Advocates see Rizal as new symbol of reproductive health rights

This is a press statement from Akbayan.

Coinciding with the 150 years of National Hero Jose Rizal and the anniversary of the passing of the Rizal law, advocates of the Reproductive Health bill trooped to the House of Representatives today to demand the bill’s passage.

Carrying posters of Rizal, Akbayan Party, Likhaan and other women and youth organizations rendered songs and read the hero’s poems as they call on legislators to pass the RH bill. The groups said they draw inspiration from Rizal and the fight to pass the Rizal law, a law mandating all educational institutions in the country to offer courses about Rizal and his works.

Rizal’s heritage

“Rizal’s legacy of advancing the importance of education, knowledge and progress is very much alive today. In fact, they are the same values being promoted by the proposed RH bill,” Akbayan Representative Kaka Bag-ao said.

Bag-ao said the RH bill aimed to provide knowledge and much-needed information to the public on how to manage their families.

“Huwag natin biguin si Rizal. We must not let people with tunnel vision lead our people. Patuloy tayo magbigay liwanag sa pamamagitan ng edukasyon sa ating mga kababayan,” Bag-ao said.

Bag-ao added that the RH bill’s primary aim is to facilitate the Filipino people’s arrival at informed and empowered decisions concerning family planning and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

“By providing the people with the widest array of options, the RH bill essentially enlightens and broadens the people’s perspectives on how they combat sexually transmitted diseases as well as the planning and management of healthy Filipino families,” Bag-ao added.

Parallelism with Rizal Law

Bag-ao also drew parallelism between the Rizal law and the present day advocacy to pass the RH bill. She said the arguments used by the Catholic church hierarchy against the Rizal law are also the same arguments being used by critics of the RH bill.

“Certainly, history repeats itself. Maybe our friends in the Catholic church hierarchy should brush up on theirs. More than fifty years ago, they said the Rizal law violates the Catholic’s right to conscience and religion, interestingly, the same line of reasoning they use to oppose the RH bill. They said it would lead to the degradation of Catholic values and morality. But has it?” Bag-ao asked.

“Truth is, Rizal became an indispensible pillar of our national identity embraced by both Catholic and non-Catholic Filipinos. We did not lose our faith in God. I believe the same thing will happen with the inevitable passage of the RH bill,” Bag-ao explained.

The pro-RH legislator said like the struggle to pass the Rizal law, “the RH bill will also be passed.”

“Similar to the passage of the Rizal law, reason and rights will triumph over myths and untruths. Mananaig ang katwiran at katotohanan. The RH bill will be passed,” Bag-ao asserted.

Republic Act No. 1425 prominently known as the Rizal Law is an act mandating public and private schools to offer courses about Rizal and his works particularly his famous novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. The measure was reportedly opposed by the Catholic church hierarchy, which retaliated with partisan pastoral letters, homilies and even threats of school shutdowns.

The bill was passed into law on June 12, 1956, Independence Day.

RH bill is also about economic empowerment

Fellow Akbayan lawmaker Walden Bello said the passage of the Rizal law coinciding with the country’s celebration of its independence is befitting especially in the context of the RH bill as a tool to promote economic freedom and empowerment.

“No one can hide the fact that the RH Bill will benefit the people not only by expanding their rights but also by empowering them economically,” Bello said.

Bello argued that while the bill is not the “be all, end all” solution to poverty, it does provide wide latitude for families to make prudent and smart economic decisions.

“Filipino families need a comprehensive economic framework to weather this debilitating crisis. This framework will also make families economically strong and ‘bullish,’ better equipped for future crises. The RH bill plays an important part in this,” Bello said.

Bello explained that in hindsight an increase in population could be a great contributor to development. However, he countered that an unrestrained population growth can spell trouble for economic development especially when such growth occurs alongside an economy that is unable to accommodate or maximize a rapidly growing population.

“It’s not a choice between a big economy to fit your big population and a small population to complement your negligible economy,” Bello said.

“You can’t argue that economic development must precede population management or the other way around. You can’t walk forward with just one leg. You have to use both – one leg must complement the other. The RH bill helps provide the other leg,” Bello concluded.