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MANILA, Philippines - Academics pushing for the approval of the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill on Monday, December 3, challenged anti-RH lawmakers and academics to one final debate on the controversial measure. Their message: face us or concede.
They have asked Rappler to host the debate and make all information available to the public.
The call comes as the RH bill reaches crunch time with only 12 session days left before Congress pauses for the Christmas break. President Benigno Aquino III himself met with members of the House of Representatives on Monday in a last-ditch effort to put the measure to a vote.
"The problem that we have now in the unconsolable delay in the passage of the RH Bill is not an evidence of a strong Church but an evidence of a weak state," said Elizabeth Agniling-Pangalangan, UP College of Law Institute of Human Rights Director, in a press conference.
The Catholic Church has been campaigning against the RH bill, and politicians are wary that their stand in favor of the bill might prompt Church leaders to campaign against them in the coming May 2013 elections.
Expressing frustration over the "centuries-old anti-women beliefs and rehashed arguments against the RH bill based on fringe science, outdated studies and propounded by people who lack the relevant expertise on the subject," academics said RH opponents must once and for all clarify all issues surrounding the bill in an open debate and away from the halls of Congress.
Dr Sylvia Estrada-Claudio, University of the Philippines Center for Women Studies Director, said the challenge is open to all anti-RH academics and legislators who are willing to engage in "evidence-based" debate on the measure.
"But please don't send your crack representatives. If they send us their crack representatives, Margie Holmes and I will give them free psychological service," she added.
Enrile, Sotto, Rodriguez
Any anti-RH institution or party can participate in the debate but the academics have extended the challenge to Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile, Senate Majority Floor Leader Tito Sotto, Sen Koko Pimentel, as well as House Representatives members Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro), Pablo Garcia (Cebu) and Mitos Magsaysay (Zambales).
Economics Professor Dr Ernesto Pernia also challenged economist Dr Bernardo Villegas, a staunch RH critic who has argued that there is no need for the measure, to join the proposed debate.
On the side of the pro-RH experts, they said the following will be participating in the debate: Dr Esperanze Cabral, Dr Alberto Romualdez, Dr Marita Reyes, Prof. Florin Hilbay, Dr Antonio Contreras, Dr Pernia, Dr Aguiling-Pangalangan, and Dr Estrada-Claudio.
The following talking points have been proposed for discussion: the medical aspect of the issue, or the point that none of the contraceptive methods mandated by the RH Bill are abortifacients; issues on economics/funding and the mandate of local government units; constitutionality, ethics and culture; and women's rights
Should legislators snub the challenge, Claudio said the move will show "a lack of respect for another institution of Philippine society."
With the campaign period for the May 2013 elections nearing, academics warned that they will raise the RH bill as a campaign issue.
"Regardless of the outcome of this bill, there is an up and coming election. I make no threats but a promise. Those congressmen and women and senators who have shown that they do not listen to academics in crafting policies I believe have no right to lead our people. So I appeal to them one last time, listen change your vote and if you do not, I will do everything in my power to stop them from being re-elected," Claudio said.
Dr Carolyn Sobritea, Anthropology Dean of the UP Asian Center, warned lawmakers that social media has now enabled advocates to make RH bill a pertinent electoral issue, unlike 10 years ago when information was not readily available to the public.
The RH bill has been languishing in Congress for the past 15 years. It mandates government to make more accessible all family planning methods to Filipino families, especially the majority who are poor. The Church and other Rh bill opponents said this encourages promiscuity and the use of illegal methods, such as abortion. - Rappler.com