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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stand fast against friars’ friendly fire

Passion For Reason
Stand fast against friars’ friendly fire

By Raul Pangalangan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:24:00 09/18/2009

Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III hasn’t even filed his certificate of candidacy yet, but some misguided members of the modern-day frailocracy have already begun flexing their muscle. He must stand his ground. He must not yield.

One, this is the first criticism coming from within his own camp. All the other attacks have hitherto come from the enemy: from MalacaƱang or the toadies of the other presidential aspirants. The clergy’s critique is friendly fire, so to speak, but no less deadly. How candidate Noynoy reacts to church threats today is a preview of whether a President Noynoy will defy or succumb to pressure groups. To be held hostage by the clerics’ warning will reduce him to just another “trapo” (traditional politician) willing to compromise principle for expediency, and render him vulnerable to the importunings of the various power groups now hovering at the smell of power.

Conversely, this is Noynoy’s golden opportunity to break away from the shadow of Ninoy and Cory (and in this case, especially Cory’s). It would have been unimaginable for Cory, the traditional Catholic, to displease the clergy on an issue like reproductive rights. How refreshing for Noynoy, the modern Catholic, to stand up to them. His response on TV already does him credit (and here I paraphrase) when he said he hoped the Church venerables would give him a chance to explain his side, since all he wanted was to ensure that parents planned their families responsibly and didn’t beget children they couldn’t feed. Vintage Noynoy Aquino, I must say: sober and plain-spoken, respectful but firm. None of the fancy-schmancy flights of macro-economics. None of the fudging politicians are given to. Just the bare reality that an unemployed father will find it easier to feed two kids instead of eight.

Two, this is the first criticism to focus on his substantive position on issues. Hitherto all the other criticisms have focused on his person: his fitness for the job, his performance as a legislator, and—the level of debate goes lower—on his unstylish hairstyle and awkward gait. The Church’s attack ironically elevates the level of the debate to real issues, but it also gives Noynoy an opportunity to define himself not just as a policymaker but, even more, as a leader who is prepared to act boldly against entrenched orthodoxies.

Ricardo Cardinal Vidal has lamented that Noynoy was one of the sponsors of the Reproductive Health Bill in Congress and declared him to have “an anti-life tendency.” Msgr. Gerardo Santos of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, representing the 1,240 Catholic schools (from university-level to kindergarten), a potent source of warm bodies mobilized for public protests, called on Noynoy to “rethink his position” on the “anti-life” provisions of the RH bill. Suddenly sounding much like Noynoy’s MalacaƱang critics, Santos said: “The Cory magic … is still there but Cory is different from Noynoy. … It is not enough that you have a name.”

Fr. Melvin Castillo of the Commission on Family and Life of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines pushed it one step further: he proposed bloc voting, urging the faithful to go only for “our allies in family and life.” Mercifully, he has been disowned by the CBCP head, Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, who said on Radio Veritas that the “Church is not in favor of bloc voting like what others do [an apparent dig at the Iglesia ni Cristo] because our citizens should have the freedom to choose their candidates according to their own conscience.” The same conscience, I add, that they will use when they decide how many children they want, whether they want to raise children in hunger, homeless, barefoot and unable to study, and what it means to raise these children with love.

That is all that the Reproductive Health Bill proposes: for the government to respect the constitutionally guaranteed “right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions and the demands of responsible parenthood.” Let the non-Catholics follow their own Church teachings. Let the modern Catholics use condoms. And let the Catolico cerrado chill under a cold shower—or for their hypocritical males, do it with their queridas.

The Reproductive Health Bill doesn’t legalize abortion. Indeed, it categorically says that “abortion remains a crime and is punishable” and “abortion is not included as a family planning method.” On the contrary, the bill actually aims to deter abortion by preventing unwanted pregnancies and ensuring access to family planning methods. Surveys show that in 2000 alone, there were almost half-a-million induced abortions in the Philippines, more than 90 percent by married women. And almost 60 percent of users depend on government for their supply of contraceptives. Just imagine how many aborted fetuses the bill can save!

And the devout would rather purport to stop abortion on paper while abetting it in practice! No wonder Jose Rizal delighted in mocking the friars of his time. They represented the backward idiocies of the dark ages, while Rizal reveled in the joys of the Enlightenment.

This is actually the perfect moment for Noynoy to defy entrenched political wisdom, especially the fear of the Catholic vote. SWS surveys show that 97 percent of Filipinos want to be able to control their fertility and plan their families—and almost 90 percent of those respondents were Catholics. He still takes a risk; perhaps these Catholics have dual standards, and will use condoms at night but devoutly listen to their parish priest in the morning. But it is a calculated risk on a worthy issue, a decisive move that Noynoy and every other candidate must take to define themselves to the Filipino voter.

House determined to have vote on RH bill

Hmnnn.. maybe now we can hold our breath... =)

By Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 16:32:00 09/21/2009

MANILA, Philippines -- The leadership of the House of Representatives will finalize the rules and procedures for the debates on the reproductive health bill so that voting could take place before the end of the 14th Congress, according to Majority Leader and Iloilo Representative Arthur Defensor.

Defensor said proponents and opponents of the measure would meet with Speaker Prospero Nograles on Tuesday to discuss how to tackle the bill, after some of the opponents disagreed with the proposal to form two panels who would handle the plenary debates on the bill.

Nograles earlier ordered the formation of the two panels representing backers and opponents of the bill in order to simplify the debates. He also said both sides should agree to a timetable so that “personal divisive emotional matters” would not hamper the process, and voting would be able to take place.

But one of those opposed to the bill, Deputy Speaker and Cebu Rep. Raul del Mar, protested the creation of the panels during a meeting of the rules committee last week on the ground that there were a lot of House members who wanted to interpellate the supporters of the measure, said Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin.

Garin, who was at the meeting and is one of the backers of the reproductive health bill, suggested that the opponents could bring as many as 20 members to their panel, even though the proponents would only have about five members in theirs. But, she added, the opponents wanted to discuss the procedures with Nograles himself.

Defensor said the matter would be brought before the Speaker.

“We will meet with the speaker. The speaker is responsible for the agenda. He is the one who controls the agenda. We'll try to find, come out with a common ground so that it will be an orderly, civil debate,” he said in a phone interview.

But he added that the 14th Congress would have to make a stand on the measure, whether voting to kill it or to approve it, especially since the measure has been pending since the 11th congress.

“The speaker wants a vote. If it loses, then it loses. Let's face the issue, let's address the issue so that [the debates] would not be acrimonious and would not be too lengthy. We want to act on it with dispatch, [or] we will be charged with sleeping on it, and that is dereliction of duty,” he said.

Asked if he thought lawmakers would vote on the bill even though it might become an election issue and be used against them, Defensor said members of the House should be given more credit.

“Do not underestimate the congressmen. There are congressmen who are not afraid to take a stand and want the RH bill. They believe it does not promote abortion or a one-child or two-child policy. They just want people to have an informed choice,” he said.

Garin also said on Monday that it was time for the House to make a categorical stand on the reproductive health bill, and said that lawmakers could not expect to please everybody.

“In the process of legislation, you can't please all sectors. You really have to decide, you have to choose,” she said.

The reproductive health bill seeks to promote both natural and artificial birth control methods through government programs, among others. Critics, including the Catholic Church, said the contraceptives that the bill would promote would actually induce abortion.

Surveys have shown that more people favor the measure, although opponents have challenged the results and the way the questions were propounded.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

162 out of 100,000 mothers die giving birth

DoH gets P250M grant to reduce maternal death

By Anna Valmero
First Posted 20:17:00 09/18/2009

MANILA, Philippines—Of the 100,000 mothers giving live birth in the country, 162 die for lack of attending medical professionals and obstetric care, making the country among 68 others where 97 percent of global maternal and child death occur, health officials said on Friday.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said that although the country's 162 maternal mortality ratio (MMR) dropped from a 1993 baseline of 209 based on the 2006 Family Planning Survey, the challenge remains in terms of reducing MMR by 75 percent or 52 by 2015 based on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

Worldwide, United Nations Population Fund representative (UNFPA) Suneeta Mukherjee said over 500,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related causes, with the lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy in developing countries such as the Philippines standing at 1 in 75 women.

“In the Philippines, 11 women die due to complications of pregnancy at childbirth. With the death of the mother, infants are 10 times more likely to die prematurely. In the country, 93 newborn deaths are recorded daily due to preventable causes,” said Mukherjee.

A baby born in a developing country is over 13 times more likely to die within the first five years than a child born in an industrialized country, she added.

Duque said causes of maternal deaths such as hypertensive disorders, severe hemorrhage, or other labor or abortion-related problems and child death due to infection are preventable by having child deliveries in health facilities, with both mother and baby attended by skilled healthcare professionals.

Responding to these, DoH in partnership with UNFPA, UN Children's Fund, World Health Organization, and Australian Government Overseas Aid Program teamed up on a joint program that aims to reduce the country's maternal and newborn death hinged on giving women greater access to reproductive health care services.

Project to cut maternal deaths

The group will allocate P250 million ($5.56 million) as seed funding for the project, of which P160 million will be come from AusAID, said its minister counselor Titon Mitra.

Duque said the seed funding will be supplemental to the P3 billion fund requested by DoH to the government for addressing maternal and newborn care.

The first phase of the project is the transition period on 2009-2011, which will implement programs to reduce maternal and child deaths during birth in pilot sites such as Eastern Samar, Ifugao, Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sarangani provinces; and urban poor areas in Tacloban, General Santos Taguig, Navotas, Paranaque, and Makati, said Duque.

Pilot project sites were selected based on high poverty incidence, high number of teenage pregnancies, high rate of deliveries at home by traditional attendants, and high deaths during childbirth, he added.

Depending on the overall performance during the transition period and availability of resources, activities will be scaled up into full operations on 2011-2016 to meet the MDGs.

Full operations or the second phase which will include other areas with similar criteria, is expected in the period from 2011-2016, the health secretary said.

DoH aims to implement the program in four phases: pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, delivery, and post partum, since the mother is at risk at all stages, said Health Undersecretary Mario Villaverde.

Villaverde said DoH will measure the effectiveness of the program interventions at each stage through the measurement of contraceptive prevalence rate, antenatal visits, delivery in health facilities with skilled healthcare professionals to attend to the mother and newborn, and initiation to breastfeed and tapping healthcare packages to cover deliveries.

He said DoH will relocate the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Sta. Cruz, Manila to the somewhere at the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City and add among its functions a research arm that will be named “National Research Institute for Maternal and Neonatal Care.”

Unicef representative Vanessa Tobin assessed that the Philippines can achieve its goal of reducing maternal and newborn deaths through the program by having available skilled healthcare workers to take care of mothers during pregnancy stages and by focusing on implementation of the program on priority areas.

“Based on global experience, having skilled health professionals to attend to mothers and babies as well as spacing and family planning, we can reduce by 80 percent the incidences of maternal and newborn deaths so we expect to focus on this,” added Mukherjee.

WHO representative to the country Dr. SoeNyunt-U added more mothers should be educated on the importance of breastfeeding especially after childbirth to take advanatage of nutrients from colostrum or the “first milk” produced by the mother after childbirth.

“Sadly, mothers just take two minutes to breastfeed their newborn child. That is hardly enough for the child to benefit from the antibodies and nutrients from colostrum, which is essential to protect the baby from infections and bacteria. All babies are prone to infection right after childbirth,” said Soe.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Date: Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Source: Manila Standard (Philippines)
Author: Fel V. Maragay

Senator Benigno Noynoy Aquino III said yesterday he would not give up his support for the use of artificial contraceptives to curb population growth even at the risk of incurring the ire of the Catholic Church.

Aquino said Catholic bishops should wake up to the reality that something must be done to arrest the rapid growth of the country's population, which now stands at 95 million or almost double the 50 million in 1986. There is really a problem. And I hope that the Church will see that I have the reasonableness of my position on the issue, he told newsmen.

Aquino, the declared presidential candidate of the Liberal Party, was unfazed by the threat of the Catholic Church to mount a campaign against candidates in the 2010 election who will defy its pro-life and pro-family stand.

Fe Melvin Castro, executive director of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said they will wage a campaign urging the faithful to vote only for candidates who will follow the Church's pro-life stand.

Earlier, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, archbishop of Cebu, expressed dismay over Aquino's sponsorship of the controversial reproductive health bill which, among others, promotes the use of artificial contraceptives.

The senator from Tarlac said he will seek a dialog with Cardinal Vidal to clarify his stand. Aquino said while he favors the use of artificial contraceptives, he does not believe that the State should force couples to practice them, including the use of birth control pills. I am encouraging the use of contraceptives. But that will be left to the conscience of the person, he said. In other countries, the government resorts to outright coercion of its citizens on the use of contraceptives and in limiting the number of children, which he described as wrong.

The State has no right to dictate to its citizens who they should plan their families. It can only provide guidance, Aquino said. He said it is the responsibility of the State to remind the citizens of their duty to take care of the needs of their children, including their education. Obviously, he said it is wrong for couples to have more children than their income could afford.

The senator from Tarlac denied that there is a provision in the RH bill that would allow abortion. Aquino said that he is proposing that Church leaders should be made to participate in population education program envisioned under the RH bill to enable them to present their side.

A counterpart bill in the House of Representatives was scheduled for plenary debate next week after the antis sought more time to study it.