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Brazil: 270 of 4,180 suspected birth defect cases confirmed

RIO DE JANEIRO — New figures released Wednesday by Brazil’s Health Ministry as part of a probe into the Zika virus have found fewer cases of a rare birth defect than first feared.

Researchers have been looking at 4,180 suspected cases of microcephaly reported since October. On Wednesday, officials said they had done a more intense analysis of more than 700 of those cases, confirming 270 cases and ruling out 462 others.

But what that means is hard to say, according to some experts. It does not answer whether the tropical Zika virus is causing the babies to have unusually small heads. Nor does it really tell us how big the problem is.

PhilHealth urged to improve enrollment in formal economy

 

Gauging the efficacy of enrollment in PhilHealth’s Employed Program will help policymakers in the health sector determine a more effective approach in achieving the goal of universal coverage.
Last year, PhilHealth officials iterated their commitment to achieving universal coverage by 2016.
President Aquino signed an amendment of the National Health Insurance Act highlighting the responsibility of the national government to cover the health insurance premiums of Filipinos in the informal sector.
However, full coverage in the formal sector also needs due attention and improvement. Thirty percent of PhilHealth’s members come from the formal economy where enrollment is mandatory.
But based on a study by state think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), “full coverage” is “yet to be achieved.”
The private sector currently sits at 95-percent coverage, while the government employed sector sits at 75 percent. Denise Valerie Silverberg, author of the study, argues that examining the level of PhilHealth coverage and enrollment in the formal sector will help policymakers bridge that gap.
Silfverberg surmised that the gap in coverage can be explained by looking at how some agencies comply with labor policy. For example, the low coverage rates may be attributed to the significant number of contractual employees in government who do not enjoy the benefits of being enrolled in PhilHealth.
The perpetuation of contractual employees — something the private sector is just as guilty —  allows firms and agencies to stall enrollment of employees into the PhilHealth Employed Program and withhold “appropriate benefits.”
But companies deliberately shortchanging employees are not just the only flaws. Variations of enrollment rate can also be produced by characteristics that set the private and government sector apart, and other factors like establishment size and area.
For the private sector, sectoral employment, nature of employment, union coverage, union-employees ration and number of employees all influence variations of coverage rate. But in the provinces, it is the size of the firm that matters.
“More employees hired by medium-sized establishments lead to a higher likelihood for the province to have lower coverage,” Silfverberg pointed out, “On the contrary, the greater the number of employees in large-sized enterprises, the more likely it is for the province to have higher coverage levels.”
Silfverberg concluded that before the country can work toward full coverage, policymakers must find a way to address the problems that impede effective implementation of the national health insurance program. Enrollment should be more targeted, depending on the sectors where undercoverage occurs the most.
Monitoring by PhilHealth should also be strengthened. Medium-sized establishments, surmised by Silfverberg, are more likely to short change employees when it comes to health insurance enrollment if they are not closely monitored.
Employers have to be held accountable to follow the labor code provision on employee regularization. The rules are often undermined by resorting to a six-month cycle to prevent employees from being regularized, and to refrain from giving them their due benefits.
Employers — both public and private — should enroll their employees into the program, whether they are regular or casual. Compliance at the local government level should be also closely monitored. After all, it would be harder to close the gap if government units themselves do not implement the health insurance program in their own offices.

-Tribune Wires

 

http://www.tribune.net.ph/business/philhealth-urged-to-improve-enrollment-in-formal-economy

Family planning is 'critical link' in eradicating poverty

By Zofeen Ebrahim in Musa Dua and Liz Ford


Reproductive health experts want more access to modern contraceptives to prevent population bulge that would undermine efforts to tackle global poverty

Giving people access to family planning is crucial to achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030, reproductive health experts said this week.

Speaking at an international family planning conference in Bali, Ellen Starbird, director of population and reproductive health at USAid, said family planning was the “critical link” to meet each of the 17 goals that were adopted by UN member states in September.

Targets in two of the SDGs – goals three and five – call for universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights. But those campaigning for wider access to family planning and improved reproductive healthcare believe that unless more people are offered modern contraception, other interventions to reduce poverty and inequality may be far less effective.

Starbird pointed to the energy crisis in many poorer countries: despite huge efforts in developing countries to provide electricity, capacity is “eaten up” by growing populations. The consequences, she said, could be serious, with a population bulge that would lead to a huge number of uneducated young people without work in the years to come.

Starbird added that it was important to get “strong outcome indicators” in the SDGs. The indicators, which will be used to gauge progress towards meeting the goals, are still under discussion. One of the proposed benchmarks is to meet at least 75% of demand for family planning by 2030. “What gets measured, gets done,” said Starbird.

According to the global progress report published in November by Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), 24.4 million more women and girls in poorer countries have begun using modern contraceptives in the past three years. The total number of women using a modern method in FP2020’s 69 target countries is now 290.6 million. However, progress towards FP2020’s target of giving an additional 120 million women access to contraception by 2020 is off track.

 “Family planning is about women’s rights and their capacity to make decisions about their health and wellbeing,” said Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UNPopulation Fund.

“It is a most significant investment to promote human capital development, combat poverty and harness a demographic dividend, thus contributing to equitable and sustainable economic development,” he said.

Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia, told the conference on Monday that his government was working hard to revitalise family planning because “we know that the challenges facing Indonesian families in the future will [only] be greater, especially when it comes to population issues … we also encourage local governments to raise awareness and make family planning a priority in every municipality and village across Indonesia”.

He stressed the importance of increasing access to long-acting contraceptives, reducing the cost of family planning services and introducing peer education programmes.

The Indonesian finance minister announced the government had earmarked 5% of health spending for family planning in its 2016 budget.

Senegal’s minister of health, Awa Marie Coll Seck, said: “The world community must realise that to make progress faster, countries need to follow their own plans, which may be different from plans drawn by donors; the one-size-fits-all does not work.”

The challenges of providing universal family planning are enormous, acknowledged Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but so are the rewards. “There is no time to lose,” she said in a video message to delegates.

On Monday, the Gates Foundation launched a $30m (£21m), four-year project with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation to increase access to contraceptives and reduce unplanned pregnancies among 15- to 19-year-olds in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Nigeria.

The project, Adolescents 360, aims to work with girls to find out what their needs are and how they can be met. It will also work with parents, boys and community leaders to address the issues that lead to early and unintended pregnancy.#

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/jan/26/family-planning-critical-link-eradicating-poverty-modern-contraceptives-population-bulge

Gates Foundation invests additional $120-M in family planning
The Gates Foundation and other concerned groups are moving to ensure the global targets for family planning

By Ana P. Santos

BALI, Indonesia – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will invest an additional $120 million over the next three years to ensure that 120 million women and girls will have access to modern contraception.

That announcement was made on January 25 via a recorded video message delivered by Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the opening of the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP), a global conference that gathered more than 4,000 family planning experts and advocates.

Chris Elias, President of Global Development at the Gates Foundation explained that the additional investment will focus on three key areas: promoting advocacy to keep governments focused on policies and programs that promote family planning; improving access to information and services so women will have wider contraceptive choices; and expanding urban health care programs across Africa and Asia.

“There is a critical need to make a consistent and compelling case for budgets, policies and programs that ensure more women and girls can access contraceptives,” said Elias.

Access to modern contraception

The additional investment is meant to help accelerate attainment of the goals set out at the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning. In London, the FP2020 global partnership was formed to enable 120 million women and girls from 69 of the world’s poorest countries to access modern contraception by 2020.

The most recent Family Planning 2020 global progress report revealed that in the last three years, there were 24.4 million more women and girls who had access to contraception. (READ: Contraception saves 250,000 lives each year) However, this is 10 million short of the target that FP2020 hoped to achieve by 2015.

According to Elias, funding of family planning initiatives is slowing down and is further hampered by the global economic crisis.

“Funding for family planning programs fell by $20 million and is almost back to 2012 levels. The family planning data and evidence point to concrete steps we can take as a community to get back on track to meet our FP2020 goal,“ said Elias.

Sustainable Development Goals

With one third of the world’s population estimated to be between 10-24 years old and an unprecedented number of young people entering reproductive age, family planning will play a critical role in realizing theSustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the new development agenda for the next 15 years, adopted in September 2015 at the United Nations General Assembly.

Reducing the global unmet need for family planning services could save 1 in 4 women from deaths related to pregnancy or childbirth and prevent 1.1 million infant deaths each year. (READ: Meeting RH-related SDG targets: 'Work must start from Day 1')

“The Government of Indonesia is working hard to revitalize our family planning program [because] we know that the challenges facing Indonesian families in the future will [only] be greater, especially when it comes to population issues,” said President Joko Widodo during his opening speech at the ICFP.

“In order to sustain economic growth, investments in family planning are absolutely necessary,” added the Indonesian President.

The 2016 ICFP will run from January 25 to 28 and will serve as a platform for global partners to revisit global commitments to family planning and accelerate progress towards the FP2020 goal. – Rappler.com

http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/120263-gates-foundation-invests-additional-120-m-dollars-family-planning?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=referral

 

There’s enough for condoms, but…

 

The Department of Health (DOH) assured Filipino couples that it could cover their contraceptive needs for the entire year despite a budget cut, but warned that supply would be “critical” in the first two quarters of 2017.

Health Secretary Janette Garin said the DOH would work to realign some of its savings at the end of the year to prevent a “stockout” of family planning commodities in the first six months of 2017.

A stockout of birth control supplies would  have a huge impact on poor young mothers who have been relying on contraceptives provided by barangay health centers to help them space their children, she said.

“The cut should not happen again in the 2017 budget,” said Garin, one of the authors of the reproductive health law.

The bicameral conference committee had slashed P1 billion originally earmarked to cover the free provision of contraceptives from the P3.2-billion allocation for the DOH’s “Family Health and Responsible Parenting” line item this year.

-Jocelyn R. Uy

http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/757366/theres-enough-for-condoms-but

VP pushes comprehensive health plan for all Pinoys

 

Vice President Jejomar Binay on Monday vowed to improve government health services, as he noted that health services in the country have deteriorated and have become more costly based on a recent study.

“Joey Salgado, Office of the Vice President chief for media affairs, cited a report from IBON Foundation thatsaid health services have not improved at all and even became more costly.

The study showed that PhilHealth members still shell out a large amount of money for confinement, medicine and other medical needs, which defeats the purpose of PhilHealth membership.

Salgado said a Binay administration will not only improve the PhilHealth system but will also develop and implement a comprehensive health program–with emphasis on preventive health care–that is accessible to as many Filipinos, even in far-flung areas.

IBON, citing Philippine National Health Accounts (PNHA) data for 2013, said patients still had to shell out almost 70 percent for their health spending.

It said this is contrary to the administration’s claim that through PhilHealth, families belonging to the poorest or 20 percent of the population “will not have to shell out a single centavo” for public hospital services because of PhilHealth in 2012.

The research group added that this number has risen to 40 percent in 2014.

The IBON study, contained in the book “Critical Condition: Privatized Health in the Philippines,” was conducted among poor families in Metro Manila, Sorsogon, Nueva Ecija, Mindoro Oriental, Eastern Samar, Capiz, Iloilo and Negros Occidental.

Those interviewed included sponsored patients whose contributions are paid for by other individuals, the local government or government agencies, paying patients who are usually government or private sector employees and individually enrolled members, and lifetime patients who are senior citizens who have paid at least 120 monthly premium contributions.

The study showed most PhilHealth beneficiaries interviewed still bought medical paraphernalia or equipment prescribed by doctors and nurses and which were not provided by the hospital.

Some of these medical paraphernalia are breathing tubes, intravenous (IV) therapy paraphernalia such as needles, syringes, dextrose, surgical paraphernalia, birthing paraphernalia, urine bags, catheter, blood-transfusion related paraphernalia, oxygen masks, ampoule and vials, gloves and cleaning implements.

The beneficiaries also bought medicine outside the hospital as these were not available in the hospital’s pharmacy.

These included antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and drugs for pneumonia, tuberculosis, cough, allergies, dialysis, pain and fever.

In Nueva Ecija, IBON said sponsored patients complained they had to shell out a large amount for confinement.

Some borrowed money to buy prescribed medicine, while other patients asked for donations from friends and relatives, politicians and government agencies.

IBON added some patients were so desperate they borrowed from lenders who charge an interest as high as 10 to 40 percent a month.

“Even if the hospital guarantees reimbursement in part or in full for unavailable paraphernalia and drugs, patients regardless of category said that having to shell out money for their confinement is rather burdensome,” it said.

IBON added, “The interviews revealed an uneven implementation of the program. In Eastern Samar, most patients were given 100 percent coverage, while in Roxas and Iloilo no one was given 100 percent coverage.

Overall, very few sponsored patients said PhilHealth covered 100 percent of their bills and that they still had to pay the balance of the bill.

Paying patients estimated that PhilHealth covered or will cover from 26 percent to 75 percent of their bills, while no lifetime member had 100% percent of their bill covered.

While paying patients “had a positive attitude toward PhilHealth,” they complained of poor ventilation, lack of cleanliness, noise in the wards, smelly toilets and lack of beds in health facilities, IBON said.

“The health program we offer to our people supports our broad goal to attain inclusive and sustainable growth through intensive jobs-creation activities and expanded social services,” Salgado said.

He added that it is sad that IBON also noted that “the objective of socialized subsidy is not being achieved with lifetime members receiving the highest benefit payment per beneficiary on average (P1,259.52), and sponsored program members composed of poorer beneficiaries receiving the lowest benefit payment (P572.71) in 2013.”

It is sadder to note, Salgado said, that the study showed “PhilHealth has also not guaranteed reduced or zero out-of-pocket expenditures.”

“This is why we need a comprehensive health program for the people, which includes nationwide vaccination, sanitation and proper nutrition programs. In line with this, health care services should reach our brothers and sisters in far-flung areas as fast as it reaches Filipinos in urban centers. I believe it can be done. And it must be done,” he added.

Salgado said, “There should be easy access to universal health care for all. Sadly, our healthcare system is plagued by considerable inequities in access to healthcare between classes. The poor, marginalized and disadvantaged members of our society are unable to access quality healthcare. Thus, it is imperative that reforms be implemented to address these inequities.”

“As borne by the Makati [City] model, a healthy individual maximizes human potential and productivity. There should be free hospitalization for the poorest of the poor and affordable healthcare for others based on their ability to pay,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Vice President  appealed to  his United Arab Emirates-based fraternity brothers to continue helping him in his efforts to push reforms and find ways to make the poor benefit from the nation’s macroeconomic progress.

He made the appeal during the general membership meeting and fellowship night of the Alpha Phi Omega (APO) UAE ’96 & APO EMARAT 121 last Wednesday.

Binay expressed hope that the APO will continue helping him in his quest to establish a nation that can provide a better quality of life for every Filipino.

Joining the group during his college days at the University of the Philippines-Diliman and credits it as one of the reasons for his victory in the 2010 elections, he said it was the duty of the members to protect the future of the nation.

-The Manila Times

 

http://www.manilatimes.net/vp-pushes-comprehensive-health-plan-for-all-pinoys/240144/

Senate Okays bill increasing maternity leave to 100 days

The Senate on Monday, January 18, passed on third and final reading a bill seeking to increase maternity leave in the public and private sectors to 100 days regardless of the mode of delivery.

The senators voted 19-0 to approve Senate Bill No. 2982, which if signed into law, would change the current laws that 60 days of maternity leave for government employees and 60 to 78 days for employees in the private sector.

Senator Pia Cayetano, chairperson of the Senate Committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality and sponsor of bill, said the current allowable maternity leave is less than the 98-day minimum requirement of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

She said SBN 2982, known as the Expanded Maternity Leave Law of 2015, aims to provide mothers with ample transition time to regain health and overall wellness as well as to assume their maternal roles before resuming full-time work.

It would also give mothers sufficient financial support while on maternity leave, she added.

Cayetano said the mothers can also avail of an additional maternity leave of 30 days “without pay” provided that the employee gives the head of the agency due notice, in writing, 45 days before the end of her ordinary maternity leave.

“The expansion of the maternity leave period shall not in any way diminish the existing maternity benefits granted by the employer. It shall not affect the female employee’s security of tenure,” she stressed.

According to the proposed bill, employees from the private sector availing of the maternity leave period and benefits must receive not less than two-thirds of their regular monthly wages.

Data from Social Security System (SSS) show that for the years 2012 to 2014, the availment of the maternity leave is less than two percent of the total female population of SSS members.

Exempted from giving cash benefits are employers who are operating distressed establishments and retail/service establishments employing not more than 10 workers.

Also exempted are employers who pay their workers on commission, boundary or task basis and those engaged in the production, processing, or manufacturing of products and commodities including agro-processing, trading, and services whose total assets are not more than PhP3-million.

 

-Philippines News Agency

http://www.mb.com.ph/senate-okays-bill-increasing-maternity-leave-to-100-days/



Who eviscerated the Reproductive Health Law?

Conjugations by Lila Ramos Shahani

Today, even after 14 years of protracted struggle, reproductive health (RH) remains heavily contested in this country. For the most part, the Catholic Church—led by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines—vehemently opposes the implementation of the law, claiming that the use of modern contraceptives is tantamount to using abortifacients—which remains illegal under the Revised Penal Code.

Even when the policy was being deliberated in Congress, party affiliations and feminist groups could not guarantee whether the legislators would support or oppose the passage of the law. There was much uncertainty about the proposed law’s effects: would it pave the way to legalizing abortion? Or would it improve family planning, save women from complications due to pregnancy, and reduce—if not altogether eliminate—teenage pregnancy itself?

Opponents of the RH law claimed that it violated the anti-abortion provisions in the Constitution. After lengthy deliberations, the Supreme Court deemed certain aspects to be unconstitutional. The law was scaled back, much to the disadvantage of women: health care workers were no longer required to maintain discretion in non-emergency situations, for example. Access to reproductive health care in non-life threatening circumstances would now require the consent of the spouse. Similarly, minors were required to show parental consent to seek medical care in the event of pregnancy or miscarriage. But the Court upheld the rest of the law, vindicating almost a decade and a half of vigorous lobbying by reproductive health advocates.

For them, the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law was a historic first step forward for all women in the Philippines, empowering them to make their own decisions about their health and families, and participate equally in society.

The only thing left: to fund and fully implement the program. But before it could even take that next step, a major obstacle took root.

Last month, the Bicameral Conference Committee (Bicam) of Congress slashed P1 billion from the budget of the Department of Health (DOH), which had been targeted for the purchase of Family Planning products—condoms, birth control pills, intrauterine devices, and contraceptive injectables. The cut resulted in the reduction of the Family Health and Responsible Parenting budget from P3.27 billion to only P2.27 billion. It effectively bars poor women from access to contraceptives, thereby upending a major provision of the law.

Health Secretary Janette Garin explained: “This will have a huge effect since a lot of mothers depend on what the Department of Health provides.”

RH advocates were caught off guard by the budget cut. The Bicam ratified the 2016 General Appropriations Act on December 14—at a time when most people were already heading out for the holidays. Even more troubling is the fact that there does not seem to be any documentation of the decision to cut the budget itself.

The RH Now press conference on the P1B budget cut: Magdalena Bacalando of  PilaKKK, former DOH Secretary Dra. Esperanza Cabral, former Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani, and former Albay 1st District Representative and RH Bill lead author Edcel Lagman. HDPRC/Paolo Rayco

The Purple Ribbon for RH Movement—a broad coalition composed of more than a hundred RH champions and advocates—were understandably upset and angry at the Bicam’s action, calling it arbitrary and unjust. Advocates have warned that it would push millions of poor women into unplanned pregnancies, illegal abortion, and even maternal death. They also explained that it would further thrust millions of impoverished families into greater destitution.

This was echoed by Emmeline Versoza, the Executive Director of the Philippine Commission for Women: “Providing free access to family planning commodities to poor women is meant to help address our country’s high maternal mortality rate. We can no longer allow poor mothers to die of pregnancy and child birth complications when we can provide them with free options.” Today, the country’s maternal mortality rate continues to rise at 221 deaths per 100,000 live births.

The RH Law was supported by a large majority of the nation’s population. What the anti-RH Senators in the Bicam managed to do with this budget cut was—without public knowledge or support—to return contraception availability from its legislated state as a public good back to the status quo ante—rendering it an “excludable” public good. Women with sufficient money have taken advantage of reproductive health and contraception all along—and continue to do so. But poor women are now excluded from that public good once again—despite the intentions of the law as passed and signed. Clearly, what happened was an attack on poor women.

So what exactly led to such a budget fiasco? According to Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, the budget cut stemmed from two things. First, the DOH has historically been somewhat slow in utilizing its allotted funds, having allegedly spent only 29% of its RH budget by June 2015. This prompted the committee to transfer funds to the Department of National Defense, state universities, and other sections within the Health Department.

Second, and even more problematic, some in the committee considered contraceptives to be abortifacients. Senator Tito Sotto—known for his fierce opposition to the RH law—explained that the cuts covered contraceptives, including condoms and injectables, which should be classified as abortifacients. As such, they would be banned—allegedly covered by the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) of the Supreme Court.

RH advocates and the Health Department countered that both explanations were patently untrue. The Health Department reported that 90% of the funds for contraceptives had been utilized by the end of 2015, leaving them with only P87 million for 2016—barely enough for the needs of 6.7% or 80,000 women out of over 4 million with unmet needs for family planning services.

Health Secretary Janette P. Loreto-Garin speaks on the budget cut during a press conference at DOH last January 13. HDPRC/Paolo Rayco

The DOH also rejected Sen. Sotto’s claim, pointing out that the Supreme Court TRO only covered contraceptive implants, which were not included in the DOH’s budget request.

Frustrated, pro-RH legislators like Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor Santiago protested against the lack of transparency and consultations surrounding the budget cut. RH advocates, including former legislators and Health Department officials, recently held a press conference, alleging that Congress—particularly the Senate—had violated the right of women to reproductive health by cutting the RH Law’s budget. They also questioned how Congress could have violated the very law it had enacted.

Striking a more diplomatic tone, Health Secretary Garin, with the support of the President, has proposed another approach to resolving the issue. As a result of her meeting with the Senate Committee on Finance and the Department of Budget and Management, part of the funding will be restored. Some P337.5 million originally intended to purchase additional blood pressure apparatuses for barangay health workers will now be reallocated for the procurement of family planning commodities. Still, this is a mere fraction of the original P1 billion.

Senator Legarda has also assured the Health Department that she will make representations with the next President to allow the use of DOH savings for the purchase of family planning commodities. The Health Department also said that they will look for other sources of funds, which include the assistance of international developmental partners.

But this positive approach notwithstanding, RH advocates—and the public as a whole—have the right to ask hard questions, or at least to attempt a forensic reconstruction of how the budget cut came about in the first place: where were the RH supporters from the Legislative and Executive branches—as well as the NGOs—when the Bicameral committee unilaterally decided on the budget cut? For that matter, where were the known RH supporters and Liberal Party stalwarts, who were also members of the Bicam itself (Senators Bam Aquino and Ralph Recto; Representatives Isidro Ungab, JC Rahman Nava, and Romero Quimbo) at the time? How can two senators—Legarda and Sotto—legally constitute a Bicam quorum?

Tactically, could the DOH have incorporated the budget for contraceptives under a bigger—and more innocuous—heading, like “Child and Family Health,” so that members of the Senate and the House could not tinker with it? And what is going to happen to those patients who need the blood pressure apparatuses, now that this budget will be realigned directly for family planning supplies? Indeed, by restoring a little more than one third of the original budget for contraceptives, isn’t the injustice of the decision compounded by then taking the money away from the monitoring of blood pressure, given the extremely high incidence of hypertension in this country? For that matter, should the Philippines even be looking for foreign funding to implement a landmark law this administration—with the help of civil society—worked so hard to pass? Can a supplemental budget from the President’s office be sourced instead? Finally, did the Catholic Church play a role in blocking these funds in the run-up to the 2016 elections?

What lessons can now be learned from this recent event? Among other things, we see how passing a bill into law—however long and tortuous the process—is only half the battle. Implementing the law requires constant vigilance, especially during the budget process. In the coming elections, we need to hold candidates’ feet to the fire and demand that they commit themselves to supporting—and fully funding—the mandates of the RH Law and upholding the reproductive rights of all women.

http://www.philstar.com/opinion/2016/01/18/1543622/who-eviscerated-reproductive-health-law

GSIS allots P740-M urgent loans for Romblon, Masbate

Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) active members and old-age pensioners in the provinces of Romblon and Masbate may now avail of emergency loan until Feb. 6 and 7, respectively.

GSIS earmarked P740 million to assist a total of 20,477 active members and 3,811 pensioners in both provinces that were struck by typhoon Nona.
Earlier, the GSIS set aside P1.6 billion in emergency loans to members and pensioners in Albay, Mindoro, and Sorsogon that were similarly affected by Nona.
Active members who have no emergency loan balance may apply for a P20,000 loan, while those with existing emergency loans may borrow up to P40,000, from which the outstanding balance of their previous emergency loan will be deducted.

Pensioners may avail of the P20,000 loan. Pensioners who are also active members may borrow only once.
Active members are qualified for the loan if they are working or residing in the calamity areas, not on leave of absence without pay, have no arrears in premium payment, and have no unpaid loan amortization for more than six months.

Active members may apply using their GSIS eCard or their unified multipurpose identification (UMID) card through the GSIS Wireless Automated Processing System (GWAPS) kiosks located in GSIS offices, provincial capitols, city halls, select municipal offices, large government agencies such as the Department of Education, 27 Robinsons Malls, and SM Super Malls in Manila, Pampanga, and Cebu.

Pensioners need to apply in person. The loan is payable in 36 equal monthly installments at six percent interest rate per annum, computed in advance. 
It is covered by a loan redemption insurance, which deems the loan fully paid in case of demise of the borrower, provided that loan repayment is up to date.

 

-Tribune Wires

http://www.tribune.net.ph/business/gsis-allots-p740-m-urgent-loans-for-romblon-masbate

PhilHealth offers alternate family planning package

By Jocelyn R. Uy

 

WITH birth control implants temporarily banned by the Supreme Court, poor Filipino women can turn to the P3,000-contraceptive program the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) is making available to its members beginning this month.

 

In a circular signed last month, the state insurance firm said the package is aimed at broadening the access to “long acting reversible” family planning methods by Filipino women.

 

The package covers consultation and counseling, professional fee, and use of facility, medicine and supplies plus the contraceptive implant and follow-up services, said PhilHealth.

 

But it noted that only contraceptive implants included in the Philippine National Formulary would be used for the PhilHealth package, adding that healthcare providers should receive training in contraceptive implant techniques from the Department of Health’s licensed trainers.

 

A contraceptive implant is a small flexible tube, the size of a toothpick, placed subdermally in the upper arm. It releases progesterone hormone similar to the natural progesterone produced by women in their ovaries and inhibits ovulation. The implant is highly effective up to three years.

 

According to PhilHealth Circular 038-2015, members under the indigent programs sponsored, overseas Filipino and iGroup are entitled to the package within their membership validity period.

 

Benefit entitlement will be subject to the “three months within six months” qualifying contributions among members in the formal economy, the informal sector and self-earning individuals and iGroup program whose validity period had expired, said the circular.

 

Househelp enlisted in PhilHealth may start availing themselves of the package from the time of their enrollment and payment of premiums. “It will remain valid as long as premium contributions are regularly paid,” said the insurance firm.

 

The package may be utilized only once every 730 days, or two years, and the procedure should be done in accredited hospitals, primary care facilities, ambulatory surgical clinics, lying-in clinics and birthing homes by licensed and trained physicians and midwives.

 

The DOH earlier planned to make the birth control implants available in health centers but the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) in June last year barring the health agency from pushing through with its program.

 

The TRO prevented the government from procuring, selling and distributing Implanon and Implanon NXT pending its final disposition of an appeal by the Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines Inc. to permanently ban the product for its supposed “abortifacient” side effects.

The health agency also faced a P1-billion budget cut for family planning services this year.

 

 http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/756248/philhealth-offers-alternate-family-planning-package#ixzz3xYQiOeNz 

The RH fund cut, savings, and DAP

By Katrina Stuart Santiago

 

THE P1-billion cut in the Reproductive Health budget, specifically for Family Health and Responsible Parenting, was not in the least surprising. Because for all of government’s press releases about transparency and matuwid na daan, the budget and the decisions that are made about where and how to spend public money remain shrouded in secrecy. Just because documents are made available to us does not mean everything’s happening above ground. And when transparency means going through long lists of line-item budgeting and reams of paper, it’s easy to see how government can take every opportunity to slip one past us.

 

Case in point, this cut in the RH budget.

 

Round 1: Senators Cayetano, Santiago versus Legarda

Senator Pia Cayetano was visibly incensed by the fact of the RH budget being decreased by P1 billion pesos. She said the changes were made without consulting with the bicam, and that it was obviously deliberate. She said she couldn’t trust Senator Loren Legarda, head of the Senate Committee on Finance, anymore.

 

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago was “appalled” by the budget cut. “This abandonment is immoral in a country where some 200 out of 100,000 women who give birth die. It is irreconcilable that Congress, which enacted the RH Law after much hardship in 2012, would three years later render that same law inutile.” (GMA News Online, 8 January 2016)

 

But Legarda was quick to spin it: it’s not true that there will be no budget for contraceptives: “The 2016 budget for FHRP (Family Health and Responsible Parenting) was reduced by P1 billion, but the budget for the procurement of contraceptives is not zero. There remains 1.6 billion pesos that can be used for this.” (Reuters, 12 January)

According to Legarda, the DOH also has enough contraceptives “bought in the last quarter of 2015 to last until mid-2016, and the DOH has budget funds left over from 2015 for its reproductive health program.” (Reuters, 12 January)

 

Used to augment the Department of National Defense (DND) budget, Legarda based the decision to cut the RH fund by P1 billion on the fact that as of June 2015, the DOH still had yet to spend P2.3 billion pesos of its P3.27 billion allocation. To Legarda between the DOH’s unused 2015 budget and the current budget, there should be enough to fulfill the the RH Law’s requirements. (GMA News Online, 8 January 2016)

 

Round 2: mainstream media and the question of savings

When Senator Legarda was being interviewed by Davila and Vic Lima on their TV show late this week, they accepted without hesitation, and with nary a sense of disbelief – or context for that matter – the senator’s response about why the P1-billion-peso allocation was moved from the DOH to the DND. The same might be said of all of mainstream media that has carried Senator Legarda’s response: the DOH has savings from 2015, so they can just use that for 2016.

 

Legarda rationalizes the cut further: if the trend of DOH savings continues, then “<…> possible savings of DOH-OSEC for 2015 could be P8.8 billion, which is more than enough to cover the P1 billion decrease.” (GMA News Online, 12 January)

 

The follow-up question from the esteemed members of mainstream media should have been something like: aren’t unspent funds supposed to go back to the national treasury? To which Legarda would have a ready answer: “These unused obligations or savings can be realigned within the agency as long as approved by the President.” <emphasis mine> (GMA News Online, 12 January)

 

To which we might ask: how would the President approve something that even the DOH secretary says is not as certain as Legarda says it is? In fact, Legarda was talking about what DOH had spent of its allocations as of June 2015, and Garin would be correct when she replied that this cannot be the basis of how much they might have already spent by the end of the year.

 

Or is this to say that when it was discussed that the DOH would lose P1-billion pesos of its funds allocated for family planning, that amongst the Finance committee heads and the DBM and whoever else is operating on matuwid na daan, that someone spoke for the President and said, he would approve something he had yet to even see?

 

Either way, what would’ve made for a more interesting line of questioning would’ve been how this happened, especially since the Senators and Congressmen and women are as surprised as the rest of us, making it look like such a calculated move on the part of the powers-that-be. That Garin would release the information was obviously not part of this plan.

 

That she did, well, we must thank heavens that we can now wonder: what other funds were taken from one allocation and moved to another, without consultations, without transparency?

 

Against matuwid na daan: why are there savings?!?

 

The other question, the more basic one, has everything to do with those savings. And it’s really just to wonder: why. Why are there savings to speak of when one lives in a country that continues to be impoverished, that cradles people who remain in dire need of basic services?

 

We can just focus on health. Why has this government pushed for the privatization of 20 government hospitals (Manila Bulletin, 13 Mar 2014), and why has 72 DOH-operated hospitals been made to shift to privatization via public-private partnerships (PPPs)? (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 11 June 2015)

 

Why are we seeking to privatize our public hospitals – purportedly to “save” it from utter ruin – when there are billions in savings to actually make these hospitals a public service?

 

The President had said: his government would rather focus on preventive health care so citizens don’t need to go into tertiary care. (Manila Bulletin, 13 Mar 2014) But how can this happen when there is so much in savings that should be going to making sure the nation is healthy?

 

Why have we become one of the countries with the “fastest growing HIV epidemics,” with 22 new cases of HIV infection reported everyday? (WHO, 1 Dec 2015) And why can PhilHealth only provide HIV patients with P30,000 pesos a month for their treatment, an amount that cannot be enough?

 

The WHO assessment of the state of health in the Philippines for 2015 talks about the high incidence of key communicable diseases in the country, with 13 of the 17 WHO recognized neglected tropical diseases remaining endemic. The rate of non-communicable diseases and high prevalence of all risk factors are rising as well. (WHO May 2015 data)

 

30% of children under-five years of age are stunted. In Mindanao, child mortality is 4 to 5 times higher than in Manila. Neonatal mortality account for 50% of all under-five deaths. The country missed the regional measles elimination and Hepatitis B control target. Tuberculosis management remains a big challenge. (WHO May 2015 data)

Medicine prices in the Philippines remain some of the highest in Asia, and the Philippines is the least likely to attain millennium development goals for health, as per the World Health Organization. (May 2015)

 

DOH had savings in 2012 of P5.46 billion. In 2013, it was P7.578 billion. In 2014, it was P9.2 billion. Senator Legarda asserts that given this trend, savings for 2015 would be at an estimated P8.8 billion.

 

The question is why.

 

In 2011, when the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was being made operational (unbeknownst to the rest of us), and savings were being celebrated, Senator Edgardo Angara had said in a press release:

 

“Why are we hoarding so much public money? Money unspent, is money useless –a useless asset when there is so much urgent necessary infrastructure and public works crying out for prosecution and implementation.” (PCIJ, 20 July 2014)

 

Welcome tomatuwid na daan.

 

http://www.manilatimes.net/the-rh-fund-cut-savings-and-dap/239809/

 

Case of P1-B cut on RH funds may reach SC

By Christine O. Avendaño and Tina G. Santos

Describing the P1-billion cut from funds meant for family planning supplies as “deceptive,” “unethical” and “unacceptable,” Sen. Pia Cayetano on Thursday said she was studying the option of taking up the issue with the Supreme Court, “specifically looking at how the significant alterations in the budget would affect the legality of the law.”

Cayetano was referring to the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, which she coauthored, that the government has been funding for the past two years.

“I don’t want to [go to the Supreme Court]—[it is] burdened with so many important cases. But I cannot tolerate this kind of action within a government body that I am aligned with,” said the senator, of the funds chopped off from the Department of Health (DOH) budget meant for the purchase of condoms, intrauterine devices, and birth control pills.

“My objective in doing this is to alert my colleagues that in the future, this should not happen. It’s unethical and unacceptable,” Cayetano said.

 

Ethics issue

“This is not [only] a family planning issue; it is an issue of procedures… ethics… [and] how we conduct business in Congress,”  she added.

The senator said that slashing the budget of the reproductive health (RH) program would affect not only the 10 million impoverished women who stand to benefit from the government’s reproductive health program, but also the DOH program aimed at preventing HIV infections in the country.

Condoms have been widely used as protection against the virus that causes HIV/AIDS often transmitted through sexual contact.

In response to Cayetano’s bid to elevate the issue to the high court, Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee, said “it [was] the prerogative of any person to go to the Supreme Court,” but that she “cannot conceive of any cause of action in this matter.”

 

Rights violation

Amnesty International Philippines (AIP) decried the P1-billion cut in the RH budget as a human rights violation by acts of omission.

In a statement, AIP chair Ritz Lee Santos said “sexual and reproductive health and rights are… enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights… and require positive action from the government.”

The RH law, Santos said, “can go a long way to improve the protection of women’s human right to sexual, reproductive and maternal healthcare.”

 

Step backward

“[But] this budget cut is a step backward,” the AIP official said, as it “defeats the purpose of a social legislation aimed at improving the situation of its beneficiaries. This recent change is not only antiwomen; it is antipoor [and] detrimental to the promotion and protection of human rights especially of the marginalized.”

In a news conference on Thursday, Cayetano slammed Legarda for the budget cut and challenged her and others responsible for slashing the RH budget to explain their action instead of “covering it up.”

“The issue is that you took it out without explaining it to us and even covering it up… There was no intention to disclose that information,” the senator said, adding that she held Legarda accountable for the “damage” and “deception.”

Cayetano had earlier decried that senators were not properly informed of the P1-billion cut in the DOH Family Health and Responsible Parenting (FHRP) program.

Instead, she said, the bicameral conference report on the then proposed 2016 national budget only indicated a P1-billion cut on the purchase and allocation of “drugs, medicines and vaccines.”

It was while the Senate and the House of Representatives were reconciling their respective versions of the budget in the bicameral conference committee that the P1 billion meant for contraceptives was cut out from the DOH budget, and allocated instead for the purchase of air assets for the military and to increase the budget of state colleges and universities.

The cut was only specified in the newly signed 2016 national budget, with the FHRP allocation indicated at P2.275 billion, or P1 billion less than the P3.275 billion approved in the House version.

Cayetano said Legarda should have informed the senators that “significant changes” had been made following the conclusion of the bicam meeting on the 2016 budget.

With only nine session days left before it goes on a three-month break for the election campaign, Congress will find it difficult to pass a supplemental budget to make up for the budget cut, Cayetano said.

The “best solution,” she added, was for the executive branch “supportive of the RH law” to help restore the DOH budget for the FHRP.

Proactive on RH

Health Secretary Janette Garin, who was “proactive on RH” could also find a way to cover the costs for the RH program, Cayetano said, though she added that she does not want to be in the Health official’s position of having to decide where to make cuts in the DOH budget to make up for the loss of the P1-B RH fund.

Legarda had said that the DOH used only 29 percent of its budget, and could still use the remaining 71 percent to augment deficient resources.

But Garin countered in a media interview that the remaining funds had already been allocated for other DOH programs.

In a text message, Legarda reiterated that the entire budgetary process was done in the “most transparent and inclusive manner.’

The cuts, she added, were made to give additional funds to other programs that needed them.  Among the programs and entities given additional funding were the social pension of indigent senior citizens (P1.2 billion); state universities and colleges (P2.7 billion), and P4.773 billion for the first time payment of total administrative disability (TAD) pension for surviving spouses of deceased World War II veterans, as well as the partial payment of TAD pension for living post-World War II veterans.

The P1-billion cut was “not a unilateral act on my part but [that of] the bicameral committee with the respective technical staff,” Legarda said, adding that the Senate finance committee “discharged its duty to enact the national budget according to the law.”

 

http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/755565/case-of-p1-b-cut-on-rh-funds-may-reach-sc


RH budget cut violates rights – AI

By Sheila Crisostomo

 

MANILA, Philippines - The removal of P1 billion from this year’s budget for contraceptives is a human rights violation through an act of omission, Amnesty International (AI) said yesterday.

AI Philippines chair Ritz Lee Santos called for action from the government, saying the budget cut is regressive and adversely affects the proper implementation of the Reproductive Health Law.

“Sexual and reproductive health and rights are essential components of the universal right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments,” she said.

“It is counter-productive to what has already been achieved in upholding the rights of women, girls, the LGBT and the youth.”

The enactment of a reproductive health law was a historical milestone in the protection of women’s rights as it strikes down some of the long-standing barriers for women’s access to sexual and reproductive health, AI said.

“Despite the law’s imperfections, it can go a long way to improve the protection of women’s human right to sexual, reproductive and maternal healthcare,” AI said.

Santos is concerned about the irreversible implications the budget cut could bring to an already dire situation on sexual and reproductive health in the country.

“This budget cut is a step backwards,” she said.  

“The action of the Senate budget committee defeats the purpose of a social legislation aimed at improving the situation of its beneficiaries.” 

Santos said the budget slice is not only anti-women but anti-poor. It could be  detrimental to the promotion and protection of human rights, especially of the marginalized, she added.  

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/01/15/1542696/rh-budget-cut-violates-rights-ai

DOH to source P337.5M for contraceptives from 2015 budget
By Jee Y. Geronimo
 

The fund meant for the purchase of blood pressure apparatus for barangay health workers will now be used as the source of funds for contraceptives in 2016

MANILA, Philippines – Only P337.5 million – not P828 million – from the 2015 budget for the health department's Family Health and Responsible Parenting (FHRP) program can be used to procure family planning commodities in 2016.

Health Secretary Janette Garin clarified this in a press conference Wednesday, January 13 – a day after Senator Loren Legarda came out with her latest statement on theremoval of a P1-billion allocation for contraceptivesin the 2016 budget.

Legarda said that as of December 2015, the Department of Health (DOH) still has unobligated funds of P828 million under the FHRP program. But Garin said only P337.5 million from that amount can be used to buy family planning commodities such as condoms, pills, and IUDs.

Breakdown of P828 million:

  1. Implants (P337.5 million) - Shifted into procurement of cervical cancer vaccines
  2. Blood pressure apparatus - P337.5 million
  3. School-based immunization (HPV vaccine) - P153.8 million

The P337.5 million meant for the purchase of blood pressure apparatus for barangay health workers will now be used as the source of funds for contraceptives in 2016.

"Puwede pa hindi ipagpatuloy [yungpurchase ng blood pressure apparatus].Hindi naman maapektuhan kasi meron namangBP apparatusna kasalukyang binababa sa mga barangay," the health secretary explained.

(We can afford not to continue for the meantime [the purchase of blood pressure apparatus]. It won't affect the program because there are BP apparatus currently being brought to the villages.)

Garin assured the public that the P1-billion budget cut will not stop the department from fully implementing the RH law. In fact, they're not worried for 2016. (READ:What happened to the 2016 budget for contraceptives?)

DOH's family planning commodities for a certain year usually spill over until the first quarter of the next year. This means the department can still provide commodities until March.

The P337.5 million will be used for the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2016, while there have been pledges from 3 foreign partners to assist the Philippine government for the rest of 2016.

The department is also looking for other sources of funds, including DOH savings identified and declared at the end of the year.

Garin also reiterated that the P1.67 billion which Legarda says is available in the 2016 budget ismeant for other programs of the Family Health Office,and not for family planning.

The health chief hopes the budget cut will not happen again for the 2017 budget, because the first two quarters of next year will be critical.

"Dapat sa2017,hindi na ito gawin kasi kung mangyari ulit 'to sa2017,magcocompile angstockout,at babalik na naman tayo dun sa mga nanay na sana ay nakatake-off na ay ngayon mahihirapan ulit at babalik 'yung kanilang paghihirap dahil sunod-sunod ang kanilang pagbubuntis," she explained.

(This should not be done for 2017 because if this happens again in 2017, we will run out of stock and we would revert to the situation where mothers would have a difficult time due to having pregnancies one after the other.)

The secretary said Legarda has assured DOH she will make representations with the next president to allow the use of the department's savings for the purchase of family planning commodities. (READ:Advocates on RH budget cut: 'We’ve let our guard down')

Not intentional?

Garin said that during the budget deliberations, the Senate already told them about other areas that need funds. They, in turn, gave the Senate a list of sources that can afford a decrease, such as allocations for trainings and seminars within the department.

Lawmakers insteadremoved the fundsmeant for the purchase of commodities.

"You have to admit, Congress and Senate have the power of the purse.Kung sa pananaw nila ay 'di importante ang programa, may puder talaga silang tanggalin iyon.And that is also where the role of public and media comes into action –tayo may alam ng mga programang dapat huwag galawin," she said.

(If they think that the program is not important, they have the power to remove it. And that is also where the role of public and media come into action. We know what programs should be left untouched.)

Since the P1 billion has already been removed from the budget, Garin said she would rather focus her efforts and time on finding ways tomake sure the law is fully implemented.

"They were telling usna hindi siyaintentionalkasi yung nakita nilais commodities. Pero sabi namin, sana hindi sacommoditiesnagbawas, kasi 'di mo pwedeng galawinbudget…. We really wouldn't touch the budget on commodities – as isdapat yun.Kung kukuha man kami, naghahanap kami ngbudget dun sa iba na walangimpact,na 'di makakaepekto sa intention mongtargetssa kalusugan," she said.

(There were telling us that it's not intentional because what they saw was commodities. But we told them, we wished there was no reduction in commodities because you can't touch the budget....We really wouldn't touch the budget on commodities – it should be as is. If we have to get elsewhere, we would look for items that would have no impact, that would not affect our targets in terms of health.)– Rappler.com

http://www.rappler.com/nation/118913-doh-2015-budget-contraceptives

Advocates on RH budget cut: 'We've let our guard down'

Former Albay representative Edcel Lagman is suspicious of what happened at the bicameral conference committee on the 2016 budget, where the budget cut was made

 

By Jee Y. Geronimo 

 

MANILA, Philippines – The reduction of P1 billion ($21 million) in the 2016 budget for contraceptives served as a wake-up call for advocates of the reproductive health (RH) law that their fight is far from over. (READ: Health chief: No allocation for contraceptives in 2016 DOH budget)

"We have failed to monitor the process in Congress. We have rested on our laurels. RH advocates have put down their guard," former Albay Representative Edcel Lagman told advocates on Wednesday, January 13, during a press conference of the Purple Ribbon for RH Movement.

Lagman was among the panel of speakers at the forum who denounced the P1 billion budget cut meant for the purchase of family planning commodities such as condoms, pills, and IUDs.

Former senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani agreed with Lagman and urged advocates to go to congressional hearings and understand the budget process. (READ: Scrapping of P1-B contraceptives budget enrages health groups)

"We cannot always blame the legislators. Let us also blame ourselves. Are we tired? We should not let our guard down until the last battle, and the GAA is the big battle," Shahani said.

Lagman slammed the cut as "counterproductive" at a time when contraceptive use in the country is improving.

Former health secretary Esperanza Cabral, who chairs the National Implementation Team of the RH law, saidtwo of the biggest RH problemswill worsen because of the budget cut: access to effective and modern family planning methods, and teenage pregnancy.

Horse-trading?

Lagman is suspicious of what happened at the bicameral conference committee on the 2016 budget, where Health Secretary Janette Garin earlier said the cut was made.

He pointed out that the 2016 National Expenditure Program specifically provides for modern and natural family planning supplies – a provision "adopted in toto by the House of Representatives."

"Nagbago lang pagdating sa bicameral conference committee…. Ang nangyari doon sa bicameral conference committee, ang unang session ay photo session. Pagkatapos niyan, recess na, wala nang conference, wala nang meeting, ang next meeting ay one-on-one ng chairman ng committee on appropriations and committee on finance sa Senado. At doon tinatapos 'yung bicam report," Lagman said.

(It just changed at the bicameral conference committee....What happens at the bicameral conference committe is the first session is a photo session. After that, it's recess already, no more conference, no more meeting, and the next meeting is the one-on-one of the chairmen of the Senate committees on appropriations and on finance. The bicam report is finalized there.)

He added: "Humingi kayo ng transcript ng deliberations, walang maipapakita sa inyo sapagkat walang deliberations. Ang nangyari, meeting ng dalawang chairman, naghorse-trading doon."

(Ask for a transcript of the deliberations. They can't show you any because there were no deliberations. What happened was at the meeting of the two charimen, there was horse-trading there.)

He blames the entire Congress, for "violating the very law it has enacted" since both houses approved the bicam report, and the Senate in particular, since it is where the proposed cut originated.

Former health secretary Enrique Ona, who came on Wednesday to support the movement, said he was surprised the cut was only detected when the 2016 budget was already approved.

"Dapat may kausap kang member ng bicam, mino-monitor mo lalong-lalo na 'yung aspeto ngbudget (You should talk to a member of the bicam. You should monitor it, especially the aspect of the budget)," he said.

Asked further if the health department could have prevented the budget cut, Ona told reporters: "Tulad ng sin tax, very important na bantayan natin ang sin tax because pwedeng mai-divert in some other ways na pwede namang sabihin na part na rin sa batas. Kaya nga sinabi very important ang process step by step until the time the President signs it."

(Like the sin tax, it's very important to keep a close watch over the sin tax because it can be diverted in some other ways that can be said is part of the law. That's why the step-by-step process is very important until the time the President signs it.)

'Post-mortem justifications'

Lagman criticized the explanations of Senators Loren Legarda and Vicente "Tito" Sotto III as "post-mortem justifications" of the cut.

Sotto, a member of the bicam and a staunch RH critic, said the basis for the budget cut is the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court on the distribution and sale of implants. The TRO also temporarily prohibits the health department from granting any pending application for RH commodities.

Legarda again justified the cut on Tuesday, January 12, by saying that aside from a P1.67-billion available allocation in the 2016 budget for the procurement of contraceptives, the department still has unobligated funds of P828 million under the Family Health and Responsible Parenting program as of December 2015.

The chair of the Senate committee on finance said this can still be used in 2016, in addition to the commodities procured in the last quarter of 2015 that will overflow until midyear of 2016.

The health department's savings for 2015 can be another source of funds, Legarda explained, with possible savings that could amount to P8.8 billion, "more than enough to cover the P1-billion decrease."

"As chair of the committee on finance and oversight committee on public expenditures, I can guide the DOH in constructing their work and financial plan for the whole DOH budget and especially the FHRP, to make sure not a single person is denied access to family planning commodities," she said. – Rappler.com

http://www.rappler.com/nation/118876-rh-advocates-let-guard-down-budget-cut

GARIN INSISTS: NO FUNDS FOR CONTRACEPTIVES IN 2016 BUDGET

 

FOLLOWING the statement of Sen. Loren Legarda that there are enough funds for the procurement of contraceptives, Health Secretary Janette Garin yesterday insisted there is no allocation for the purchase of family planning commodities in the 2016 national budget.

Garin said the P1-billion budget that was slashed during the bicameral conference committee was fully allocated for the purchase of contraceptive supplies. She made the same claim last week.

Garin said the Department of Health was given a total of P3.2 billion for the Family Health and Responsible Parenting budget line item for 2016. The remaining P2.2 billion has been allotted for the purchase of vaccines as well as micronutrients, medicines and dental supplies.

“Realigning the remaining P2.2 billion for the purchase of family planning commodities is not possible because this will mean sacrificing immunization, nutrition, and other health programs, which already have intended beneficiaries,” said Garin.

She also said realigning the budget allocation is not allowed under the rules of the Department of Budget and Management.

Last week, Garin said the P1-billion budget of the DOH for the purchase of contraceptives was cut from the budget during the bicameral conference committee.

Legarda, chairman of the Senate committee on finance, responded by saying the DOH still has funds for family planning commodities or contraceptives, and the department can tap its unused obligations or savings.

Yesterday, Legarda reiterated that the cut in the DOH budget was done after assessing its possible impact on the Family Health and Responsible Parenting program. She said the program would not be affected because the agency has still P2.3 billion savings and could still be available in 2016.

“As of June 2015, the DOH status of funds showed that of the P3.27 billion allocation for FHRP, only P995 million had been obligated. For the remaining six months, P2.3 billion has yet to be obligated. The unused 2015 budget is still available in 2016 and the agencies may augment deficient items from their savings,” she said.

Garin said the DOH, Senate finance panel, and the DBM met Monday to discuss the issue on the budget reduction.

Garin also said the DOH has been given the green light to procure family planning commodities using the P337.5 million sourced from their 2015 budget.

It was originally intended to purchase additional blood pressure apparatus for barangay health workers, she said.

Garin also said Legarda has given the assurance she will make representations with the next president   to allow the use of DOH savings for the purchase of family planning commodities.

“The implementation of the RH law, including family planning (commodities), will not be hindered in the first two quarters of this year,” Garin said.

 

GERARD NAVAL

http://www.malaya.com.ph/business-news/news/garin-insists-no-funds-contraceptives-2016-budget

Press Release

 

Three years since the enactment of RA 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, the struggle still continues.

Commission on Population (POPCOM) Executive Director Dr. Juan Antonio Perez III called on local government units (LGUs) to allocate budget for Family Planning commodities, given the 1 Billion peso cut out of the P1.157 B peso budget on the procurement of Modern and Natural Family Planning Supplies.

In a Statement released during the Workshop on Synergy of Sustainable Development Goal Champions on January 13, ED Perez said that “This is a very big obstruction to the implementation of the law and an outright denial of women’s reproductive rights by leaving women with no options and means for family planning at all. It is a setback but we will continue our advocacy to LGUs to mobilize them in creating an enabling environment for women, men, and adolescents particularly through provision of services and information, especially to the grassroots.”  This call also complements the directive of the Department of the Interior and Local Government urging LGUs to undertake their roles and functions under the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Law.

The Department of Health in collaboration with POPCOM and other partner agencies including local government units and civil society organizations have already set-up implementing mechanisms to ensure the implementation, coordination, and monitoring of the provisions of the RPRH Law.

Poor women decry cut in contraceptives budget

 

Women from poor communities in Manila fear that scrapping the Department of Health’s budget for contraceptives will cause an increase in unintended pregnancies, especially for those who rely on health centers for free family planning services and supplies.

Leaders from civil society organizations also deplored the move, which they called a “gross injustice against the marginalized sector.”

Chanda Iguales, 34, from Barangay Don Bosco in Tondo, Manila, is four months pregnant with her sixth child and plans to have the intra-uterine device (IUD), a long-term family planning method, after she gives birth because she doesn’t want to get pregnant anymore. She was teary-eyed when she spoke about how the cut in contraceptives budget would affect poor women like her.

“It’s not right,” she said. “There will be more poor families, and the children will be most affected, they won’t be able to finish school because of the poverty.”

"We don't have enough to feed too many 
children. We don't even have decent jobs," 
says Girlie Florade.


Girlie Florade, 35, from Parola Compound, said she is able to practice family planning because of free contraceptives given at government and NGO clinics. She has had seven children but two died from illnesses. She and her husband are both jobless and only one of her children goes to school.

“The government tells us not to have too many children. If we lose access to free contraceptives, those who are poor like us will suffer. We will have more children and we won’t have enough to feed them. We don’t even have decent jobs,” Girlie complained.

Jenny Hilario from Navotas got pregnant at the age of 16. She doesn’t want to have another baby soon so she went to the NGO-run Likhaan Reproductive Health Clinic in Vitas, Tondo for the contraceptive subdermal implant, which has an effectivity of three years. “Too bad if the free family planning services will go. We are poor so we cannot spend for family planning,” she said.

17-year-old Jenny attends a family planning lecture at an NGO clinic in Manila.


Aside from poverty, 31-year-old Gladys Pedroche said unintended pregnancies put women’s lives at risk. Speaking from experience, Gladys said she experienced complications while giving birth to her youngest child – her fifth – two years ago.

“It was traumatic, I thought I will undergo Caesarean-section delivery because the baby had a hard time coming out. Since then, I said I don’t want to get pregnant anymore so I availed of IUD,” she narrated.

The Likhaan Reproductive Health clinic serves 60 to 80 family planning clients every day, according to community health worker Lina Bacalando.

Community health worker Lina Bacalando explains the difference between a progestin-only and combined oral contraceptive pills to women at a reproductive health clinic in Manila.

“There is high demand for family planning in these poor communities. If we run out of contraceptives we expect the number of unintended pregnancies to increase. Women who have had a respite from successive pregnancies in recent years because of family planning access will have nowhere to go for free contraceptives,” Lina explained.

She said she was saddened by the news especially since those who will be most affected are very poor women. “They are mere scavengers, port workers, drivers – people who don’t even earn enough to buy food for a day!” she exclaimed.

The United Nations Population Fund has denounced the move to remove funding for contraceptives, noting that access to contraceptives is an essential condition for exercising the basic human right to health as well as the right to reproductive choices.

UNFPA Philippines Country Representative Klaus Beck said that without funding for contraceptives, the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, which was enacted in 2012, will be ineffective.

Civil society leaders have convened the Purple Ribbon for Reproductive Health (PR4RH) movement on 13 January and reminded advocates to remain vigilant in monitoring the implementation of the RH Law.

- See more at: http://www.unfpa.org.ph/index.php/news/286-poor-women-decry-cut-in-contraceptives-budget#sthash.SNEY76Rh.dpuf

The cruelest cut

 

It took 14 years and a tortuous struggle before the Reproductive Health Law was finally passed in 2012 despite attempts by conservative groups and the Catholic Church to derail the measure.

But three years since its historic passage, the landmark law that provides couples an informed choice along with natural and artificial methods of family planning, as well as sex education for young people, among other features, remains in stasis, held hostage by stalling tactics by its opponents—from charges of being unconstitutional to petitions against some contraceptives claimed to be “abortifacients.”

Despite the longstanding resistance to the RH Law, recent news that Senators Loren Legarda and Tito Sotto had maneuvered to lop off P1 billion from the RH fund came as an unpleasant surprise, the cruel cut described as “shocking, immoral and ill-timed.” Well, “well-timed” might be the better description, it being an election year when courting the (unproven) Catholic vote wouldn’t hurt.

After all, Church leaders are known to conveniently ignore the biblical admonition to “render unto Caesar…”  How else explain their hoisting tarps outside a Bacolod church in the 2013 elections, branding pro-RH candidates as members of “Team Patay” (Team of Death)? And Church leaders say only natural family planning is acceptable, never mind that most impoverished women—those most in need of protection—are trapped in violent situations where the choice is often sex or domestic abuse from partners for whom reasoning is an alien concept.

The budget cut of P1 billion denies these women (and impoverished couples) access to medically safe, nonabortifacient and effective RH services and commodities, because the fund was earmarked by the Department of Health for free supplies of condoms, IUDs and birth control pills.

Sotto, who opposes the RH Law, had proposed the cut, citing the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order but callously ignoring that the TRO covers only certain hormonal contraceptives. For her part, Legarda denied sneaking in the cut in the budget deliberations as chair of the Senate finance committee, saying that all information about the national budget was made available to both chambers of Congress before it was enacted into law. She said part of the money would go to the air defense needs of the military, with China’s increasing presence in disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea, and to some education projects.

Still, the RH Law’s main authors, Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Pia Cayetano, find the fund cut “unacceptable,” and point out that the lack of funding would render the law “inutile.” Indeed.

“The P1-billion budget cut threatens to deprive some seven million women of [RH] services. This abandonment is immoral in a country where some 200 out of 100,000 women who give birth die,” Santiago said.

The cut would also mean depending on private and foreign donors for contraceptive supplies—a possibility that is unsustainable and would resurrect the charges of “contraceptive imperialism” initially raised by the law’s critics.

What is particularly galling is that Legarda has always described herself as prowomen and proenvironment. As a green advocate, she should have made the connection between the environment and the impact of a runaway population on the planet’s dwindling resources; she should have figured out how a huge carbon footprint could drain the gains made in reining in global warming and climate change.

Legarda has defended the budget cut as a response to the low (29 percent) use of the family planning program’s budget of P3.27 billion in 2015, with 71 percent, or P2.3 billion, still to be obligated for the next six months. These remaining funds are still available in 2016 and could augment deficient resources, she said.

Well and good, so it must be asked: Why did the DOH use up only 29 percent of funds appropriated for the program?  What tedious processes have delayed full implementation of the three-year-old law, and what measures can speed them up?

Imagine what was lost: in the words of a UN Population Fund official, “important investments on comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care … to achieve a more educated and healthy population, a more productive workforce and a growing economy.”

http://opinion.inquirer.net/92016/the-cruelest-cut




Bicam spays RH law

By 

 

Advocates of artificial birth control methods are up in arms over a very sizable cut in the budget of the Department of Health, specifically in the budget for the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law.

RH champions, Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Pia Cayetano described the P1-billion cutback as immoral and expressed displeasure over Senator Loren Legarda, chairperson of the Senate Finance Committee for deleting the sum intended for the wholesale purchase of condoms, contraception pills, injectables, IUDs and other contraceptive supplies.

The procurement of these supplies worth P1 billion is effectively stalled if not entirely deleted from the current year’s budget.  Suppliers, even more than RH advocates, are chafing over this unexpected development.

It is true what Senator Defensor-Santiago said – the RH Law was passed after much hardship, notably overcoming more than 45 years of unyielding opposition from the Catholic Church that the approval of the law in 2012 may be likened really to a battle won.  But with the bicameral conference committee or Bicam for short practically castrating the measure, it’s a hollow victory for RH advocates.

That the RH was spayed in the Bicam, through Senate Finance committee chairperson Senator Legarda, adds mystery to the events because she voted for the passage of the controversial law.

She is clearly not the enemy that Sen. Santiago is talking about.

As has been reported, Legarda decided to chop off P1 billion from the DOH allocation because in 2015 it spent only 29% of the department’s total budget, leaving 71% untouched.

In plain terms, why give P1 billion more when the absorptive capacity of the DOH is only 21%?  Why, that looks to me like the administrative budget only of the department.  Sounds logical that

P1 billion was deleted, in which case, Sen. Legarda impresses me as an astute lawmaker familiar with the nuts and bolts of the national budget as well as the weak performance of the executive department.

There is irony though in the Bicam move because for many years now, observers have been wary over the power of the Third Chamber, as the Bicam is oftentimes called.

In an online article attributed to UP professor of economics and former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, it said the workings of the Bicam had become very “secretive and opaque” over time.

The work of reconciling differences in the House and Senate versions of the budget, which is the mandate of the Bicam, is limited to “four eyes” only, in this case, the incumbent chair of the House Committee on Ways Congressman Romero Quimbo and Senate Finance Committee chair, Senator Legarda.

In criticizing the Bicam’s authorization process, Professor Ben Diokno highlights the need to pass the Freedom of Information measure and make Bicam proceedings public.  Since the Senate appears to dominate the authorization process, shouldn’t Senators Santiago and Cayetano investigate the Third Chamber and push the passage of the FOI Bill?

That the Bicam needs to resolve transparency issues is evident after last year’s lobby by the Cooperative sector to increase the budget of the Cooperative Development Authority CDA in the 2016 GAA went kaput.

The budget of the agency which tends to 24,000 self-help organizers is a measly P329 million.  A division in the Agriculture Department called the Carabao Center even has a bigger budget of more than P400 million in the previous year.

Perhaps thinking that asking for at least P500 million-increase during the centennial celebration of Philippine coops was timely, the sector urged Congress to give CDA a bigger budget.

The rationale for the budget increase is to enable the agency is well established:  to conduct education and training for micro and small cooperatives, which represent 76% of the total number of coops nationwide. The increase in the agency’s budget would have empowered the agency to hire and train more people who, in turn, will enable micro and small self-help organizations to grow and become effective instruments of poverty alleviation and inclusive growth.

From what I gathered, Cong. Quimbo and Senator Ralph Recto made assurances to increase the CDA budget but they were overpowered in the Bicam by Senator  Legarda.

Reports say the Bicam gave the agency only a pittance – 2% increase or approximately P20 million earmarked for retirement of its employees.  I heard Recto walked out of a Senate hearing to show his displeasure because he had given word to up the CDA budget by at least P200 million.

The previous year marked 100 years of Philippine cooperatives.  There was really nothing to celebrate if one considers that the Executive Department through the Dept. of Finance even lobbied to lift the tax exemptions of self-help organizations.  Luckily, it didn’t come to pass after coops staged nationwide protest demonstrations.

http://cebudailynews.inquirer.net/81834/81834

 

Popcom warns of higher infant mortality, maternal deaths after budget cut

By Vivienne Gulla

 

The head of the Commission on Population believes the decision of Congress to scrap the 2016 budget for contraceptives could lead to higher infant and maternal mortality.

PopCom Director Juan Antonio Perez III said his office will ask local governments to assist in funding contraceptives that will be made available in health centers. This is after Congress slashed the Department of Healths P1 billion budget for condoms, pills, injectables, and IUDs.

"It is a paradox why the legislators pass a law that they are not supporting. We would ask LGUs to step up and support gaps in implementing the reproductive health law during the course of the year," Perez said.

How budget cut for contraceptives will affect PH

Health Secretary Janette Garin earlier confirmed the DOH's 2016 budget for contraceptives was scrapped when it passed through Congress. She said the department would now seek private donors to provide funds for contraceptives.

Senator Vicente "Tito" Sotto III said less than P200 million from the department's budget for contraceptives was removed.

He said the P1 billion scrapped from the DOH budget was transferred by the Committee on Finance to augment the budget of state universities and colleges SUCs.

Perez noted that the P1 billion saved from slashing the budget for contraceptives in 2016 may cost the government much more.

In his estimate, the budget cut will translate to 50,000 more infants and 100,000 more maternal deaths.

You will have an increased number of infants who would need immunization, basic services. Mothers who die or suffer complications from additional birth should be supported by the government," he said.

He also sees the budget cut as a setback in meeting the target of bringing down the rate of dependents in the population to about 30 percent by 2030.

If the RH program continues to receive zero support from Congress, Perez said it may hurt the economy in the long run.

Women who have three children will potentially have four or five children. That would mean that the woman is not able to participate in the labor force. The productivity of the household will be affected. This will lead to increased household poverty," he explained.

Even the United Nations Population Fund expressed concern over the budget cut. In a statement, the UNFPA said allocating funds for contraceptives is an important investment to achieve a more educated and healthy population, a more productive workforce, and a growing economy.

It encouraged the Philippine government to reconsider its decision to slash the budget for contraceptives.

Health officials estimate the DOH's contraceptive supply will last only until the middle of the year.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government has also directed local government units to fill in the gaps in the family planning commodities and supplies of the DOH.

In a memorandum circular issued to governors, mayors, and regional directors, the DILG sought the support of LGUs in ensuring universal access to reproductive health services.

'Contraception funding cut will fuel HIV, maternal deaths'

 

https://m.abs-cbnnews.com/read/2/9754497

The ‘castrated’ RH budget

By Rina Jimenez-David

 

AS IS all too common with government programs, it’s the poor—particularly poor women—who have little voice, small presence and even a lot less power, who become the biggest losers when money is scarce and there are competing claims for it.

This seems to be the case with the P1-billion cut from the budget for the purchase of family planning supplies of the Department of Health. Reports have it that the amount was removed from the DOH budget by senators sitting in the bicameral conference committee that approved the national budget.

I wonder if the news would have been met with the same disconcerting silence if the P1 billion was cut from defense, agriculture or even education. Is it because contraceptives are not considered “essential”? Not a necessity?

“It is a disservice to the poor,” commented former President Fidel V. Ramos, adding his voice to a growing chorus led by Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor Santiago who spearheaded the charge, as it were, for the passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law. The budget cut, of a not-minor amount, effectively castrates (if you can use such a term for a piece of repro health legislation) the program, as protesters proclaim. This is because, contrary to popular misconception, family planning supplies are not “luxuries,” but rather essential commodities, essential to the health of women, men and babies.

Already, health commentators are saying the budget cut imperils not just family planning, but even the fight against HIV/AIDS, since condoms are part of the parcel of supplies that would have been made available by the cut. The country is facing a huge HIV/AIDS crisis, with the number of new cases, bucking a worldwide trend, increasing in these parts.

* * *

RAMOS added that the budget cut “will now affect the ability of the Department of Health to provide life-saving services that benefit the poor.” But the former president said a solution is at hand since it could still be remedied “by a supplemental budget by the 16th Congress and/or a more generous budget for RH by the next president and the 17th Congress.”

Benjamin de Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development, on which FVR serves as an “eminent person,” observed that the budget has always been to “serve the poor particularly in direct-service oriented departments like the DOH, DepEd, or DSWD.” So removing such a huge amount from the DOH budget “is tantamount to reducing and limiting access to health services (for) the poor who are the biggest users and recipients of public services.” The rich, said De Leon, are unaffected because they could always afford the services they need and want. But the poor, he noted, “are hardest hit by this move that clearly lacks good judgment and better decision-making.”

In reaction to the adverse reactions to the budget allocation, Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on finance, said that contrary to assertions of other senators, all information about the national budget were made available to both houses of Congress before it was enacted into law. “All senators were given a copy of the bicameral conference committee report before they voted to ratify,” said Legarda. “The first page of the report shows both the increases and decreases in the budget of all agencies including the Department of Health.”

The process of deliberating on the budget of government departments is an annual procedure that every one of them undergoes, said Legarda. But couldn’t Legarda have taken a more proactive stance in behalf of women who will suffer the most when they lose access to contraception?

* * *

I DON’T know if this would have prevented the contraceptives budget cut, or even directly improve the status of Filipino women, but the year has begun with a “strong campaign”—led by some 48 governments, led by Colombia’s female ambassador to the United Nations, and by NGOs led by women experts on the UN—to elect the first woman secretary general of the UN.

An online report explains that the “UN remains the world’s top global body for peace and security,” while the secretary general “sets and implements the UN’s priorities under agreement from member governments and is the most powerful civil servant in the world.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s term ends in December.

“Already there are a half dozen women actively vying for the job,” the report says. Of the official declared campaigns, four Easter European governments have put forward names; two of them women. Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, director general of Unesco, enjoys an early lead, staking out her issues as “civil and political rights, mutual respect, knowledge about each other, promotion of freedom of expression as part of peace, good governance, and human rights.”

* * *

ANOTHER candidate is Vesna Pusic, foreign minister of Croatia, while Western Europe has many high-level women candidates—presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers.

Also mentioned as in the running is Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and head of the UN Development Program. But while often mentioned as the “dream candidate,” observers say they do not think German Chancellor Angela Merkel is going to leave domestic politics at this stage.

But governments from Latin America are also canvassing for “one of their own” as the next UN secreteray general, including Susana Malcorra, Argentina’s new foreign minister; Karen Christiana Figueres Olsen of Costa Rica, who led the “contentious” climate change negotiations; Colombia’s foreign minister Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar, who is now leading the negotiations with the FARC guerrillas; and former president and head of UN Women (and recent Philippine visitor) Michelle Bachelet.

 

http://opinion.inquirer.net/91962/castrated-rh-budget




Rough sailing, still

Advocates spent many years—and several congresses—pushing for the passage of the Reproductive Health Law. This, after all, is a country where majority of the people were Catholics. The Catholic Church was perceived as influential, both on politicians and on ordinary mass-goers from the most remote of towns.  

Heated debates and controversial statements characterized the bill’s journey.  When it was finally passed in December 2012, the victory was short-lived.  Numerous groups assailed the law’s constitutionality on varied grounds. It was only in April 2014 that the Supreme Court declared it, quite curiously, “not unconstitutional”. 

Despite this, the law continues to face rough sailing. Bad news for the people it aims to enlighten and provide choices to. 

The bicameral conference committee has slashed P1.157 billion, intended for the purchase of contraceptives that would be distributed to the poor, from the 2016 budget. 

Senator Vicente Sotto III, who has always grounded his opposition to the bill on supposed morality, defends how they slashed the budget, saying that this is only a small part of the Department of Health’s overall budget of P123.5 billion. 

Sotto now has the temerity to say he is “now in favor of the RH law because we made sure it had been cleansed of abortion, population control and the use of abortifacients.” 

Sadly, this is the man who is topping the senatorial surveys. 

Health Secretary Janette Garin said she only learned of the budget cut last week. The Health department is said to be coordinating with stakeholders on how it can still achieve its objectives despite the budget cut.

It is difficult to imagine how objectives could be met. The slashed portion of the DoH budget with its specific purpose has specific beneficiaries. Without it, poor families will not otherwise have access to their family planning options.  

There is also the silent but steady growth in the number of new cases of HIV and AIDS in the country. We do not know if the government has come up with a plan on how to counter this trend, in an era where the number of new cases in other countries have been going down. 

We join the chorus of those condemning what happened at the bicameral committee, no thanks to the leadership of some legislators hell bent on preventing the law from achieving its objectives.  Poor families need guidance and access to contraceptives: that issue has long been settled. 

Of what use are laws when scheming lawmakers lend their influence in ensuring they are not implemented well? 

 

http://www.thestandard.com.ph/opinion/editorial/196552/rough-sailing-still.html#.VpRRWnhywMA.facebook

 

627 new HIV cases reported last November; total cases now exceed 7K

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) has reported 627 new cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in November 2015, bringing the total number of cases to more than 7,000 for the first 11 months in 2015.

According to the Philippine HIV and AIDS Registry, Metro Manila accounted for 38 percent of the cases, followed by Calabarzon with 15 percent; Central Visayas, 11 percent; Central Luzon, eight percent and Western Visayas, five percent.

Of the total cases, 96 percent were male and more than half belong to the 25-34 year age group. But 30 percent of the cases were aged 15 to 24 years old. A total of 174 deaths from the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) were recorded in the month of November, said the DOH.

The human immunodeficiency virus or HIV leads to AIDS, a condition in which the body’s immune systems are attacked and damaged by the virus, ultimately leading to death.

DOH records showed that the new cases were 27 percent higher compared to figures culled during the same period in 2014 and most of the cases were male who either had unprotected sex or shared needle among injecting drug users.

Earlier, Health Secretary Janette Garin warned that if the government and stakeholders did not invest in preventing new HIV infections in the country, figures would reach 133,000 by 2022.

The DOH attributed the steady rise of HIV cases—aside from increased surveillance and free access to screening—to low correct and comprehensive knowledge of HIV and dismal condom use among vulnerable populations, particularly males having sex with males.

Garin had noted that HIV cases at 133,000 six years from now would cost the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. P4 billion a year for the outpatient HIV package alone and would continue to increase each year if new infections were not curbed.

The health chief has also expressed worry that the deletion of the P1-billion budget allotted for contraceptives this year will have a major impact on the DOH’s HIV prevention and control campaign considering that condom use among key populations vulnerable to HIV was already at a dismal 44 percent.


-Jocelyn R. Uy
 

Controversy over P1-B RH budget cut rages

By Maila Ager

 

A furious Senator  Pia Cayetano   disclosed  on  Monday  that the P1-billion  cut in  the Department of Health’s  (DOH)  “procurement  of commodities “ under  the family health and  responsible  parenting (FHRP) was not the same item that  they passed  in the Senate.

Cayetano said this was not also “revealed” to them when they voted in the bicameral conference committee.

“After looking into relevant documents, our office confirms the P1-billion cut in the DOH’s procurement of commodities under family health and responsible parenting,” Cayetano, principal author of the  Reproductive Health  Law, said in a statement.

“This was not the third reading version we passed in the Senate, and neither was this major cut on reproductive health, which is a very important part of health care, revealed to us when we voted on the bicameral report,”  she said.

Cayetano said what was reflected in the bicam report was a P1-billion cut in the special provision on “purchase and allocation of drugs, medicines and vaccines.”

“There was no mention of any cuts in the line item budget for family planning,”  she pointed out.

“But in the final version that is reflected now in the GAA (General Appropriations Act), there is a line item for family planning that shows a P1 billion reduction. This was never reported to us,” said the senator.

Thus, Cayetano said, Senator Loren Legarda’s claim that senators were informed of the amendments  before they voted in  the bicameral report last December 14, 2015 had no basis.  Legarda, chairs the Senate committee of finance.

“The details of this P1 billion cut were only made known following President Aquino’s signing of the General Appropriations Act on December 28, 2015. This was after the DOH discovered the reduction and exposed it,”  Cayetano said.

“Naglolokohan tayo dito when our finance committee headed by Senator Loren Legarda can submit a bicam report to senators that do not show the significant changes made. That is unethical and unacceptable,”  she further said.

Legarda earlier said  that all information about the 2016 national budget were  available to both  the Senate and the House of Representatives  before it was  enacted into law.

“All senators were given a copy of the bicameral conference committee report before they voted to ratify. The first page of the report shows both the increases and the decreases in the budget of all agencies including the Department of Health (DOH),”  she said in a statement  last Friday.

She explained that in the process of reconciliation of the differences between the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) and the Senate proposal, the bicameral committee had identified agencies that need to be provided additional funds and had also identified the sources to fund the proposed increases.

“The decision to cut the allocation for the DOH’s Family Health and Responsible Parenting (FHRP) was done after assessing its possible impact on the program,” she said.

“ We took note that as of June 2015, the DOH status of funds showed that of the P3.27 Billion allocation for FHRP, only P955 Million had been obligated or 29%. For the remaining six months, P2.3 Billion or 71% has yet to be obligated. The unused 2015 budget is still available in 2016 and the agencies may augment deficient items from their savings,” Legarda further said.

 

http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/754529/controversy-over-p1-b-rh-budget-cut-rages



Filipino Catholic Church Continues to Fight Family Planning

By Marilen J. Danguilan

 

Three years since its historic passage, the Philippines’ landmark reproductive health act – which provides for family planning and sexual education, among other features – continues to face a series of continuing obstacles put in place by allies of the Catholic Church. 

Monkey wrench after monkey wrench has been thrown into the Department of Health’s efforts to implement the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, as the legislation is known, since it was passed as the capstone of President Benigno S. Aquino III’s presidency in 2012 after being stalled in Congress for 14 years.

President Aquino signed the measure into law on December 21, 2012. That should have been the end of the controversies. But that was not to be. Advocates of the family planning measure RH advocates expect no letup by the church’s allies.

The law polarized the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, with a growing 100 million population. The Catholic Church, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and their conservative political allies have been leading the attempts to thwart the law’s implementation. Previous presidents didn’t push for legislation on reproductive health because they wanted the Catholic Church on their side. It was only Aquino, a highly popular president, who bucked the trend.

Money for contraceptives killed

The latest hurdle is the removal last week of PHP1 billion (US$21.277 million) from the PHP3.275 billion that the Department of Health proposed for its Family Health and Responsible Parenting (FHRP) program. The funds were earmarked for the purchase of contraceptives in 2016, as the RH Law mandates.

Despite the fact that the appropriation had been approved in both the committees and plenary assemblies of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, a bicameral committee composed of selected members of the lower house and Senate slashed the budget. The committee’s job is supposedly to merely tweak inconsistencies and harmonize conflicting aspects of bills before they become laws.

Senator Vicente Sotto III, a member of the bicameral committee, who has long opposed the law, proposed the cut. This happened during the final phase of the budget deliberations before President Aquino signed it into law.

Without funds to distribute free contraceptives to the poor, as the family planning law stipulates, they must rely on outside sources such as private groups and donors, Health Secretary Janet Garin said. About 7 million women with unmet family planning needs are not going to get their contraceptives as a result of the budget cut.

To introduce such a huge slash in the budget of an executive agency’s important program is possible but highly unusual, said Rom Dongeto, Executive Director of the Philippine Legislators Conference on Population and Development. The budgetary cut should have been deliberated upon in the committees of both houses and in the plenary bodies, not in a bicameral committee conference where attendance is limited, Dongeto added.

While 93 percent of Filipinos say they reject abortion on principle, the fact on the ground is that enormous numbers of women get them. The World Health Organization estimated in 2005 that 800,000 illegal abortions are performed every year. That is believed to have climbed by another 100,000 in the intervening decade. Some 70 percent of unwanted pregnancies end in abortion, according to the WHO, four of five of them because women can’t afford care for more children.

Some doctors secretly perform abortions in clinics for PHP2,000-5,000, while those who can’t afford them self-induce or seek solutions from “quack doctors” – folk practioners. As many as 100,000 people end up in the hospital every year because of unsafe abortions according to the Philippine Department of Health. 

http://www.asiasentinel.com/society/filipino-catholic-church-continues-to-fight-family-planning/

 

The struggle has not ended for reproductive health advocates after Congress moved to reappropriate the P1 billion allocation for contraceptives from the Department of Health's (DOH) budget.

In response, the DOH lamented the difficulty of implementing the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RPRH Law) and said that they would once again be dependent on donors. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, a vocal supporter of the law, called the axing of the budget "immoral."

 

Her thoughts are echoed and expanded by Nina Somera, gender adviser of Oxfam Philippines. Oxfam is an international confederation of organizations dedicated to empowering women to help end poverty.

 

Somera says that the zero budget for contraceptives exposes women and even young girls to unwanted and unsafe pregnancies.

 

The RPRH Law could have been instrumental in saving the lives of women who live in areas that are mountains or islands away from hospitals, but as it stands, they are now once again at the mercy of limited public health services.

 

According to Somera, the budget cut won't help address the distressing statistics across the Philippines such as one out of 10 young women aged 15 to 19 becamce a mother in 2014.

Data from the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) show that 53 out of 1,000 births in 2011 were from that age group, too.

 

"In fact, we have seen an alarming 70% increase of teenage pregnancy in just one decade, which also covered the period when the Reproductive Health Bill was repeatedly rejected by Congress," Somera said in a letter shared with GMA News Online.

 

"By the time the RH Bill was enacted in 2012, UNFPA raised the estimate of the number of women who are dying every day due to unsafe pregnancy from 11 deaths to 14 deaths per day," she added.

 

Like many women's rights advocates, Somera welcomed the government's earlier support for responsible parenthood, but lambasted this recent move to withdraw funding from the reproductive health programs.

 

"About half of the rising number of the poor consists of women and girls who still encounter more forms of discrimination and require more resources to address the needs of their bodies," Somera said, before continuing with her criticism of the budget cut.

 

"The manner of slashing this resource — which caught advocates even within the government by surprise — smacks of betrayal," she added.

 

‘Disservice to the poor’

 

Meanwhile, former president Fidel V. Ramos said that the huge budget cut is a "disservice to the poor."

 

"If indeed, no allocation was provided for family planning services, the government will be in violation of the reproductive health rights of Filipinos under the RPRH Law which clearly indicates that the government must provide free family planning services to those who want it. We all know that it is the poor who need and demand F(amily) P(lanning) services," the former president added. Ramos is also an Eminent Person in the Forum for Family Planning and Development, Inc.

 

In defense of their decision, Senate Finance Committee chair Loren Legarda stated that the budget cut does not equate to a withdrawal of support for the program.

"A cut in the budget does not mean less support for a program. We also see the need to increase funds of other agencies for equally important programs," said Senator Loren Legarda said in a statement released on her website Saturday.

 

Legarda is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance.

 

"We reduce the budget of some programs to allow for the improvement of other programs," Legarda said.

Legarda, who is also an RH advocate, said that part of the money that would have gone towards the contraceptives fund will now be used to bolster the air assets of the Department of National Defense. —NB/KG, GMA News

 

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/550809/lifestyle/healthandwellness/zero-budget-for-birth-control-exposes-young-women-to-unsafe-pregnancies-oxfam

House records show Senate wanted P1.3-B cut in RH funds

By Jess Diaz

 

MANILA, Philippines - The Senate, upon the initiative of Sen. Vicente Sotto III, had approved a reduction of P1.3 billion – not P1 billion – in the funding for this year for the implementation of the Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenting Law.

Records of the budget conference committee show that President Aquino had proposed P3,275,078,000 for “family health and responsible parenting.”

The House of Representatives, in its version of the 2016 national budget, approved Aquino’s proposal.

However, the Senate, in its own version of the budget, reduced the funding by P1,315,452,000 to P1,959,626,000.

When the conference committee reconciled the two versions, the House fought for the restoration of the amount Aquino had proposed.

But Sen. Loren Legarda, finance committee chairperson who led the Senate conferees, told the House contingent that she could not get her colleagues to approve the conference panel’s report without the cooperation of Sotto and other minority members.

Legarda said a substantial portion of the Sotto-sponsored reduction must remain in the final version of the budget.

Since failure on the part of the Senate to approve the conference committee report would have meant that there was no 2016 budget passed before the end of last year, House conferees led by appropriations committee chairman Isidro Ungab of Davao City were forced to accept a net P1-billion cut.

Thus, the House contingent succeeded in restoring P315,452,000 in funds for family health and responsible parenting.

As reduced, the appropriation now amounts to P2,275,078,000, not P2.6 billion as Sotto claims.

Senators are bickering over their approval of the P1.3-billion cut.

Sen. Pia Cayetano, principal sponsor of the RH Law in the Senate, has taken Legarda to task for supposedly allowing the huge reduction. Cayetano had the impression that the slashing was done by the conference committee.

“At every stage of the 2016 budget process, I had asked for details. This was work in progress and the detailed amendments were not readily available. Thus, we work on the basis of trust – that the chair of the finance committee would not make significant changes without informing the body, or in the case of RH, no major changes will be made without informing me, knowing that I sponsored the measure,” she said.

“As of this time, my office is looking into this because this is totally unacceptable,” she said.

However, Legarda said information about what was agreed in the budget conference was made available to all senators.

“All senators were given a copy of the conference committee report before they voted to ratify. The first page of the report shows both the increase and the decrease in the budget of all agencies, including the Department of Health,” she said.

The principal author of the Reproductive Health Law has chided Senator Vicente Sotto III over the latter’s move to delete  from the 2016 national budget the P1-billion allocation for family planning commodities aimed at providing artificial contraceptives to poor Filipino couples.

Former Albay congressman Edcel Lagman, the principal author of Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law or Republic Act 10354, said Sotto, after failing to block the passage of the RH Law, is now deliberately stalling  the law’s implementation.

“During the bicameral conference on the 2016 General Appropriations Bill , Sotto caused the deletion of P1.0 billion from the P1.157 billion for the procurement of Modern and Natural Family Planning Supplies,” Lagman said in a statement.

Lagman made the remark after Health Secretary Janette Garin earlier disclosed that the bicameral conference committee on the national budget got rid of the P1- billion budget from P124-billion funding of her department to cover the free provision of condoms, IUDs and birth control pills, particularly for breastfeeding mothers, at health centers.

“The Congress, particularly the Senate, reneged on its obligation to adequately fund the speedy and full implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law,” Lagman protested.

Lagman said that the remaining P157 million is inordinately inadequate for the purchase of family planning commodities, which amount may even be lower than the appropriations for such  expenses when there was no RH Law yet.

“The P1.0 billion, which was meanly cut by Sotto, is a drop in the bucket in the P3-trillion 2016 national budget and it is a measly amount compared to government’s  mega projects which have fewer number of beneficiaries,” Lagman said.

He said the original funding of P1.157 billion, which was  deleted by Sotto, was recommended by President Benigno Aquino III in his National Expenditure Program  and adopted in toto by the House of Representatives in its version of the 2016 GAB or the newly signed General Appropriations Act for this year.

The Supreme Court declared on April 8, 2014 the RH Law constitutional on the whole after the bill was approved by Congress on Dec. 19, 2012 and signed into law by President Aquino on Dec. 21, 2012.

Due to the lack of funding in the 2016 GAA, Lagman said that the government’s purchases of family planning commodities must be sourced by the DoH from its share in the incremental revenues from sin taxes or from the President’s Contingent Fund, in addition to the donations from foreign agencies.

Garin said the budget cut was a surprise as the three-year-old Reproductive Health  Law gives beneficiaries determined by the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction universal access to medically safe, non-abortifacient and effective quality reproductive health care services, methods and supplies.

Without proper funding, Garin said the health agency would continue to   face  the challenge of providing for 6.7 percent of the country’s population with “unmet” family planning services, or roughly seven million Filipino women.

http://thestandard.com.ph/mobile/article/196432#.VpLcxCIs5rY.facebook

No link between contraceptive pill and birth defects – study

 

PARIS: Oral contraceptives taken just before or during pregnancy do not increase the risk of birth defects, according to a large-scale study published Wednesday.

Examining records for nearly 900,000 live births in Denmark, researchers found that even women who used the pill after becoming pregnant were no more likely to have babies with serious defects than mothers who had never used it.

“We confirmed that there wasn’t any association between oral contraceptives and major birth defects,” lead author Brittany Charlton, a scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Agence France-Presse by phone.

“Our findings were especially reassuring given that we were able to use a different approach.”

Most previous research, she explained, is based on “case controlled” studies, which begin with a fairly rare outcome—a birth defect—and then work backwards, looking for a cause.

Several of these studies, some decades old, had found a link between use of the hormone-based contraceptives and defects, even if most did not.

“We were able to leverage prescription registries and thus eliminate any bias from women inaccurately recalling their use” of the pill, Charlton said.

Drawing from Danish national health records from 1997 to 2011, Charlton and colleagues divided the women into four groups.

A fifth—some 176,000 women—had never used the pill, while more than two-thirds stopped at least three months before becoming pregnant.

Eight percent discontinued use within three months of conceiving, while one percent— well above a statistically significant 10,000 women—used oral contraceptives after becoming pregnant.

For all categories, the ratio of normal birth to those with major defects was exactly the same—25 per 1,000 live births.

This ratio remained consistent across all groups even with the inclusion of pregnancies that ended in stillbirths or induced abortions.

The study was published in the medical journal BMJ.

- The Manila Times

 

http://www.manilatimes.net/breaking_news/no-link-between-contraceptive-pill-and-birth-defects-study/

 

TACLOBAN CITY, Leyte (January 6, 2016) — To ensure quality standards in the delivery of Responsible Parenthood and Family Planning (RP-FP) programs and services, the Commission on Population (POPCOM) in Eastern Visayas said it will emphasize informed choice and voluntarism (ICV) to its clients.

POPCOM-8 Regional Director Elnora R. Pulma said it is part of the government’s continued thrust for its reproductive health agenda and as espoused in the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012.

To advance informed decision making and ensure that family planning programs are voluntary and protect and fulfill women’s rights, Pulma said that POPCOM, along with the Department of Health (DOH) and VisayasHealth-EngenderHealth will conduct a Training of Trainors on ICV on January 6-8, 2016 at Ironwood Hotel in Tacloban City.

Pulma added that the training will enhance population officers and workers all over the region in informing clients to make voluntary and informed choices based on accurate, balanced and complete information through appropriate counseling.

The DOH Administrative Order 2011-0005 defines ICV as a standard in the delivery of family planning services, ensuring that clients freely make their own decision based on accurate and complete information on a broad range of available modern family planning methods, and not by any special inducements or forms of coercion or misinterpretation.

Pulma also stressed that the implementation of ICV was highlighted in the implementing rules and regulation (IRR) of the RPRH Law. Pulma said healthcare providers are responsible for ensuring that an FP client makes a voluntary and informed choice.

She added that the quality of care in FP requires that the rights of FP clients are safeguarded by service providers at all times.

The official said the quality of FP services can be further enhanced by safeguarding the rights of clients and by providing the needs of healthcare professionals. Healthcare providers need proper training, adequate supplies, good working environment, as well as good management and support and supervision. (by Reyan Arinto)

http://www.aksyonradyocatbalogan.com/local_news/popcom-ensures-icv-compliance-in-rp-fp-implementation/


 

victoria tulad

 

POPCOM Executive Director Juan Antonio Perez III shared that 70% of Filipinos in reproductive age and in a relationship want to limit their children and have proper spacing. 

The Philippine population is generally young and by 2020, more women will reach reproductive age. Thus, the Government's campaign to implement Responsible Parenthood and Family Planning Program should be stronger.  

Please click the link below for the full interview

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/video/355025/stateofthenation/populasyon-ng-pilipinas-sa-pagtatapos-ng-2016-posibleng-umabot-sa-mahigit-104-million

Health chief: No allocation for contraceptives in 2016 DOH budget

By Jee Y. Geronimo

The DOH's proposed P1-B allocation for contraceptives was removed during deliberations of the bicameral conference committee, says Health Secretary Janette Garin

MANILA, Philippines – Almost two years after the reproductive health (RH) law was declared constiturional by the Supreme Court, the controversial measure faces a new challenge:

there is no allocation for contraceptives in the 2016 budget. 

 

Health Secretary Janette Garin said the 2016 budget for contraceptives was removed during the deliberations of the Senate and House bicameral conference committee.

"We really had it in our budget. Congress approved the proposed budget, but unfortunately, at the bicameral conference, we were informed the budget for contraceptives was removed," Garin said in a mix of English and Filipino during a media forum on Wednesday, January 6.

She told reporters that health officials only learned about the removal on Monday, January 4.

Republic Act 10354 or the RH law mandates the Department of Health (DOH) to procure, distribute to local government units (LGUs), and monitor the usage of family planning supplies for the whole country.

The 2016 budget for contraceptives supposedly amounts to around P1 billion ($21.24 million). The allocation is meant to purchase family planning commodities such as condoms, pills, and IUDs.

But now that it's no longer in the 2016 budget, Garin said the DOH plans to seek help from its health partners and donors so that the program can continue.

"It will affect our program a lot. Malaki ang epekto niya kasi ang daming nanay na dependent dun sa binibigay ng DOH (This has a huge effect since a lot of mothers depend on the supplies provided by the DOH)," Garin told reporters after the forum.

LGUs can also implement their own procurement, distribution, and monitoring program consistent with the provisions of the law and DOH guidelines.

"We're not saying that family planning should be given to all. What we're saying is it should be given to those who need it and who cannot afford it," Garin said.

The health secretary urged both houses of Congress to "allow it for the 2017 budget." The DOH has a total budget of P122.63 billion ($2.61 billion) for 2016.

Garin also urged Filipino voters to ask candidates running in the 2016 elections about the RH law. (READ: 5 #GenderIssues to ask in 2016)

"There should be political will to implement reproductive health. Puwedeng tanungin iyan (They can ask candidates that)," she said.

As it is, the department is still coping with the temporary restraining order issued by the SC on the distribution and sale of implants in June 2015.

Garin said implants, if not provided for free by government, will cost around P8,000 ($169.98) to P12,000 ($254.96) in the private sector. –Rappler.com

http://www.rappler.com/nation/118131-no-allocation-contraceptives-doh-2016-budget

 

 

Jeepy

In an interview by ABS-CBN, POPCOM Executive Director Dr. Juan Antonio Perez III stressed that urban congestion in Metro Manila is caused by internal migration and the solution to the problem is not limited to Metro Manila alone.

The lack of development in nearby provinces encourages Filipinos to migrate. Thus, regional development should focus on giving more opportunities in the province to avoid congestion due to migration, Dr. Perez concluded.

Please click the link below for the full news coverage.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gi84z8-m7w4

 

Two challenges for the new government

By Alejandro Del Rosario

 

The two related developments that were reported on the first week of the New Year pose a challenge to the incoming administration. The first was the report of the Commission on Population that the number of Filipinos would reach 104 million in 2016. The second is a dire warning from an American Chamber of Commerce official warning that Metro Manila would be uninhabitable by the year 2020.

The PopCom projection came even after the reproductive health bill came into law two years ago. The bump in the PopCom figures was based on the increase of reported teen pregnancies with girls as young as 15 years old already bearing children. The RH law allows family planning through artificial methods but contraceptives are not readily available to most women in the rural areas.

The grim prospect of the metropolis in paralysis is almost a reality but to say it will be uninhabitable in the next four years is a scary scenario to contemplate. It is real and staring us in the face. Metro Manila may not be a total wasteland but its quality of life could reach an all-time low.  John Forbes, senior adviser of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, provides us with a few hard facts. Car sales will reach 500,000 units by 2020, exceeding the 300,000 units dealers had projected. Car volume consequently increases gas and carbon emissions, posing health hazards particularly to the respiratory system. The world is already witnessing this in Beijing and other major cities in China where residents wearing gauze masks have become a familiar sight.

Clean drinking water will become scarce, not just in poor rural areas but even in the cities with the residential high-rise condominiums competing for the most essential daily need of humans.  
Metro Manila has a population of 12 million, a number that swells to 15 million during week days when workers commute from the periphery of the sprawling urban area. Without a mass transit system to move people to and from work, traffic could literally come to a standstill, thereby impeding commerce. Forbes said the solution is really in an efficient public railway system and more skyways to ease traffic on the ground. While the government is currently constructing the skyway from the Ninoy Aquino Terminal 3 in Pasay to Bulacan, the sheer volume of vehicles has already outpaced the number of roads. The Pasay-to-Bulacan skyway, not even halfway finished, is adding to the heavy traffic in the airport area. 

Why the Aquino government started the skyway construction only in the last year and half of its term boggles the mind. Was government under spending programmed for release during the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections? Just asking.

A designated railway for alternate airport Clark has been suggested so that Central and Northern Luzon residents leaving for international flights need not travel all the way to the three congested Naia terminals in Pasay City. The Clark monorail project remains a pipe dream even after five and a half years of the Aquino administration.

A robust growth in the country’s population should not be as daunting when seen in the light of how other countries were able to harness human resources into engines of economic growth. China with its population of 1.371 billion and India with 1.288 billion prove people can power the economy and not burden it. Let’s not talk about China with its internal problems and its economy presently in a slump. India is the country to watch. With its average growth rate of 7 percent in the last two decades, India’s GDP grew to 7.3 percent in 2014-2015 and is expected to post a 7.5 to 8.3 percent growth in 2015 to 2016, according to the latest Wikipedia figures.

The surge in India’s economic growth can be traced to its strong service sector. Aside from hefty revenues generated by its business process outsourcing sector, it is a major exporter of information technology and software. These are areas where the Philippines is giving India stiff competition and the country’s  human resources ranged against the English-speaking Indians even have the edge.  

In the end, it all comes down to what kind of leaders we are going to elect in May 2016. Will they have the political will and resolve to pull the country together and bring it into the 21st century? A lot also depends on our voters. It is never enough to keep reminding our people that we deserve the government we elect.

http://thestandard.com.ph/opinion/columns/back-channel-by-alejandro-del-rosario/196075/two-challenges-for-the-new-government.html#.Vox6XPyT1N0.facebook

The Commission on Population (POPCOM), in its mandate to educate couples with adequate information on sexual and reproductive health, educated 710,616 (88.88%) couples/individuals on Responsible Parenthood-Family Planning (RP-FP) through RP-FP Classes conducted nationwide. 

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Pinoys to reach 101.4 M this year

 

MANILA, Philippines - The country’s population is expected to hit 101.4 million in the middle of 2015 and the Department of Health (DOH) and Commission on Population (PopCom) plan to introduce a new artificial method of family planning to improve the dependency ratio in the country.

“Right now our population is 100.7 million or 100.8 million. But by mid-2015, it will be around 101.4 million. So the big efforts of the DOH and PopCom will be on the implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) law this year and part of 2016,” PopCom executive director Juan Antonio Perez III told The STAR yesterday.

Dependency ratio pertains to the number of working people and their dependents.

Perez said the goal is to decrease the country’s total fertility rate from the current three percent, or three children per woman, to 2.1 percent, or two kids per woman.

“We are still the highest in Southeast Asia… (Our aim is that) each woman will have around two children. That is the replacement rate. And at that rate, the dependency ratio will improve in the next few years,” he explained.

He noted that while the country’s population growth rate of 1.9 percent is going down, it is declining at a very slow pace.

Perez said that part of the campaign is to include “subdermal implants” in the family planning program.

A subdermal implant is a flexible plastic rod about the size of a matchstick that releases the hormone progestin into the body.

The subdermal implant is inserted into a woman’s upper arm to suppress ovulation for three years. If a woman wants to get pregnant, the implant will simply be removed.

The implants will be included in the list of contraceptives being supplied and supported by the DOH and PoPCom, namely injectables, pills and condoms.

Perez said the DOH and PoPCom would also scale up the promotion of tubal ligation, vasectomy methods and three natural scientific family planning methods: lactational amenorrhea based on breast milk production, standard days method, and the Billings ovulation method.

The agencies do not promote calendar and withdrawal methods and “people who are on those methods will be encouraged to move to scientific methods.”

Due to the rising trend in teenage pregnancy, a campaign on comprehensive sexuality education will also be strengthened among the youth.

This will be done with Department of Education, Department of Social Welfare and Development and with other government agencies and civil society groups, Perez said.

 

- Shiela Crisostomo

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2015/01/05/1409517/pinoys-reach-101.4-m-year

104 million and growing

 

The Supreme Court has given the go-signal for the implementation of Republic Act 10354, or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012. It will take years, however, before the full impact of the RH law becomes evident.

Meanwhile, the nation must meet the demands of an ever-growing population. The past year ended with the Commission on Population reporting that the number of Filipinos would hit 104 million in 2016, up from the current 102.4 million. PopCom officials say the projection could be lower if the increasing trend in contraceptive use is sustained during the year.

The national fertility rate is slowing down, according to PopCom. Still, it is clear that the country cannot keep up with the demands of the booming population. Official statistics show that the poverty rate has changed little over the past six years. The classroom backlog is being addressed and the textbook shortage is over, according to education officials, but public education resources remain inadequate. Public health facilities are overwhelmed. At government hospitals, new mothers share not just rooms but also beds.

The lack of meaningful jobs is reflected in the continuing exodus of Filipinos for employment overseas. The lack of decent sources of livelihood especially in the countryside is also a key reason for urban migration, which has turned Metro Manila into one of the world’s most congested mega-cities.

Other urban centers such as Baguio are rapidly becoming overcrowded. As in Metro Manila, urban blight is the result. Too many people compete for limited resources. Vehicles compete for road space with no room for expansion. All basic services are inadequate, from shelter to garbage collection and maintenance of peace and order. With the RH law in place, the greater challenge is to improve governance and delivery of services. This cannot wait for population growth to taper off.

-The Philippine Star 

http://www.philstar.com/opinion/2016/01/04/1539003/editorial-104-million-and-growing

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Base from the 2015 CENSUS of Population: 100,981,437

Basis: 2015 PGR of 1.72

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