon to visit the Philippines and weather trackers are saying another howler is going to hit the country before Christmas. Congress has less than 10 days before it adjourns for the holidays, supposedly the remaining window to pass HB 4244, assuming the Chamber is able to muster a quorum and the pro-RH votes will hold out until the bill is put to a vote.
That is easier said than done because anti-RH lawmakers are poised to question the substitute bill line by line. And while congressmen are inclined to support President Benigno Aquino III’s call to put the measure to a vote, RH supporters are uneasy over nominal voting because that would directly place them in the Church’s line of fire.
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Meanwhile, another Pablo stands in the way of HB 4244.
It would be one-dimensional to say that Rep. Pablo Garcia (2nd district, Cebu) is sworn to defeat the passage of the RH Bill on the basis alone of his moral stance because what he and anti RH colleagues are doing is simply to ensure that the House follows its own rules in law making.
The rule on quorum has been a prickly issue because many House members don’t attend the plenary even if they are present. This happened last Monday when Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez asked whether there was a quorum. At this, many congressmen who were outside the session hall rushed inside.
Moreover, it seems only a handful of legislators know about details of a substitute bill, and even the killer amendments proposed by the anti-RH bloc are not very clear. Congress should allow ample time for thorough debates in full view of the public, if possible through live media coverage, given that HB 4244 is a highly divisive issue.