Monday, November 29, 2010

Debates on RH Bill Continues between Religious Personalities and RH Advocates

Against the background of one of the Constitution’s guarded principles on the separation of Church and State (Art. II, Sec. 6), the discussions on the Reproductive Health Bills have so far included not only a legal dimension, but religious, moral, human rights, ethical and medical dimensions as well. A series of events triggered an increase of discussion about the RH Bill including what advocates are saying as interference of the Catholic Church in government policies particularly on RH and the provision of family planning services.

In a recent forum entitled, Search for Common Ground: Religion, State and the RH Bill organized by the Ateneo School of Law and the Forum for Family Planning and Development, religious leaders from some of the biggest faith based groups in the country came together to discuss the Reproductive Health Bill together with known advocates of the measure. The forum was held at the Ateneo School of Law on November 26.

Fr. Joaquin Bernas S.J. , Dean Emeritus of the Ateneo School of Law, joins other religious leaders which include Bishop Leo Alconga of the Philippines for Jesus Movement, Bishop Rodrido Tano of the Philippine Association of Bible and Theological Schools and Amina Rasul Bernardo of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy.

Facing the panel of religious leaders are some of the most staunch advocates of Reproductive Health such as Benjamin de Leon, President of Forum for FP and Development and newly appointed POPCOM Commissioner; former health Secretary Dr. Alberto Romualdez and Cong. Kaka Bag-ao, author of one of six RH Bills filed in Congress.

All the religious groups in the panel expressed their support for the RH Bill. Even Fr. Joaquin Bernas said that in the last Congress, he was in favor of the RH Bill if some provisions are changed. But with the current Congress, he said that so many versions of the bill have been filed and he wonders which RH Bill is able to consider some issues he raised from the perspective of Catholics.

Dr. Alberto Romualdez , shared his disappointment with the current situation. “I am Catholic, raised and educated in Catholic schools. But when I was a medical student, I realized that not all Filipinos are treated equal especially by the health sector.” This thinking was further confirmed when he served as DOH Secretary. “I believe it is not right that there is a woman who has access to all information and services she needs while another doesn’t. Those women in the lowest 20% have no access to information and the means to obtain family planning information and supplies.”

Romualdez also expressed hope and optimism that that the discussion on RH will take a turn toward civility and reason especially after the recent statement of His Holiness in the book Benedict XVI, Light of the World, where the Pope is quoted as saying that condom use is “a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.” This is in reference to the question on the prevention and spread of HIV infection.

Bishop Tano also expressed his disappointment saying that, " the RH Bill has taken too much time and resources. Last Congress, Legislators deliberately chose to dribble the ball and not shoot it."

Meanwhile, De Leon also said that the RH Bill has been around for 16 years and during this time, thousands of lives have been lost. “RH is not just about family planning. But the problem is anti-choice groups make it all about contraceptives. They also make it seem that Filipinos are not capable of making the right decisions if presented with options. I think that this is insulting.”

“We are challenging our lawmakers to stop playing politics and just do their jobs. Let the RH bill be deliberated and voted on. They owe us this as the true voting public.” De Leon said in closing.

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