Despite the difficulties reproductive health advocates faced in 2007, engaging in the debates on RH remained important in continuing to secure "public spaces" for the reproductive health agenda.
Last week I took a look at how reproductive health advocacy in the Philippines in 2007 got caught in Presidential politicking despite growing support for the RH bill in Congress.
On the other hand, the first successful passage of a local RH ordinance was by the Oppositionist and former Congress RH and Women's Rights Champion, Bellaflor Angara Castillo. Angara Castillo was elected as Governor of Aurora Province in 2004 and she set an example by passing a Provincial Reproductive Health Care Ordinance, that necessitated the unity and backing of her Provincial Council. Working closely with Reproductive Health Advocacy Network (RHAN) and the Philippine Legislators' Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), her draft bill soon became the basis and model for drafting key RH Ordinances around the country
Two major cities of Metro Manila became the focus of attention largely because of the level controversy that surrounded policy advocacy in these areas.
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The Center for Reproductive Rights in partnership with local women's organizations launched a study on the Manila situation called "Imposing Misery." In a previous blog I discussed how this study outlined the violations of both local and international standards by the policy adopted by the former Mayor. The report also provides a glimpse into the lives of the women who bore the brunt of the Manila ban.
While the current Mayor, Alfredo Lim who replaced Atienza (his bitter rival) is also "a professed devout Catholic," his views about modern contraception remain unclear and advocates have made a bid to find out how far he is willing to challenge his rival's former policy.
The adjacent City, Quezon City ,is also currently the site of an RH initiative. By the end of 2007, local champions of Reproductive Health who courageously sponsored an ordinance found themselves smarting from a debacle that many of them considered unparalleled in their political careers. It seemed nothing had prepared the local politicians for the vituperative labelling and name-calling that ensued when they sponsored the ordinance.
One of them was Joseph Juico who also considers himself very Catholic, was surprised at the viciousness of the personal attacks from other Catholics, but vowed to forge ahead.
When she was invited to come along and observe one of the sessions tackling the QC RH Ordinance recently, Atty. Claire Luczon, Executive Director and Legal Committee Chairperson of RHAN observed: "The opposition to RH fell back on usual tactics of trying to scare everybody about abortion, and it was a real circus."
She also added: "What I didn't expect was to deliver an impromptu presentation on Reproductive Health Policy. Yet I think the opportunity was very important in a sense that in these heated debates, a lot of the misinformation needs to be addressed in order for the discussion to move forward. Apart from requiring cooler heads and more evidence based data, talking about women's health issues necessitates more kind-hearted approaches, and its due time we set the record straight on reproductive health."
Womenlead's Executive Director has been requested by the City Council to come back as a resource person, giving RHAN and other local RH advocates some hope that this time, reproductive health care will be better understood as part of respecting and promoting people's human right to health.
Reproductive Health Advocacy Network Secretary General, Gladys Malayang, notes that even with the continuing challenge of moving along the RH bill within the legislative mill, the network and its members also plan to concentrate on local initiatives at various local government levels in 2008 because "building and strengthening its mass base," is part of the overall strategy of building up its constituencies, locally and nationally.
Meanwhile National Advocacy Officer of the Philippine Legislator's Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), Kala Pulido-Constantino acknowledges the tougher than usual year that was 2007 and adds that what makes the 14th Congress a tougher nut to crack is because it precedes Presidential elections in 2010:
"I think advocates have to start thinking of the presidential elections. We need a president who will support RH without reservations. We need to continue our national advocacy without any illusions of getting a bill passed or changing executive policy. But we cannot give up our political gains, our public space which the Church adamantly wants to narrow down."