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The Saga of the Philippine Reproductive Health Bill

The Saga of the Philippine Reproductive Health Bill

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Published by rfjabal
This is an essay on the much-delayed passage of the Philippine Reprodductive Health Bill filed in 14th Philippine Congress. This discusses why Congressmen and Senators remain reluctant to support the bill despite overwhelming support of Filipinos in the bill. This is also proposes a campaign plan for proponents of the bill should they decide to further escalate their campaign for the bill's passage.
This is an essay on the much-delayed passage of the Philippine Reprodductive Health Bill filed in 14th Philippine Congress. This discusses why Congressmen and Senators remain reluctant to support the bill despite overwhelming support of Filipinos in the bill. This is also proposes a campaign plan for proponents of the bill should they decide to further escalate their campaign for the bill's passage.

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Published by: rfjabal on Apr 20, 2009
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01/16/2013

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The saga of the Reproductive Health Bill:a blow or an affirmation of representative democracy?
By Ronald JabalThe issue of the current Reproductive Health Bill remains a heated and controversial issue asthe first RH bill that was ever filed in Congress. And the polemics between the pros and conshave always marred the passage of bill which remains crucial in population management - yetanother policy issue that has remained elusive in a country that is exponentially expandingevery year.Central to this RH bill is political dynamics of the numerous actors involved from agenda settingup to policy adoption. However, what are not normally highlighted in the numerous debates arethe roles of Congressmen (both from the House of Representatives and the Senate) i.e. shouldCongressmen listen to the overwhelming sentiment of the population most of whom are votersor should they listen to themselves and adopt a personal stand on this issue which is notsupportive of the majority’s sentiment.Clearly, the RH bill foregrounds the age-old dilemma of what is the real meaning of representative democracy.Some political theorists argued that the proper function of the representative assembly in a truedemocracy is not to initiate policies on its own but only to register the policy preferences of thepopular majority it represents. This is sometimes called the Mandate Theory. In this view, aslong as the representative assembly (i.e. Congress) confines itself to registering its constituent’sviews, representation involves no significant departure from democratic principles. But when theassembly begins to make policy on its own, in either ignorance or in defiance of its constituents’desires, it becomes a kind of oligarchy.But others argued it is neither possible nor desirable in modern nation. For those who espouse“independence” theory, the representative must initiate – and not merely register policies. For them, representatives should exercise their judgment on public affairs independently andwithout surrendering the final decisions to their constituentsClearly, this divide is shown in the RH bill debate.The recent nationwide survey of Pulse Asia (October 2008) on the RH bill shows a number of results that should prompt Congressmen in both Houses to adopt RH as part of its agenda andmove to pass the bill. The survey results that could be use to facilitate passage of the RH billare as follows:
1.
The Pulse survey says a big majority of Filipinos (82%) thinks government should notonly educate couples regarding modern methods of family planning (both natural andartificial) but also provide them with services and materials on these methods.
 
This view is articulated by big to overwhelming majorities (76% to 91%) in all geographicareas and socio-economic classes. In addition, exactly the same percentage says that it isthe government’s duty to provide the people with knowledge, services, and materials onmodern methods of family planning.Less than one in ten Filipinos (6% to 8%) disagrees with either view while indecision onthese matters is expressed by 10% to 13% of Filipinos
2.
The Pulse survey shows that about four in ten Filipinos (44%) say the governmentshould pass a law specifying the number of children couples may have Only two in ten(19%) are undecided on the issue. Across geographic areas and socio-economicclasses, big pluralities to small majorities (45% to 58%) in Metro Manila, the Visayas,Mindanao, and Classes D and E favor the idea of government passing a law on thenumber of children couples may have.
3.
The Pulse survey also once again shatters the alleged fear of Congressmen andSenators of an overwhelmingly backlash from the Catholics if they publicly support theRH bill. Results show that while 49% of Filipinos say couples should follow what their religion tells them about family planning, 44% are ambivalent as regards the possibilityof their church or religion influencing their vote for a candidate advocating modern familyplanning methods. This is a good indication that almost half of Filipinos are either ambivalent on the Church dictates or do not agree that couples are obliged to abide bythe teachings of their religion on family planning
4.
On top of the above-mentioned results, Congressmen and Senators should take refugeon the results that show when it comes to the impact of their church or religion on their decision as to whether or not to vote for a candidate supporting modern family planningmethods, indecision is the predominant public sentiment at the national level (44%) andparticularly in the rest of Luzon, the Visayas, and Classes D and E (42% to 52%).
5.
Interestingly, Congressmen and Senators should take most important note of the resultsthat show most Filipinos are aware of the reproductive health bill pending at the Houseof Representatives (68%) and are in favor of the bill (63%) and only 8% are not in favor and 29% are ambivalent on the matter. Majorities ranging from 56% in the Visayas to79% in Class ABC are in favor of the bill. Surprisingly, those 8% of who not supportiveof the bill is not 100% against it. Based on the survey results, among the 8% of Filipinoswho do not favor the proposed legislation, additional survey findings show that: (1) 47%agree with the need to promote information and access to natural and modern familyplanning methods; (2) 69% agree with the provision of the bill recognizing the rights of women and couples to choose the family method they want; (3) about the samepercentages either agree or disagree (36% versus 35%) with the inclusion of sexeducation in the school curricula; and (4) 44% believe government funds should be usedto support modern family planning methods. Indecision on these issues is expressed by
 
20% to 33% of Filipinos while disagreement is articulated by 10% to 35%. Publicdisagreement is most manifest in relation to the proposal to include sex education in theschool curricula (35%)If the survey results alone were to be used by Congressmen and Senators in the adoption of theRH agenda and its eventual passage, the RH bill will clearly pass both Houses and will soon beenacted into law. If both Houses of Congress were only to reflect the sentiments of the majorityof the Filipinos most of which are voters (and who most probably voted them in office), then theRH bill’s passage is as sure as the rise of the morning sun.
Wedges and Quirks in RH Bill Passage: The presence of partisan actors
However, current members of both Houses of Congress do not simply wish to reflect thesentiment of the majority. There are various actors and issues that impinge and affect their decisions in adopting RH as part of the agenda. And we can chart the various “intervening”factors that one way or the other affects the passage of the RH bill using a number of conceptual frameworks and theories in agenda setting and policy formulation.Using the Kingdon model, we can readily see that there are numerous actors in the policy arenanot just the general public. There are both visible and hidden actors in policy development. Asfollows:
Visible/ More Influential in Agenda-SettingHidden/ More Influential in PolicyAlternatives
Government Actors
1
a.Presidentb.Legislatorsc.Political AppointeesGovernment Actorsa.Presidential Stafb.Congressional Staff c.Career Civil ServantsNongovernment Actorsa.Interest Groupsb.Media (through shaping publicopinion)c.Election-related ParticipantsNongovernment Actorsa.Interest Groupsb.Academics, Researchers, andConsultants
With the number of actors to contend with and face in the deliberations of the RH bill, surely,Senators and Congressmen are faced with a number of policy options and a wide array of influences that will eventually affect their decisions. Unfortunately, these actors do not thinkalike. They compete and offer different solutions. The interplay of national, local and personalinterests between and among these actors can surely affect Congressmen and Senators’decision-making processes in RH bill.The Kingdon model is also echoed in the Cobb and Elder model which stressed that for anissue to attain agenda status, it must command the support of at least some key decision-

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