Going local on RH Law implementation

I asked the participants in this reproductive health forum if they know of young girls who have gotten pregnant. There was a chorus of yesses. I again asked about the youngest age of these girls. A group of young people loudly said: “Ten years old!”

This alone explains why pro-RH groups are not stopping on the law’s implementation. We continue to go to provinces and cities to help local government units in their efforts to make this important law benefit their constituents. The provincial government of Benguet headed by Governor Cresencio Pacalso is one of these LGUs.

I write this in Baguio City where I was invited by the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development Foundation Inc. to its “Issue Orientation on Reproductive Health and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” where I tackled “Issues and Challenges in the RH Law Implementation.”

The other speakers were all among the leaders in the RH movement including Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr.; DIWA Representative and Chair of the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality Em Aglipay-Villar; UNFPA National Programme Officer for Population and Development Advocacy Vic Jurlano; President of the Forum for Family Planning and Development, Inc. Ben de Leon; and PLCPD’s Executive Director, Rom Dongeto. Different LGUs were amply represented and young people were among the participants.

Because barriers and challenges to the full implementation of the law remain, and because there are LGU officials who defy the law, particularly the provision of modern family planning to their poor constituents who want and need to use contraceptives, it is always heartwarming to meet pro-RH LGU officials.

We were told that Benguet Governor Pacalso wants to have a Gender and Development (GAD) Code in the province and is enlisting the assistance of NGOs in the crafting of the code. The province, through the help of PLCPD, has also organized an advocacy group that includes LGU representatives. While RH is already a law, doing advocacy both at the local and national levels remains very important because of the hurdles it faces. The initiatives of the Benguet provincial government are commendable.

To illustrate the fact that we need to remain on guard in defending our RH gains, I included in my talk the actual timeline of legal hurdles faced and continue to be faced by the law. Consider these: it was signed into law on December 21, 2012. However, on January 2, 2013, the first work day after New Year, anti-RH groups already started petitioning the Supreme Court on assailing the law’s constitutionality. Just over two months after (March 19, 2013), the SC issued a Status Quo Ante Order on the RH law. This meant the law could not be implemented yet. On July 16, 2013, the SC extended SQA indefinitely. It was only in April 2014 after prolonged oral arguments, that the SC decided that RH Law is NOT unconstitutional save for a few provisions.

We rejoiced because at last, the law’s implementation could already start. However, we are now finding out that the SC’s decision has put a major legal impediment in effectively addressing teenage pregnancy, a most serious problem we have now. Our girls are getting pregnant left and right. Our adolescent pregnancy rates are among the highest, if not the highest in the world. In virtually all countries, the numbers of teenage pregnancies are going down—but NOT in the Philippines.

The High Court’s decision to only allow access to contraceptives to minors who have been given consent by their parents and/or guardians makes it very difficult for government to address the problem of very young girls becoming mothers. Minors have different contexts. Some are already sexually active, even cohabiting with their boyfriends and no longer living with their parents or guardians. Having no access to modern family planning methods is a problem for them. Teenage pregnancy must be curbed significantly.

But the anti-RH groups did not stop despite the SC’s decision settling questions of constitutionality of the RH law. After one year, on May 13, 2015, they again petitioned the SC, alleging that Food and Drugs Administration abused its powers by not following the proper procedures in certifying contraceptives. The Court responded in June 2015 by issuing a temporary restraining order prohibiting DOH and all its agents from providing women with contraceptive implant, and prohibiting DFA from further certifying contraceptives.

After more than a year, this TRO remains in effect. Poor women are deprived of an effective and long-acting method to plan their pregnancies. The TRO’s effects are worse on the poor because this contraceptive costs between P6,000 to P12,000 when accessed through private doctors. Rich women can shell out these amounts when they want to have an implant insertion.

Moreover, the present stocks of implants will, at one point expire. We will, therefore, waste precious resources if the SC does not lift the TRO and does not decide in favor of the RH Law.

The fact is, opponents of this law have not stopped in derailing its implementation. We expect more from them. We know that they are now trying to influence LGU officials that they think they can influence—just like the case of Sorsogon City’s mayor who has ordered local health personnel to not do family planning using contraceptives.

This is the importance of going local when it comes to RH implementation. Among government instrumentalities, it is the LGUs that are in the best position to fully implement the law. As Rep. Aglipay-Villar said in this PLCPD forum, the LGUs are the ones nearest to the people. They have a better knowledge and understanding of the RH needs of their constituents.

Non-government organizations’ RH initiatives in communities have long been established. Government, be it at the national or local level, and NGOs working together, will hasten the implementation of the law. NGOs/civil society organizations are known for being creative, flexible, and for pursuing out-of-the-box solutions to problems. We cannot be content with our usual ways of doing things. Moreover, community-based NGOs, especially women’s organizations, are proving to be effective in reaching those with unmet needs for family planning that government is unable to reach.

For the full implementation of the RH law, advocacy remains important, and LGUs and NGOs are crucial.

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Topics: RH law , implementation
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