Implement RH now!

“So, when will we feel the reproductive health law’s implementation?” is a question that is often asked of me by community women who worked for this law’s passage.

After more than 15 years of unrelenting advocacy, the RH bill was eventually passed by Congress and finally signed into law by President Noynoy Aquino on December 21, 2012. It was supposed to take effect 15 days after publication in at least two newspapers. However, up to this writing, or almost two years after, the law has yet to see full implementation.

To be fair to government, the delay is also caused by the anti-RH groups’ numerous petitions against the law which became the bases for the Supreme Court to issue a Status Quo Ante Order (SQAO). This caused more delays.

The SC decided with finality that the RH law is not unconstitutional (save for a few provisions) in April of this year or after about a year of processes. Pro-RH groups celebrated this High Court decision with the hope that the law will soon be implemented in full.

Since then, RH advocates have been working and doing community preparations for the law’s implementation. And the women and young people for whom this legislation was passed are beginning to feel impatient.

Meanwhile, fresh data about the RH situation have been released through the National Demographic and Health Survey 2013 (NDHS), and the Young Adults Fertility Survey 4 (YAFS4) the key findings of which have just been released yesterday.

Both national surveys have established the fact that there is little improvement in the country’s RH situation.

NDHS 2013 data underscore the reality that still, women’s desires when it comes to the number of children they want are yet to be realized. Particularly, poor, rural women with less education continue to give birth to more children than they want. On the other hand, women who are not poor are generally able to get pregnant and give birth only to the number of kids they plan for.

The main reason is access family planning information and services. While the desire to plan their families is high across all economic classes of Filipino women, the number of those who are able to actually do this is much higher among urban and non-poor women. This shows that still, poor, less-schooled, and rural women have less access to family planning.

These are the very women who are without the financial resources to purchase family planning commodities, including contraceptives. They are mostly the women whose lives are put in danger due to high-risk pregnancies. They are mostly the women who say that they cannot anymore afford to raise another child.

These are the women who are suppose to benefit from the RH law the most.

YAFS4, the survey dealing with young people’s sexuality and RH-related perspectives and behaviors, raises important warnings. The fact that the country has a very serious problem on very high rates of adolescent pregnancies is not a secret. YAFS4 explains why.

The major reasons are that the youth are having their sexual debut at a much younger age and they are not correctly educated on sexuality and RH matters. The number of girls having sex younger is closing in on the number of boys. If they continue to not receive the education the need on how to responsibly behave and how they can protect themselves from early pregnancies, expect our problem on adolescent pregnancies to worsen.

We cannot continue to be in denial about young people’s early sexual activities. We can close our eyes all we want but the problem will not go away.

One of the law’s important provisions that advocates incessantly fought for is the one on age- and development-appropriate sexuality and RH education. Through this, young people are expected to learn life skills, especially decision making in relationships and family matters. This is regarded as a solution to our huge adolescent pregnancy problem.

Yet, as said earlier, the law has yet to be fully implemented. Hence, family planning and sexuality education programs continues to be significantly, if not all together delayed. We were told that the law will start to go full-blast by end of this month. However, we see other factors that may contribute to further delays.

The Department of Health (DoH), the law’s primary implementer, seems to be having internal adjustments. Secretary Enrique Ona is on leave and talks have it that he will be replaced by Undersecretary Janette Garin. The latter is a key figure in the RH circles and will surely implement the law. However, the changing of guards (if this happens), might create more delays.

We certainly hope that whatever internal reconfiguration the DoH is undergoing will not be at the expense of the law’s implementation.

Moreover, the Food and Drug Administration is transitioning from one leader to another. The FDA is tasked by the law to certify contraceptives that can be distributed as part of the country’s family planning program.

We also hear that the FDA is being pressured by anti-RH groups to NOT certify contraceptives on the allegation that these are abortifacient. It is as if this issue has not been settled by all scientific proofs on the contrary. The FDA is being bombarded with letters, emails, etc. urging them to not give its go signal to contraceptives.

We urgently ask the FDA to be mindful of its important roles in the RH law. Millions of women are waiting for your certification of contraceptives so they can have access to these life-saving and essential drugs, and eventually, be able to plan their families.

The Department of Education (DepEd) is charged with implementing the RH education provision. We are concerned that until now, DepEd has yet to release the curriculum for this. I hear that DepEd is also being guarded by ant-RH groups.

Based on some people in the know, the curriculum that the department is devBased on some people in the know, the curriculum that the department is developing is allegedly more traditional than progressive and might be taught at higher grades than what the law provides.

The DepEd, despite pressure from anti-RH must FOLLOW the law. There is no other way.

As things stand, advocates are again calling on the largely pro-RH Filipino citizenry to continue to keenly observe, and get involved in developments surrounding the RH law’s implementation. Once again, public support is needed to call on the FDA to already certify contraceptives. This is necessary for the DoH to be able to fast track implementation.

DepEd must also be told to strictly follow the law’s provision on RH education.

Two years is too long a wait for this most important law to be fully implemented. The women and young people are still waiting.


[email protected]  and @bethangsioco on Twitter

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