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After visiting Manila slums, European legislators call for passage of RH bill

August 30, 2012 2:25pm
Pregnant teenage girls. Young children being left to fend for themselves. Couples with 16 kids struggling to raise their families.

These were some of the images that greeted European legislators when they visited urban poor communities in Metro Manila this week.

Carina Hägg, a member of the Swedish parliament, said she was overcome with emotion when she witnessed the plight of poor families living near dumpsites and under bridges in the Philippines’ capital region.

“I really wanted to cry. It was very sad to see that not every woman here has access to healthcare. It was depressing to see kids lose their mothers too early,” she said in a press briefing in Quezon City on Thursday morning.

At the same briefing, Portuguese lawmaker Ricardo Baptista Leite said that the situation in Metro Manila slums reminded him of the population situation in his country three decades ago.

“It was really [a] learning experience for me. Thirty years ago in Portugal, we had very similar health indicators as you have now. We had maternal death rates and extremely high newborn death rates,” he said.

The foreign lawmakers’ visit to urban poor communities in Metro Manila was part of their study tour organized by the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development.

The tour was locally hosted by the Philippines Legislators Committee on Population and Development, a group that supports the passage of the reproductive health (RH) bill.

‘Crucial legislation’

In a joint statement issued on Thursday, the European parliamentarians endorsed the passage of the RH bill, which they described as a “crucial” legislation “for the eradication of poverty” in the Philippines.

British parliamentarian Helen Grant said the enactment of a reproductive health law is “critical” for the Philippines to improve the lives of its citizens.

“If this bill is passed, the Philippines will be able to nourish social justice by allowing women and girls to have children out of choice and not out of chance,” she said.

Birute Vesaite, a member of the parliament of Lithuania, meanwhile said that the RH bill should be passed to make sure that economic development in the Philippines will trickle down to the poor.

“The implementation of the law would be a test of the strength of the public provision of health services. This law will cost money but you can be proud that the Philippines is a well developing country. The fruits of development should reach the people of this country,” she said.

The RH bill, one of President Benigno Aquino III’s priority legislations, promotes the use of both natural and artificial methods of family planning. It is being opposed by the Roman Catholic Church, which promotes only natural forms of family planning.

The measure has yet to hurdle second reading in both chambers of Congress.

‘Engage the Church’

Leite, who comes from predominantly Roman Catholic Portugal, said it is important for the government to continue engaging Church officials in discussions to be able to make them appreciate the merits of the RH bill.

“There is no greater act of Christianity than saving lives, and that is what you are doing with the RH bill… We should not use faith to block or misinform. It is important to engage the Church in discussions in all levels,” he said.

Leite however said that the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in Portugal seem to be more “modern” in their views and more mindful of the separation between Church and State.

“In my country, the Church is actually an ally in providing good health. They disagree with some laws, but they do not try to block it. They give their faithful the freedom to choose,” he said.

In the Philippines, a country of 96 million people, eight out of 10 Filipinos are Roman Catholics.

Grant, for her part, dared Filipino lawmakers to be “brave, bold and fearless” in enacting an RH law.

“Please do not miss this wonderful opportunity to make this law a real mover, changer and shaker for the Philippines. It might be a long time before it comes around again,” she said. — BM, GMA News



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