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Sotto Unwittingly Gathered Maternal Mortality Data Equivalent to 18 Deaths Per Day

Senator Tito Sotto tried to debunk the data that 11 maternal deaths occur daily, but ended up reinforcing the same with figures gathered by his own staff. Here’s what he said at the Senate

The proponents of the bill are saying that 11 Filipino women die every day when they talked about maternal mortality. They have not, however, supported this claim with accurate and consistent data. Kung tutuusin sa pinagawa ko sa mga staff ko, hindi pa nga umabot man lang sa kalahati ng 11 maternal deaths ang nakalap nila sa mga hospitals sa Pilipinas nung 2011 eh. For example, sa Nueva Viscaya Provincial Hospital, ang maternal deaths na naitala nila ay 2 lamang sa 2011. … Sa Batangas Regional Hospital, 7 out of 2584 deliveries ang naitala .27%. Hindi pa nga umabot sa 1%. … Kaya ang hirap paniwalaan ang kanilang figure na 11 mothers die every day.

Sotto’s speech delivered on August 15, 2012

Sotto failed to grasp that a small number – such as the 0.27% he calculated for Batangas and belittled – becomes large when multiplied by a huge number like the millions of births per year. If we assume that the Batangas data can be applied to all births in the country1 in 2011, the national figure becomes 2,385,000 births × 0.27% = 6,461 maternal deaths per year, or nearly 18 per day.

Put in another way, if the Batangas Regional Hospital had a maternal mortality ratio (MMR) equivalent to the country’s Millennium Development Goals target of 53 deaths per 100,000 live births, then Sotto’s staff should have counted only 1 death out of the 2,584 deliveries recorded. Six women should have survived. Malaysia and Thailand had had MMRs of 50 and below a decade or so ago.

Sotto should learn from this mistake and take the data gathered by his staff seriously, and not let his biases cover-up the tragic reality of women’s deaths.

1. As estimated by the UN Population Division; see

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Sen. Sotto’s Dishonest Argument

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III asserted that “only” four or five mothers die everyday of maternity complications instead of 11 as claimed by the pro-RH advocates. He further argued, “How many more (mothers) die from cardiovascular, respiratory and other diseases? Why don’t we just concentrate on the 20 deaths a day from other causes and not on this, (which promotes) contraceptives?”

While his lower estimate has already been refuted through showing how the figures were arrived at erroneously,  it must be pointed out that even four to five deaths per day amount to about 1,600 deaths per year. For comparison, the following are the number of fatalities in some of the recent disasters in Philippine history:

Typhoon Ondoy – 747

Sinking of MV Princess of the Stars – 800+

Air Philippines Flight 541 plane crash – 131

Cebu Pacific Flight 387 plane crash – 104

Tragic as they were, these catastrophes that shocked our nation for months actually pale in comparison to the maternity-related deaths; even with Sotto’s “low” estimate, annual maternal casualties are the equivalent of two Ondoys, two shipwrecks, or more than a dozen plane crashes.

More importantly, by saying that more deaths are caused by cardiovascular, respiratory and other diseases in order to divert the focus from maternity-related deaths, Sotto is employing one of the dishonest arguments described in Robert Thouless’ book Straight and Crooked Thinking:

Its general form is to discourage action against some admitted evil by pointing to some other evil which is stated to be worse than the first evil, but about which the user of the argument is making no proposal to do anything. For example, as an argument against attempts to abolish war, it has been pointed out that more deaths have resulted from road accidents in this country during some number of past years than the total casualties of the Boer War. This would be a reasonable ground for trying to reduce the number of road accidents, but it is a dishonest argument when urged as a reason for not trying to prevent further repetitions of the Boer War. The dishonesty of this use of the argument lies in the fact that there is no good reason why we should not try to do both: to prevent people from being killed on the roads and also to prevent them from being killed in wars.

So there you have it, Mr. Senator. Just because more people are dying of other diseases does not mean we should no longer provide for the reproductive health of our mothers.  If you are pro-life, the more you are expected to protect the very people who bring life into this world. After all, it’s very ironic and hypocritical that you make so much fuss about letting nothing stop the sperm from meeting the egg without giving a damn if those who are actually born ever get the chance to meet their mothers alive, to experience and cherish one of the most precious of human bonds, and to grow up to thank Mom for the gift of life. It takes a lot more than fertilization to achieve that.


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