Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte issued an executive order to give free contraceptives for six million women who lack access to it, due to poverty.
As stated in the executive order, this aims to intensify and accelerate the implementation of critical actions necessary to attain and sustain zero unmet need for modern family planning for all poor households by 2018, and all of Filipinos thereafter. It also enjoins three key national government agencies DOH, Commission on Population (POPCOM) and Department of the Interior Local Government (DILG) and all local government units to accelerate mechanisms and strategies to attain the said purpose through the strict implementation of the RPRH Law.
This is relevant in order to reduce poverty rate in the Philippines, since in 2015, the Philippine poverty ranged from 21.6 percent but now, the Duterte administration would like to cut the poverty rate to 14 or 13 percent in 2022.
The annual population growth in the Philippines is 1.7 percent. However, with the proper implementation of the reproductive health law, it goes down to 1.4 percent every year.
According to U.N. Population Fund last year, the Philippines is the only Asia-Pacific country where there is a highest rate of teen pregnancies over the last two decades. President Duterte would like to encourage families not to have more children if they can’t afford to take care and provide their needs.
The universal access t birth control and sex education is actually part of Duterte’s 10 Point Socio-Economic Agenda. This aims to cut the poverty rate in the Philippines.
However, in a country where 80 percent of the population is catholic, it is indeed challenging to implement this reproductive rights. It even took 14 years to pass the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act in 2012- a legislation that makes sex education and birth control more accessible to the poor.
Philippine Catholic Bishop criticised the President’s anti-life measures, calling on the people to join a grand procession next month to make a stand. The Episcopal Commission on the Laity of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines stated that, when society opens its doors to welcome artificial contraception, abortion, divorce, legalised same sex union, it opens the minds of people to a particular mindset that problems can only be resolved through termination of relationships, terminations of person.
On 2015 when Pope Francis visited the Philippines, he issued what was then described as his strongest defense yet of the church’s ban on artificial contraception. He urged the Philippine families to be sanctuaries of respect for life.
It has indeed been a struggle implementing this law in the Philippines, most especially it has a large number of Catholics, where it will always be criticized among Catholic churches. However, there are also reasons why we need the RH Law.
- To prevent unplanned pregnancies
The Health Department has noted that Filipino women on average have one child more than they want. About half of all pregnancies in the Philippines (approximately 1.43 million a year) are unintended.
It is believed that the inadequate reproductive health services and information, the low rates of contraceptive use and the difficulties in obtaining access to artificial methods of contraception, contribute to the high rate of teenage pregnancies and maternal deaths in the country.
- To reduce abortion rate
There are half a million women who induce abortion procedure every year, here in the Philippines. There are 79,000 women admitted to hospitals for complications due to unsafe abortion while 800 women are dying from unsafe abortion.
It is said that one-third of unintended pregnancies end in abortion and twelve percent of maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortion.
- To prevent early pregnancy
According to our obligations under CEDAW, “teenage pregnancies…present a significant obstacle to girls’ educational opportunities and economic empowerment.” It is the government’s duty to “give priority attention to the situation of adolescents and that it provide sex education, targeted at girls and boys, with special attention to the prevention of early pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Moreover, many adolescents are sexually active and are not practicing contraceptive method. It is considered a high risk pregnancies of adolescent girls aged 18 years an below. Complications due to high blood and maternal mortality are high for adolescent girls giving birth.
Thus, the early childbirth for adolescent girls lead to disruption of schooling , resulting to lack of career options due to low education and lack of financial capability.
- To prevent rising HIV/AIDS cases
There is indeed a growing number of HIV cases in the Philippines. A growing number of women are getting HIV at 28%. Of the 821 AIDS cases reported in 2009, more than half of sexual transmissions was through heterosexual contact (30% were women and 70% were men). An alarming 35% of OFWs with HIV are seafarers with a corresponding increase in the number of wives of seafarers infected with HIV. Educational campaigns and condoms might as well help prevent the fast growing HIV or AIDS cases in the Philippines.
- To avoid negative impact of having large families on poor people
A large size family on poor people results to poverty and lack of access to education and health services. In this case, it is applicable to poor families to engage in using contraceptives. There are also studies showing that the eldest or second eldest from poor, large families end up in prostitution to meet their families’ needs and many women from large families also end up being trafficked.