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Mocking the legislative process, stabbing poor women’s backs

By now, Senators Loren Legarda and Tito Sotto should already know that reproductive health advocates will not take moves to make the RH law useless sitting down. 

Their underhanded action to cut the Malacañang-proposed P1.157-billion peso budget for the procurement of contraceptives and other modern family planning supplies from the 2016 General Appropriations Act has been met with strong public consternation and criticism. Perhaps they thought that the issue would not be this big. 

To be fair, Sotto and Legarda did not take away everything. Of the P1.157 billion, they very kindly retained the loose change of P157 million to meet the needs of at least five million women who are dependent on government for their contraceptives, and a few more millions who have unmet need for family planning. Just to be clear, those with unmet need are the women who want to plan their pregnancies but are unable to do so. 

Thus, realistically, around 8 million Filipino women wanting or needing FP are supposed to be served for the entire year using P157 million. Each woman, therefore, is budgeted an insulting P19.60 for the whole of 2016, P1.64 per month, or P0.05 per day. Yet, both Sotto and Legarda claim to be pro-women and pro-RH.

They stabbed the back of poor women and made a mockery out of the entire legislative process. 

How the cut was done remains a mystery despite the fact that a lot has already been said on the issue. This only proves that Legarda and Sotto are being secretive about this.

Reports are conflicting. Earlier news had it that the budget was cut within the process of the Bicameral Conference Committee tasked to reconcile the House and Senate-approved bills. Then there were reports saying that the budget was no longer in the bill approved by the Senate, which, prompted the HOR panel in the bicam to negotiate for its inclusion. However, Legarda was supposed to have said that she would not be able to get the approval of her senators if the contraceptive budget was to be restored.  

Former Representative Edcel Lagman, the principal author of the RH bill in the House, for his part said that the bicam did not really have a process. According to him, there was virtually no deliberation as a committee, and what happened was horse-trading through one-on-one meetings between Legarda and whoever. And this is the reason why one will not find any proceedings of this bicam.

If Lagman’s statement is true, it is interesting to know if such “process,” or the absence of one, is in accordance with the rules on how Bicameral Conference Committees are supposed to function. It should be remembered that Congress operates based on rules. It has rules for everything so there should be those that guide the bicam.  

Senator Pia Cayetano, the main RH proponent in the Senate, has issued strong statements against Legarda’s handling of the problem. Cayetano has made this a trust issue and labeled Legarda’s actions as unethical and unacceptable. This is the first time in the many years that I have followed her work that she has ever used such strong words, especially, on a colleague. Cayetano must really be pissed. 

Up to this point, Legarda, as the Senate Finance Committee and bicam chair, has not said anything about the events leading to the removal of the budget for contraceptives from the GAA.  Her statements have only repeatedly claimed that the bicam process has been transparent. If indeed this is the case, and to disprove Lagman’s and Cayetano’s statements, Legarda should make public the proceedings of the bicam. 

The people have the right to know how the country’s budget was decided on by this powerful third House. The bicam’s ultimate accountability is to the people.

Otherwise, if Legarda is unable to prove transparency and account for how the committee worked,  could she have indeed made a mockery of the legislative process?

She was part of the Congress that passed the RH law but she is first to violate the law they passed.

The other party, Sotto, seems to be very quiet these days. He who in the past, has made several threats to cut budgets for contraceptives, has succeeded through this bicam process (or non-process). I wonder why Sotto is letting Legarda take all the heat when it was he who first confirmed that they slashed the budget in question? 

Is his silence because he does not want to rock the boat of his candidacy? 

Former Department of Health Secretary and now convenor of the National Implementation Team for the RH law, Esperanza Cabral, holds Legarda and Sotto accountable for the hardship that millions of poor Filipino families will experience by depriving them of access to RH services. 

Cabral exhorts women to take matters into their own hands through the power of their votes. The former Health chief urges people not to vote for jerks and bigots. 

Legarda has three more years as a senator, but Sotto is running for reelection. He tops the surveys most probably because of his almost daily television exposure. People should know the real Sotto, not the comedian, but the enemy of the Filipino women who has clashed with women’s rights advocates for many years on the matter of reproductive health and rights. 

He has blocked, still blocks, and will continue to block the full implementation of the RH law, the law that took more than a decade and a half to pass. With Sotto’s continued presence in the Senate, this problem of poor women being denied their rights to plan their pregnancy can happen every year. It is time to stop this. 

People should know that Sotto is one reason why high-risk pregnancies cannot be prevented, why our maternal mortality rates will remain among the highest in the world, why we will continue to have the most number of girls getting pregnant in Asia, and why our country now has the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. These are because Sotto does not want the RH law fully implemented.

We say, stop Legarda, stop Sotto!

Never should we allow the legislative process to be again mocked. Never should the poor Filipino women be again stabbed in the back.  

bethangsioco@gmail.com      

@bethangsioco on Twitter    

Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: Elizabeth Angsioco , RH law
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