Absence of Effective Birth Control Adversely Affects Philippine Poor

Updated 28 March 2013, 22:00 AEST

After a fourteen year fight that pitted the Church against the State – the Philippines last December, passed a law to give the country’s poorest women access to birth control measures.

It was seen as a critical step for a nation with over 96 million people and roughly three million new pregnanacies each year – half of which are unwanted.

But the controversial Reproductive Health Law has now hit a new hurdle.

The country’s Supreme Court — faced with numerous petitions questioning whether the law is in line with the Consitution — has temporarily suspended its implementation.

Correspondent: Kesha West

Speakers: Vilma Lopez, a poor woman with 13 children; Magdalena Bacalando, local social worker; Ugochi Daniels, Philippine country representative, UN Population Fund UNFPA; Ricky Carandang, Philippine presidential spokesman; Bishop Gabriel Reyes, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines

WEST: (SFX children) Vilma Lopez and her family live in Tondo, one of Manila’s poorest neighbourhoods. She shares her cramped make-shift home with her husband and children … all 13 of them.

VILMA LOPEZ: (translation) If I’d had a choice I would have liked to have had five or six children but since they are there already I just take care of them and continue letting them grow as I should.

WEST: Her youngest is still a newborn … the siblings take turns looking after her while their mother prepares breakfast. It’s 7am and their father is already out working, scavenging rubbish. Their 19 year old son says life is tough for his parents.

SON: (translation) It’s very difficult because there’s not enough food and its difficult to earn money and its difficult to keep up with the daily expenses.

WEST: Magdalena Bacalando, is a local social worker who has been working with Vilma Lopez’s family for four years. She says it’s not uncommon to see families of this size in the poorer communities in Manila.

BACALANDO: (translation) I feel sad every time I visit Vilma considering she and her husband work as scavengers and they earn only 150 pesos and a nigh of 200 pesos a day and they have to take care of the food, the medication and the children, for education and I think that is very difficult and very sad.

WEST: When we travelled to Manila last year we visited one of the world’s busiest maternity wards. Here at the Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, up to 130 babies are born every day. The Philippines has one of Asia’s highest birth rates and the United Nations Population Fund says nearly half of the three million plus pregnancies each year, are unwanted.

UNFPA country representative, Ugochi Daniels.

DANIELS: All of them when I’ve spoken to them will say we wanted to have 5 we wanted to have 6 but we’ve ended up with 9 10 12 13. and often it might be 13 who are alive, often teh mothers would have had miscarriages, they would have had still births so in many cases you’re speaking to women who have gone through 15, 16 pregnancies no woman wants that life for herself

WEST: Just before Christmas last year, President Aquino signed off on a controversial law — known as the Reproductive Health Bill.

The measure will allow porrer Filipinos to have access to free birth control options as well as information on family planning and crucially it will make sex education a requirement in state schools. Aid agencies say the law will go a long way towards stemming the country’s rapid population growth that they say is only adding to the chronic poverty in the country. It’s been a fourteen year fight to get to this point — one that has pitted the Church against the State.

For the Aquino administration its been a crucial part of its pledge to fight poverty says Presidential Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang

CARANDANG: The reproductive health law which provides basic obstetric and gynacological services to women, which provides contraceptives to families who want to limit the number of children that they have is all part and parcel of a whole anti-poverty program so its very important.

WEST: But earlier this month the new law hit another snag… the country’s Supreme Court decided to suspend its implementation after several petitions were made questioning whether the law was in line with the constitution. The Aquino government refuses to see the delay as a negative, saying it expected the RH bill to be challenged in the courts.

CARANDANG: In a way its kind of a good thing because these challenges are being brought up just before we implement it once they’re hurdled if they are hurdled then there will be no reason to stop it in the future, so its probably better that it be done now then at some later stage when it’s fully implemented. The presidential communications secretary says the government has no doubt the law will eventually be upheld. Something the United Nations is confident of as well.

DANIELS: Implementation of this law is actually at the crux of development for the Philippines and its at the crux of individual rights and individual choice and just being able to have a women or a girl having control over her body so there really is no way to overemphasise just how criticial, crucial, important this law is for all Filipinos.

WEST: National surveys show around 70% of Filipinos support the bill, but it has always faced fierce opposition by the Roman Catholic Church heirarchy.

We spoke to Bishop Gabriel Reyes from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines about the controversial law last October.

REYES: It’s against the moral law. For us, contraception is against the moral law of marriage.

WEST: Bishop Reyes and other church leaders have welcomed the recent Supreme Court decision to delay the law’s implementation. But Ricky Carandang argues not everyone in the Church opposes the new family planning law.

CARANDANG: There are members of the church who quietly say they support the RH law and its just the heirachy has an official position and I don’t think the ground troops as you were in the clergy would be in a position to publically contradict that.

WEST: With the passing of the Reproductive Health legislation, many in the Philippines are now turning their attention to another controversial issue in the countRy – divorce.

The Philippines remains the only country in the world without divorce. Already some Philippine lawmakers are suggesting it may be time for that debate as well. But the Government could need some convincing according to the Presidential Communications Secretary.

REYES: That’s not on the radar of the Aquino administration at this point if some lawmakers want to debate that then they are free to do so but we have no position on that at this point in time.

WEST: But sex education, family planning and free contraception is… and for Filipinos like Vilma Lopez who have waited well over a decade for this, it can’t come soon enough.

VILMA LOPEZ: It is important to me because i will not have to have a baby every year, I can take a rest from giving birth yearly and take care of my children.

Source: http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/asia-pacific/absence-of-effective-birth-control-adversely-affects-philippine-poor/1108774

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