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Report on RH Dialogue with President Aquino’s advisers

In response to CSOs’ request to dialogue with the President on the RH Bill, a group of representatives was invited to meet with some of the President’s advisers, namely Secretary Enrique Ona of the DOH, Secretary Dinky Soliman of the DSWD, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and Philippine Commission on Women Chair Remmy Rikken, on February 23, 2011. The National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) through Secretary Joel Rocamora and Undersecretary Oyen Casanova-Dorotan as well as the Presidential Management Staff facilitated the meeting.

The CSO representatives were Mary Racelis and Marichi Castro Guevara, professors at the Ateneo de Manila University; Edelina de la Paz, national coordinator of Catholics for RH; Elizabeth Angsioco, chair of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines; Ben de Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning; Lady Lisondra, youth representative of FPOP and a member of RHAN Youth; Bishop Rodrigo Tano, chair of the InterFaith Partnership for the Promotion of Responsible Parenthood; Rina Jimenez-David, chair of Pilipina; Lina Bacalando, president of Pinag-Isang Lakas ng Kababaihan (PILAKK); Ramon San Pascual, Executive Director of PLCPD; Eden Divinagracia, Executive Director of PNGOC; Elizabeth Pangalangan, Executive Director of ReproCen; Ernesto Pernia of the UP School of Economics; and Junice Demeterio-Melgar, Executive Director of Likhaan and Secretary-General of RHAN.

Reproductive Health advocates had been worried that the President’s protracted dialogues with the CBCP and his dropping of the Reproductive Health-Responsible Parenthood Bill from among the LEDAC’s priority measures would unduly delay the passage of the RH-RP Bills now being heard simultaneously in both chambers of Congress. The president’s actions on these occasions had raised fears that the President’s commitment to RH-RP was wavering. The deletion of the RP-RH measure from the President’s priority list was particularly seen as sending mixed signals regarding the bill’s import and urgency to the public and the legislators. The group felt that the president’s efforts to find a “middle ground” would be futile, in the light of the recent CBCP Pastoral letter dated January 30, which categorically rejected the entire RP-RH Bill, including all modern Family Planning methods.

In this dialogue, the group reminded President Aquino about his Social Contract, which included a commitment to Responsible Parenthood based on Informed Choice and support to poor families. They urged the President to have a strong national policy on RH-RP and to re-include the RH-RP Bill in the LEDAC, citing the similarity of the President’s responsible parenthood principles with the provisions of the RH-RP Bills.

The President’s advisers reassured the group that the President continued to stand by his commitment to Responsible Parenthood and that an RP-RH policy was a priority regardless of whether or not the RP-RH bill was included in the LEDAC list. They assured the group that they will review the consolidated House bill. They also said they had assured the bishops that Malacañang would work on a draft of a bill ensuring the right to information on all methods of family planning, work which had not yet begun. The CSO representatives, though, clarified that the right to full information is already among the provisions of the consolidated House bill.

The dialogue concluded with the group inviting the President to speak on his plans for women, and specifically, to reaffirm his commitment to RH-RP at a women’s rally on March 8, International Women’s Day.

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