Wednesday, 6 January 2010

BM Editorial: What matters most

Business Mirror

THERE are only nine session days left for this Congress to finish its work, and by various estimates, some 20 priority bills left to enact.

When lawmakers return to both chambers this month to complete their tasks, most of them will be quite distracted by the political fever, especially if they’re running in the May elections or are active in the campaign of a relative, friend or party mate who’s running.

Therefore, with such limited time, the leadership of both chambers should be sure to limit the agenda only to the most essential pieces of legislation, i.e., those deemed indispensable to reform, to human development and social justice, and to sustainable growth. That means eschewing completely any effort to push the envelop, even by an inch, closer to facilitating Charter change, say, by a special session in February as floated by some quarters; and shelving any bill that not only is irrelevant to the three thrusts we cited above, but could surely waste precious legislative time in pointless debate.

In the latter category, one of the first that comes to mind is the controversial reproductive-health bill which has been elaborately titled “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development and for Other Purposes,” or House Bill (HB) 5043.

We cite this bill because of reports floating around that it may yet be resurrected in the final stretch of this Congress’s time. To those tempted to do so, please perish the thought.

The avid backers of this bill as crafted have conveniently framed the debates as simply one between superstition and science—or between a predominant Catholic Church that supposedly seeks to impose its beliefs on the entire population; and what is projected as the rock-solid, science-based argument that having more children is injurious to the national welfare per se because it leaves so many poor people scrambling for such tiny resources.

Last weekend, some Catholic priests delivering homilies on the Gospel about Herod’s order to massacre all innocents below age 2, to eliminate a potential rival in a messiah born somewhere, cited the alarming figures of illegal abortion in the country. It’s a figure that those championing artificial birth control often cite as precisely their reason for demanding that the state make available, with taxpayer money, the complete menu of birth-control devices that supposedly would cut down unwanted pregnancies, ergo, reduce abortion incidence.

Amid all these attempts at simplistically framing the arguments for and against HB 5043, it is well to go back to the scholarly, compelling paper written by Makati City Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., which this paper ran as a five-part series last year, titled “Culling Fields.”

There, Locsin dissected every item in the bill and concluded that it was not so much meant to boost reproductive health as to use massive resources of a cash-strapped state to promote just one school of population policy, i.e., artificial birth control, and thus achieve exactly what its advocates accuse the Catholic Church of: trying to promote only natural family planning to the exclusion of others.

The difference is stark, though: The Catholic Church uses its own set of carrots and sticks to win obedience to its set of beliefs, but not Juan’s money; the bill, contrary to the constitutional mandate to allow free choice while proscribing abortion, applies taxpayer money to further its own bias, throwing in huge sums for the humongous global business of the makers of artificial birth-control devices.

Thus would, argued the Locsin paper, the bill’s advocates attain several things in one blow: one, boost the business of the device makers, some of which, being drug manufacturers as well, were hurt by the impact of legislation in Third World countries that pushed cheaper medicine; two, push the defeatist agenda of those resisting genuine social justice by perpetuating the notion that poverty eradication is attained by “eradicating the poor,” as one newsroom wag put it; three, single out for a knockdown just one institution, the Catholic Church.

Achieving these three things wouldn’t do this Congress proud, especially not when it only has limited time to deal with so much backlog. In the end, it should just occupy itself with those that matter most.

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