A deadly ‘cut’

Members of the Senate committee on finance, chaired by Senator Loren Legarda, may not realize it; but they just dealt the Family Health and Responsible Parenting program a deadly ‘cut’.

This “wound” came in the form of a budgetary cut from PhP3.274 billion (USD69.534 million) in 2015 to PhP2.275 billion in 2016 (USD48.325 million). This translates to PhP 1 billion less funds to purchase contraceptives such as condoms, pills, and intra-uterine devices (IUDs).

Understandably, health advocates especially the principal proponents of the Reproductive Health (RH) law, are fuming in disbelief and protest over the huge budgetary cut approved by Sen. Legarda, who was supposed to be one of the supporters of the RH law when it was still struggling to be passed.

“The PhP1-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,” Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said. Senator Pia Cayetano also called the drastic budgetary cut totally unacceptable.

The Senate finance committee and bicameral committee (bicam) justified its decision by citing the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court on June 17 of last year, which banned temporarily the “procuring, selling, distributing, dispensing and administering, advertising and promoting” of contraceptive implants due to their alleged “abortifacient side effects.” This TRO came a year after the High Court declared the RH law as “not unconstitutional.”

With the PhP 1 billion cut, the bicam is presuming that the SC’s TRO “temporarily” banning contraceptive implants and devices is already final and executory. Should the High Court finally decide to lift the TRO within the year, then allocated funds would be inadequate to purchase the needed contraceptives.

Sen. Legarda rationalized the cut by explaining that should the Department of Health (DOH) need more funds for contraceptives this year, they can just tap their savings from the 2015 budget, a big chunk of which remained unused following the SC TRO.

This is easier said than done, and may put the DOH in a bind later on. We could understand the concern of DOH Secretary Janette Garin that since they’re now following a line-item budget, savings cannot be used for other purposes. She and her staff may be charged for technical malversation later on, similar to the issue of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), wherein President Aquino utilized savings and new additional funds for programs that could stimulate economic growth. The SC has ruled this as unconstitutional.

It’s been more than three years since the RH law was passed. It remains limping and could hardly make any forward movement simply because people who are supposed to uphold it are not giving it the support they’re supposed to and are in a position to give.

Meanwhile, mothers and infants continue to die in alarming numbers. The moment our legislators and public officials can consistently walk their talk, we’ll start to get things done and sustain them in our country.

Vital Signs Issue 83 Vol. 4, January 1-31 2016