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MANILA, Philippines – Expected heated debates turned to sober interpellation in the last part of Senator Vicente Sotto III's turno en contra speech on Wednesday, with Sen. Ralph Recto suggesting amendments to the RH bill like deleting penal provisions, including jail terms, for LGU chiefs like his wife, Batangas Gov.Vilma Santos-Recto, if they are deemed "violators."
Senator Recto raised issues that he said were missed by Sotto in his 3-part speech - particularly the mandates imposed by the bill on the national government, local government units, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, the private sector and the Church, in the course of implementing the RH law.
First, Recto pointed out the bill does not mean to control the population as argued by Sotto, since the title of the measure is reproductive, connoting an intent to reproduce instead of controlling the number of people.
"The title of the bill specifically said [it is] for reproductive health, or on how we improve fertility, hindi magbawas ng [not to reduce] fertility but to reproduce," Recto said.
Not population control
In his speech, Sotto said the bill is not only unconstitutional since it indirectly promotes abortion, but actually reflects a population control bill and not a reproductive health bill.
"Population has no causal relationship to the level of poverty but the unequal distribution of wealth in Metro Manila, and other urban centers against the rural areas," Sotto said.
Sotto called the bill a population control bill, not an anti-poverty program because it wants to reduce the family size.
Recto noted there are four versions of the bill, two coming from the Lower House, one from the Upper Chamber and another from the administration.
RH bill 'imposes another burden on LGUs'
Drawing on the experience of his wife, Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto, the senator asked Sotto to amend the bill requiring local government units to shoulder an additional burden to implement the measure.
"The bill will create a funding problem since it requires another P3.8 billion every year on top of the present allotments introduced by the Department of Health (DOH) in their budget for 2013 for the same program, as stipulated by the bill itself,” Sotto had explained.
Recto said under the bill, LGUs are mandated to allot funds for the implementation of local reproductive health programs, besides a penal provision - with jail term - on LGU officials violating the law.
"Bukod sa additional funding, may pilitan pa, may kulong ang LGUs, na kapag hindi ka susunod, kaya dapat amyendahan ito" (Besides the additional funding burden, there is coercion, the prospect of a jail term for LGUs; we really need to amend this),” Recto said. "With so many burdens already borne by LGUs, who must take care of their constituents’ health needs, it’s unfair to impose this on them."
Recto said Sotto had missed in his speech that in 2015, the country will be hitting the point where the Philippine population will have more people in the work force than younger ones and the elderly, who both need taking care of.
"In 2015, we will be hitting the point of our population na maraming bata ang magtatrabaho kaysa inaalagaan na bata at matatanda [where there are more youths joining the workforce, than children or old people needing care or being dependent] because while we are modernizing, the family size is getting smaller." He said this "is being seen in the US and other countries in Europe, which have problems with an aging population but fewer younger generations to fill their labor force and pay taxes to augment dwindling pension funds," Recto said.
"That is correct," Sotto replied.
Youth access to contraceptives
Recto said he does not oppose Sotto's argument that certain contraceptives are abortifacients and put the lives and health of mothers at risk, thus rendering the bill unconstitutional. But, Recto cited the need to amend a provision allowing the youth to ask contraceptives freely from any national government health units.
"On the access to minor provision, where non-adults are allowed under the bill to ask for contraceptives or condoms from any health units, it’s but right that we put in an amendment barring the distribution of contraceptives to minors," Recto said.
Effects on PhilHealth premiums
Recto noted the provision mandating Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) to shell out funds for the implementation of law, which in turn will be collected from members by increasing premium payments.
The private sector, Recto added, is also mandated by the bill to provide RH programs for their employees, a matter which may increase production cost, in turn leading to higher prices of goods and services.
Recto also pointed out the bill orders all private hospitals, including those owned and controlled by the Catholic Church, to promote and enhance the implementation of the RH bill even if it violates their religious practices or beliefs.
"These are possible points left out by the majority leader on his speech. Hopefully, these will be tackled in the period of amendments," Recto said, to which Sotto agreed.
'Essential medicine' tagging not by lawmakers
Meanwhile, Sen. Loren Legarda reminded Sotto that the only institution listing any formula under essential medicines right now is the Philippine National Drug Formulary Council, not any legislator, or the Senate or the House in particular.
Legarda was referring to the perception of Sotto that the major sponsors were responsible for tagging contraceptives as essential medicines.
Sotto said the period of amendments will follow as soon as the Senate President declares that there will be no more interpellation on his speech, referring to a query from Sen. Panfilo Lacson on whether bill sponsor Pia Cayetano can immediately introduce committee amendments.
"As the majority leader, I answer in the affirmative," Sotto said.