Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Sex and Politics: An Appeal to Reason

Why is there a need for a comprehensive legislation on population and reproductive health?

The Philippines’ policy on population and reproductive health (including family planning) has always been dependent on the incumbent. The late President Ferdinand Marcos instituted various commendable policies on said issues. However, President Corazon Aquino’s ambiguous stand on the role of family planning adversely affected the implementation of the national family planning program by the Commission on Population (POPCOM) and its partners.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos’ administration, in contrast, saw a strong support for family planning initiatives as it was sought in the context of sustainable development. When Joseph Estrada became President, enlightened officials in his Cabinet aggressively pursued and implemented family planning programs albeit the lack of any official pronouncement on population and family planning.

Estrada was replaced by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whose stand on the matter of population has been flip-flopping. She once acknowledged the need to reduce the country’s population growth rate to 1.9 percent, only to say in another statement that she is leaving the matter to local government units.

Relegating the responsibility of crafting and implementing policy interventions on population, reproductive health at the local level is not a viable option. This would lead to unsustainable and uneven programs across LGUs because of the relatively short term of LGU officials (3 years), disparities in internal revenue allotment (IRA), and the local official’s priorities, among others.

A number of progressive local government units like Aurora, Ifugao, Marikina, and Davao City have already put in place family planning and reproductive health policies and programs in their respective areas. But what to do with a city as big as Manila, where any form of information and services related to family planning has been banned?

Unless a comprehensive national legislation on population and reproductive health is put in place, our people’s right to complete, accurate and comprehensible information, and comprehensive services on population and reproductive health will always be dependent on the whim of the powers that be.

What is wrong with the government’s recent natural family planning-only (NFP-only) policy?

Universal access to a constellation of methods in family planning utilizing a principle of voluntary choice is founded on the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which guarantees for every human person full respect for human rights (Sec. 11, Art. 2,). Moreover, the fundamental law of the land gives due cognizance to the particular needs of women for gender equality (Sec. 14, Art. 2); of the youth to enjoy protection of their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being (Sec. 13, Art. 2); and of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions and the demands of responsible parenthood (Sec. 3:1, Art. 15).

A policy focusing on natural family planning alone actually goes against these Constitutional principles. The government’s Natural Family Planning-only (NFP-only) policy will isolate the majority of women who prefer modern and artificial methods. Focusing only on natural methods is disempowering and discriminatory to women as it deprives them of universal access to the whole range of family planning methods so that they can choose what is most appropriate for their bodies, in accordance with their beliefs.

International and local studies have established that natural methods are not for everyone. For example, the standard days method is effective only for women whose menstrual cycles fall between 26-32 days and requires the unfailing cooperation by the husband as the couple must abstain from sex for 12 consecutive days during the woman’s fertile period.

Various national surveys of the National Statistics Office have also revealed that Filipinos prefer modern family planning methods, with pills as the consistent no. 1 method of choice.

The government’s NFP-only policy will also reverse the gains in lowering fertility and slowing down population growth to propel national development. It is impossible to achieve the government’s 1.9 percent population growth rate target if other legally permissible and medically-safe family planning methods are disregarded.

If government is really concerned about women’s fear of side effects and complications, and the general acceptability of modern methods, then, it should put its resources to programs for educating people on the pros and cons of all methods, rather than a policy imposing only one method.

What hampers the establishment of a comprehensive legislated policy on population and reproductive health?

Some leaders of the Catholic hierarchy and lay organizations have vigorously opposed reproductive health, family planning and population initiatives. While these groups have the right to stand for their religious beliefs, as guaranteed by the Constitution, the situation becomes problematic when they threaten and coerce those who believe otherwise, as what has been happening come election time. During the 2004 elections and in the 2007 elections, members of the Catholic hierarchy and lay organizations have been known to campaign against candidates supportive of policies and programs on population, reproductive health, and family planning. This is highly inappropriate as these candidates, when elected into office, will have the responsibility of crafting policies and implementing programs that will benefit all Filipinos, whether Catholic or otherwise. Moreover, data from the 2003 NDHS show that only 2.4 percent of married women cite religion as their reason for not using contraception.

Sadly, there are also leaders in government who choose not to recognize that the country’s population and reproductive health situation really needs to be addressed as it has serious negative impacts on our development as a nation. By turning a blind eye on the situation, they are failing to concretely address the people’s needs.

Do the people want reproductive health and population policies and programs?

The results of the Pulse Asia Ulat ng Bayan surveys on Family Planning done in 2000, 2004 and 2007 indicate the people’s consistent clamor for a comprehensive national policy on reproductive health and family planning.

In particular, the March 2007 Ulat ng Bayan findings reveal the following:

  • Nine out of 10 Filipinos (92%) consider family planning important.
  • Nearly 8 out of 10 Filipinos (76%) believe in the importance of including family planning in a candidate’s program of action.
  • Three-quarters of the adult Filipino population (75%) will support candidates who are in favor of a government budget for family planning.
  • About 9 in 10 Filipinos (89%) think it is important that government provide budgetary support for modern methods of family planning including the pill, intra-uterine devices (IUD), condoms, ligation and vasectomy.
  • One in two Filipinos (50%) is of the opinion that rapid population growth hinders the country’s development
  • A larger proportion of Filipinos believe that the church (or religion) should not participate in the issue of what family planning methods couples should use (44% vs 33%).
The results of the 2004 elections have also proven that inclusion of reproductive health and family planning in a candidate’s platform of government is not a factor in losing, as all of the national and local candidates who carried these issues have gained a fresh mandate from their constituents.

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