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No legal obstacles to RH bill OK, says Senator Santiago

There are no impediments to the Senate’s passage of a reproductive health (RH) bill because the Constitution does not ban it, according to Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

“The Constitution, directly or indirectly, does not prohibit the RH bill… Since there is no prohibition … it is constitutional for this Senate to pass the bill, until the Supreme Court rules otherwise,” Santiago said.

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The senator delivered the second and third installments of her sponsorship speech on the RH bill on Wednesday afternoon. The first part delivered last month focused on theological explanations in support of the bill.

Santiago said the high incidence of poverty and lack of education among most Filipino women made it imperative for lawmakers to craft a law to ensure that their pregnancies would occur in healthy circumstances.

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“If the Senate passes the RH bill, our action would amount to a legislative construction of the Constitution… Hence, if we pass the RH bill, it will enjoy a presumption of constitutionality if it is questioned in the Supreme Court,” she said.

The Catholic hierarchy and lay leaders have objected to the RH bill, with their arguments centering mostly on claims that artificial contraception was akin to abortion.

President Aquino indicated on Tuesday that he wanted the quick passage of 13 measures including a “fine-tuned” RH bill deemed more palatable to the Catholic Church.

Among the bill’s aims is providing couples an informed choice on family planning.

Mothers’ rights

Santiago said women of childbearing age needed information on reproductive health issues most of all.

“The right of the mother to protect herself and her baby from death-dealing poverty is a liberty protected under the due process clause,” she said, adding:

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“Similarly, the right of the mother in the lowest social class is equal to the right of the mother in the highest social class, when both rights pertain to freedom of information.

“Thus, to make information on reproductive health accessible to the rich but not to the poor would be a violation of the equal protection clause.”

The senator said that in 1968, the Philippines participated in the International Conference on Human Rights and became a party to the Proclamation of Tehran providing that “parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children.”

No more dialogues

But Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, on Wednesday expressed disappointment with the President’s inclusion of the RH bill among his administration’s priority measures.

Castro ruled out further dialogues on the RH bill between the Church and government officials.

“They said they will fine-tune the bill to make it more acceptable [to the Church],” he told reporters. “I wish the people will see that behind [Mr. Aquino’s] nice words, there is a dark truth that this RH bill promotes a contraceptive mentality. Even if they promote natural means [of family planning] to make the bill acceptable, it’s still the same since they are also promoting the artificial. Of course, what [the people] will accept is one that is easier to pop in the mouth or put on.”

“Let us not abbreviate the period of debate. Let us hear the sentiments of the people on the merits and demerits of this bill. Don’t railroad its passage [into law],” he said.

‘Let’s pray for him’

Asked if the President could still “redeem” himself from his support of the RH bill, Castro said: “Let us just pray for him because although it hurts to think about it, he has a different priority. He chose to listen to the few. He chose to listen to the theory that the answer to poverty is depopulation. Let us pray for him and we will not give up hope that he will think about it and be enlightened.”

“Our question to Malacañang and proponents of the bill: Why do they want to bind the successive governments and the whole country to this contraceptive mentality? If the present government wants to promote contraceptives, they have enough executive power. So why do they want it to be made into law and bind the next generation?” he said.

Castro said he thought the President would still be open for a dialogue because he did not mention the RH bill during his State of the Nation Address in July.

“[But] he’s the one who closed the door,” Castro said. “That’s why it pains me, because he indicated that he wanted a dialogue when he praised the leaders of the Church. But all of it was scripted [and just meant] to get the sympathy of the Church. This just proves that in the first place, he didn’t want a dialogue.”

Obligation

At a news briefing, the President’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Malacañang was committed to push the modified responsible parenthood bill despite the resolve of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines to block the measure.

“As far as the government is concerned, … we have an obligation to make sure … that all methods of family planning are available to everyone,” Lacierda said.

Asked whether there was a need for the Palace to initiate yet another dialogue with the bishops, he indicated that there might be no need for it.

“I think we already made a decision,” Lacierda said, and issued the reminder that the President Aquino had already endorsed the measure among the 13 bills he wanted Congress to pass immediately. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño

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TAGS: Family planning, reproductive health (RH) bill, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago
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