So there was this rally yesterday afternoon in Manila led by Manila mayor Lito Atienza in opposition to the passage of House Bill 3773 or the Responsible Parenthood And Population Management Act Of 2005
“House Bill 3773 is destructive and merely provides an alibi for failure of the government to address poverty. What our country needs is good and effective governance. Development is the answer to poverty,” Atienza said. [ABS-CBN News]
Sloganeering and rhetorics are emotionally steering, sure. But I wonder if those who attended the rally have read HB 3773 in its entirety or are merely relying on the interpretation of their so-called leaders. Even more unfortunate is how the media contributes to the misunderstanding. The bill calls for a two-child policy, according to the ABS-CBN News report. Really?
The full text of HB 3773 may be found here and here (links via Bikoy.net). I wish that people would read and understand it before making sweeping generalizations as to what it is about. First of all, does it really call for a two-child policy? The only reference to two children is found in Section 12, which provides that :
SEC. 12. Ideal Family Size. – In order to attain the desired population growth rate, the State shall encourage two (2) children as the ideal family size. However, this provision shall not be mandatory or compulsory and no punitive action may be imposed on couples having more than two children. Children from these families shall have preference in the grant of scholarships at the tertiary level taking into consideration the financial need and academic aptitude of the grantees.
Note the highlighted portion. Res ipsa loquitur.
Section 10, on the other hand, provides that “Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education in an age-appropriate manner shall be taught by adequately trained teachers starting from Grade 5 up to Fourth Year High School.”. To be more specific, the program includes the following:
a. Reproductive health and sexual rights;
b. Reproductive health care and services;
c. Attitudes, beliefs and values on sexual development, sexual behavior and sexual health;
d. Proscription and hazards of abortion and management of post-abortion complications;
e. Responsible Parenthood;
f. Natural and modern family planning to prevent unwanted, unplanned and mistimed pregnancies;
g. Use and application of natural family planning methods;
h. Use and application of modern contraceptive devices;
i. Abstinence before marriage;
j. Prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and other STIs/STDs, Prostate Cancer, Breast Cancer, Cervical Cancer and other gynecological disorders;
k. Safe sex; and
l. Maternal, Peri-Natal and Post-Natal Education, Care and Services
To say that Atienza’s group’s as well as the Catholic church’s opposition to HB 3773 is based on the reference to two children and the mandatory health and sexuality education is a gross oversimplification. If we look at Section 10 of HB 3773 closely, it actually gives the individual the tools to make informed choices in life through education and dissemination of relevant information. Section 10 is about the empowerment of the individual. This vision is further strengthened by Sections 15, 16 and 17 of the bill.
SEC. 15. Multi-Media Campaign. The Council shall initiate and sustain a heightened nationwide multi-media campaign to raise the level of public awareness of the urgent need to protect and promote reproductive health care and rights relative to human development and population management.
Sections 16 and 17, taken together, in effect penalizes, among others, any public or private health care service provider from withholding or restricting the dissemination of information relative to reproductive health including “the right to informed choice and access to a full range of legal, medically-safe and effective family planning methods”.
Why is that so wrong in the eyes of Atienza’s group and the Catholic church? There is this nagging feeling that this isn’t about right and wrong anymore. There is this persistent thought that the opposition is based on the perceived right of the Catholic church and the likes of Atienza and his group to hold the sole moral authority to control the lives of people. They do not want any widespread campaign on any information that is contrary to their dictum because it may result in the loss of that moral authority.
Put another way, HB 3773 is an embodiment of the right of the individual to make informed choices. It gives him the tools but leaves the right to make choices to him and him alone. On the other extreme, the Catholic church and the likes of Atienza’s group take away the right of the individual to make choices for himself by cutting off his access to information and by declaring themselves as the only rightful judges as to what is best for him.
Perhaps, it should be remembered that people are not mere minions but live creatures who are entitled to live their lives in a manner that will maximize their potential to become productive individuals capable of contributing to the progress and development of their communities and of society. And it is the responsibility of the state to provide them with all the tools, including information, to make informed choices. The state, through HB 3773, is doing its responsibility.