RH redundant? Miriam: Show me the same law!

Sen. Pia Cayetano, Sen. Tito Sotto debate on the RH bill.

MANILA, Philippines — Debate over the Reproductive Health (RH) bill sizzled Tuesday as Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago challenged claims by Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto III that it is redundant.

During the Senate debate, Sotto said the RH bill is unnecessary, citing existing laws like the Magna Carta of Women and Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act that already address the same issues. Sotto was interpellating RH bill co-author Sen. Pia Cayetano when Santiago took to the podium and interjected, “Assuming for the sake of argument only that it is redundant, why is there so much opposition to it?”

Santiago, a co-author of the bill, said that while the RH bill is consistent with the principles underlying the Magna Carta of Women, it has two provisions not found in any existing law: access to family planning (Section 7), and the inclusion of family planning supplies as essential medicines (Section 9).

“If the charge is redundancy, show me the law where section 7 is made redundant because this is the very crux of the bill. This is the very center of all the agitation over this bill.”

Santiago argued that women who could no longer bear the burden of having more children should be given options.

“We want a person to march into a hospital and say, ‘Doc, hindi ko na talaga kaya magdagdag ng anak. Ano pa ang pwede naming gawin?’ (‘Doc,we can’t afford to have more children. What can we do?’) And the doctor or nurse will say, ‘Well, mamili ka, option 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Walang pilitan ito.’ (‘You can choose among many options. We won’t force you)… Why is there so much heated debate about giving information to a person and leaving him free to decide for himself, according to his conscience, what he will choose?”

Sotto took Santiago’s passionate defense of the bill in stride, but criticized it as “anti-woman,” adding that it is the only bill that divides the country now.

“We prescribe contraceptives in the bill kaya nagiging kontrobersya (that’s why it becomes a controversy). We don’t need a law just to inform women.”

NGO witch hunt?

Sotto also repeated a query he raised in previous debates about the support of pro-RH non-governmental organizations for abortion. He even played a video interview where Dr. Junice Melgar, executive director of Likhaan Center for Women’s Health, said her group gives women information about safe abortion and unsafe pregnancies, as well as contacts to safe service providers for abortion.

Cayetano said the NGOs that attended hearings on the RH bill do not support abortion but that whatever their stand is, was irrelevant to the RH debate.

“Many countries have abortion. It is a fact being discussed all over the world and we have freedom of speech so to discuss it is not a crime. But whether an NGO discusses this outside is irrelevant because I took a stand that this bill will not in any way change our abortion laws.”

Sotto had asked for a list of the groups supporting the RH bill and is checking whether or not they are pro-abortion. He said he wants to look into the possible motives of the groups behind the measure like pushing for abortion or boosting the business of contraceptive manufacturers.

Elizabeth Angsioco, RH advocate and national chair of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines, criticized Sotto in her Twitter account. “Sotto now on a witch hunt vs. NGOs.”

Leloy Claudio, Akbayan Youth chairperson, also decried the alleged witch hunt. Claudio’s group has challenged Sotto to a debate on the RH bill but the senator declined, saying the discussion should be limited to the Senate floor.

Claudio said, “When Tito Sotto says the bill is being supported by abortionists, he is diverting attention away from the bill itself. Junice Melgar, for example, supports Sotto’s anti-drugs program. Does it mean now because Junice Melgar is ‘an abortionist,’ the anti-drugs program is immoral and that people who support the anti-drugs program are ‘sleeping with abortionists?’ It’s illogical.”

The RH bill has yet to hurdle second hearing at the Senate. It is scheduled to be debated two session days a week.

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