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Passing RHB to Law Is 'right thing to do' - P-Noy

President clears position as plenary debate on Reproductive Health Bill resumes
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III

MANILA, Philippines (May 18, 2011) - President Benigno Aquino III remains steadfast in his support for responsible parenthood and reproductive health (RH) as he reiterates today that passing an RH law "is the right thing to do."

While speaking before a crowd of medical professionals during the 104th annual convention of the Philippine Medical Association, President Aquino also called on Catholic bishops to work with the government in its pro-poor programs.

"I know some sectors are against this bill, but it is the right thing to do. It is right to educate our people, instead of holding them hostage to the scant resources available to them, and it is right to grant them free will, which is their inherent right – the concept upon which this democracy and, not to mention, the Catholic Church, were built," the President said.

THe President also told the story of a 16-year-old girl he met at the poor community of Baseco in Manila. The girl, he said, is already taking care of two children as he did a premature plunge from childhood to motherhood.

"This is why it is important for us to talk about responsible parenthood. We need legislation that prevents this tragedy from happening," Aquino said.

The President, meanwhile, reiterated that the RH bills pending in both chambers of Congress should be consistent with his five-point position.

He said "reproductive health must be against abortion; it must educate couples as to their responsibilities to their children, and give them full menu of options on family planning."

"In short, we do not want, and we will not, force anyone to go against their individual consciences. All we want is to give our people a chance to make their own intelligence and well-informed decisions," the President said.

Congressmen are scheduled to return to plenary today to continue the debate on House Bill 4244, a consolidation of six proposed RH measures in the lower chamber, titled The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011.

On Tuesday, Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao reiterated that the country does not need a legislated RH program as contraceptives are already available in the local market and couples are already being offered free will in choosing between artificial and natural family planning methods.

Pacquiao reiterated that the bill promotes abortion and is against God's will.

"Isa nga ako sa mga unang nagsisigaw sa Congress sa aking pagtutol dyan sa RH bill. I'm totally against it," Pacquaio said.

Ready to engage Pacman in debate

In a media forum held today, former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral said she is willing to engage anybody, including Pacquiao, in a public debate over the controversial bill.

"Okay sa akin na makatuluyan sa debate kahit na sinuman," said Esperanza when asked during the weekly media forum in Greenhills, San Juan City if she would be willing to debate with the pound-for-pound champion on the proposed measure now being deliberated in Congress.

Cabral, who was also a former Social Welfare and Development Secretary, pointed out the proposed measure gives the couple choices on what family planning method to use.

"Before I take my stand to support the RH bill, I asked myself if couples should be given the right to decide to plan their family and if the government should pay for the health services for those pregnant women who cannot afford it. And my answer to both question is yes," she said.

Cabral said that one of the provisions of the bill is that a pregnant woman has the right to refuse the free-RH services offered by the government but would be liable if she does not refer the same services to another.

She reiterated that aside from the foreseen savings by the government with the passage of the bill, she said the maternal and infant mortality rates would be an indication that it has been effective.

"Makikita din natin ang pagbaba ng mga induced-abortion rate dito sa atin," she said, government will spend only P300 a year to prevent any unwanted pregnancy as opposed to the P7,500 to deliver a baby.

For her part, former Akbayan party-list Rep. Riza Hontiveros-Baraquel said the national government stands to substantially cut its spending on for the health services to women and children with the passage of the bill.

Compared with the P5.5 billion the government is spending now, it would be cut to P2.5 billion in family planning services, Baraquel said.