UN: Anti-RH Policies of Ex-Manila Mayors Atienza and Lim Drove Constituents Deeper Into Poverty

By: Tricia Aquino, InterAksyon.com
May 4, 2015 8:04 PM

MANILA – A United Nations committee says that two executive orders of former Manila mayors Jose Atienza, Jr., and Alfredo Lim got in the way of women’s access to reproductive health services and contraceptives, consequently driving many constituents further into poverty as they were unable to manage the number of their children and suffered the consequences of unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and maternal deaths.

This was contained in a report issued last month by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

The nongovernmental organizations Task Force CEDAW Inquiry, Center for Reproductive Rights, and International Women’s Rights Action Network Asia-Pacific requested the UN Committee in June 2008 to conduct an inquiry into alleged violations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) because of the implementation of Executive Order No. 0003 issued by Atienza in February 2000, which covered the provision of sexual and reproductive health rights, services, and commodities in Manila.

Citing the sanctity of life and the protection of the lives of the mother and the unborn, as provided by the 1987 Philippine Constitution, EO 0003 declared that Manila would take an “affirmative stand on pro-life issues and responsible parenthood.”

This meant that the local government unit (LGU) would “uphold natural family planning … while discouraging the use of artificial methods of contraception like condoms, pills, intrauterine devices, (and) surgical sterilization,” among others.

While EO 003, according to the NGOs, did not “expressly prohibit” the use of these contraceptives, in practice, the executive order “severely limited women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services and effectively resulted in a ban of modern contraceptives” in Manila.

During Lim’s term beginning in 2007, the NGOs said that EO 003 continued to be implemented, and that another executive order, EO 030, was issued in 2011 which supposedly imposed a funding ban on artificial contraception.

The UN Committee asked the Philippine government to help them assess the information it gathered in 2008.

In 2009, the Philippine government had told the UN Committee that the Manila City Health Office refuted the allegations.

The UN Committee decided to launch an inquiry on the issue of accessibility of contraceptives in Manila in 2010, as headed by members Pramila Patten and Violeta Neubauer, who visited the city in November 2012 and met representatives of the Philippine Commission on Women, the Department of Health, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), among others.

They also interviewed Mayor Lim, the Manila City Legal Officer, representatives of the City Health Office, and officials of the City Department of Social Welfare.

They visited three health centers and Abad Santos Hospital, as well, and conducted interviews. They also talked to 60 women aged 19 to 49 years old, mostly from urban poor areas, and made trips to communities in Tondo, “where they were able to witness extreme poverty among urban households, many of which are headed by women.”

The UN Committee found that, while the 1987 Philippine Constitution provided for the separation of Church and State, the Catholic Church still had “considerable influence on public policymaking” in the country, including that on reproductive health.

It also found that the implementation of EO 003 “resulted in the withdrawal of all supplies of modern contraceptives from all local government-funded health facilities, as well as in the refusal to provide women with family planning information and counseling other than ‘natural family planning’ and brought misinformation about modern methods of contraception, including those methods listed on the World Health Organization Model List of Essential Medicines.”

EO 003, said the UN Committee, also led to the discontinuation of the provision of supplies and information on modern contraception. All “relevant” medical personnel were trained in and provided information only on natural family planning methods.

“Authorities and medical staff interviewed all confirmed that instructions issued by Mayor Atienza to that effect continued to be implemented after February 2004,” the UN Committee report said.

They also found that there was a ban on modern contraception in all public health facilities run by the Manila LGU, including hospitals, health centers, and lying-in clinics after February 2004.

The UN Committee also found that Mayor Lim continued to enforce EO 003 during his term.

“Interviews with women who had sought modern contraception in health centers and hospitals between 2007 and 2011 revealed that EO 003 was still enforced in practice, despite the Mayor’s declared ‘pro-choice’ policy,” the UN Committee said.

The latter was defined under Mayor Lim’s EO 030 as “allowing couples to exercise full and absolute discretion in deciding on which form of family planning to use conformably with their religious beliefs and practices.”

But EO 030 also stated that the LGU would “not disburse and appropriate funds or finance any program or purchase materials, medicines for artificial birth control.”

The UN Committee saw that the pro-choice policy under EO 030 “was not accompanied by the necessary means to make these choices available and affordable.”

NGOs, donors, and other third parties were left to fill the gap which, under the Local Government Code of 1991, was actually delegated to the LGUs.

The implementation of both executive orders had a detrimental effect on poor women, driving “them further into poverty by depriving them of an opportunity to control and space their number of children.”

According to the testimonies of the 60 women, they found it difficult to use natural family planning methods, “which many times contributed to tensions and conflicts with their husbands or partners and fostered domestic violence.”

The UN Committee added that it witnessed “the damage on women’s mental and physical health resulting from multiple pregnancies and their increased exposure to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.”

EO 003 “harmed disadvantaged groups of women, including poor women and adolescent girls, as well as women in abusive relationships.”

Adolescent girls were also exposed to an increased risk of unwanted pregnancies and pregnancy-related injuries or death following unprotected or coerced sex.

EO 003’s impact was compounded by the funding ban in EO 030, the UN Committee said.

It also called the efforts of the DOH in assisting the Manila LGU in providing reproductive health services “insufficient.”

The delay in enacting a reproductive health law was another factor in the “unsatisfactory” response of the Philippine government to address the situation in Manila.

“The Committee observes that the lives and health of many women were put at risk, as they were compelled to have more children than they wanted or than their health permitted them to have. The Committee particularly takes notes of the potentially life-threatening consequences of unplanned and/or unwanted pregnancies as a direct consequence of the denial of access to the full range of contraceptive methods as well as of the strict criminalization of abortion without any exemptions provided for in the State party’s legislation. Complications resulting from unsafe and illegal abortions are a prominent cause of maternal death in the City of Manila, as acknowledged by the State party,” the UN Committee said.

The national government, it added, failed “to provide the full range of sexual and reproductive health services, commodities, and information (which) resulted in unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and unnecessary and preventable maternal deaths.”

SOURCE: http://www.interaksyon.com/article/109932/un-anti-rh-policies-of-ex-manila-mayors-atienza-and-lim-drove-constituents-deeper-into-poverty

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