Given all that has been happening, half borne of the discourse of confusion and noise, the other half just the utter lack of information, I almost missed what might be one of the best New Year’s presents we could get from President Duterte: his Executive Order 12.
Here, the President essentially orders all relevant government offices “to intensify and accelerate the implementation of critical actions necessary to attain and sustain “zero unmet need for modern family planning” for all poor households by 2018, and all of Filipinos thereafter, within the context of the RPRH Law and its implementing rules.”
RPRH is the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, which was signed into law by PNoy in December 2012. It had taken 14 years to pass. Of course, after less than two years of implementation, RPRH faced a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) from the Supreme Court in mid-2015, limiting government’s procurement and distribution of certain hormonal contraceptives, and disallowing the Department of Health (DOH) from approving the registration / recertification of reproductive products and supplies (ABS-CBNNews.com, 10 Oct 2016, 11 Jan 2017).
This TRO still stands, one of many roadblocks to the full implementation of RH, based on petitions filed by pro-life groups.
This EO undoubtedly has this TRO as context. According to Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia: “With this EO from the President, we hope that the Supreme Court will act expeditiously in terms of lifting the TRO” (Inquirer.net, 11 Jan).
But also, it is contextualized in the goals of lowering maternal mortality rates and teenage pregnancies, as well as the need to meet the long-term poverty reduction targets of government (Manila Bulletin, 11 Jan).
An important section of the EO itself though is its list of Accelerating Mechanisms. There is a directive to pertinent government offices and agencies to “map areas to locate couples and individuals with unmet needs for modern family planning,” and to “mobilize local structures <…> to accelerate the implementation of the RPRH law.”
Two other important directives are for DOH to “review the gaps in the implementation of the RPRH Law, issue corresponding orders and guidelines, and implement interventions” to ensure Filipinos’ access to RH services and modern family planning, and for the Department of Education (DepEd) to “implement a gender-sensitive and rights-based comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in the school curriculum.”
All makes sense, all urgently needed, and all certainly welcome in a country where RH rights and sex education are still treated like taboo topics despite an RH Law.
Hurrah for this President.
Boo to Sotto, VP Leni
Yet for all the good that is in this EO 12, it has gotten little mileage – for reasons that are becoming clear. Instead of talking about what this contains and pressuring the SC to lift that TRO, what has taken over media is talk about condoms being distributed in schools – something that was first mentioned by DOH Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial in December last year.
That it has become this issue that shall now be probed by the Senate is of course making a mountain out of a molehill, and is reminiscent of a time in the past when these kind(s) of “controversies” would get the Church and conservatives all riled up. And because this is a throwback, even the characters are old, i.e., Senator Tito Sotto, conservative extraordinaire, never mind his past as part of a triumvirate that lived off some good ol’ toilet and sexist humor.
Yes, Senator Sotto is pushing for a Senate probe into the purported distribution of condoms in schools, saying that the DOH is “playing with fire” (ManilaTimes.net, 16 Jan) and “dismissing the sentiment of a conservative culture.” (ABSCBNNews.com, 17 Jan)
As back-up, he’s got Vice President Leni Robredo who gave her two cents worth about the issue, asserting that the purported distribution of condoms can only be good if it is part of a bigger program of education, otherwise it would merely promote a culture of promiscuity (GMANetwork.com, 17 Jan). Of course, had VP Leni spent time reading about the issue, she would’ve found out that in fact it is part of a bigger program of sex and HIV education – so she wouldn’t have had to speak about it in this way at all.
But alas, she already has, and what a terrible thing to be on the same side, and spewing the same words, as Senator Sotto on this one. He who also criticizes this aspect of the DOH-DepEd’s sex ed and HIV awareness programs (still in the works), by invoking the promotion of the culture of promiscuity. And because he is Senator Sotto, he had to prove how unreasonable he is by asking: “Are we saying that sex with an underage person is now allowed and even encouraged because of the program? Isn’t that coercion?” (ManilaTimes.net, 16 Jan)
Ah, the best reminder of why we should dismiss the sentiments of this conservative Sotto culture: it chooses to be blind to the real state of the nation, and will skew the argument to the point of absurdity. One can’t wait until he’s out of the Senate.
Meanwhile, here’s hoping that President Duterte’s men and women are actually up to proving that it can do right by nation on RPRH. As Secretary Pernia says: “<Pro-life groups> keep saying that contraception or family planning or the reproductive health law is abortifacient, it’s anti-life. But <…> we in the government, we think differently. We feel that it is pro-life, pro-women, pro-children, and pro-economic development” (CNN Philippines, 11 Jan).
Take that, Senator Sotto (and you too, VP Leni)!
Published in The Manila Times on January 19 2017.