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Contraception controversy central to elections

A Manila resident with four of her 10 children
(Ana Santos/IRIN)

The controversial issue of family planning is taking a prominent role in campaigning for the general election in the Philippines.



Family planning advocates in the predominantly Catholic country are calling on voters to ditch candidates opposed to government funding of contraceptives before the 10 May poll for presidential, legislative and local representatives.



“If they want us to vote for them, they should allocate funding for contraceptives. We want a real reproductive health programme here in Manila,” said Fe Nicodemus, 50, a reproductive health campaigner.



Nicodemus has been fighting Manila’s local government over an executive order issued in 2000 by then Mayor Lito Atienza, which prohibits the provision of modern contraceptives and sterilization at the city’s public health facilities.



The city has since selected a new mayor, but calls to repeal the order have been ignored - which Nicodemus said was contributing to a worsening reproductive health situation in the capital.



"In Manila, girls as young as 14 get pregnant. There are 18-year-old girls who already have four children,” Nicodemus told IRIN. “They come to my house to ask for help. In spite of the [order], we make a stand to help these children, even if the village officials threaten to arrest us."



Unwanted pregnancies



The availability of contraception is hotly contested in the Philippines, where more than 80 percent of the population is Catholic.









''In Manila, girls as young as 14 get pregnant. There are 18-year-old girls who already have four children''

Reproductive health advocates, however, say family planning and modern contraceptive methods such as condoms and birth control pills are sorely needed.



"The poorest are [most] affected because of the lack of contraceptives," said Clara Rita Padilla, executive director of EnGendeRights, a women’s rights NGO.



In a 2008 national demographic survey released on 14 January 2010, the National Statistics Office said about one in three births in the Philippines was either unwanted or unplanned.



It also said the country’s total fertility rate was 3.3 children per woman, but that four out of 10 women said they preferred to have only two children. Poorer women, or those with less education, wanted more children.



The Philippines’ population is projected by the National Statistics Office to have reached 92.2 million in 2009, compared with neighbouring countries Malaysia, with 28.3 million, and Thailand, with 65.4 million.



Family planning advocates are now pressing presidential candidates – including incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo - to support a comprehensive nationwide family planning programme.












Reproductive health advocates have made family planning an election issue

contributor/IRIN
Reproductive health advocates have made family planning an election issue
http://www.irinnews.org/photo.aspx
Monday, March 1, 2010
Contraception controversy central to elections
Reproductive health advocates have made family planning an election issue


Photo: contributor/IRIN
Reproductive health advocates have made family planning an election issue

“Presidential candidates should make a clear stand on reproductive health now,” said Ramon San Pascual, executive director of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development, a non-profit group that assists lawmakers in pushing for reproductive health legislation.



“We need a national policy on reproductive health that will make sure that the likes of Mayor Lito Atienza will not be able to curtail our reproductive health rights," he said.



Lost opportunity



Reproductive health advocates almost scored a victory when a bill was presented to Congress in January this year that mandated the government to fund modern contraceptives. The government only supports natural forms of birth control.



An October 2008 nationwide survey conducted by polling firm Pulse Asia showed that 63 percent of Filipinos supported the bill.



However, intense debate among legislators, including pro-Church lawmakers, delayed a vote on the bill, which expired after the congressional session ended.



“That's why it's important to have a president who can stand up to the Catholic Church in favour of reproductive health rights," said Benjamin de Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc, an NGO.












In 2008, some 90,000 women in the Philippines were hospitalised for post-abortion care. Abortion remains illegal in the Philippines

In 2008, some 90,000 women in the Philippines were hospitalised for post-abortion care. Abortion remains illegal in the Philippines
Ana Santos/IRIN
In 2008, some 90,000 women in the Philippines were hospitalised for post-abortion care. Abortion remains illegal in the Philippines
http://www.irinnews.org/photo.aspx
Monday, April 20, 2009
Aquino prioritizes trafficking
In 2008, some 90,000 women in the Philippines were hospitalised for post-abortion care. Abortion remains illegal in the Philippines


Photo: Ana Santos/IRIN
In 2008, some 90,000 women in the Philippines were hospitalised for post-abortion care. Abortion remains illegal in the Philippines

The advocates have vowed to file the same bill in the next Congress after the elections.



Church campaign



In December, the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a paper advising Catholics not to vote for candidates who support government funding for contraception. "It would not be morally permissible to vote for candidates who support anti-family policies, including reproductive health … Otherwise one becomes an accomplice to the moral evil in question,” it said.



Out of nine presidential candidates, only one, Benigno Aquino III, son of the late president Corazon Aquino, favours government funding of contraceptives.



Former Department of Health Secretary, Alberto Romualdez, lamented that the presidential candidates appeared to have “meekly acquiesced to the CBCP dictates”.



"Not a single politician has dared to question any of the contents of the issuance while at the same time avoiding the subject as much as possible,” Romualdez told IRIN.



“Interference of a religious body in civil and political affairs is a violation of our constitution's section on the separation of church and state and candidates should take a stand on this issue,” he said.



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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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