KIMI AND THE ELEPHANT

On February 6, 2012, the lady representative of the 5th district of Pangasinan once again stood on the congressional floor to put the oar and the rudder into motion towards the Reproductive Health bill that has been momentarily hushed to consider the ongoing impeachment trial in the senate.

In her privilege speech, Rep. Kimi Cojuangco called on everyone to have a glance at what she termed as “elephant” that is so blatantly obvious it has become a common scene everywhere that many members of the house perhaps have grown inured to the sight. This was her speech that she hoped to clear the gossamer blinders from her colleagues’ eyes with that they may again be able to focus on the Reproductive Health Bill and finally put it up to a vote.

The following is the solon’s speech….

PRIVILEGE SPEECH

Hon. Kimi Cojuangco

House of Representatives

06 February 2012

Thank you Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, my dear Colleagues, there is an elephant on the floor of this People’s House of Representatives. Do you see it?  I do.  I see it everyday…I see it in my district; I even see it in the streets of Metro Manila. I know you see it too.  It’s just so common that maybe we have grown immune, even callous due to our familiarity with this elephant.

I stand here today representing my constituents, who are very much like yours. I stand here today representing the people whose interests and welfare this House is supposed to serve. I, no, we owe it to them to put the spotlight on this very common sight that we have grown accustomed to, and won’t go away unless this House acts.

I hope to grab your attention my colleagues.  So I call on you…whether buried under paperwork at your desks, present on the floor or having a much needed snack in the lounge.  I humbly ask for your ears and your eyes.  If we were computers, I would click the search button and surf backwards to bring us back to where this all started 16 years ago.

Let me briefly tell you the story of one of my constituents. Oh, let me correct that, the story of Marcelina Tucay Salango, a former constituent because she has since passed away.

Marcelina Salango was a good wife and an even better mother to her five children, all of whom are boys.

She was almost 43 years old when she got pregnant with her sixth child. She had regular consultations and pre-natal check-ups with the local midwife. Due to her advanced age, Marcelina’s pregnancy was considered “high-risk” and was constantly told by by the midwife that she must deliver the baby in a hospital.

On October 13, 2009, Marcelina went into labour and her husband sent for the midwife who refused but gave strict orders that Marcelina be immediately be brought to the hospital where the birth can happen in a proper facility, equipped to handle a high-risk pregnancy.

Due to financial constraints and the distance to the nearest hospital, the Salangos instead decided to have the baby delivered by a “hilot”, a mistake that cost them dearly. Marcelina died in childbirth, and although the baby boy survived, he will grow up never having the chance to meet his mother.

Marcelina left behind her husband Floro and her six childen. Unfortunately, Floro now lives with two of their children, Hero and Marvin. Rolly, the youngest has been under the care of Marcelina’s parents in Laguna since birth up to this day. The others are taken cared of by relatives. The older children are forced to work as farmhands and take on other jobs in order to survive.

Marcelina is just one among the many thousands of mothers who died due to pregnancy and childbirth complications. These deaths could have been totally avoided if these mothers had access to appropriate health services.

 This story is just part of what happens at the macro level, these pictures speak a thousand words about the situation. Please start the slide show. There is no need for me to explain.  The pictures say it all.  We have discussed this problem many times before. In fact, we still discuss this now. While the elephant, oops I mean, the pictures are staring at us I will get to my point.

Shortly before Christmas, I had a conversation with President Benigno Aquino. I asked the President if he favored putting the Reproductive Health bill to a vote and he replied that he definitely wanted the bill voted on. He then went on to say that he was under the impression that it would be voted upon before the Christmas break.  He stressed that he had stuck his neck out many times before for this bill, even to the point of risking being excommunicated by the Catholic Church hierarchy.

Mr. Speaker, to quote an audibly irked-sounding PNOY, the President said, “You mean to say I have to make a push again?” So you see my friends and colleagues in this House, this is now in our hands. The President has challenged us and it is up to us to rise to the occasion. I join him in asking: let us, once and for all, put the RH bill to a vote.  Unfinished business is the heart of that elephant sitting on the floor. Let’s finally set it free.

Mr. Speaker, I am not asking for any heroics from the House leadership. I am simply putting the ball or should I say the elephant, in your court. I am simply asking for the TRUTH to come out on this issue. I am not even trying to convince my colleagues to vote for or against the RH bill. Win or lose, let’s be brave enough to show our colors and face this head on.

I want to share something I stumbled upon. This is not meant to convince anybody to go one way or the other.

The Ramon Magsaysay Award for public service is given to persons-regardless of race, nationality, creed, or gender-who address issues of human development in Asia with courage and creativity, and in doing so have made contributions which have transformed their societies for the better.

It is interesting to note that in 1994 a Thai national, Mr. Meechai Viravaidya received the Ramon Magsaysay award.  He was recognized for mounting creative public campaigns in Thailand that promote family planning, rural development, and a rigorous, honest, and compassionate response to the plague of HIV and AIDS.

In Thailand, Mr. Meechai Viravaidya was affectionately called Mr. Condom and in fact, condoms in Thai are now called “Meechai”.  I used the term affectionately because Thais love him for the turnaround of their economy that is significantly due to his efforts. I find it interesting, yet ironic that a prestigious Filipino award (also called the Nobel Prize of Asia), was given to him considering that we are left behind by Thailand on this issue.

Certainly I do not say that we copy what Thailand did but there are lessons to be drawn from its experience. In fact, there is no shortage of lessons from our own, and other countries’ experiences on the issue of RH.

Some food for thought from British writer and activist Douglas Adams, “Human beings who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so”.  At this point Mr. Speaker, my colleagues, after many years of debates, we have already exhausted all arguments on the RH bill, for or against. Everything to learn on this issue is there and it’s up to each of us to accept or reject these.

So I say let us divide the House into those that will use their ability to learn and those who are disinclined to do so.

Mr Speaker, allow me to just add a short note about my observations on the House with regard to the ongoing RH debates. The interpellations to my mind, have reached their maximum level of shelf life and are now toxic. It is amazing how some of us answer arguments by attributing evil motives to those who disagree with them. If we continue acting this way, then there is no more room for logic or factual discussions. This House will just be more divided.

My dear Colleagues, Mr. Speaker, as earlier said, no less than President Benigno Aquino III has challenged the leadership of this House of the People. This humble Representation wishes to join the President on this: please bring the RH bill to a vote.

Thank you and good evening!

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