Press Release
February 16, 2009

Pia: Watered-down 'Magna Carta of Women' will be toothless

Senator Pia S. Cayetano today welcomed well-meaning proposals to strengthen the proposed Magna Carta of Women (Senate Bill No.2396), which is set to be taken up by a bicameral conference committee beginning this week to reconcile differences between the Senate and House versions of the measure.

But she warned against the further emaciation of the bill, stressing that "a watered-down version of the Magna Carta will render it toothless and ineffective in advancing women's empowerment and welfare in the country."

Cayetano, one of the principal authors of the measure, dismissed claims that the bill is seeking to legalize abortion through various provisions upholding safe motherhood and women's access to reproductive health information and services.

"Abortion is strictly prohibited under the 1987 Constitution. Legislators will not allow it to be included in the Magna Carta, explicitly or otherwise," she emphasized.

"But with respect to contraceptives, which is allowed in some religions but considered a taboo in others, I don't think any religious group should impose its belief on what lawmakers should and should not legislate."

"Moreover, legislators, policymakers and local government units must realize that there so many barangays across the country where women have little or no access to maternal health care. They do not do not receive pre-natal care, or give birth while attended to only by a 'manghihilot' who does not have the skills to ensure a safe delivery."

This is one of the reasons why the Philippines owns the distinction of having one of the highest Maternal Mortality Rates (MMR) in the Southeast Asian region, she continued.

Citing latest official data, she said the MMR in the country was recorded at 163 maternal deaths per 100,000 births as of 2006. But the country's target under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to reduce MMR by three-fourths from 1990 to just 52.3 maternal deaths per 100,000 births by the year 2015.

But at our current rate, she noted the Philippines will be unable to meet this target, thus stressing the urgency of enacting pro-women legislation like the Magna Carta.

"Ten to eleven Filipino mothers die each day while giving birth. This will not happen if the public health system is sufficiently able to provide reproductive health services to our people, especially the women."

"No mother should be allowed to die while giving life. The State can't afford to close its eyes to the high maternal mortality rate. Allowing the high MMR to continue would be like committing a crime against our own people."

"Religious groups are free to educate its flock on their own views, but I don't think the government should allow itself to be dictated upon on matters of national policy. Women need to be empowered for their own sake and for their children's welfare by making maternal and reproductive health services readily available to them. The choice should be left to them regardless of their economic or social standing, or their religious beliefs," she concluded.

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