By Piero A. Tozzi, J.D., Katharina Rothweiler
(NEW YORK – C-FAM) The head of the delegation of the European Commission in the Philippines, Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, has vocally intervened in a contentious legislative debate in that nation, pushing legislators to pass a controversial "reproductive health" bill while linking increased foreign aid to passage, according to critics.
Speaking at a forum sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to promote the Reproductive Health Care Act of 2008 in Manila last week, MacDonald chided Filipino legislators for failing to pass the bill, calling the "provision of effective and accessible" reproductive health services "a responsibility of the State towards the people of the Philippines."
Australia's Agency for International Development and Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional, the international aid agency of Spain's socialist government, also called for passage of the bill at the UNFPA forum.
According to news reports , MacDonald noted that 60 percent of European Union (EU) aid is already channeled to reproductive health programs. He hoped to link increased direct aid at the provincial level to increased contraceptive usage, rewarding those provinces that most effectively promoted contraception.
MacDonald denied that he was linking passage of the bill to funding, stating that passage simply "would help secure that the health care funds would be spend for the welfare of those who need the health care the most."
MacDonald’s intervention has rankled some Filipino critics, however, who consider it an unwarranted intrusion in the legislative affairs of a sovereign nation.
It calls to mind the actions of the European Commission ambassador to Nicaragua, Francesa Mosca, who in 2006 joined UNFPA, other UN agencies and several European donor nations in demanding that Nicaragua rescind legislation strengthening protection of unborn life. Sweden reportedly cut over $20 million in foreign aid to the Central American nation, and Finland threatened to link continued aid to changes in Nicaragua’s abortion law.
Among other things, the Filipino reproductive health legislation would promote sex education and contraceptives, including some which critics say function as abortifacients.
Some UN committees and non-governmental organizations -- and, most recently, new U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- have included abortion within the term "reproductive health," though this has never been agreed to by the UN General Assembly. Abortion is illegal in the Philippines, and the Constitution protects “the life of the unborn from conception.” MacDonald stopped short of linking abortion with "reproductive health," claiming instead that a lack of "an effective framework for reproductive health" was a cause of "illegal abortion."
EU officials in the past have denied that it is EU policy to promote abortion under the framework of "reproductive health." A senior staff member in the European Parliament reminded the Friday Fax that in response to a direct question in 2003 from Dana Rosemary Scallon, then an Irish Member of the European Parliament, as to whether the "term 'reproductive health include[s] promotion of abortion," the EU Council responded "no," adding that "we do not accept that abortion should form part of the policies on reproductive and birth control education."
In order to enter into effect, the reproductive health bill would need to pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate of the Philippines and be then signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.