Good afternoon!

As a young legislator, I have always been consistent in putting emphasis on the importance of having an efficient and viable reproductive health system. Reproductive health is not about population control, pills and certainly not abortion, it is about the promotion of a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system. My stand on reproductive health issues has been grounded on social welfare concerns, everyone, most especially the poor should be given access to services that would ensure the promotion of their reproductive health. Everyone should have access to accurate information regarding family planning methods in order for them to have the freedom to decide if, when and how often to have children. If women decide to have children, we must have access to services that will ensure that we are able to have a healthy pregnancy, safe delivery and a healthy baby. Everyone must be empowered to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections. These are our rights.
I believe that the state has an absolute obligation to protect and respect a broad spectrum of reåroducive health rights for every citizen and that is why I voted yes to the RH Bill during the 15th Congress. I am happy and proud that we have triumped and the RH Bill became a law.

But though we now have Republic Act No. 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 otherwise known as the RH Law, there are still other aspects of reproductive health, particularly in the field of maternal health and nutrition, which we need to seriously take a look at. Being a mother now who just recently experienced the whole process of pregnancy and giving birth, I now have a deeper appreciation on how important maternal health is as a key component of a holistic and robust reproductive health system.

It is for these reasons that if DIWA Party-list should win a seat in the next Congress, I have included in my legislative agenda the following bills which we hope can be enacted into law:

First, we intend to push for a bill which will increase the maternity leave period to 100 days regardless of whether one is employed in the government or in the private sector. DIWA Party-list protects the rights of laborers and thus this bill is in point both in protecting workers, rights, womens rights and reprpductive health rights. Under the bill, we will also provide pregnant women with an option to have an additional 30 days of maternity leave without pay. We believe that this is only proper considering that the international standards set by the International Labor Organization requires at least 98 days of maternity leave. At present, Philippine law provides for only 60 days of maternity leave for government employees, while employees from the private sector are given only 60 or 78 days depending on whether the employee had a normal or caesarean delivery. I understand the importance of extending maternity leave benefits as I personally experienced the difficulty of having to work during the late stages of my pregnancy. That is why I really intend to push for the statutory extension of maternity leave during the next Congress. We will incorporate these provisions under one comprehensive bill which will grant, among other benefits, favorable working conditions to all working moms and pregnant women.

Another bill we will work on intends to provide pregnancy and ante-natal counselling among pregnant women as well as education programs for the prevention of birth defects. This bill intends to be particularly helpful to adolescent mothers given that adolescents normally lack adequate information when it comes to reproductive health and comprehensive sex education. Furthermore, we also recognize the fact that young women, just like most of you here, really need to be provided by the State with a safe and supportive environment if ever they get pregnant so that they may be guided as to how to properly go about their pregnancy. We deem this important in light of the increasing number of miscarriages and deaths among delivering mothers. According to Unicef Philippines, for every 100,000 births, 160 delivering women die. This reality has even led to a now common saying among Filipinos which says, “When a woman gives birth, she has her one foot in the grave”. This is a very sad reality which we feel can be effectively addressed through proper education and counselling. For this proposed law, we are looking at tapping the services of the Department of Health, the National Nutrition Council, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of Interior and Local Government to facilitate the counselling and education programs.

Third, we also intend to push for an effective but practicable maternal and infant home visiting program at the barangay level to be supervised and implemented by the Department of Health. Again, the idea behind the bill is to assist primarily those in early pregnancy, particularly the unmarried teenagers or those with “unwanted” pregnancies because they usually lack much needed support and knowledge when it comes to taking care of themselves and their unborn child. This is particularly important since it is expected that their lack of maturity and preparedness could easily increase the health risks not only for them but also for their babies. In connection with this bill, we will also provide provisions which will ensure that every pregnant woman has access to a skilled birth attendant at the time of their childbirth and even immediately thereafter. We consider this very critical especially in far flung areas which have very little access to proper medical facilities and medical professionals. In fact, according to Unicef Philippines, 8 out of 10 births in rural areas are delivered outside a health facility. This is very alarming since 40% of deaths related to child birth are caused by infections.

Yes, we consider the passage of the RH Law as a step in the right direction in terms of improving the reproductive health system in our country. However, I believe that as the landscape of various reproductive health issues in our country evolves, so should we in terms of making sure that we enact laws which are responsive to the needs of our people. With the continued support of all stakeholders, we will make sure that these bills will soon be enacted into laws.

Thank you very much.