Philippines' President Duterte pushes free contraceptives. Photo Courtesy:- (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered government agencies in the Philippines to ensure free access to contraceptives for an estimated six million women who cannot obtain them, officials said on Wednesday. President Rodrigo Duterte says he wants to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, especially among the poor.

President’s executive order (a move) expected to face fierce be opposed by the dominant Roman Catholic church.

The intensified drive to make contraceptives available and ensure “zero unmet need for family planning” is important to reduce poverty. He said the government wants to cut the poverty rate from 21.6% in 2015 to 13 or 14 percent by the end of Duterte’s term in 2022, Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. He said the government believed contraceptive provision was “pro-life, pro-women, pro-children, and pro-economic development”.

The executive order Duterte signed Monday said out of the 6 million women with unmet needs for modern family planning and 2 million have been found as poor. The identified 2 million women as poor should have access (prioritises getting contraceptives) to them by 2018, and all the rest thereafter.

The government says expanding access to family planning is an important part of its plan to reduce poverty. Photo Courtesy:- AFP

Mr Duterte’s predecessor had to fight for years to pass a bill extending the use of contraceptives in the country. But the Supreme Court prohibited (issued a temporary restraining order/TRO) the distribution of a contraceptive implants on certain provisions of a landmark under the law (The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law) in 2015. After complaints from anti-abortion groups that view contraceptives as causing abortions and put on hold the renewal of licenses for other contraceptives. The government has appealed for the lifting of the temporary restraining order.

“The government cannot continue to tolerate this delay in judgment because time is of the essence as far as the implementation of the RPRH Law is concerned,” Ernesto Pernia said.

Pernia said 11 Filipino women die each day from the pregnancy and delivery related complications and the law will reduce maternal deaths and the rate of teen pregnancies in addition to enabling families to have the number of children they want.

According to the last year report of the U.N. Population Fund, The Philippines is the only Asia-Pacific country where the rate of teen pregnancies has risen over the last two decades. It said the slow decline of the country’s overall fertility rate may deprive the Philippines of faster economic growth expected in similar countries that have more working-age people than younger and older dependents.

Juan Antonio Perez, executive director of the Commission on Population, said the Philippines’ population, now at around 103 million, is growing at a rate of around 1.7 percent yearly, but the growth may be reduced to 1.4 percent if the campaign is fully implemented by 2022.

The order seeks to mobilize the Department of Health, Commission on Population, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in implementing “quality modern family planning information and services.” The department of education has also been asked to provide “gender sensitive and rights-based” sexuality education in schools, CNN Philippines reports.


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