Senate removes RH mandate from LGUs, private hospitals

Ayee Macaraig
Senate votes to make reproductive healthcare the primary responsibility of the national government

'PRO-WOMEN.' Sen Ralph Recto says while he is "pro-women," he is not in favor of imposing mandates on LGUs and the private sector. Screenshot from Senate livestream

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate accepted the amendment of key provisions of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, removing the mandate of local government units (LGUs) and private hospitals to provide RH services.

Sen Ralph Recto introduced the amendment to remove the LGUs’ mandate during the period of amendments on Monday, November 19. RH bill principal sponsor Pia Cayetano rejected it but the Senate voted 13-7 to adopt the change.

The RH bill initially gave joint responsibility for RH services to the national and the local government. The amended provision now reads, “The provision of reproductive health care and information must be the primary responsibility of the National Government consistent with its obligation to respect, protect and promote the right to health.”

Recto explained that LGUs are already burdened with many responsibilities, and are hard pressed to fund various programs.

“How much will this cost the LGU, with all these mandates? If we can’t answer the question of how much, it will be very hard to have a new mandate,” Recto said.

Cayetano countered that the primary responsibility of health care is with the local governments. Her co-sponsor Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago stood to defend the original bill.

“You cannot send to jail any local official if he can’t carry out his mandate because the government is not giving him money. I think the fear is misplaced,” Santiago said.”

The two sponsors were outnumbered though with the chamber voting 13-7 to accept Recto’s amendment.

The Senate also voted in favor of another Recto amendment, lifting the responsibility of private health care facilities to provide RH services.

In an interview after the session, Cayetano told reporters she “felt bad” about the two amendments but will continue fighting for the measure. 

Recto began introducing amendments after the Senate voted to tackle the RH bill first before the sin tax bill on Monday.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile made the motion to discuss the RH bill first to refute allegations he is delaying the deliberation of the bill.

The RH bill is facing a bigger battle in the House of Representatives. A series of parliamentary tactics and problems with quorum have prevented the chamber from starting the period of amendments.

'DEFINE BEGINNING OF LIFE.' Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile wants the Senate to define when life begins. For Enrile, life begins in fertilization. He was outvoted though by his colleagues. Photo by Joe Arazas/Senate PRIB

Enrile outvoted on ‘when life begins’

Before Recto, it was Enrile who first introduced changes.

Enrile introduced 6 out of his 17 amendments on Monday afternoon. The most contentious one was an amendment defining conception.

“Conception – refers to the successful penetration of an ovum by a spermatozoa in the fallopian tube, otherwise known as fertilization when new life begins to form in the mother’s women,” Enrile read into the Senate records.

The amendments sparked a long debate, with Cayetano and Santiago strongly objecting to the definition. The sponsors said Enrile’s definition was not supported by scientific evidence.

Santiago said, “Even scientists don’t know when life begins so how can we put it into law?

Cayetano and Santiago said Enrile’s definition had implications on the use of contraceptives, medical procedures, and may spark legal challenges against the law before the Supreme Court.

Santiago added, “There is a consensus in scientific community that contraceptives work prior to fertilization so they can’t be considered abortifacients. I am deeply regretful that this proposed amendment is unacceptable to the sponsor.”

Enrile responded, “The Constitution protects equally the life of the mother and the unborn. The phrase is ‘life of the unborn from conception’ so it’s incumbent upon us to determine when life begins and must be protected.”

Cayetano said defining when life begins implies that the senators are smarter than experts. Enrile shot back, “That’s not right. I am not saying I’m smarter than anyone.”

In a vote of 9-11, senators rejected the Enrile amendment.

EMOTIONAL SPONSOR. RH bill principal sponsor Pia Cayetano turns emotional as she defends provisions of the RH bill from drastic amendments. Screenshot from Senate livestream

Include ‘unborn,’ delete ‘population’

Here are the other changes Enrile introduced, and the Senate’s decision:

1)   Delete the phrase “International Conference on Population and Development”

–       Enrile said this is to ensure that the RH bill is aimed at helping women and will not be a population control measure in the guise of development initiatives

–       Cayetano said RH services will have an effect on population but population control is not the main objective of the bill

–       Senate votes 8-7 to adopt Enrile’s amendment

2)   Insert phrases “the unborn” and “the health of the unborn”

–       Cayetano accepts the amendment

3)   Delete “population and development”

–       New provision will read, “Active participation by non-government, women’s and people’s organizations and communities is crucial to ensure that reproductive health and population and development policies, plans and programs will address the priority needs of women, the poor and the marginalized.”

–       Enrile repeats that RH bill should not be a population control measure

–       Cayetano said, “If you empower [a woman] to plan her family, that will have, most likely have a macro effect on population. You can’t deny that but it doesn’t meant the state is controlling population.”

–       Senate votes 9-10 to reject the Enrile amendment – Rappler.com
SENATE VOTING. The Senate votes on amendments to the RH bill. Photo from Sen Pia Cayetano's Facebook page