PART 1: Bohol’s priority: Population management, progress later
The clock read a quarter to 10 a.m. of February 11, and the courtesy call of the eight PopDev awardees on Bohol Gov. Erico Aumentado was about to end.
As we sprang from the sofa to prepare to leave the governor’s office that was floating with the aroma of brewed coffee, Aumentado waved about stapled thin sheets of papers that startled us back to our senses.
“This is our final draft of the Bohol Reproductive Health Care Code of 2007," he said.
(Reproductive health is jargon, which simply means planning the size of one’s family. But the World Health Organization put it this way: “Reproductive health is defined as a state of physical, mental, and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system at all stages of life. Reproductive health implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so.")
Bearing in mind that Bohol’s birth rate of 2.92% is faster than the nation’s population of 2.34%, provincial legislators made the bold move to push for the code because “the national government is not taking the lead," Aumentado said.
He said it’s a kind of a political statement.
Bohol legislators’ frustration is understandable. Pro-life President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who commuted death sentences of several convicts, had toed the line of the Roman Catholic Church's stand on the family planning issue.
Interestingly, the House of Representatives ventured the path that Mrs Arroyo avoided. Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman pushed for P1 billion in the 2008 national budget for the purchase of condoms, birth control pills and other “reproductive health products" to lower population growth rate.
Browsing over Bohol’s reproductive health code could be intimidating because it is studded with legislative gobbledygook and legalese.
Yet a hard look at the proposal would leave the reader impressed but wondering, 'Will the Church let this pass?'
Aumentado said he is optimistic the provincial board would approve the measure “in three months time." He said proponents of the code are prepared to blunt criticisms from conservatives.
However, a chat with some locals along C. Gallares Street in Tagbilaran City indicated that priests in Bohol might reconsider.
“If it would not rip the teachings of the Church they might have a chance," a trike driver told this author while we were cruising to BQ Mall, Tagbilaran’s answer to SM and Robinson’s department stores.
A BQ mall guard had the same view. He said if the government and Church could reconcile their differences on a mandated family planning program then Bohol would be in for a rosy future.
In Panglao, resort workers cast doubt that the reproductive health code would pass, pointing out that Bohol remains a conservative province that is home to 32 Roman Catholic churches.
Draft’s salient points
Section 3 of the draft spells out three goals: (1)“Provide access to safe and quality reproductive health care services to couples and individuals of Bohol; (2) Provide a ready, accurate and responsible information and education on reproductive health; (3) Ensure the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of appropriate and effective reproductive health care programs."
The third item enumerates 12 objectives for health consciousness, planning the size of the family, information drive that would include prevention and control of sexually transmitted diseases.
It calls for services for the prevention of abortion and counseling for those who resorted to abortion.
The proposed Bohol Reproductive Health Care Code of 2007 has yet to determine how much should be poured into the province's strategy to lower birth rate.
Section 11 of the proposed measure simply states that funding would be drawn from the annual budget of the provincial government - a plan that might provoke the local Church’s ire.
Late last year, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued this stand following Lagman’s plan to bankroll the use of contraceptives:
“…We categorically object to it and instead strongly recommend that the one billion pesos be directly appropriated and/ or added for hunger and poverty alleviation projects, as well as for free education of extremely poor children."
The CBCP said: “The use of contraceptives are wrong in themselves because they violate nature and God’s law."
ABE CEROJANO, GMANews.TV