Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, August 3, 2012

As Ph prepares to celebrate the 500th year of Christianity here, let’s stop debating the unnecessary RH bill and concentrate on achieving really meaningful health for the nation--by marshalling funds properly, including solons’ pork barrel. Chavez reminds SC that it cannot amend the constitutional provision on “a vote for the Congress” in JBC.

The Catholic Bishops, led by Metropolitan Archbishop of Manila Luis Antonio Tagle, have summoned the faithful to the EDSA Shrine of Our Lady tomorrow, Aug. 4, from 1pm. to 7 pm. for a rally in protest of the RH bill that anti-life advocates wish to push in Congress next week. Given the typhoon weather, just how many would show up tomorrow is speculative. But the fact remains that many people are against this bill, formally known as the “Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Bill,” and that it’s unnecessarily dividing the nation---when our goals as a people should converge at this critical juncture in our nation.

We all want maternal and child health care---more hospitals and health-care facilities that can assure safe delivery for mothers and adequate check up for their children, more schools, housing, jobs, etc. The problem, however, is that some members of Congress blame all the inadequacies in these needs on one problem: they assert that there are just too many people in this country. To assure all these needs to be met, they argue, let’s control the birth rate---when the just and moral way is to allocate resources properly and judiciously and not allow them to be squandered on wasteful and corrupt projects.   


What are the facts on this issue?  RH advocates keep spooking people with  Ph's supposed rapid growth rate, but fact is that WB statistics point out that from a high of 2.7% in the late ‘70s, it’s down to 1.7 % and declining. Where many developed countries now worry about their aging populations---in fact a major problem in many countries now is a “demographic winter” or even depopulation---Ph enjoys a young population (e.g., compared to the medial age in Japan of 45 years, Ph’s is 22.7 years), which is the envy of many  countries. 

It’s this young population that we export abroad that keeps our economy afloat with $20 billion in remittances yearly. And as BSP Deputy Gov. Diwata Gunigundo put it, this same young population will be the driving force of Ph’s prospective tiger economy in the next decade.


Former Sen. Nene Pimentel, a staunch pro-life advocate, asserts that the RH bill is “a foreign ideology that has no business in a country like ours.”  Moreover, he stresses, it violates a number of specific provisions in our Constitution which are not found in other constitutions. One is Art. XV, Sec. 3 which provides, “The State shall defend the right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their RELIGIOUS CONVICTIONS and the demands of responsible parenthood.” (Underscoring BOC’s).  Or as former Sen. Kit Tatad puts it in his column, “…it is not for the State to prescribe, regulate or supervise (responsible parenthood) which, if properly understood, is not controversial at all.”


So why are the pro-RH advocates in Congress pushing this bill, which they hope to pass way before the 2013 elections, so that people would forget by then who voted for it? Of course we will not forget, but it should be noted here that perhaps it’s the prospect of huge funding from certain international organizations and private foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, flowing into our country that's driving the pro-RH solons. But they don’t realize that parents everywhere are worried about the culture of promiscuity that the "institutionalizing" of contraception would usher in, as well as the “comprehensive sex education” to be undertaken by the government and not by the parents themselves. 

My feeling is that those who want to avail of contraceptives are free anyway to do so, as these are readily available in various places. But in a country that’s overwhelmingly Christian and Catholic, even if some of them are only nominally so---and which will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity here in less than a decade---it is unacceptable to institutionalize contraception and the anti-life mindset. 

Let us tell our legislators that the only way to handle the RH bill, as Pimentel put it, “is to KILL IT.” We should be spending our national energies not in debating this totally unnecessary bill, but in setting up the real requisites of nationwide health---for a healthy Philippines.


Media devoted some space to the hearing at the Supreme Court last Thursday on the motion for reconsideration of the Senate (on behalf of Congress) on SC’s recent decision to recognize only one vote for both chambers of Congress in the Judicial & Bar Council (JBC).  Predictably the senator who argued it, Sen. Joker Arroyo, was given plenty of coverage by media outfits sympathetic to President Aquino.  In defending the two votes for Congress, Joker was, as usual, studious in his assigned presentation, even as it may have been a difficult assignment for him, given his brilliant stand against CJ Renato Corona’s ouster.

But Joker’s arguments came across as quite feeble because this issue that Congress is pushing ---to have two votes instead of one in the JBC---is quite weak and infirm.  Joker’s main assertion was that the provision of the Constitution for “a vote for the Congress” in the JBC was an “inadvertence” on the part of the Charter framers which should be more liberally interpreted by the SC in the light of the bicameral legislature that emerged from the ConCom.  But we’re all aware that this cannot be “corrected” just like that, as the SC is strait-jacketed by the Constitution.


 By contrast, former Solicitor-General Francisco Chavez, apart from having retained his old swagger, came across forcefully in defending his challenge to the SC to rule according to the Constitution. He boomed that the SC cannot amend the Constitution by itself and that it has to stick to its earlier one-vote decision for the two chambers of Congress. Chavez stressed that this issue is “as simple as ABC---all you have to do is take out the B and C, and you’ll have only A, which is the key to the provision of ‘a vote for the Congress.’ ”

Chavez maintained that contrary to Arroyo’s argument, the Charter framers did not commit any inadvertence inasmuch as the draft of the Constitution was submitted as early as August 1986, already with that controversial provision---whereas the styling committee went over the text with a fine-tooth comb in October 1986, a good two months later, and did not alter that phrase. Chavez asked the high magistrates to disregard the argument of Arroyo and a few magistrates that this practice of a senator and a representative sitting separately in the JBC has been going on through five CJs already.


In fact, said Chavez, from the time of CJs Claudio Teehankee, Pedro Yap, Marcelo Fernan and a part of Andres Narvasa’s tenure, “there was full compliance with the one-vote proviso” ---- until 1994, when the late Sen. Rene Cayetano pushed for two members from Congress with a half-vote each. But, he asserted, “we all know that two half-men do not A Man make,” drawing faint smiles from the Court. He also stressed that it was Chief Justice Hilario Davide who allowed two members from Congress with a full vote each, bringing the JBC membership to eight instead of seven as the Charter provided. It’s time to respect the Charter provision, he said.

As I listened to the three hours of hearing, I smiled from time to time as I remembered how Arroyo and Chavez were both active in the anti-Marcos movement (Joker as an iconic human rights lawyer and Frank as a leader in the First Quarter Storm) and in the post-Ninoy years, and they both served under Cory Aquino. Now they were on the opposite side of the fence on this issue. 

At this writing we still don’t know if the SC would be bamboozled into reversing its earlier one-vote ruling, which resulted in Congress’ boycott of the JBC hearings. That JBC short-list is being awaited, so that the President can meet the constitutional deadline of appointing a new CJ three months from the May 29 ouster of CJ Renato Corona. P-Noy has unabashed been campaigning to include his favorite CJ nominee, Leila de Lima, in the JBC short-list and the SC's grant of two two votes to Congress could help get his choice there. 

Frankly I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the SC sticks to its original one-vote ruling. For if it caves in to the presidential dictate and the arrogance of the Senate on this issue, the SC would further weaken the rule of law  and the supremacy of the judiciary in constitutional matters. 

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