RH bill authors agree to make sex education optional

RH bill authors agree to make sex education optional
ANDREO C. CALONZO, GMA News
23 March 2011

The authors of the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill at the House of Representatives have agreed to amend several provisions of the measure’s consolidated version, including the introduction of a paragraph in the bill making sex education optional.

House Minority Floor Leader Edcel Lagman, one of the proponents of House Bill 4244 or the consolidated RH bill, on Wednesday said he and his co-authors have agreed to give parents the option whether or not their children will attend sex education classes.

“Parents shall exercise the option of not allowing their children to attend classes related to reproductive health and sexuality education,” he said during the first day of the interpellations on the measure.

Lagman said this amendment will be added to Section 16 of the consolidated version of the bill currently pending at the chamber. The section requires “mandatory age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education” to all students from Grade Five up to Fourth Year High School.

He said this amendment will be introduced as a “committee amendment” when the House resumes sessions in May after its Lenten break.

Another amendment is the scrapping of Section 20, which prescribes two children as the “ideal family size” in the country.

Section 20 of HB 4244 states that: “The State shall assist couples, parents and individuals to achieve their desired family size within the context of responsible parenthood for sustainable development and encourage them to have two children as the ideal family size.”

“Wala na ho itong probisyon na ito to enhance the freedom of informed choice, tutal ang ideal family size naman ho ay hindi naman mandatory at compulsory (This provision has been scrapped to enhance the freedom of informed choice since the ideal family size is not mandatory or compulsory),” Lagman said.

Watered down bill?
Lagman said these “voluntary” amendments to HB 4244 do not in any way “water down” the measure.

“We have not touched the central idea of the bill. These are voluntary amendments to expedite the debates and prevent further misinformation,” he told GMA News Online in an interview.

He added that the amendments were not prompted by talks with officials of the Roman Catholic Church, which is opposed to the bill.

Other amendments
Lagman likewise said that Section 21, which requires employers with more than 200 employees to “provide reproductive health services to all employees in their own respective health facilities,” will be “deleted in its entirety.”

The lawmaker explained that the provision will be scrapped because it is only a “restatement” of Article 134 of the Labor Code, which mandates establishments with clinics and infirmaries to “provide free family planning services to their employees” such as contraceptive pills and intrauterine devices.

Another provision of the bill that the authors have agreed to remove is Section 28-E of HB 4244, which identifies “malicious disinformation” about the intent of the measure as one of the “punishable acts,” according to Lagman.

He said that this portion of the bill was scrapped “in order to assure freedom of expression.”

The lawmaker likewise said that Section 15 of the bill, which requires congressmen to allocate a portion of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for mobile health care service vans, will also be changed so that funding of these pieces of equipment shall come from the national government.

Amendments to convince more lawmakers
ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio, who interpellated Lagman, said he was “pleased” to hear the proposed amendments on HB 4244

“Natutuwa ako na tinanggal na ang ilang probisyon na ito. Sumasang-ayon ako na napakarami nang disinformation na
pinapalaganap… Natugunan nito ang maraming agam-agam,” he said.

(I’m happy that they removed some provisions in the bill. I agree that a lot of disinformation is going around. This erased a lot of my doubts.)

Tinio added that the proposed changes in the RH bill will definitely gather more support for the bill’s passage. “Palagay ko darami na ang susuporta sa pagpasa ng RH bill dahil sa mga pagbabagong ito (I think because of the changes, more people will support the bill),” he said.

Debates on the RH bill will continue in May, when the chamber resumes sessions after the Lenten break.

Other authors of the bill include loilo Rep. Janette Garin, Akbayan party-list Reps. Arlene Bag-ao and Walden Bello, Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco Jr. and Gabriela party-list Reps. Luzviminda Ilagan and Emerenciana de Jesus.

Highly-debated issue
The RH bill has been highly debated by pro-life and pro-choice groups.

The Catholic Church promotes only natural family planning and is opposed to the use of artificial birth control methods such as condoms and birth-control pills, saying these could lead to promiscuity and a rise in abortion cases.

However, RH advocates say natural family planning methods have not proven to be as reliable as artificial means of birth control.

Several versions of the RH bill have been filed in previous congresses. In the present Congress, the RH bill is known as “Bill 96″ whose main proponent is Minority Leader Edcel Lagman of Albay.

The RH is based on the premise that the country’s population growth impedes economic development and exacerbates poverty.

The bill seeks to guarantee “universal access to medically-safe, legal, affordable and quality reproductive health care services, methods, devices, supplies and relevant information.”

However, Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra said in December last year that according to Catholic teachings, any action that directly or indirectly destroys and kills life is against the Fifth Commandment (“Thou shall not kill”) and is thus immoral.

He said the orientation of the RH bill is towards:

• the legalization of abortion;
• the use of abortifacients; and
• the promotion of the use of artificial birth control.

Navarra said the bill is against the Philippine Constitution, which mandates that the State shall protect the right of the unborn from conception which begins at fertilization. – KBK, GMA News