Ducking A Prophet’s Lament

by Juan L. Mercado


We goofed, Sen. Francis Escudero admitted. Legislators dozed  when a libel proviso was sneaked into the Cybercrime  Prevention Act. Escudero, who filed a bill to decriminalize libel,  wants the controversial Section 4C (4) scrapped

Sen. Pia  Cayetano focused on the bill’s sanctions on crimes against children on the Net. Thus, she overlooked a rider that  Sen.  Vicente Sotto denies inserting.  It’d impose  excessive criminal penalties for libel on the Internet.

Others,  who also  didn’t  spot the legal bobby trap,  backpedaled in the backlash. The discomfort level is high.  “Who hinders not a mischief is guilty of it,” an old proverb  says.

The Supreme  Court may consolidate five challenges claiming the  rider is unconstitutional.  It infringes on freedom of expression and  privacy of communication, asserts Sen. Teofisto Guingona,  who cast the only “nay”  vote. “It’s a throwback to the Dark Ages.”

“Once burned, twice shy.”  So, how do we ensure we’re not conned again?

Heed early warning signals for a start.   Tomorrow’s  controversy could swirl around an innocent sounding bill. titled:  “An Act Promoting a Comprehensive Program on Breastfeeding Practices and Regulating the Trade, Marketing, and Promotions of Certain Foods for Infants and Children.

This would, in fact,  gut “the Milk Code (Executive Order 51) and “Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act”. Both improved child health and survival, note   Philippine Medical Association, Academy of Family Physicians, Obstetrical and  Gynecological Society plus Perinatal Association.

Breastfeeding is the single most cost-effective intervention,” their  position paper asserts.. Should this  become law, it’d  would subject  infants and children to  risk from diarrhea, pneumonia to “even death.” About   6,000 Filipino young children die yearly  because of  “suboptimal breastfeeding and inappropriate complementary feeding practices”, World Health Organization estimates.

The 2008  National Demographic Health Survey found that only three out of 10 mothers breastfeed. This has now risen to over 51 percent.   Next  year’s NDHS could confirm a further upswing.

Such gains would be wiped out, cautions  notes Nutrition Center of the Philippines’ Dr. Florentino Solon.  If mothers (a ) fail to initiate; or (b) cease breastfeeding, in the first six months of a infant’s life, “diarrhea related mortality’ bolts 8 to 10 percent..  Breastfeeding is  a  major determinant of stunting  among children aged  6 months of age, studies show.  Weight gain, in an infant’s  first two years of life,  is associated with better school outcomes.

“In  60 years of work in  public health and nutrition, I’ve seen how milk company  marketing undermine infant nutrition in many countries,” Solon added. Milk donations  seem harmless. But “scientific evidence shows  (they) can increase diarrhea six-fold. This is the experience of other developing countries. We need not repeat their experience.”

Indeed, it is vital  to  “protect, promote, and support exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding up to two years or beyond.”  states  United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Don’t loosen  age restrictions that the Milk Code pegs at 0-36 months, the position  paper urges. Maintain the  provision in the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act that  entitles mothers  to compensable breaks to breastfeed.

Exclude milk companies from   policy making bodies for promotion of breastfeeding. This is patent conflict of interest. Milk  firms  seek to increase sales which decreases breastfeeding rates.  Prohibit advertising, promotion, sponsorships, and marketing of materials and activities for breast milk substitutes.

Watering down current laws will reopen floodgates to once prohibited advertising. These confuse pregnant and lactating mothers. Children are more likely to be given milk formula if mothers recalled advertising messages; or if a doctor or a relative recommended it, a survey shows. Those fed milk formula were six times more likely to stop breastfeeding before the age of 12 months.

Reject offers from milk and infant feeding-related industries. That includes at all times, including calamities. It is a myth that such donations are essential. In post-Typhoon Sendong evacuation centers, fewer than one out of 100 infants in Iligan and five out of 100 in Cagayan de Oro were exclusively formula-fed.

Ban distribution of samples of breast milk substitutes in the healthcare system. That sends conflicting messages that  subtly accord  donor companies and their products with “undue respect” — while undermining  benefits of breastfeeding  “Current efforts at amending the existing Milk Code serve only the interests of multinational milk and infant feeding industry”.

The position paper urges legislator to rethink their proposal. Instead,  “be co-advocates in promotion of good health for our infants and young Filipino children …The common good, especially of the young who cannot speak for themselves, must always be upheld over business- and self-interests.”

Unlike the Internet libel con game, there is time to heed the counsel of heath professionals and safeguard the kids. That would avert another Massacre of the Innocents.

We’d  then be spared the prophet Jeremiah’s lament:  “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”


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