RH bill and a tale of 2 senator-parents

Sen Sotto and Sen Pia Cayetano share opposing tales of how contraceptives affected them as parents

LOSING CHILDREN. Senator Tito Sotto listens to Senator Pia Cayetano who tries to comfort him over the death of his child 37 years ago. Both Sotto and Cayetano lost babies but attribute their deaths to different reasons. Photo by Ayee Macaraig

MANILA, Philippines – It was not the “Eat Bulaga” exposé that netizens joked it would be.

Instead, comedian-turned-politician Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III became emotional in his “turno en contra” speech against the Reproductive Health (RH) bill on Monday, August 13.

Sotto began his 40-minute speech by raising his previous arguments against the RH bill but toward the end, the RH critic turned soft as he shared for the first time the primary reason behind his objection to the RH bill.

“You see, my wife, Helen, and I, nawalan po kami ng anak dahil sa contraceptives,” said a tearful Sotto (You see, my wife, Helen and I, we lost a child because of contraceptives.)

Sotto was referring to his wife, actress Helen Gamboa. He said that exactly 37 years ago on August 13, 1975, their second child and first son died. The child was named Vincent Paul. The couple has 4 children: Romina, Diorella, Gian and Ciara. Ciara was present during her father’s speech and was teary-eyed. 

Sotto said the child was born with a weak heart and had to be hospitalized for 9 months until he passed away. He said doctors could only attribute the death to the contraceptives that Gamboa took.

“Tinanong ko po ang Panginoong Diyos, bakit nangyari sa akin iyon? Gustong-gusto ko magkaroon ng anak ng lalaki, bakit kinuha niya sa akin? Tinanong ko siya, wala akong nakuhang sagot, Mr President. Thirty-seven years after, binigay sa akin ng Panginoong Diyos ang sagot.” (I asked the Lord God, why is this happening to me? I really wanted to have a son, why did he take him away from me? I asked him, he didn’t answer me, Mr President. Thirty-seven years after, he gave me the answer.)

“Ang sagot kasi pala magiging misyon ko pala ito. Ito pala ang dahilan na ipaglaban ko ang karapatan ng maraming inosenteng bata na kikitilin ang buhay ng bill na ito,” Sotto added in tears. (The answer is this is my mission. This is the reason for me to fight for the rights of innocent children who will be killed by this bill.)

Kaya hindi lang trabaho ito sa akin, personalan ito.” (This is not just a job. This is personal.) 

In the first part of his speech, Sotto reiterated his stand that contraceptives are abortifacients and have many side effects threatening the life of mothers and babies. The senator cited studies which he said came from experts of law and science.

He said he was reminded of his son’s death when Sen Lito Lapid said during plenary debates that he lost a child supposedly because of the contraceptives his wife took. Senator Pia Cayetano also lost a child who was ill. Yet, Sotto said he chose to keep quiet about the story until today. 

Nalulungkot akong marinig sa kanila iyon,” said Sotto. “But the truth is parang naiinggit pa nga ako dahil mabuti pa sila, nahawakan nila eh. ‘Yung anak ko, 5 months, ni hindi ko nahipo, nahawakan ko, patay na.” (I was saddened to hear their stories but the truth is I’m even jealous because at least they got to hold their children. My child, for 5 months, I didn’t even get to hold him. When I held him, he was dead.)

Sotto said his wife’s doctor and the Makati Medical Center attested that their child’s death was because of contraceptives.

'MY MISSION.' Senator Tito Sotto says he asked God why his child died and found out 37 years later it was because of his mission to fight the RH bill. Photo by Ayee Macaraig

‘Contraceptives helped me as mother’

After Sotto’s speech, Cayetano and other senators approached him on the Senate floor to comfort him. Cayetano is a co-sponsor of the RH bill, along with Sen Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

In an interview after the speech, Cayetano told reporters she sympathized with Sotto but her experience with contraceptives was different.

“Anyone who lost a child deserves compassion and I approached Sen Sotto because I know the pain of losing a child,” Cayetano said. “I shared with him that my experience was actually quite the opposite.”

Cayetano said that during her third pregnancy, she gave birth to a son with a chromosomal disorder and a heart problem. Her son eventually died. At that time, she was not using contraceptives but began using it after her son’s death. 

“In fact, after my son died, I could not become pregnant again because I was not emotionally ready to be a mother. I could not bear to be near a child, anywhere from 10 meters away from him, I will break down and cry.”

Cayetano added, “So I actually took contraceptives then so I would not get pregnant because I would not be a good mother if I had gotten pregnant again so this is the other side of a story that is true.”

The RH bill sponsor said that contrary to Sotto’s view, contraceptives actually help many women.

“Many women physically cannot get pregnant again because of different medical conditions. It will be a risk to their lives. These are women who need to use contraceptives because if they get pregnant, they may die and no longer be there to be a mother to their child.”

‘Go on but don’t delay’

Sotto is not yet through with his anti-RH speech. He is expected to deliver part two of the “turno en contra” in the coming days.

He said he has 16 main objections to the RH bill, divided into 4 chapters and a two-part speech.

Sotto summed up his objections in the following points:

  1. The RH bill violates Philippine sovereignty, the Constitution, and laws.
  2. The RH bill endangers the health of a pregnant mother and her child.
  3. The RH bill threatens the Philippines’ financial independence and the autonomy of local government units.
  4. The RH bill transgresses Filipino values.

Cayetano said it is Sotto’s right to deliver a “turno en contra” but said she hopes there will be no more delays in passing the RH bill. The bill is now in the period of amendments, and faces several challenges at the Senate

Cayetano added that the RH bill can still be passed this month, with committee amendments already ready and only the individual amendments are pending. So far, Santiago and Senator Loren Legarda have already submitted individual amendments.

Santiago though said a “turno en contra” is only fit for the period of interpellations, not now when the bill is already in the period of amendments. Cayetano said she will just release a written response to Sotto’s speech. 

“All of the issues he raised have been settled in the previous interpellations, even the 11 mothers dying everyday. We have the statistics and we have submitted [that],” Cayetano said.

“For example, when they said the RH bill is not in line with our culture but the survey shows Filipinos want this. Maybe it was not in line with our culture in 1521 or 1898 but in 2012, based on Filipino practices and customs, they want it and they need it.” – Rappler.com


 

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