Fact Check: Risa Hontiveros on RH, advocacies

by Prof. J. Prospero De Vera III

Two former party-list representatives – Risa Hontiveros (Akbayan) and Teddy Casino (Bayan Muna) – participated in the first Harapan 2013 Senatorial Debates of ABS-CBN held at the La Consolacion College that was watched by millions of Filipinos nationwide through the facilities of the biggest television network.

Nationally recognized and often compared to each other, it would have been interesting to ask a common question to both candidates. Unfortunately, the luck of the draw gave the panelists – veteran journalists Lynda Jumilla, Tony Velasquez, and myself – only three candidates each and I got Risa Hontiveros.

Coming so close to winning in 2013 (she placed 13th) and aggressively advocating for the controversial reproductive health (RH) as a women’s rights issue, I was particularly interested in the transition of a sector-based, advocacy-driven party list legislator into a national multi-sectoral legislator representing the whole country. So I asked the question: 

“Ikaw ay nagsibli ng 9 na taon bilang party list representative at nakilala ka sa iyong paninindigan sa mga isyu tulad ng repormang agraryo, murang gamot, at syempre reproductive health o RH.

Sumikat ka sa iyong pasulong at paninidigan sa RH kaya naman marami din ang nagalit sa iyo at isinama ka sa Team Patay ng mga kritiko ng RH law.

Tumatakbo ka na ngayon bilang Senador ng lahat ng Pilipino, hindi lamang ng isang sector. Kung ikaw ay mahahalal, paano mo ikakatawan ang interes ng mga sector na ngayon at galit sa iyo? Deretsuhin ko na, ano ang masasabi mo sa kanila ngayong gabi para kumbinsehin sila na hindi katapusan ng mundo kung ikaw ay mahalal bilang senador?”

(You served 9 years as a party list representative and because known for your advocacy for issues such as agrarian reform, cheaper medicine, and of course, reproductive health or RH.

You became so well known for your RH advocacy that you angered many and was included in the Team of Death (Team Patay) by the critics of the RH law.

You are now running as a Senator of all Filipinos, not just a sector. If you are elected, how will you represent the interest of the sectors that are now angry with you? Let me be frank, what can you tell the sectors that are angry at you now that it’s not going to be the end of the world if you get elected as senator?)

Hontiveros’ response was to appeal to her critics to let the law first be implemented before judging her support for the measure. She also said that the RH law will improve the lives of women and Filipinos who need health services from government.

I admire her for her consistency and advocacy-driven response. Her support for RH is a fact and her desire to ensure that the law is implemented is laudable.

Unfortunately, she may be speaking to the convinced and I am not sure she convinced some anti-RH voters to give her a chance in May 2013.

My question gave her an opening to show that she has many other advocacies that benefit all Filipinos, not just the pro-RH crowd. She could have said – “I have linked arms with priests, nuns, and farmers in pushing for the extension of agrarian reform” or “I fought for cheaper and affordable medicine for everyone irrespective of their RH position and I will continue to do this as Senator of the land”.

Is she just speaking to the convinced or slowly adding supporters through her answers in the Harapan 2013 debate? We will know on May 13, 2013.

Prof. J. Prospero E. De Vera III, DPA is the University of the Philippines System Vice President for Public Affairs. Dr. De Vera teaches Public Administration at the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance in UP Diliman. He has spent the past three decades in the policy arena working in the legislative and executive branches of government in the Philippines and the United States.

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