17 October 2008
SEN. PIA S. CAYETANO
Chairperson, Committee on Health and Demography
Dear Senator Cayetano:
I wish to thank you for your letter of 15 October 2008, signed by your Committee Secretary, and inviting me to send a representative to a Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting on 20 October 2008 on the six bills and one resolution on reproductive health and population management which had been referred to your Committee, and to five other committees, namely, the Committees on Youth, Women and Family Relations; Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development; Local Government; Ways and Means; and Finance.
Assuming that this TWG meeting is being held upon instruction of the Joint Committees, would it not be most appropriate that it be limited to technical people who are directly accountable to the Joint Committees? It would seem to me most desirable that they assume full responsibility for this work without the participation of outsiders who have no direct accountability to the Committees.
For this reason, I am unable to send a representative to the meeting. Additionally, I am of the view that most of the proposals under consideration are openly violative of the Constitution and should be sent to the Archives forthwith.
However, if the Joint Committees had decided to consolidate the proposals into a single text for the purpose of facilitating discussions during the hearings, I would be prepared to contribute further comments on the consolidated text. But if the intention is to consolidate the proposals into a single bill to be reported out on Second Reading with no further hearings, I would be obliged to point out that such a step is premature and inappropriate.
This is because the two hearings conducted on May 7, 2008 and on August 11, 2008 (which I attended) lacked the quorum required by the Rules. The first hearing was attended by two senators only; the second began with three senators, and a fourth one joined later. A quorum is needed before the Senate as a body or any of its committees can do business; the lack thereof vitiates the validity of the proceedings.
Rule 22 of the Rules of the Senate provides:
“One-third of all the regular members of the committee shall constitute a quorum but in no case shall it be less than two. The presence of ex-officio members may be considered in determining the existence of a quorum. However, the committee may authorize a few number of members to conduct public hearings on bills pending before it or to gather facts in aid of legislation.”
The first part of the first sentence expresses the general rule: one third of all the regular members of the committee shall constitute a quorum. The second part of the sentence ----“but in no case shall it be less than two”----constitutes the exception: where one third of all the members is less than two---as in a committee of three, or four, or five---the quorum shall always be made up of at least two members.
That is what the Rule means
Pursuant to this Rule, the Joint Committee hearings would need one-third of 78, which is the total regular membership of the six committees taking part in the hearings. This means 26 senators, and yet there are only 23 senators sitting. This is cured by the presence of four senators who are each members of the six committees and one more senator who sits in two of the six committees. However, there was no such presence in the two hearings.
Informed of the erroneous practice of most committees, I had formally raised this question in a letter to Senate President Manuel Villar, coursed through the Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, dated 28 July 2008 and personally received by Sen. Pangilinan on the same date. You will kindly recall, and the records will bear, that I made reference to this matter during my intervention at the 11 August 2008 Senate hearing.
Regrettably, my communication to the Senate President never entered the Order of Business which normally reflects communications of this nature, and was not replied to within the 15-day period prescribed by Republic Act 6713, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. Consequently, I had to write Senate President Villar a second letter on 01 Sept. 2008 to reiterate my request for a clarification on the matter.
On 17 Sept 2008 or thereabouts, I finally received a letter from Sen. Pangilinan dated 16 Sept 2008, saying he had forwarded my 28 July 2008 letter to the Senate President, and that he had included it in the issues to be discussed in the next meeting of the Committee on Rules, whenever it is called. A few days thereafter, I received a “Dear Kit” letter from the Senate President dated 03 Sept 2008 and signed “Manny Villar,” to inform me that he had referred my 01 Sept. 2008, and yet another letter dated 02 Sept. 2008 on the subject of foreign agents, to Sen. Pangilinan, without any reference to my 28 July 2008 letter.
You will perhaps understand if I say how confused I am by these developments. In any case, the Committee on Rules has not ruled on this issue until now, despite the fact that the committees are meeting every session day. But as a member of the Bar, the distinguished Chair of the the Joint Committee hearings can see very clearly what Rule 22 means. The hearings never had a quorum.
So much for the procedural question, although this appears to be in fact prejudicial.
At the 11 August 2008 hearing I made two basic points, which I should like to recapitulate:
First, there are certain human activities where the State may not at all intervene. How a married couple are to engage in sexual intercourse in the privacy of their bedroom is not subject to any law coming from the State. The State cannot require couples to contracept or sterilize themselves as a precondition to exercising their conjugal rights, without violating their basic dignity as a couple and as human beings. That would be a totalitarian imposition, which has no place in a democratic order.
(The principal author of HB 5043 claims it is fully within the police powers of the State to intervene. But police power, properly understood, refers to the exercise of the sovereign right of a government to promote order, safety, secuirity, health, morals and general welfare within constitutional limits” (Black’s Legal Dictionary). The intervention being proposed by the reproductive health bills is the kind that comes from a police state.)
Second, the Constitution is more than abundantly clear in proclaiming the sanctity of family life, and the duty of the State to protect and strengthen the family as an inviolable, basic, and autonomous social institution. Each of these words—inviolable, basic, autonomous---is sufficient to give the bills’ proponents pause, if they have the proper regard for the spirit and letter of the Constitution.
The constitutional policy on human life, marriage, and the family is generously spread all over Article II---Declaration of Principles and State Policies— and the whole of Article XV—The Family. There is nothing in that policy that would remotely justify any of the major proposals contained in the reproductive health bills.
Section 12, Article II alone, which guarantees that the State shall “equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception” is a clear, unmistakable and inviolable warrant against a State-sponsored or State-mediated program of contraception. The reason needs no extensive elucidation. For how could a State guarantee to equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception if its first business is to prevent women from conceiving? How can anyone who is doing everything to deny the emergence of new human life undertake a commitment to protect human life from its very beginning?
A large number of foreign-funded organizations, which fall under the classification of “foreign agents” under the Foreign Agents Act of 1979, and which may not have performed the legal acts required before they could lobby Congress on any issue, have been at the forefront of the campaign for the passage of the reproductive health bill in the House, and its yet undefined counterpart in the Senate. They have zeroed in on the “right” of women to have access to all types of artificial contraceptives and sterilization agents and devices, as though such access was restricted by law or banned.
As everyone knows there is no law prohibiting anybody from having access to and using any contraceptive or sterilization agent or device of their choice. In fact, while the bills seek to institute a state-funded contraceptives and sterilization program, the government has been dispensing contraceptives and sterilizing men and women for years, without a legal mandate. The program antedates the pro-life and pro-family Constitution, and has remained in place despite the fact that the Constitution has rendered its continued existence unconstitutional.
What the bills now want to do is to require couples, by law, to use contraceptives and sterilization devices and agents and for the State to provide contraceptives and sterilization agents and devices as essential medicines at the expense of the taxpayers who may or may not believe in the use of such contraceptives and sterilization agents and devices.
There can be no greater travesty of the Constitution and public morals.
There is a tendency to flood the market with all sorts of foreign-funded population control propaganda and to drown various forums with the sheer number of those who are pushing for the bill. The campaign has also begun to use academics who do not mind lending their credentials to the unconstitutional proposal and so-called opinion surveys showing massive support for a bill which none of the survey respondents had read or seen.
One SWS report makes this extravagant claim based on a survey reportedly conducted on Sept. 24-27, 2008 for the Forum for Family Planning and Development (FFPD), obviously a very rich (self-funded?) organization. Unfortunately, the FFPD executive present at the 11 August 2008 hearing tried to impress his audience with the results of such a survey during that hearing, over a month before it was allegedly conducted by SWS. Several other pro-RH bill campaigners had also been talking of such a survey even before the FFPD executive bragged about it in the Senate hearing.
The Joint Committees cannot allow this deception to influence their deliberations. Even if the so-called surveys were not fraudulent, the Committees must not forget that the truth is not determined by surveys or popularity contests; a law is valid only if it is based on truth and justice, otherwise it is an unjust law, and no majority vote can make it just and binding on anyone.
Now, to respond positively to the demand of women for family planning information and services, the Joint Committees would probably be well-advised to propose the following:
1. That married couples be free to practice family planning according to their moral and religious beliefs, using methods that are safe, legal and not contrary to public morals, without any coercion or intimidation from any third party;
2. That the State neither prohibit nor promote any specific family planning method, but make sure that only such methods which are safe, legal and not contrary to public morals be used;
3. That to safeguard and protect the health and wellbeing of women, the government require contraceptives manufacturers to disclose all possible side-effects of their products, and to label those that could induce cancer and other diseases accordingly;
4. That the State impose a distinction between abortifacients and normal contraceptives and prohibit the sale and distribution of abortifacients anywhere in the Philippines;
5. That the government establish basic and emergency obstetrics facilities in every barangay, and promote breast-feeding and proper nutrition especially for women and children nationwide, even without need of legislation;
6. That the State encourage and support community-based and family-initiated programs for the education of adult men and women on parenting and the development of the moral and civic character of children.
This list is simply illustrative of what can be done to serve the common good, using the tools made available to Congress by the Constitution, while resisting the intense pressure coming from outside to reshape and redefine our culture. I hope the Joint Committees use it as a point of departure for a truly good bill.
With renewed assurances of my highest esteem, I remain
Very sincerely yours,
FRANCISCO S. TATAD
FRANCISCO S. TATAD