Duterte’s first year in office

 

I have lived long enough to see presidents come and go in this country but I have never seen the likes of President Rodrigo Duterte who hit the ground running at a considerable speed upon assumption of office.

While Duterte may have been ready with his administration’s 10-point socio-economic agenda that included among other things the implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law to enable especially poor couples to make informed choices and family planning, he, however, entrusted the execution of all these to his social and economic mangers while he took it upon himself to lead his much vaunted campaign promise to fight the proliferation of illegal drugs , corruption and criminality.

As an unconventional politician whose approach to solving problem has been described as ‘out-of-the-box’, not to mention the colorful language he uses especially when piqued, is what has endeared him to the Filipinos which is why he was overwhelmingly voted to the presidency.

I am not going to discuss here Duterte’s defining moments individually which includes among other things his running after and eventually putting Sen. Leila de Lima in police custody for using drug money to finance her senatorial bid, his alleged killings and human rights violation stemming from his bloody war on drugs that has been harshly criticize here and abroad by international human rights agencies and advocates, his antagonistic stance towards the U.S., his shift from a U.S. dictated foreign policy to an independent foreign policy, his open arms policy towards China despite the latter’s incursion and militarization of the West Philippine Sea, his diplomatic sortie to Russia, and last but not least of his controversial decisions is the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

For me what is important in Duterte’s 365 days in office is putting into context how the country and the Filipino people are today having Duterte as our president.

I do not know about you, but it makes me wonder, if not guessing, how it would have been for the Philippines and the Filipinos had we had Roxas, Poe or Binay as the president.

Knowing what we know now about the wide-ranging prevalence and gravity of illegal drug use in the country, could any of the other presidential aspirants, had they won, had the political will or the gumption to declare war against it, as Duterte has done, knowing that you are up against ruffians and monsters?

Could they have had the guts to discover and say that we are now a narco-political country?

Would talking to just the MILF, passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law and establishing a new autonomous political entity known as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, prevented the Islamic State-inspired Maute group from storming and creating havoc in Marawi City.

Would they have the potency to declare martial law?

Perhaps Divine Providence determined the course that Duterte be president, warts and all, for he has what it takes to lead and fight for the Filipinos in preserving the integrity of the country and having it respected.

This in essence is what is Duterte’s presidency about one year after and in the next 5 years, God willing.

 

Advertisements

Reproductive health care finally unleashed

 

rh-lawI had been writing about the ‘tethered’ reproductive health (RH), even until it became a law, advocating its implementation sooner than later, for I believe in its practicality and benefits especially for the poor folks, but it was never fully carried out.

It seemed like it was leashed and had limited usefulness only. Worse is that benefits continued to be unreachable by the poor and to think that RH care was already a law. What an irony!

My last article about it can be read at this link: https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/tag/reproductive-health-law/.

With President Rodrigo Duterte signing on Jan. 9 Executive Order (EO) No. 12, mandating universal access to modern family planning tools, I feel like this particular welfare program that was just made to dangle for the reach of the favored few is now unleashed so it could drop and roll down to those needing it the most.

Duterte is said to have ordered government agencies, namely, the Department of Health (DOH), the Commission on Population (POPCOM) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to “intensify and accelerate the implementation of critical actions” to address the “unmet” family planning needs of up to six million Filipina women.

It will be noted that foreign and local authorities have long cited the need for improved birth control in the Philippines which has one of Asia’s highest birth rates as well as high maternal mortality rates.

With a galloping population of over 100 million now and with about 25 percent living in poverty Duterte’s order could not have come at a very propitious time.

Now we could not say anymore that the implementation of the RH law is inadequate because of its limited budget.

“The important part there is that all government agencies will start inputting funds for the program in their 2018 and 2019 budgets,” POPCOM’s executive director Juan Antonio Perez said.

The government’s annual family planning budget could now increase four-fold to the ideal level of two billion pesos, Perez said.

With the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), working on the truism that delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled, and praising Duterte for his political will in providing free contraceptives to poor women, describing it as a ‘new momentum’ in the provision of family planning services in the Philippines, we can only hope and pray that the Catholic Church and its excessively pious followers will respect Duterte’s stand on this controversial issue and look at it as an act beneficial to the interest of the country and its people, for that is all there is to it.

Implementation of RH Law now in earnest

 

Dr. Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial

Dr. Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial

It was reported recently that incoming Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial will review the Department of Health’s (DOH) “distorted” health expenditures which resulted in the failure to implement an ideal health insurance program.

This should be a much welcome gesture especially by the poor afflicted families because not only is Ubial determined to push for higher health spending in order to better cater to the needs of the Filipino people and vowed to use her expertise as a public health official to prioritize primary health care, but incoming President Rodrigo Duterte himself has vowed to allocate part of the earnings of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), which run to billions of pesos for health services.

It should be remembered that a few years back the Bicameral Conference Committee (Bicam) of Congress slashed P1 billion from the budget of the 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.

As was reported before, 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.

One of the staunchest critics of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill and, who, no doubt took the cudgels of the Catholic Church in the Senate, was Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto, who now will be the Senate Majority Leader in the incoming Duterte administration.

It remains to be seen whether Sotto will continue to be a dependable mouthpiece and ally of the church when it comes to the full implementation of the RH law in the whole archipelago or he is going to turn now into a lamb – meek and submissive, the clown, with Ubial pushing strongly for it?

What is even more encouraging about the RH law is that Ubial said that she and her department would push for higher health spending in order to better cater to the needs of the Filipino people and vowed to use her expertise as a public health official to prioritize primary health care.

“Before, the focus was on hospitals. But because I’m a public health official, I will prioritize primary care, preventive, promotive services. Our dictum will be ‘prevention is better than cure.’

Talking about character and resolve for the interest of the poor and needy Filipino families!

 

Duterte chides church officials for hard stand on RH law

 

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte

I was watching a recorded interview of incoming president Rodrigo Duterte who was ask about the Reproductive Health (RH) law in relation to the country’s burgeoning population and his answer was a classic no-holds-barred DU30 answer that buoys up your spirit because his remarks exudes of political will.

Yes, political will because if one does not have this trait as a leader of a poor, populous country like the Philippines, which is predominantly Catholic, the fight you will be having against the Catholic Church hierarchy for its implementation can be exasperating, at best, and at worst, divisive.

This happens because weak politicians allow the Church to meddle in the affairs of the State, which in this case is the RH law and which has an enormous implication to the population, but to avoid conflict and possible political backlash during elections they give in to the will of the Church officials.

President Benigno Aquino may have been instrumental in passing the RH law in 2012, which for many, many years had been advocated by health agencies and concerned citizens for Filipino couples, especially the poor and the less-schooled from the rural areas and more so the women whose lives are put in danger due to high-risk pregnancies because of their ignorance about family planning and responsible parenthood, yet to this day the law is not being implemented fully. His sense of urgency is simply not there for the implementing agencies to follow through.

There have been questions about the constitutionality of the RH law, but the Supreme Court decided with finality that the RH law is not unconstitutional (save for a few provisions).

But somehow there is still so much to be desired in the full implementation of the RH law four years after and even by the Department of Education in their school curriculum, and this snag could only be attributed to the unseen but strong felt hard stand of the Church.

We all know how the high ranking Church officials exert their influence in this country, even in state matters, thinking that by sheer number of followers they will win their arguments.Well, not anymore. Somebody now with political will is making sure that the separation of Church and Sate is to be respected.

Now with Duterte taking over the presidency there is now a good chance that the RH law will be fully instituted and sustained.

The church leaders should understand that it is primarily the government’s responsibility to implement reproductive health care as part of our country’s commitment to various international agreements recognizing it as a fundamental human right and everybody is expected to tow the line, including the Church.

Directing at the Catholic Church hierarchy, Duterte said, “Family planning in the country cannot maintain its momentum because you keep the people in total ignorance.”

Duterte has explained he has no quarrels with the Catholic Church, but he is not fond of it either because it conditions the people to follow its doctrines using the concept of hell.

I could not agree more with Duterte on this. Is being ignorant, poor and miserable on earth not punishment enough?

I am just wondering if the buffoon Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, who is already in “heaven” as a senator, and a strong supporter of the Church, has an answer to this and will bare his teeth against Duterte on the implementation of the RH law.

Just asking.

 

 

Politics derailing implementation of RH Law

RH lawThere is no doubt that politics, or the crucial 2016 presidential election, is causing the derailment of the much needed Reproductive Health (RH) Law in the country.

This could be considered as one of the biggest fallacy of the “tuwid na daan” (straight path) under President Benigno Aquino (PNoy) who, if one remembers, moved heaven and earth for the passage of the law.

It took political will to go against the Catholic Church and many believed that it was the right thing to do, the straight path to follow, if we wanted to see the country progress while at the same time decrease maternal deaths and improve the quality of life of Filipinos, especially the poor, who are the ones miserably affected.

But, afraid of the backlash that could further affect the winnability of PNoy’s presidential bet in the 2016 elections, he succumbed to the political pressure and allowed the paralyzing cut of over P 1-billion in the budget for the implementation of the RH Law.

Could PNoy have done something about it? Damn right, he could have! He could have used his powerful veto prerogative when the budget was signed on Dec 22.

It was reported that the P1 billion went primarily to the purchase of warplanes, which Sen. Loren Legarda said is “timely” given the issue in the West Philippine Sea.

The use of the “timely” statement by Legarda is simply stupid. As if the purchase of the warplanes could make a dent in China’s aggressive occupation and militarization of the West Philippine Sea.

I could only agree with presidential candidate Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago when she issued a statement, saying, “The P1-billion budget cut threatens to deprive some seven million women of reproductive health services. This abandonment is immoral in a country where some 200 out of 100,000 women who give birth die. The enemies of reproductive health never sleep. We, too, must not rest in fighting for women’s health.”

And more so that I agree with Yoriko Yasukawa, UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) regional director for Asia and the Pacific, who said that the “failure to sustain this commitment (to fund family planning programs) can swiftly reverse gains and put the country in a more difficult position to achieve its vital development target to reduce maternal deaths.”

“For a country with a large population of young people such as the Philippines, important investments should be made on comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care, including access to contraceptives, to achieve a more educated and healthy population, more productive workforce and growing economy to maximize the potential of the huge population.”

PNoy may not realize it but his politically motivated action may be considered his greatest disservice to the country.

Pope Francis is the best thing that ever happened to CBCP

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

The much awaited visit of the likable Pope Francis to the country is a balm badly needed to soothe the knotty relationship between many disgruntled faithful followers and the Catholic Church brought about by what is perceived as too much meddling of its leaders in the affairs of the state.

It is bad enough that some high-ranking prelates have been accused of corruption in their own diocese and identified as being at the receiving end of a largesse in different forms from high ranking government officials, but when they also start using the pulpit to pontificate on politics and other state matters, then it simply leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many. It turns them off, promising never to attend mass again, though continues going to church affirming their belief in God and feeling fulfilled in their self-communion with Him.

This was alarmingly becoming the trend, making the separation of the church and the state no longer distinguishable. It was discomforting seeing that church leaders who were already acting as holier-than-thou were also behaving as if the were more knowledgeable in running the affairs of the state and, in particular, the welfare of the people than our elected government officials.

It was never more evident than when our lawmakers/politicians in congress were debating over the passage of the Reproduction Health bill into law. Ultimately it became a law, but not before the leaders of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) went agog, urging people to denounce it as evil, even as it was welcomed by the poor in our society, to whom the measure was specifically crafted for, as it meant teaching them to be responsible parents.

It was during these times that many felt the church’s leaders were going berserk confronting what they perceived was the evil of politics, while showing themselves as the epitome of morality, but in so doing was losing the sight of their responsibility of saving souls and understanding the plight of the poor.

They somehow lost the very purpose of their existence, that which aside from teaching biblical doctrines should also be preaching the gospel of salvation following the words and deeds of Christ.

In fact they have been quite remiss in doing their important task that God considers pure and faultless: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Thus, electing Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy and him opting to be known as Pope Francis, after the venerable patron saint of the poor, St. Francis of Assisi, the new pontiff simply signaled from the very beginning a new emphasis on poverty and simplicity, on mercy and compassion.

Pope Francis, as the leader of the over 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, is the best thing that has ever happened to CBCP.

The transformation that Francis is doing on how the church should be viewed and what the priests should be doing are in itself guidelines of their vocation.

In his first lengthy papal interview, Pope Francis says bluntly that the church has been too focused on the issues of abortion, gay marriage and contraception and suggests it find a “new balance” to deliver its message.

Virtually every public message from Pope Francis has included the word ‘mercy’. But by constantly emphasizing mercy, he has made clear that he expects the Church to apply its teaching with compassion.

What is important in Francis’ teachings, which, if followed and practiced religiously and devotedly by all members of the clergy will find peace in its relationship with the state, is his strong advocacy of expressing a fundamental love and respect for people of all kinds, all persuasions, all races and all orientations. Love begets peace and harmony amongst people.

Pope Francis could not have described better what the church should be doing today when he said: “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle.”

If CBCP today, through its head, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, has issued a 7-point warning to priests as the Catholic Church in the Philippines marks the Year of the Poor, and as the Catholic Church around the world observes the Year of Consecrated Life in 2015, it was simply echoing Pope Francis’ warning to do away with similar Vatican bureaucracy and against clericalism and materialism.

We all know about materialism, but what is this animal called ‘clericalism’?

Clericalism is basically the bad idea that only the ordained and religious are fully Catholic and that laypeople are more or less second-class. With that idea comes a host of other bad ideas, such as “Father is always right,” “Never disagree if a bishop does it,” and “Don’t question anything a priest or bishop does.”

Hmmm! Sounds familiar!

(For more of Pope Francis’ instruction/enlightenment that is serving well and slowly changing favorably the outlook of CBCP’s leaders, please visit this link: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/other/pope-francis-attacks-tyranny-unfettered-capitalism-idolatry-money-f2D11658760).

Events and milestones

babyCongratulations Philippines!

You are now a country of 100,000,000th people and counting!

But, is this really a time to rejoice?

If we were just talking about numbers it won’t probably cease mesmerizing us at how a poor, third world country was able reach that number in so short a time.

But lest we forget, this is not about breaking records. It is precisely because of being a poor, third world country that this milestone should jolt us from our passiveness and realize whether or not our enormous population is beneficial to the Filipinos in general.

If poverty wasn’t the main problem, I probably wouldn’t have given a hoot about the population explosion of this country.

But the way the economy of this country has been performing vis-à-vis the rise in our population has always shown that it has not helped improved the quality of lives of the poor Filipinos.

Thus, questions are asked as to why, despite the good economic performance, you don’t see the benefits touching the lives of the poor.

Who are those being benefited then?

Good question!

Recent encouraging events that has made to the lists of milestones in this country is the sending to prison (deodorized as custodial center) of three senators after they have been charged with plunder cases.

Yes, corruption is still very rampant in government that even the very poor in our society are victimized by these scoundrels who go in the guise of public servants.

And so, as the rich gets richer and the poor, poorer, how then shall the lives of the poor be alleviated so that they could live in ease and comfort knowing that corruption is here to stay?

It matters most that a responsible and competent individual shall succeed President Benigno Aquino in 2016.

It is even important that the country reins in the population growth as effectively as it can by doing everything possible that the Reproductive Health (RH) Law be made the game changer in the lives of the many poor Filipinos wanting to have quality lives.

It is best to remember the words of Klaus Beck, country representative of the United Nations Population Fund, when he said, “Governments that are serious about eradicating poverty should also be serious about providing the services, supplies, information that women, men and young people need to exercise their reproductive rights.”

The RH law is yet another significant milestone for the country.