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Sunday, September 14, 2008

ON REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH BILL 'Stoop down to grassroots,' Catholic hierarchy told

By Ephraim Aguilar
Southern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 21:38:00 09/13/2008

TABACO CITY, Albay -- If there were one staunch advocate left of the controversial reproductive health bill aside from its principal author, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, it would be Krisel Lagman-Luistro.

More than being the lawmaker's daughter, she is the mayor of Tabaco City and a nurse by profession.

By being a local chief executive and a health worker, Lagman-Luistro claims to be among the grassroots, where the society's perennial problems that the bill seeks to address lie.

“Every time I wed couples, I ask them how many children would they want to have. Most couples would say two,” the lady mayor said.

“But I would be interested to know, if after five years, the couple's desired family size was achieved,” she added.

Lagman-Luistro said there was a widening gap between the couple's right to found a family based on a desired size and the attainment of that right, something that the government must address.

“If each family desires only two children and is able to achieve that, how much savings would that bring the government?” she said.

“There would come a time when people would no longer have to wait in long queues just to get free medicine. We would have sufficient social services,” she added.

On Friday, Lagman made a bold statement ahead of the plenary debates on the proposed bill, also called House Bill 5043.

He said the Catholic Church would be rendering itself “irrelevant” to its flock by continuously opposing the measure and that an overwhelming number of Filipinos “strongly approve the government's allocation of funds for modern contraceptives.”

“If the Catholic Church wants to continue to become significant in the lives of the faithful, (it) must listen to (its) flock or risk becoming irrelevant,” the Albay lawmaker said.

His daughter said the Church should keep itself relevant by growing with the “nuances of today.”

She said the only thing the Church opposes is the use of contraceptives.

“The times are very much different now. We are more overpopulated than before. Providing for the basic needs of the people is more Christian,” she said.

Lagman-Luistro said the parish priests who are meeting people face-to-face could tell their superiors of their community's problems with unwanted pregnancies, spread of sexually transmitted diseases, overpopulation and poverty.

“But the problem with the Catholic hierarchy is that it has become even more political than the government,” she said.

Lagman-Luistro said that contrary to the belief of some, HB 5043 does not promote abortion but rather even prevents unplanned pregnancies.

“We simply want to give people more choices on family planning,” she clarified.

President Macapagal-Arroyo has been vocal in upholding the Church stand on the bill.

Ms Arroyo also pushed, instead, for the promotion of natural family planning methods.

Lagman-Luistro said they also support natural family planning as another option but it could be very impractical in cases when the couple could not plan their family efficiently together.

“If your husband is drunk how would you be able to tell him you could not have sex with him,” she said, adding that the bill also promotes gender equality.

Lagman-Luistro said the Church and the government should allow people to choose a legal, safe and effective means to plan their families.

“I cannot, as a leader, choose for my people. In the same way that the Church leaders could not choose for their flock. We are promoting choice,” she said.

When Lagman-Luistro represented the first district of Albay in Congress in 2001, she authored and proposed House Bill 4110 or the “Reproductive Health Care Act,” which was where HB 5043 originated.

“When opposition to HB 4110 arose, it's signatories withdrew one by one. The bill only reached the committee level,” she recounted.

“But this time, my father still sees the nation's need for [a population management law] so he continued our [reproductive health advocacy],” she added.

Lagman-Luistro said she saw brighter prospects for the reproductive health bill this time.

“First, there is a new breed of lawmakers. Second, the need for such a law to be passed is clearer because people are experiencing poverty,” she said, adding that after the food and economic crises that hit the country this year, the effects of overpopulation have become more vividly real.