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Anti-RH strikes again

Remember former Mayor Lito Atienza’s controversial anti-contraceptive Executive Order that resulted in the banning of modern family planning methods in the City of Manila years ago? Some of the adversely affected women residents brought the case to the United Nations Committee on Women as a violation of their rights under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women ratified by the Philippine government.

A few months back, the Committee released its findings that indeed, Atienza’s Executive Order No. 3 violated women’s rights to reproductive health;  to decide for and by themselves whether they would want to do family planning or not; and, what method they will use if they so want. For a country that boasts of its international standing in gender equality and women’s rights, this is a big blow.

The Atienza EO was issued when there was no RH law yet.

Don’t look now because despite the law which is in full effect, Sorsogon City Mayor Sally Lee on February 2 of this year came out with Executive Order No. 3 (yes, the same number as Atienza’s) – Declaring Sorsogon City as a Pro-Life City.

At first we did not bother with this because one, the order does not have details on what the mayor meant by her city being pro-life. After all, despite the fact that anti-RH groups have co-opted the term, we do not consider being pro-RH as being anti-life. And two, the text of the EO is quite innocent. It even quotes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and our Magna Carta of Women. 

I, for one, said that perhaps we should first ask our contacts in Sorsogon as to the intent of the EO.

The reports that followed are quite disturbing. It turned out that the EO was just a prelude to a proposed ordinance. We got a copy of another resolution this time bearing the name of Hon. Emmanuel Diolata as proponent entitled, “Resolution Enacting an Ordinance Declaring Sorsogon City as a Pro-Life City Providing Its Guidelines and Policies”.  This resolution even has quotes from Popes Benedict XVI and Francis about every unborn child having the face of the Lord.

Together with this second resolution was a copy of,  “An Ordinance Declaring Sorsogon City as a Pro-Life City And Providing For Its Guidelines and Policies”.  Now this is different. The proposed ordinance under Section 4, Regulated Acts says:

“a) In the promotion of the dignity of life, the City Government of Sorsogon through the officers and employees shall not purchase and accept abortifacient contraceptives and other related medicines and that no officers and employees from the City Health Office, Rural Health Units, Barangay Health Centers and other private clinics and hospitals shall be allowed to dispense, give, donate, sell, deliver and recommend any of the abortifacient contraceptives;…

d) All drugstores and pharmacists in the City of Sorsogon are hereby enjoined to support this pro-life program and they are strictly prohibited from selling, dispensing, and promoting abortifacient contraceptives, drugs, and related medicines.” Emphasis mine.

This proposed ordinance promotes only natural family planning methods, and no other way to plan families. Further, it carries with it penalties under Section 8 ranging from reprimand to removal from service for public personnel, and suspension of business operations to revocation of business permits for drug stores and pharmacists.

We were told that this proposed ordinance is still in the committee level. However, knowing how powerful mayors are, this can be passed in no time if the Local Chief Executive so wants.

The thing is, despite the fact that the ordinance has yet to be approved, we received word that the LGU has already prohibited dispensing of contraceptives and even private drugstores are now prevented from selling the same.

It is Manila all over again.

The difference now is we have the RH law in effect.

It is true that the law clearly bans “abortifacient contraceptives” (if there is such a thing). The Food and Drug Administration is tasked to register only those that are proven to be non-abortifacient. The thing is, all contraceptives in the market are FDA-certified which means that they are not prohibited.

Why then does the Sorsogon LGU ban them? The answer is simple. Just like the other anti-RH groups, they believe that contraceptives, no matter what, result in abortion. Nothing can change their minds about this. I can respect this point of view IF they do not impose this on others.

By prohibiting access to contraceptives, the Sorsogon City local officials are coercing its women citizens to believe as they do. This is clearly an imposition.

By prohibiting access to contraceptives, the LGU is disrespecting and disregarding women’s capacity to decide for themselves. These local officials are violating the human rights of tens of thousands of women in Sorsogon City.

By prohibiting access to contraceptives, the LGU is clearly violating the RH law. Section 7, Access to Family Planning clearly says that “All accredited public health facilities shall provide a full range of modern family planning methods…” In contrast, Sorsogon City officials only allow NFP.

While the Supreme Court decision on the RH law strengthened the position of conscientious objectors, the High Court did not strike down (b) of Section 23. Prohibited Acts which says that these acts are prohibited: “Any public officer, elected or appointed, specifically charged with the duty to implement the provisions hereof, who, personally, or through a subordinate, prohibits or restricts the delivery of legal and medically-safe reproductive health care services including family planning; or forces, coerces or induces any person to use such services; or refuses to allocate, approve, or release any budget for reproductive health care services, or to support reproductive health programs or shall do any act that hinders the full implementation of a reproductive health program as mandated by this Act;”.

The Sorsogon City LGU is courting trouble. During Atienza’s time, there was no RH law that was violated. This time, it is different. Certainly, pro-RH groups will not let this LGU abuse and violation of the law slide. This is going to be an interesting test case of the Supreme Court decision.

The anti-RH camp is trying to subvert the law in various ways. Pro-RH advocates will not let them make a mockery of this law that took one and a half decades of struggle to pass. And just like in the Atienza EO, for and with the women, we will win this.

 

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