Senate delays CHR budget over lack of explicit anti-abortion stance

Cristina Chi – Philstar.com

November 14, 2023 | 9:02pm

MANILA, Philippines — The approval of the Commission on Human Rights’ budget once again faces a delay as senators, concerned about the CHR’s past calls to examine the impact of the country’s abortion ban on marginalized women, argued that the human rights body must first issue a strong stance against abortion before budget talks can resume.

During Tuesday’s plenary debates of the proposed 2024 national budget, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada made a motion to defer the budget of the CHR, which he had sponsored on the floor. 

“I move that we defer … until they come up with a strong stance against abortion,” Estrada said.

“If they continue to espouse the criminalization of abortion or if they support abortion per se, I’m sorry, I will be unable to defend this budget,” he added.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, who accepted the motion, said that he “would not be able to approve the budget either” pending the CHR’s position on whether abortion should be decriminalized.

This comes after Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano expressed concerns about past statements made by CHR Executive Director Jacqueline Ann de Guia that were in support of the decriminalization of abortion. 

The CHR clarified through Estrada that De Guia had made the statement as a spokesperson of the human rights body led by then-CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon. 

As spokesperson of the CHR under Gascon, it was not De Guia’s “personal stand” but the position of the whole CHR, which signed two inquiry reports related to the Reproductive Health law in 2016 and 2019, Estrada said.

“She clarified she does not support abortion, but she supports its decriminalization in so far that it affects the life of the mother,” Estrada said, who was speaking for CHR as its sponsor as part of Senate procedures.

“And according to them, many women die because of unsafe abortions, and it affects the life of the mother,” Estrada added.

Cayetano argued that the 1987 Constitution expressly guards against the approval of any policy reversing the abortion ban.

The senator then pressed the CHR to give a “categorical answer” on its position on abortion. 

“The CHR assures the Senate that there is no position on abortion. The CHR values the right to life of all. The present commission is still studying the matter on abortion,” Estrada said.

Cayetano then bared that it was articles that described the “Philippines … (as) loosening up” to the idea of abortion that concerned him. “Because the CHR is the one asking to decriminalize abortion,” the senator added. 

Estrada said that De Guia noted that “they recommended the review of the decriminalization of abortion.” 

At this point, Estrada, along with senators Cayetano and Sen. Joel Villanueva, pressed the CHR to come up with a stance against abortion before their budget can be approved.

“If the CHR cannot come up with a position… to decriminalize abortion, then maybe we should abort their deliberation of their budget so they have the time to meet up and come up with a position,” Villanueva said.

After Estrada moved to suspend budget deliberations, Zubiri said he wanted to “remind the CHR” that it was the Senate that previously restored its budget when it was given zero in the last budget cycle.  

“This is not a Senate that is averse to the Commission on Human Rights, but on this particular issue, we take it very strongly.  in the right of life,” Zubiri said. 

International reproductive rights organization Center for Reproductive Rights published in January this year an article highlighting that the CHR had “marked a historic moment for abortion advocacy in the country” when it recommended the decriminalization of abortion to Congress.

The CHR, in particular, included in its priority human rights legislative agenda for the 19th Congress the decriminalization of abortion, the international organization noted.

Among the measures the CHR supports in Congress that are related to women and gender equality are the decriminalization of abortion, the SOGIE Equality Bill, stronger protection against online or electronic violence against women, among others, according to a CHR statement.

The Philippines has one of the strictest abortion laws in the world, prohibiting abortion for pregnant women under all circumstances.

But this has not stopped pregnant women from getting abortions, with women from lower socio-economic classes seeking out dangerous procedures and placing their life at risk.  A 2013 study cited by the World Health Organization said that there were 610,000 abortions in the Philippines in the year before. — with reports by Xave Gregorio


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