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Student leaders to solons: Decide on the RH bill before 2013 polls

With just thirteen months left before next year’s midterm elections, newly-elected student leaders from universities around Metro Manila have once again reiterated their call for lawmakers to vote on the long-stalled Reproductive Health (RH) bill, saying that it is important in the promotion of the youth’s interests.

JC Tejano, national spokesperson of the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines, said that students have a huge stake in the said measure since adolescent reproductive health is important. He noted that only 6 % of those who engage in premarital sex use contraceptives and that one out of three Filipino women will get pregnant by age 20.

Me and JC Tejano, SCAP national spokesperson

He also said that since the youth are not properly educated on the subject, many among them turn to pornography to know more about sex. “We know that porn usually shows unsafe sexual practices,” he said. “We want to warn solons that are anti-RH bill that they being anti-youth. If you are denying reproductive health to us, you are denying us our future,” Tejano said. Their group, he said, is ready to ‘unleash the full force of the youth’ to vouch for the bill and this includes campaigning against anti-RH lawmakers.

Tejano’s stand was seconded by Hanz Ocampo, president-elect of the University of the East student council. He explained that sex education must be started before a child reaches puberty. “Children are curious about sex. They should know what is going on inside their bodies,” Ocampo said. He, however, pointed out that parents themselves were not properly educated about the subject because of the “stigma” associated with sex.

The news conference was organized by The Forum for Family Planning and Development

The SCAP spokesperson added that more and more young Filipinos are at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. According to figures from the National Epidemiology Center, 704 or 30% of the 2,349 new cases of HIV reported in 2011 came from the 15-24 age group. This is an increase from the 489 cases recorded for the said age bracket for 2010. International news agency Agence France-Presse earlier reported that the Philippines is one of only seven countries in the world to have rising infection rates in 2010.

For Heart Diño, incoming chair of the UP Diliman USC, passage of the RH bill is a means for Philippines to achieve social development, right to information, and youth empowerment. Aside from the absence of a comprehensive sex education for the youth, Diño stated that there are also no discussions in school as regards gender orientation and sexual identity. Diño is the first transgender to be elected as head of a student government in the country.

With Heart Diño, UP Diliman University Student Council chair

Diño stressed that the RH bill would be the top agenda of the youth in next year’s polls. She asked lawmakers to be “progressive enough” and not oppose the bill “to get the support of certain voting blocks.”  She brushed aside suggestions for the bill to be decided through a plebiscite by 2013, saying that the legislative process must be followed.

Gibby Gorres, SCAP’s national secretary general, for his part lambasted Filipino politicians for being “inutile” in representing their constituents’ views on the RH bill. A survey conducted by Social Weather Stations last August 2011 shows that almost three-fourths of Filipinos agree that the government should disseminate information on all legal family planning methods. Only 29% of respondents in the said survey regarded using contraceptives like condoms, pills, and IUDs as abortion.

With Gibby Gorres, SCAP national secretary general

“Being anti-RH is essentially a crime. They (anti-RH solons) are letting mothers dies indiscriminately. This is as big a deal as extrajudicial killings and budget cuts in education,” Gorres said. He added that there is no scientific study which indicates that the promotion of reproductive health leads to an increase in premarital sexual activities.

Asked about the argument that implementing the RH bill would be too costly for the government, Leona Arcellana of the UP Manila USC stressed that pending on the RH bill is “nothing compared to spending on health issues.” Arcellana added: “Trying to save a mother’s life is costlier than buying a condom. It will prevent the government from spending more, especially on the urban poor.”

The news conference was organized by The Forum for Family Planning and Development (The Forum) last March 22. The Forum is a non-government organization that advocates for the passage of the RH bill.

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