Did Aquino really push for the RH bill?

Ayee Macaraig

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Critics and supporters of the RH bill have different interpretations of President Aquino's use of 'responsible parenthood' in his SONA

'WISHFUL THINKING.' Senator Tito Sotto says those thinking President Aquino referred to the RH bill in his SONA are practicing wishful thinking.

MANILA, Philippines – Reproductive health (RH) advocates gave President Benigno Aquino III a standing ovation for mentioning “responsible parenthood” but was he really referring to the RH bill?

In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 23, Aquino discussed the backlog in education, particularly in classrooms, chairs and textbooks of students.

Sa tingin ko po, Responsible Parenthood ang sagot dito,” he said. (I think, Responsible Parenthood is the answer.)

Aquino, a devout Catholic, got a thunderous applause after the statement but Internet users immediately noted that the President used the phrase “responsible parenthood” instead of “reproductive health.” He also omitted the mention of the term “bill.”

The President’s use of the phrase sparked opposing interpretations from proponents and critics of the RH bill.

For Akbayan Rep Kaka Bag-ao, Aquino was referring to one and the same thing. Bag-ao is a co-author of House Bill 4244, or an “Act Providing for a Comprehensive Policy on Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health, and Population and Development, and for Other Purposes.”

“There’s no distinction,” Bag-ao told Rappler in Filipino. “In fact, the title of the bill includes ‘responsible parenthood’ and even that is discussed in the plenary debates.”

“This means, there’s no other interpretation and the President said the executive programs are not enough, training midwives and nurses is not enough if there is no law like reproductive health. Whether you call it responsible parenthood, to me, it means the same thing.” 

The proposed legislation mandates, among others, government support for the distribution of birth control tools and education among communities on managing families. Leading the staunch opposition to it is the influential Catholic Church.

Both houses of Congress have been debating this type of legislation for more than a decade now. Legislators have blinked over the years in the face of Church pressure.

Just a euphemism?

Senator Pia Cayetano, a co-author of the Senate version of the RH bill, initially did not think Aquino was referring to the RH bill.

Cayetano told reporters after the SONA, “I was waiting if there would be a continuation of his qualification …. Although I had all the intention of standing up if RH was mentioned, I was still waiting [for him] to make an explanation so I wasn’t sure.”

Cayetano said when Aquino did not expound, she concluded that his statement was in support for RH.

“That’s how I interpret it and I will use it to my advantage because he mentioned maternal health, maternal mortality rate and then he tied up the shortage of classrooms with responsible parenthood.”

On her Twitter account, Cayetano said she understood that Aquino “felt the need to couch [the measure] in terms acceptable to some groups.”

“RH is RH no matter what name you call it. Time to vote on the RH bill,” she tweeted.

The RH bill is pending on 2nd reading in both the Senate and the House plenary.

At the Senate, the RH bill has hurdled the period of interpellations. On the other hand, it’s been in the interpellation period for over a year now at the House.

In fact, the House leadership earlier expressed doubts that the bill would get the House’s approval.

Sotto: Wishful thinking!

Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, a staunch RH critic, disagreed with the interpretation of Cayetano and Bag-ao. 

“He didn’t mention the RH bill, [he said] responsible parenthood but he did not say ‘bill.’ Wishful thinking sila.” (That’s wishful thinking.)

Sotto said even RH critics use the phrase “responsible parenthood.”

“When you want to declare contraceptives, IUDs, condoms, injectables as essential medicines, that’s not responsible parenthood,” Sotto told Rappler. “When you are consenting to abortion, that is not responsible parenthood.”

“And you are going to spend P3 billion to buy contraceptives, that is not responsible parenthood so the president did not say anything about that. Wala ‘yun.” (It wasn’t there.)

Ever since he campaigned for the presidency in 2010, Aquino has preferred to use the phrase “responsible parenthood” when talking about population control.

Aquino initially engaged in a dialogue with leaders of the Catholic Church to reach a compromise on a population control measure but talks bogged down.

The President has since been more vocal on the need for a law to help poor parents make better choices. 

In August 2011, Aquino included the “Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health, and Population and Development” as one of 13 priority measures he presented to the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC). But the President did not certify it as urgent. – Rappler.com


For more updates on the issue of the RH Bill, view our #RHBill Debate Microsite

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