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Continuing saga and relevance of RH and family planning

December 12 is an important day for RH advocates. This is the day when the RH bill, after more than a decade of relentless advocacy and heated debates, was passed on Second Reading by the House of Representatives.

This year marks the fifth year of the RH law. It is but fitting to honor two distinguished RH champions on this day—Dr. Esperanza I. Cabral, former Health secretary and now chair of the National Implementation Team (NIT) for the RH Law for the Human Development Policy Leadership Award, and the father of the RH law himself, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman for the Human Development Legislator Lifetime Achievement Award.

I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to work with and learn from these two exemplary public servants.

For this piece, I yield my space to Rep. Edcel’s Response and Keynote Address delivered when he received the said award. May we learn from his experience, knowledge, and wisdom.

“My family and I truly appreciate and are immensely thankful for the singular recognition which the PLCPD has bestowed on me tonight: The Human Development Legislator Lifetime Achievement Award. I am inspired to no small measure by this award even as I am humbled by this honor.

I am sharing this recognition with all the RH champions and advocates who helped immensely in the passage of the law. But the burden and responsibility which this recognition impliedly imposes, I alone shall bear. It is comforting, however, to know that kindred spirits will always lend a helping hand in our continuing crusade to have the RH Law fully implemented and constantly safeguarded from diminution by adverse legislative amendment or repeal.

With the Supreme Court TRO deemed lifted with the recertification by the FDA of all 51 contraceptive products, we have again scuttled another obstacle to the implementation of the RH Law. Thanks to Neda Secretary Ernie Pernia who helped tremendously in assuring the certification.

The bright horizon is dimmed, however, by the failure of the bicameral conference committee on the proposed General Appropriations Act for 2018 to augment the budget for the procurement and distribution of contraceptives which has been pegged at only P318.5 million next year. This is grossly inadequate because I am informed by POPCOM ExecutiveDirector Juan Antonio Perez III that the DoH needs P1.9 billion more for 2018 and the PopCom an additional P114 million.

I have always warned that the sourcing of funds for RH through the national budget can be a serious quagmire. Perforce, we must avoid this budgetary obstacle early on. For the next year’s budget, we must begin at the starting line, and not falter at the finish line. We must endeavor early enough to have the Executive provide for a more adequate appropriation for contraceptives in the President’s National

Expenditure Program which is the basis of the General Appropriations Bill.

But all is not lost. The President is an ardent RH advocate who issued Executive Order No. 12 on attaining zero unmet need for modern FP. It mandates that the DBM “may realign and augment appropriations in accordance with applicable budgetary and auditing laws, rules and regulations.”

The President has a contingent fund of P13 billion in 2018. We are earnestly requesting the President to prioritize the release from his contingent fund the necessary amounts to implement in 2018 the RH Law and Executive Order No. 12. The President must walk the talk to fully back up his commitment for RH and family planning. Articulation is good but appropriate funding is paramount.

Our continuing campaign for the full implementation of the RH Law can be mobilized better if we go back to the basics and not lose grip of the orientation, anchorage, direction and objectives of the RH Law. The law is: (a) rights-based; (b) health-oriented; and (c) human development-driven. These are the anchor and goals of the RH Law which is predominantly a pro-women legislation.

Access to and availment of RH and FP services are inalienable human rights. This inherent truism was affirmed in the Proclamation of Teheran in 1968, to which the Philippines is a signatory, that “Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children.”

The RH Law mandates the State to promote universal access to RH and FP with particular emphasis on the poor, marginalized and disadvantaged quintiles. Any derogation of this right by design or neglect is abhorrent. We must act as vigilant sentinels in promoting and protecting this inalienable right of parents and couples.

Reproductive health and its major component on family planning are crucial and major health measures, particularly for women and infants in poor communities. The overriding goal is to reduce risky unintended pregnancies which result to high rates of unsafe abortions, maternal death, and infant mortality, all of which increase public spending for pregnancy-related health issues.

The correct and consistent use of effective contraceptives does not only save lives, but also saves government funds. In fact, government savings offset and outpace government expenditures on contraceptives.

In a study conducted in 2008 by the Guttmacher Institute in partnership with Likhaan, it was empirically documented that:

“By taking on the cost of providing contraception, the Philippine government could avoid much greater expenses down the road, including those for maternal and newborn services, treatment for pregnancy-related complications and life-long services for millions of additional people. The savings could be invested toward improving public services and encouraging economic development.”

The DoH validates the foregoing findings in its Costed Implementation Plan on family planning. It is estimated that annual savings will be generated to the tune of P28.3 billion or a total of P113.5 billion from 2017 to 2020, consequent to significant reduction of huge government health expenditures related to unintended pregnancies, not counting private sector savings. Clearly, RH must be a priority agenda where government saves as it spends.

Population and development are inexorably linked. No human development agenda is likely to succeed if the government fails to address simultaneously and positively the problem of population.

The RH Law recognizes the linkage between population and development because the issue of population directly affects human development indicators on health, education, food security, employment, mass housing and the environment. Family planning improves the economic wellbeing of families and communities and is widely recognized as one of the most cost-effective health interventions.

I am puzzled why fiscal and policy implementors refuse to understand that among the country’s priority agenda, RH is the least expensive in budgetary outlays even as it is the most productive, reaches more beneficiaries and favorably impacts on other national goals.

Taking stock of the orientation, anchorage and direction of the RH Health Law on rights, health and human development, provides us with the requisite understanding and enhanced impetus to maximize our zeal to shepherd this momentous law to its fullest potential and ultimate fulfillment.”

[email protected] @bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: family planning , RH bill
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