6 ways to move the RH Law forward

Marilen Dañguilan

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I'm confident that the Supreme Court will give its blessings and the RH law will get implemented. So what could we do to advance this law?

Marilen J. Danguilan

This country will never be the same again. Not after the debates in the social media and in the Senate. Not after Team Patay, Team Buhay, and Team Tatay. Not after the unfurling of the purple banners. No, this country will never be the same again. 

But the Catholic Church will remain the same. It’s still obsessing about sex – it’s the only institution I know that obsesses about sex all the time — and its stance on contraception has long been a no-no. It condemns any method that enables couples to enjoy sex without any resulting offspring.

For the church, the sexless life is the better life. And chaste does not make waste.

In 1993, I was a member of the official delegation to the 3rd Preparatory Committee, the final meeting before the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). Dr Juan Flavier, then the Secretary of Health, headed the delegation to the UN in New York. The other members were Ben de Leon, Cecile Joaquin Yasay, Cory Raymundo, Florence Tadiar, Franklin Llaguno, Boy Morales, and Clio Zabala. Dr Tadiar and I worked on the most controversial chapters of the draft document that dealt with reproductive and sexual rights, health, and family. We gave our interventions during the UN deliberations, bearing in mind our government stance on family planning and abortion. 

After these meetings, when we came back home, the Catholic Church attacked us viciously, especially Dr Flavier. CBCP said that we, members of the Philippine delegation, promoted a “contraceptive mentality that encouraged promiscuity and paved the way for the legalization and acceptance of abortion.” The CBCP further said that we “redefined the family and promoted homosexuality” and accused us of “making adolescents and children vulnerable to all forms of sexual propaganda” – the very same accusations hurled at us 20 years ago are the same old stones thrown at the advocates of the RH law now.

The Catholic Church has not changed and I do not see it changing in the coming years. But we, the Filipinos, are changing. And we are now more open about challenging the church. We are now much more comfortable using social media to talk about – and express our anger at — priests and members of the clergy who prey on little boys and  collect ivory Santo Nios. We now have websites such as Freethinkers, No to CBCP, Catholics for RH, and Purple Voter. And, we all got the RH bill passed to law. 

Right now, the RH law is suspended. I’m confident that the Supreme Court will give its blessings and the RH law will get implemented. So what could we do to advance this law? I have six suggestions: 

First, exert pressure on the LGUs to provide services, such as family planning, emergency obstetric care, sex and sexuality education. DOH issued two important Administrative Orders: a) one that allocated about 200 million pesos for contraceptives to CCT beneficiaries; and b) the other is on making emergency obstetric care available to women. LGUs should provide these services. If they don’t, name and shame them. And if they’re not shamed, kick them out of office.

Second, DOH and NGOs should use existing mechanisms to make women and men aware – and eventually own, protect, and promote – the RH law. 

For instance, DSWD provides Family Development Sessions, half-day courses that are held every month, to parent leaders. This is a conditionality of the cash transfer program. In these sessions, the parent leaders – a parent leader is assigned to 25 families – participate in discussions on a wide range of topics that include nutrition, livelihoods, and spirituality, among others. After each session, the parent leaders have to share this information with the families assigned to them.

NGOs should work with DSWD on making a module on the RH law and integrating this in the FDS. The module should show how this law would affect their lives and how they could help implement it. 

The Bottom-Up Budgeting program of the DILG, DSWD, DOH, and NAPC that focuses on the poorest 609 municipalities is another example. Participation is key to this program. NGOs should work with the municipalities and their constituencies to identify priorities. Health, particularly reproductive health, should be included in one of these priorities. But, in most of these 609 municipalities, health isn’t a priority. And there are no health NGOs working with people in these municipalities. 

Third, work with existing organizations that are not in health such as agricultural cooperatives, mothers’ classes, and market vendors’ associations. Integrating reproductive health in their activities would enable RH advocates to reach out to those whose lives would be affected by this law. 

Fourth, maximize the use of social media. The social media strategy should aim to discuss RH issues such as maternal deaths, violence against women, early marriage, teenage pregnancies, HIV/AIDS; and monitor the implementation of the RH law. 

Fifth, monitor, monitor, monitor. Monitoring the RH law’s implementation must be done by: a) netizens; b) technical teams; and c) organized women’s and health groups. Monitoring is core and indispensable to the success of the RH law.  

Sixth, organize around human rights principles. This is not an attempt at political correctness. It’s actually a game changer. Perspectives and relationships change. Beneficiaries become claimants; recipients become entitled. Provision of services is not a favor or a gift from government. It’s government’s duty and people should demand, urge, and press local and national governments to provide what they are entitled to.  

If it is remiss in its duty, government is — and should be — held accountable for every woman who dies, for every teenage girl who gets pregnant, and for every sexual encounter that spreads HIV. 

The implementation of the RH law isn’t going to be a breezy walk in the park. But we know what to do; and we will see this through. – Rappler.com

Marilen J Danguilan, medical doctor and health policy adviser, delivered this speech at the National Reproductive Health and Rights Conference, “Rooting Reproductive Health and Rights in Peoples’ Lives:  Lessons from Over a Decade of Struggle,” organized by LIKHAAN on April 4, 2013.



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