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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sparks fly anew in debate on birth control bill

Now what do we make out of this "occurrence" at Congress' session hall?


By Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:29:00 09/24/2008

MANILA, Philippines—Argument on procedure marred the beginning of floor debates at the House of Representatives on a controversial reproductive health bill.

Deputy Speaker Raul del Mar, echoing the objections of the Catholic Church, launched the opening salvo Tuesday night against House Bill 5043 that would expand the promotion of birth control methods -- both natural and artificial -- through government health and education programs. It also mandates sex education classes in schools.

Del Mar called the population control bill, principally authored by Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, “totally unnecessary and deceptive.”

He said it was unnecessary because government programs for reproductive health, responsible parenthood, and population development were “already in place, pursued under existing programs, both by private and public initiatives.”

“There’s really no problem -- couples are absolutely free to choose which method of family planning they wish, natural or artificial,” contended Del Mar, an ally of Lagman in the ruling coalition.

He charged that “even abortifacients are openly sold as plain contraceptives without any warning whatsoever about their abortion-causing qualities.”

The bill was deceptive, he contended, because it was “neatly packaged with a title that would gain the support of practically everybody.”

“For how can anybody argue against a measure strategically titled ‘An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development.’”

Del Mar said HB 5043 should be more accurately labeled “An Act Providing for a National Policy Promoting Artificial Methods of Birth Control” or “An Act Providing for a National Policy Promoting Contraceptives and Sterilization.”

The Catholic Church is lobbying against the use of contraceptives such as condoms to prevent unwanted pregnancies and control the spread of AIDS. The government has largely given in to pressure to promote only the Church-endorsed natural family planning method.

Lagman defended his bill, saying commercial “availability” was not the same as “access,” especially to marginalized people.”

Lagman, batting for more active campaigns, said freedom of choice was limited “as long as there are myths on artificial methods.”

Del Mar’s interpellation, however, was cut short when the presiding officer, Representative Del de Guzman, stopped another representative from taking the floor.

Quezon City Representative Annie Susano, another critic of the family planning bill, stood up to inject a manifestation but was rebuffed, causing Senior Minority Leader Roilo Golez to raise a point of order.

“The presiding officer cannot arbitrarily interrupt a member of the House,” Golez said, accusing De Guzman of violating Susano’s “right and prerogative to speak.”

De Guzman answered that he was trying to impose proper decorum and adjourned the session at 7:22 p.m., before Del Mar had finished his attack on Lagman’s bill.