I cannot say in absolute terms that I am a strong advocate of the proposed Reproductive Health bill (RH Bill). In a perfect world, we wouldnâ€™t need to introduce such legislation. But we do not live in a perfect world and if one’s intention is to seek flaws in the proposed bill, one will surely find it. It is not perfect and neither are the people who categorically dismiss it. To be sure, no legislation is perfect, which is why our legislators need to review it thoroughly and propose revisions if need be before passing it. The problem is, most Filipinos are not keen on discussing things objectively. They are quick to label proposals in a negative light even before a proper deliberation is effected.
I cannot say that I know the proposed bill by heart. Only the authors of the bill and quite possibly its strongest proponents know the true agenda behind it. One thing I can state is that I am an advocate of any measure that seeks to further empower Filipinos, specifically Filipino women. Women bear the full brunt of pregnancy, childbirth, and rearing a young child. This is particularly relevant in Philippine society where the majority of its citizens still tend to see women as all destined to be homemakers or worse, mere vessels of the unborn child. I am also in favor of any legislation, which seeks to address the growing population of Filipinos who do not have any means of supporting themselves.
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The RH bill has indeed, divided the sentiments of the nation. A lot of people say that we do not need the RH bill. And it is not just the staunch members of the Catholic Church who are against it. Some of those who are against the proposed RH Bill have valid reasons for opposing it. They say that the estimated cost of implementing the RH bill will be about three billion pesos and some people are convinced that it is just going to be a total waste of their taxes. But isnâ€™t it that investing in people is more important for the future of our nation? We canâ€™t continue to let the weakening education system simply spiral out of control.
The other alternative is to seek private donations for such a measure. Some even pointed out that in western societies, private donors fund NGOs. But as quickly as they pointed that out, they also claimed that we couldnâ€™t rely on private donors because most Filipinos prefer to keep their money in their own pockets; which is why NGOâ€™s will likely continue to be perceived to be a burden by most Filipinos.
I cannot blame some Filipinos for being skeptical about the proposed bill. After all, Filipinos cannot say in absolute terms that they know and can see where their taxes are being used. So it appears that the lack of trust in our public servants is a valid enough excuse for some to reject the RH bill.
Sadly, Filipinos cannot seem to trust their public servants with public funds anymore. Itâ€™s always at the back of the average Filipinoâ€™s mind that public servants will pocket the funds or will find a way to make money out of opportunities such as in dealing with suppliers with a vested interest in the procurement and distribution of the health care kits.
This collective lack of trust has nothing to do with the proposed RH Bill though. The lack of trust has more to do with most Filipinosâ€™ lack of accountability and weak implementation of the rule of law. Ironically, this lack of trust even in some of our well-meaning public servants seems to be hindering some Filipinos from supporting legislations that can quite possibly move the country forward. This situation is not just limited to the RH bill. Endemic lack of trust seems to extend even to calls for the amendment of the 1987 Constitution. Some Filipinos think that those who seek amendments also have vested interest, which doesnâ€™t include the rest of the public.
I like hearing both sides of the argument. But those who are against the RH bill tend to contradict themselves. One of their strongest arguments is that economic liberalization will address the needs of the people more comprehensively than the proposed bill. I can agree with this concept except, in the same breath they also say that â€œthe (Philippine) oligarchs are getting richer by the day â€“ SLEX, NLEX, MERALCO, PLDT, PAL, MAYNILADâ€ and â€œthe trapos are spending pork barrel like mad â€“ Aquino alone has P68B in Pork barrel.â€
Well, going by the same logic, it can also be argued that since members of the Philippine oligarchy are â€œgetting richer by the dayâ€ because they control most of the goods and services and, likewise, the â€œtraposâ€ are also quite happy spending their pork barrels, then there is very little chance that economic liberalization will happen in the Philippines any time soon in any case. Himself, being a member of the so-called oligarchy, Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino may, as alleged, be tuning out calls for economic liberalization. But then his staunch advocacy for broad access to reproductive health care in the Philippines is widely-lauded.
Removing the economic provision in the constitution that bars 100% foreign ownership is not a guarantee that foreign investors will come rushing in to invest in the Philippines. It is very misleading for people to say that this is the best solution that can generate jobs and provide education for Filipinos instead of the RH bill. While the RH bill cannot guarantee jobs for most Filipinos, removing this “60/40” provision wonâ€™t guarantee it either. For one thing, foreign investors will not invest in educating Filipinos, thatâ€™s for sure.
Indeed, some people seem to be forgetting that it is not just the economic provisions that are stopping foreign companies from coming to our shores. As Peter Wallace wrote in his opinion piece (boldface applied where emphasis required):
But in our briefing we were also required to list some of the key constraints to investing. In politics, personal interest taking precedence over the national good; uncontrolled population growth; weak educational system; graft and corruption, inadequate infrastructure; a judiciary in need of major improvement and weak governance.
To reiterate, having uncontrolled population growth is one of the key to foreign investment being applied in the most optimum way. A mismanaged population breeds corruption and strains the national resources, among other things.
More importantly, Wallace wrote:
So how would I convince these businessmen to no longer ignore the Philippines, as they have been doing until now? Itâ€™s not an easy task. The personalistic nature of the Philippines, which is so lovely, goes too far when it enters into business in this modern world. The perception by foreigners is that itâ€™s a waste of time and money to bid for competitive projects if a well-connected Filipino is competing against you. Or you must tie up with him, which is not necessarily the corporate strategy you desire. So better to go elsewhere. And the investment figures show this is what has been happening.
A report by the Swiss-based International Institute for Management and Development (IMD) also backed Wallaceâ€™s claim. The Philippines dropped from 39th place last year to 41st in a recent World Competitiveness survey. The IMD cited poor infrastructure development as among the major factors that affected the countryâ€™s slip from the annual global competitiveness ranking. The report also highlighted the countryâ€™s weak points:
The IMD noted that the Philippines was weak in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, start-up procedures for businesses, overall productivity and labor productivity, pupil to teacher ratio and the proliferation of the use of the Internet.
It is crystal clear that even without the 100 percent restriction on foreign investment, we still canâ€™t compete in terms of efficiency, how then can we expect foreign investors to come in?
And as I wrote in my previous article:
In other words, our culture is such a turn-off to foreign investors that if they were to choose between two evils, they would choose a society with a better cultural character. This is something that is not so easy for most Filipinos to accept because they are also a very proud people.
I am beginning to wonder if those who strongly say that economic liberalization is a better alternative to curbing population growth are ready to admit that our dysfunctional culture is largely the reason why we are in this predicament in the first place. We wouldnâ€™t have inexperienced and incompetent public servants if we didnâ€™t have a dysfunctional society.
Supposing the Philippine government gives 100% ownership to foreign investors tomorrow and the latter came rushing in, how can these investors utilize uneducated and unskilled Filipinos? They canâ€™t. The evidence speaks for itself. The Philippines is left behind not just because of the economic provisions but also because of a lot of factors, which include an uncontrolled population growth, which also results in a weak, spread-thin educational system.
This may sound too far-fetched but there are also some Filipinos who are worried that if we curb the population growth now, we might be faced with a scenario in the future of having a shortage of workers or laborers due to a reduced population. First of all, with a predominantly young population of 100 million (and growing fast), a shortage of labor remains a possibility too far out in the future (or just simply too far-out a scenario, to begin with). And even if, we find ourselves in that unlikely scenario of being in line with the First World’s shortage of skilled workers, then we can simply hire skilled migrants from overseas just like what First World countries are doing now. That scenario will be the sweetest revenge after being labeled OFWs for the longest time.
The best solution is still to encourage more Filipinos to become self-sufficient through education and training. With that, the society can breed more entrepreneurs who can put up businesses and generate income and jobs for other people. Foreign investors can help us but we also have to learn to help ourselves first.
The bottom line is, the country cannot manage its growing population. This is evident in:
* More and more Filipinos leaving the Philippines every day for better opportunities overseas.
* More and more Filipinos are sent in harms way overseas.
* More and more Filipinos left behind are starving everyday.
* Most investments going to our ASEAN neighbors
Surely, the present scenario should be enough to convince most Filipinos to urgently get on board any measure that seek to address the growing population of Filipinos who do not have any means of supporting themselves.
In life, things are not always what they seem.