MANILA, Philippines?The Department of Health (DoH) has allotted half of its family health budget for contraceptives, but a number of senators vowed to weed out this allocation from the proposed 2011 budget.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona told senators at Wednesday?s budget hearing that the DoH had earmarked P931 million for its annual family health programs. Of the amount, P400 million has been pegged for the purchase of contraceptives, including birth control pills (P280 million), injectables (P100 million) and condoms (P8 million), he said.
Although the family health budget accounts for less than 3 percent of the DoH?s proposed total budget of P32.67 billion for 2011, senators are raising a howl over what they perceive as the government?s move to preempt Congress before it can even start formal debates on the contentious reproductive health (RH) bill.
?We will remove that (P400 million) entirely from the budget. I don?t want any argument against us that we have already accepted and taken a position on the RH bill. They can restore [the allocation], but they have to find some other ways outside the budget,? Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said in an interview with reporters.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan said that if the DoH railroaded the allocation for contraceptives in the budget, it could have adverse consequences on population growth.
Use money elsewhere
President Benigno Aquino III has been at loggerheads with the Catholic Bishops? Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on the matter of reproductive health, with his position that couples should be provided an informed choice in the birth control methods to use in planning their families.
Enrile and Honasan said the government should use the P400 million for other health concerns, such as augmenting funds allocated to combat malaria, dengue and leprosy.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said the government should not give away contraceptives to Filipinos.
?If they want pills or condoms, let them buy them. It?s not the business of the government to interfere in these affairs,? he said.
Sotto also bemoaned the government?s purported decision to put the burden of population control on women.
Pointing out that 95 percent of the budget was allocated for pills and injectables for women and only 2 percent for condoms for men, he said: ?This is not fair to the women. Family planning should be a shared responsibility.?
In La Trinidad, Benguet, RH advocates indicated willingness to water down the measures pending in Congress in order to appease leaders of the Catholic Church.
Speaking at a forum hosted by Benguet General Hospital Wednesday, Ramon San Pascual, executive director of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), said the authors of the RH bill were willing to let go of a provision that introduces sex education to grade schoolers and another that encourages only two children per family.
San Pascual said legislators were also willing to drop the RH tag in their bills. ?The important thing is the provision on health services, family services and government resources are still there. The government should utilize its resources and provide a budget for reproductive health care,? he said.
Former Health Undersecretary Ethelyn Nieto, a consultant of the United Nations Population Fund, said the ongoing ?ceasefire? on explosive statements between Malacañang and the CBCP should pave the way for a dialogue that would give RH advocates an idea of what Church leaders want included in the measures.
?Everything should be put on the table ... para hindi naiipit si P-Noy (so P-Noy won?t be put in a bind),? said Nieto, who was part of the Cabinet of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Nieto also said she herself had angered a priest who denied her Communion for three years in the 1960s when she worked as a family planning officer at the Manila office of the DoH.
But Pampanga Archbishop Paciano Aniceto said the dialogue would not lead to legislation reconciling differing points of view because Catholics would not change their stance against state-sponsored artificial contraceptives.
Instead, the dialogue will allow Mr. Aquino to explain his position to the bishops, said Aniceto, the chair of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life.
?You cannot change the moral law. You may be unpopular but that is our disadvantage. You have to preach the Word whether [it is] acceptable or unacceptable. That is a mandate that is not coming from any earthly souls. If you are believers, [opposing RH] is a revelation,? he said.
Aniceto discussed the proposed dialogue in Dagupan City, where he attended a Mass for Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas to celebrate the latter?s 25th year as a priest.
?Only the Philippines stands as the real vanguard of morality and family? because it operates without an RH policy, Aniceto said, adding:
?Look at what reproductive health has done in Europe. [RH] has destroyed the morality of their youth, their children. [RH] has also destroyed the close, cordial and reciprocal relationships of couples, and it is also affecting their economy because Europe has an aging population and they are now giving rewards for extra births.
?In Germany, they are adopting Asians [to address a dwindling population]. In Korea, for every extra birth, [the government gives out] free university education ... In France, [the government shells out] 15,000 francs for every extra child born [to a family]. So, this is all [evidence that RH is a] failure. What failed in other countries should not be imposed on us.?
Not a religious issue
But San Pascual said: ?The RH bill is not a religious issue. It is all about family welfare. The bill respects the religious beliefs of every couple. We are asking religious authorities to refrain from [using their power] to banish the bill. We also ask them not to excommunicate President Aquino because it does not help. Let [him] perform his duties.?
San Pascual also said that while he and his colleagues might not gain the support of the Catholic hierarchy, RH advocates had already won the support of the Iglesia ni Cristo, Islamic leaders, Protestants and evangelical groups.
Nieto said that despite pressure from the Church, Mr. Aquino should approve the budget allocation for contraceptives.
She said former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral had proposed the budget for contraceptives for inclusion in the 2011 General Appropriations Act.
Nieto said a similar allocation for contraceptives by the Arroyo administration was not released by the budget department ?for reasons we do not know.?
?There was a budget but it was not used. The government did not purchase the contraceptives, so we ended up advising the local government units to use their budget to buy the contraceptives,? she said.
Listen to all opinions
Malacañang encouraged all stakeholders to communicate their opinions on the RH bill to their respective representatives in the House and to senators.
Abigail Valte, Mr. Aquino?s deputy spokesperson, said all the branches of government were involved in the proposed legislation to inform couples on various methods of family planning. With a report from Norman Bordadora