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Ex-Rep. Lagman: Budget cut for contraceptives ‘tragic’, P157M inadequate

The P1-billion budget cut for contraceptives in the Department of Health's budget for 2016 is "improvident" and "tragic," former Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, lead author of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law (RPRH Law), said on Wednesday.

At a press conference, Lagman said the budget cut impairs the task of the DOH to procure and distribute family planning supplies in accordance with Section 10 of the RPRH Law. 

He also cited Section 2 of the RPRH Law which states: "The State is mandated to guarantee universal access to medically safe non-abortifacient, effective, legal, affordable, and quality reproductive healthcare services, methods, devices, and supplies with preferential access to acceptors in the marginalized quintile."

Lagman also described the remaining P157 million budget for contraceptives as "grossly inadequate."

"These statutory authorizations were rejected, defied, and eroded by the Congress, more particularly the Senate when the P1-billion cut was accorded congressional approval. The Congress has violated the very law it has enacted," Lagman said. 
He addressed the Congress first, "because the bicameral conference committee report was approved by both Houses," but he placed particular blame on the Senate. 
"I place the onus of culpability for this unforgivable cut on Senator Tito Sotto, as the principal proponent of the gross reduction, and Senator Loren Legarda, as chair of the Senate Bicameral Panel who until now vainly justifies (the budget cut)."
He clarified that the P1 billion was not subtracted from the total budget of P3 billion, but was taken specifically from the allocation for the procurement and distribution of modern and natural family planning supplies.
Legarda earlier said the funds removed from the DOH's budget for contraceptives will be used to augment the budget of the Department of National Defense.
On Tuesday, she added that the DOH still has enough funds to purchase contraceptives for its Family Health and Reponsible Parenting (FHRP) program.
‘Contrived alibis’
Lagman discredited Senator Legarda's justifications for the budget cut as "contrived alibis," saying, "No amount of postmortem sanitizing by Sotto and Legarda could justify the terrible slash, which would temporize and stall the efficacy of the Reproductive Health Law."
He called attention to the fact there are no available transcripts of the proceedings or the meeting with the Bicameral Conference Committee, which he said means deliberations were not held. Lagman quipped, "What happened was a one-on-one meeting between Chair of the Committee on Appropriations and Committee on Finance."
Addressing the executive, Lagman said, "Kung tunay ang suporta ng Pangulo, gamitin niya ang contingency plan (para sa implentasyon ng RPRH Law)."
Focus on the process
Lagman explained that advocates were partly to blame for "resting on laurels" claiming premature victory when the RPRH Law was passed.
His thoughts were echoed by former senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani, who said in a grave tone at the same press conference, "We let our guards down."
In a brief interview with GMA News Online, Shahani explained that there is no legal recourse for RH Law advocates at present to order the Senate to reverse its decision. The next round for the pro-RH groups are the elections and in the deliberations of the 2017 national budget.
Malacañang on Saturday said almost the same thing, that the DOH might have to wait until after the 2016 elections for any move to bring back the P1 billion allotted for family planning commodities for 2016 that was removed from the DOH's budget for 2016 by the Senate.
During the press conference on Wednesday, Shahani told the non-government organizations involved in the pro-RH movement to think strategically and go beyond public protests on the streets. 
"You have to understand the process," Shahani stressed, advising advocates to attend Senate hearings. "Be interested in the process. Be patient, don't be too emotional."
The former senator did not mince words about the uphill battle for RH advocates, saying, "Philippine history is full of treachery. How Bonifacio was killed, how our elections are held, how people are elected—it is a lesson in treachery."
"Treachery is very much alive today, including in the debate of the General Appropriations Act," Shahani firmly stated, drawing applause from the crowd.
Despite facing grim odds because of the budget cut, she encouraged the pro-RH groups to move forward and be better prepared next year.
Backlash against anti-RH senators
Former health secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral, who is also the chair of the National Implementation Team of the RPRH Law, explained the effects of the budget cut, especially to mothers and young women dealing with difficult or unwanted pregnancies. 
"Ang dalawang pinakamalaking problema sa reproductive health sa bansa ay ang napakataas ng pangangailan ng mga babae para sa mga epektibo at modernong family planning methods, at ang masyadong tumataas na dami ng pagbubuntis ng kabataan," Cabral said.
"Kapag tinanggal po ang P1 billion na sana ay pambili ng family planning commodities o contraceptives, ay talagang maapektuhan po itong dalawang malaking problemang na ito. Hindi natin masosolusyonan, bagkus lalaki ang problema," she added.
Cabral warned, "Dadami na naman ang magbubuntis ng hindi nila kagustuhan. Dadami na naman ang mamatay na mahihirap na nanay. Dadami na naman ang magpapalaglag. Dadami na naman ang mananating mahirap." 
According to Cabral, the budget cut could reverse the decrease in the population growth rate, which is now at 1.6 percent per year, and because of this, she extended a message to the members of the Bicameral Conference Committee: "The underhanded manner by which the budget of the Department of Health for family planning commodities was cut reflects the true sentiments of those in the Bicameral Conference Committee who are principally accountable for this reprehensible deed."
"These individuals are no better than treacherous snakes, with forked tongues.They lie in wait for every opportunity to thwart what is now a law of the land," Cabral said. "We hold you, Senator Sotto and Senator Legarda, accountable for the hardship that millions of poor Filipino families will once again experience by depriving them of access to reproductive health services."
She also sent a message to women across the country: "It is time to stand up for your rights. It is time to stop being victims. Your most important weapon is your vote."
"Vote for those who support your aspirations for a good family life and who act accordingly," Cabral advised. "At the end of the day, it is true that we get the government we deserve. If we keep voting for jerks and bigots, then we have nobody to blame but ourselves."
Lagman, Cabral, and Shahani all called for the implementation of the RPRH Law to be an electoral issue, saying that "the solution is in the election."
GMA News Online has contacted Sotto and Legarda for comment as of posting time but has yet to receive their replies. —KG, GMA News