26 February 2015
With barely ten months left in 2015, time is running out for the Philippines to meaningfully achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
Speaking in a press conference organized by the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) on February 24, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) representative Mr. Michael Provido, Department of Health (DOH) Assistant Secretary Enrique Tayag, AAMBIS-Owa Party List representative Sharon Garin, and PLCPD executive director Mr. Romeo Dongeto discussed the country’s progress in achieving the MDGs and preparations for the post-2015 global development agenda.
Set in 2000, the MDGs are global development goals that 189 countries and 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by 2015, namely: eliminate poverty and hunger; ensure universal primary education; improve child health; boost maternal health; halt the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; safeguard environmental sustainability; and build a global partnership for development.
According to reports from NEDA, there is high probability that the Philippines will meet its targets in ending food poverty, ensuring school participation of children, promoting women empowerment, decreasing infant and under-five mortality rate, lowering malaria morbidity, minimizing tuberculosis incidence, and ensuring access to safe water and sanitary toilet facilities.
On the other hand, the country has medium probability in solving income poverty and lowering the number of underweight children.
The areas where we lag behind are increasing cohort survival in school, closing the gender gap in education and politics, reducing maternal mortality, providing access to reproductive health services, and halting and reversing the spread of HIV.
Representative Sharon Garin lamented that while Congress has passed laws in the last 14 years that aim to contribute in achieving the country’s MDG targets, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.
“Congress remains committed in crafting laws that will help us meet our national targets. The challenge, however, to meet our MDG targets is not the sole burden of the government. It is upon each and every one of us to contribute in our own little ways to this huge endeavor. Now more than ever, we, the key stakeholders in society—the government, the business sector, civil society, mass media—should join hands to drum up our efforts to achieve our MDGs,” she said.
“We have to make sure that our efforts address the different needs of different sectors in our society and more effort should be invested for those who need the extra hand. Inclusive growth means no sector will be left behind as our country moves to achieve our development targets,” she added.
Meanwhile, Mr. Romeo Dongeto, PLCPD executive director zoomed in on the MDG targets that the Philippines is obviously missing, including reducing maternal deaths (MDG5 target) and halting the spread of HIV (MDG6 target). According to the 2011 Family Health Survey, maternal mortality ratio in the Philippines is 221 deaths per 100,000, which increased from 162 in 2008 and is a far cry from the MDG5 target of only 52 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015. He also cited the “fast and furious” rate of increase of new cases of HIV in the country. The latest DOH HIV and AIDS Registry confirms 6,011 new HIV cases in the country in 2014. 5,758 or 96% of the 6,011 new cases were male, and the age group 20-29 year old had 58% of the cases.
“You know something is not working for our women, our mothers, and our young people when we have figures like these—increasing maternal deaths and increasing new HIV cases—at a time when everything else [is reported to be] improving everywhere else,” he laments.
Dongeto also echoed the sentiment of Congresswoman Garin. “We have to make sure that the progress we’ve been making is inclusive and does not exclude any sector in society. Be it in the area of health or gender equality, we should examine our progress and gaps across all regions, all age groups, all economic classes.”
PLCPD is an organization of lawmakers advocating legislation conducive to human development in the country. The organization has supported policy proposals supportive of the MDGs, including the historic Reproductive Health Law enacted in December 2012.
The press conference titled “From the Millennium Development Goals to the Post-2015 Development Agenda: Marami pang Dapat Gawin,” held on February 24 at Alex III in Tomas Morato, Quezon City was the first in a series of media activities being organized by PLCPD. The series is called “Closing gaps, expanding opportunities: a kapihan series on various issues of our time,” and aims to discuss various human development issues including the MDGs, women’s health and rights, HIV and AIDS, and children’s rights.
17 February 2015
Civil society organizations working for the protection of children’s rights reiterated their call to Congress to institutionalize child participation in disaster risk reduction (DRR) in a learning session organized by PLCPD last February 13.
Shiela M. Carreon of Save the Children Philippines discussed the right of children to freely express their views and opinion on matters that affect them as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC). She also stressed the importance of providing children or those below 18 years of age the opportunity to participate in policymaking process to ensure that their interests are duly considered by authorities.
These rights are inalienable even when disasters strike, said Leon Fajardo of UNICEF Philippines. He emphasized how disasters exacerbate the natural vulnerabilities of children and undermine the fulfillment of their rights.
Role of children in DRR
Fajardo pointed out that children play a critical role in disaster risk reduction. Children provide a more holistic and long-term perspective in analyzing risks and can communicate their analysis to peers and parents. Their optimistic attitude translates into action and can convince adults to mobilize resources. On the other hand, children also have specific needs during disaster situations.
Carreon cited several countries where children actively participated in the formulation of their community disaster preparedness plans and in information and awareness drives in their communities.
Prospects for legislation
Currently, there are legislative measures that are seen as access points for the advocacy on child participation in disaster risk reduction. These are existing bills on different children and youth issues through which formal mechanisms for child participation in DRR may be introduced.
Armie Evardone, chief of staff of House Bill 5285’s principal author Rep. Susan Yap, discussed the salient points of the said bill, which provides for “a comprehensive and strategic program of action to provide the children affected by disaster, calamity, and other emergency situations support and assistance necessary for their immediate recovery and protection against all forms of neglect, abuse, exploitation and other acts prejudicial to their interest and well-being.” The bill has already been approved by the House of Representatives on Final Reading and is under technical working group discussions at the Senate.
Cathy Alcantara, legislative staff of Rep. Barry Gutierrez, on one hand, talked about the different versions of SK reform and empowerment bills in the House and Senate. Senate Bill 2401 differs mainly from the House version on the age requirement for SK officials and the extent of the ban on political dynasties. In SB 2401, SK officials must be 18-24 years old, while the House version sets the age requirement at 18-21 years. Both bills however provide for more fiscal autonomy to SK.
Commenting on the said bills, representatives from civil society organizations urged the inclusion of an express provision in the bills that will provide for child participation in local disaster risk reduction and management councils to ensure that their concerns are integrated in DRR policies and programs. They also raised their concern that the SK bills deny children the opportunity to directly participate in governance, given the change in the age requirement for SK officials. They also proposed that the SK bills should contain a provision that DRR should be among the priorities of the SK.
Evardone and Alcantara assured the CSOs that their concerns and recommendations will be duly considered by the authors of the bills.
The CSOs present were ZOTO, World Vision, Plan International, VIDES, NGO Coalition on the UNCRC, and ChildFund. Representatives Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, Teddy Brawner Baguilat, and Mel Senen Sarmiento were also represented by their legislative staff.
This learning session was conducted in partnership with UNICEF Philippines.
5 February 2015
PLCPD, in partnership with UNICEF Philippines, conducted “Documentary Photography and Photo Story Production Training-Workshop on Infant and Young Child Feeding Practices” last January 21-23 in La Trinidad, Benguet.
Undeterred by the cold and the mountainous landscape, 23 participants, representing various civil society organizations and offices of legislators, held on to their digital cameras, eyes keen to capture the best images of good practices and challenges on nutrition and child health, particularly the first 1,000 days of infant and young child feeding.
They trained under the tutelage of Mr. Jimmy Domingo, who teaches photography and photojournalism courses in Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University – Manila.
Ms. Georgina Belardo, Communication for Development Officer, Health and Nutrition Section, UNICEF, on one hand, shared about the importance of breastfeeding on the child’s health and in solving malnutrition in the country.
An earlier study by UNICEF reported that children who are breastfed cry less; have less respiratory infections, diarrhea, Vitamin A deficiency, allergies, chronic diseases, and risk of obesity; and have higher scores on IQ tests.
The photo essays generated by participants will be displayed in an exhibit at the House of Representatives and Senate in August, in time for the celebration of Nutrition and Breastfeeding Months. Prizes were also awarded to the three top solo photos and three top photo stories.
The activity was organized with the assistance of the Office of La Trinidad Mayor Edna Tabanda.
2 February 2015
Legislators committed to support children’s rights in the proposed law that will create a Bangsamoro political entity in a learning session organized by PLCPD on January 28.
Speaking on the challenges in the formulation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, PLCPD Vice President, reiterated his commitment to work on guaranteeing the protection and welfare of children in the Bangsamoro. He stressed the importance of legislating enabling laws that reflect the country’s international commitments in upholding children’s rights rights, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“There is a need for a transitory provision in the BBL that states that national laws (on child protection) are applied in the Bangsamoro until the [Bangsamoro parliament] has enacted a law of the same spirit,” he said.
Bukidnon Rep. Malou Acosta-Alba, a member of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL, provided updates on the deliberations of the committee. She also shared that while many issues have surfaced in the committee discussions, there are apparently issues—including children’s rights—that have not been discussed.
Atty. Benedicto Bacani of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance pointed out the general repealing clause in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that ensures that no law will be enacted by the regional assembly that is inconsistent with national laws. He suggested that it may help to ease doubts on the matter if a non-derogation clause will be included in the BBL. A non-derogation clause in the BBL prevents the Bangsamoro regional government from detracting national laws or international agreements that the Philippines has signed into.
UNICEF Representative to the Philippines, Ms. Lotta Sylwander, urged the legislators to carry on the advocacy. Citing statistics that show how children in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) lag behind their peers in other regions in terms of education, nutrition and vaccination, and access to safe water and electricity—making them vulnerable in times of conflict, Ms. Sylwander stressed the importance of promoting child rights in the Bangsamoro.
“The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) has opened the doors for lasting peace and sustainable development for the people. The Bangsamoro Basic Law is now the next milestone. Children must come first!” she said.
The discussion concluded with the agreement to put forward proposed amendments to the bill, namely: a provision ensuring the participation of children in governance and the prohibition of recruitment of children to armed groups.
Representatives Grex Lagman, Lawrence Fortun, and Susan Yap also attended the activity. Other participants include legislative staff of other legislators and the committee secretary of the House Committee on the Welfare of Children.
PLCPD celebrated last November 25 its 25th Founding Anniversary at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Ortigas, with the theme “Expanding choices, uplifting lives: Celebrating 25 years of advocacy on population and human development.”
PLCPD Chairperson for the House of Representatives Rep. Bellaflor J. Angara-Castillo, opened the program and welcomed the guests. Her welcome remarks was followed by a short presentation on past successes of PLCPD, delivered by PLCPD Vice Chairperson for Luzon Rep. Teddy B. Baguilat and first Executive Director Mr. Benjamin de Leon. Former Rep. Josie Joson, in her message on milestones in advocacy, recalled the lessons learned from the early years in the struggle for the reproductive health (RH) bill, as well as from advocating other issues in the organization’s policy agenda.
In his keynote address, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. lauded his colleagues in both houses of Congress for championing policies on population and human development. He congratulated in particular Rep. Edcel Lagman for being one of the most indefatigable champions of RH bill. He stressed further that “Sustainable human development is important. We have to take much better care of our women and children, and the poor and the vulnerable of our society.”
Rep. Lagman, who led the ceremonial toast, shared a few anecdotes from the last few years of the RH struggle as well as the lessons that can be applied in other advocacy issues.
Another highlight of the event was the awarding of the Human Development Legislator: Lifetime Achievement Award led by Reps. Luz Ilagan and Susan Yap, Vice Chairperson for Mindanao and Secretary. Former Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani, PLCPD’s founding chairperson, was bestowed the honor for her tireless work in championing population and human development causes.
Committed to continue its advocacy of improving the quality of life of the Filipino in the next 25 years and beyond, PLCPD also launched the initial plans for the Human Development Center which will house future studies and host events on population and human development. The launch was led by Reps. Angara-Castillo and Linabelle Ruth Villarica and past and current Executive Directors RobertoAdor and Romeo Dongeto. PLCPD Vice Chairperson for Visayas Rep. Sharon Garin, on one hand, spoke on PLCPD’s current priorities and plans for the future.
In his closing remarks, PLCPD Vice Chairperson for the Senate Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara urged his colleagues to continue what PLCPD has done in the last quarter century.
It was a night full of reminiscing, attended by past and current PLCPD members, past and current members of the Secretariat, friends and partners in the civil society and the international development community.
Founded in 1989, PLCPD is an organization of national lawmakers who work together in advocating policies to advance population and human development in the country. The organization has advocated legislation in the areas of children’s rights, education, environment, fiscal reforms, governance, human rights, public health, rural development, and women’s rights, among others.
Members of PLCPD who are also the authors of the bill seeking to strengthen the response to the expanding HIV epidemic in the country by amending the AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998 or RA 8504 are calling on the Department of Health (DOH) to enforce stricter and more effective strategies in addressing the epidemic, underscoring the importance of voluntary HIV counseling and testing, amid DOH’s proposal to make HIV testing compulsory.
Ako Bicol Party List Representative and bill co-author Rodel Batocabe said, “The DOH under Secretary Ona fought for the passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, which is anchored on freedom of informed choice particularly in matters pertaining to sexual and reproductive health and rights. It would be such a setback if the agency imposes a procedure that is just sensitive and potentially life-altering. Let us not go back to the times when the word democracy is meaningless. History has taught us that coercion or compulsion is never effective. I know that the DOH has the best intentions, but clearly this is not what the people want. The DOH must instead mobilize resources for massive information dissemination across all sectors.”
Latest figures from the Department of Health’s official passive surveillance system, AIDS Registry, show that 498 new individuals were diagnosed to be HIV positive. This is 415 percent higher compared to the same period five years ago.
“Experts are calling our HIV situation in the country fast and furious, probably to connote that the epidemic is outpacing the government’s response. This could mean that either our efforts are insufficient or our strategies are not tailored to the needs of our populations who are most-at-risk to the infection,” said bill author and PLCPD Vice Chairperson Rep. Teddy Baguilat.
“We may be one of only nine countries in the world which continue to see an expanding epidemic, making it impossible for the Philippines to achieve the MDG target of halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015. We need to adapt and take to heart the calls of our most-at-risk populations when we design our actions. This is why PLCPD is taking part in the multisectoral efforts to scale up the HIV response by ensuring that a responsive law is in place. This is one of our priority legislative agenda for the 16th Congress,” said PLCPD Executive Director Rom Dongeto.
Secretary Ona flagged the plan to make HIV testing mandatory during the committee deliberations on the amendment bill held in February this year. His statement was met with overwhelming opposition from advocates. According to DOH’s latest statement, the department is working on the details for making HIV tests compulsory as a means to address increasing HIV cases in the country. Mandatory testing is prohibited by existing law and the decision to submit to HIV testing is left solely to the individuals taking the test as they are the ones who can tell if they are physically and emotionally ready for it.
About 170 local legislators consisting of vice governors, provincial board members, and city and municipal councilors convened last June 25-27 for the Local Legislators’ League on Population, Health, Environment and Development (3LPHED) 4th National Assembly held at Paradise Garden Resort hotel and convention Center in Boracay, Malay, Aklan.
With the theme “Changing Climate: Exploring the Climate and Population Links for Effective Governance”, the national assembly aimed to strengthen and consolidate members of 3LPHED and provide opportunities for learning and sharing, as well as developing its policy agenda on population, health and environment.
The assembly was welcomed by Vice Governor Gabrielle Calizo-Quimpo of Aklan and Vice Mayor Wilbec Gelito of Malay, Aklan in a welcome dinner. Speakers in the main program included Climate Change Commissioner Naderev Saño, who discussed the basics of climate change; Department of the Interior and Local Government Director Analiza Baganyo, who presented the local governance imperatives of action for climate change; and PLCPD Executive Director Rom Dongeto, who talked about the population dynamics of the effects of climate change.
The highlight of the assembly was the oath taking of members and the election of new set of national officers. Following is the new set of officers for the period 2014-2016: Masbate Vice Governor Vicente Homer B. Revil, National President; Sultan Kudarat Vice Governor Ernesto Matias, Executive Vice President; Tarlac Vice Governor Enrique “Kit” Cojuangco, Vice President for Luzon; Eastern Samar Board Member Jenny Baldono, Vice President for Visayas; Misamis Oriental Vice Governor Joey Pelaez, Vice President for Mindanao; Tarlac Board Member Romeo Evangelista, National Secretary General; Aurora Vice Governor Rommel Rico Angara, Deputy National Secretary General; and Pilar, Quezon Municipal Councilor Ron Magbuhos-Papag, National Treasurer. Officers for the following posts were also elected: Assistant Treasurer (Candon City Councilor Kristelle Kit Singson); National Auditor (Mountain Province Vice Governor Bonifacio Lacwasan Jr.); Assistant National Auditor (Jalajala, Rizal Vice Mayor Elmer Pillas); National Public Relations Officer (PRO) (Leyte Vice Governor Carlo Loreto); North Luzon PRO (Bataan Board Member Dexter “Teri Onor” Dominguez); South Luzon PRO (Placer, Masbate Vice Mayor Nilo V. Du); Visayas PRO (Leyte Board Member Mesias Arevalo); Mindanao PRO (Surigao del Sur Board Member Mary Grace Lim); and Business Manager (Malay, Aklan Vice Mayor Wilbec Gelito).