Illustration by Carlo Patricio P. Franco

SUPPORTERS of the Reproductive Health Bill have one thing in common: out of utter disdain, they tell their opponents to read the bill first. Comfortable with their fashionable advocacy, they simply dismiss the other camp as conservative and old-fashioned, or too orthodox for the challenges of the modern world.

Of course, the opponents of House Bill No. 5043 have read the text, and indeed its previous incarnations which had been thrown into Congress’s wastebasket. And you don’t even have to read between the lines to realize its true objectives.

RH bill opponents have recently found a new ally: Makati congressman Teodoro Locsin Jr., who is hardly chummy with the bishops. His conclusion: the bill is totalitarian, and specifically designed to weaken the Church. It will award more political power to the pro-choice lobbyists, Locsin says, calling their vision of a state-sponsored birth control apparatus, in a newspaper opinion piece, such names as the Vatican of Vasectomy, complete with a Curia of Castration and a College of Reproductive Surgeons .

RH bill backers love to point out that the government only has a natural family planning program which supposedly restricts choice, but miss out on the fact that contraceptives are widely available in the market. The thing is, their rich-country sponsors and NGO benefactors no longer want to foot the bill, and are now pressuring the government to put precious and limited taxpayers’ money into their pet advocacy purportedly because too much poverty has been hindering economic development.

Not content with just carving out a portion of the national budget for their birth-control campaign, they want to make sure everybody gets brainwashed, and all opponents are subdued.

And so here comes RH bill 5043. In an attempt to make the measure look appealing to a wider public, it has “important” provisions for emergency obstetric care and breastfeeding. But the former only means upgrading or expanding hospitals or simply making sure mothers give birth in healthcare facilities, which can be done without a law. The latter is already backed by a strong state policy that has even called for banning milk TV ads.

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Many more provisions are superfluous, and if they are taken out, the bill looks like something straight out of Beijing’s central committee.

The state must guarantee freedom of “informed” choice, it says. Those who want to get married must first listen to “adequate instructions” or else be denied a marriage license. Employers must provide “supplies and devices” to their workers in “all” collective bargaining agreements. Doctors who don’t want to perform “reproductive health services” must find others to do it. Students must receive “adequate” sex education for six years. There cannot be “disinformation” on the intentions of the bill, under pain of penalty.

Here’s the clincher: for those whose consciences and religious beliefs are violated, they must first be “conscientious” to get an exemption.

Who will define “informed,” “adequate,” “disinformation,” “conscientious”? The Department of Health, the Population Commission, the National Economic and Development Authority, and finally, “concerned non-government organizations (NGOs) and known reproductive health advocates.”

Given that the Church only wants the bill to contain real measures to ease poverty instead of just wiping the poor out and instituting a new and radical social order, it’s easy to see which side really is for freedom of choice and poverty alleviation.

RH lobbyists, ironically, are themselves pursuing an orthodoxy that has failed even in the developed world from where it had originated.

The facts are undisputed: there is no link between population spending and economic growth. What’s true is that big families are often poor, in which case the proper approach is not to shower them with contraceptives, but more funding for basic social services like health and education, which yield higher economic returns. In countries where contraceptives are prevalent, abortions remain rampant.

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The government health budget next year is pathetic: P27 billion, less than half of the resources allocated for bureaucrats at the Interior department. For agriculture, which is tasked to feed the nation, a paltry P4 billion. Education will get P155 billion, but that’s mainly for teachers’ salaries.

But the budget to pay the interest, alone, of state debts can actually fund 10 Cabinet departments: a shocking P303 billion. That’s the reason why government hospitals are crowded and the quality of public education is appalling. It’s essentially why there’s practically zero spending on the poor in the first place. We can’t even spend for ourselves, and no “mainstream” economist has raised a howl.

Orthodox economists, armchair experts, and technocrats, more than 20 years ago, dictated that the Philippines be a “model debtor” — meaning pay even for illegitimate Marcos debts, out of subservience to rich-country masters. For two decades, roughly a third of the government budget went to the profits of the country’s creditors, for interest alone. How about principal repayments? These are off-budget items, and they had to be loaned separately (again from the same bunch of creditors), sinking the Republic in even more debt.

There was no other stronger voice for debt relief for poor countries than the Church, with no less than the late Pope John Paul II calling for debt forgiveness for poor countries ahead of the 2000 Jubilee year, to boost spending for social services and ease poverty. Except for token responses like cancelling the debts of a few impoverished African countries, the economic orthodoxy has largely dismissed the plea.

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The orthodox economic prescriptions for the Philippines didn’t end with the vicious debt trap. To make sure we continue to pay for our foreign debts, and spare some loose change for ourselves, the economic orthodoxy and their foreign principals said value-added taxes (VAT) must be raised (remember “fiscal crisis”?). Now everybody who consumes, including the poor, pay extra tax. The creditors continue to profit, while poverty and hunger in the country have worsened. What the poor get is just the “katas ng VAT,” and they have to queue for it.

This same school of thought now wants the government to set up a state-sponsored birth control machinery, promising “sustainable development.” Ironically again, this orthodoxy, whose pillar is less government in day-to-day life, wants big government when it comes to the bedroom, forgetting the so-called “invisible hand” but keeping “self interest.”

They refuse to debate with the opposition, dismissing concerns over promiscuity, the break-up of families, decay of moral values, and hedonism as “pure ideological conjecture,” demanding “empirical evidence.” In the name of economic gain and the accumulation of wealth, the fewer the better – by force, if necessary – is justified, they seem to argue. For the poor, there’s loose change, and some reproductive health device.

In the face of the biggest economic catastrophe in a generation spawned by a fanatical and intellectually bankrupt school of thought, the long-standing deception has got to stop.


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