MANILA, Philippines – Sidestepping a Supreme Court (SC) temporary restraining order or TRO issued in 2015 on the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law, President Duterte has signed an executive order that mandates aggressive government action in providing universal access to RH programs.
In a briefing at Malacañang yesterday, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director general Ernesto Pernia said the President signed Executive Order 12 last Monday.
Pernia said it took three months for Malacañang’s legal team to review and scrutinize the EO before Duterte signed it.
Pernia also pointed out how the Supreme Court decision has “stymied” the important provisions of the RH Law, which prompted the executive branch to look for ways to implement the population control measure.
The EO is titled “Attaining and Sustaining Zero Unmet Need for Modern Family Planning Services through the Strict Implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, Providing Funds Therefore and for Other Purposes.”
“Well, the EO is really for modern family planning services, modern contraceptives to be adopted by women of reproductive age,” Pernia said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defined women with unmet need as those who are “fecund and sexually active but are not using any method of contraception, and report not wanting any more children or wanting to delay the next child.”
The concept of unmet need points to the gap between women’s reproductive intentions and their contraceptive behavior.
“As I’ve said, in order for them to achieve their desired number of children – and this also requires adequate budget, budgetary support from the government,” Pernia said.
In his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year, Duterte vowed full implementation of the RH Law.
“The implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health law must be put into full force and effect,” Duterte said then.
Under the EO, Duterte enjoins the Department of Health, Commission on Population (PopCom), Department of the Interior and Local Government and other relevant national government agencies to work in close collaboration with local government units “for the full implementation” of the order.
It encourages all LGUs to integrate the strategies in the local development plans and investment programs to support universal access to RH services through demand degeneration, service delivery network and mobilization of community volunteers.
Barangay health workers, barangay population volunteers and nutrition scholars, especially those in geographically isolated and disadvantageous areas, are also tapped to engage in the aggressive RH campaign in the countryside.
Concerned agencies are also mandated to map areas to locate couples who want to practice family planning but are unable to do so due to lack of access to facilities. The agencies are also urged to collaborate and partner with civil society organizations and the private sector in attaining zero unmet need for modern family planning in their respective localities.
With Duterte’s support for the RH Law through the EO, Pernia said it should send a signal to the Supreme Court (SC) now to act judiciously on the matter.
“Well, it’s just telling the public, including the Supreme Court, that we cannot continue to tolerate this delay in judgment because time is of the essence, as far as the implementation of the RH Law is concerned,” he said.
Pernia is hopeful the SC would now act fast by lifting its temporary restraining order (TRO) that limits the use of birth control methods.
He said the government might tap non-government organizations to implement the restrained measures, since the TRO does not cover the private sector.
“It’s just the government agencies. So, in fact, there are some implementation of the RH Law, but it’s very limited,” he said.
The SC issued a TRO in July 2015, preventing the public procurement and distribution of contraceptive implants following petitions that deemed the method as “abortifacient.”
The NEDA chief said the family planning methods would be available at no cost to those who choose to use contraceptives as part of their family planning.
The move also aims to slow down population growth, which is expected to reach 105.5 million by the end of 2017, based on calculations of the PopCom.
Popcom executive director Juan Antonio Perez III said the current population growth rate is around 1.7 million a year.
If this program is fully implemented through 2022, Perez said the government predicts that the population growth rate might go down to around 1.4 million.
“But that’s a projection, and that means 65 percent of women using family planning methods. The 65 percent are women who actually want family planning but are not able to practice it,” Perez said.
At present, only 40 percent of the women population are using the family planning methods, which is relatively low compared with the 70-75 percent prevalence rates in other countries, the officials said.
Pernia claimed the need to slow down population growth is linked to the country’s economic development. He described as critical the government’s implementation of the RH Law to lower the country’s poverty rate from 21.6 percent in 2015 to 13-14 percent by the end of Duterte’s term.
Stressing the need for RH methods, Pernia cited the high statistics on maternal mortality, with 11 women dying from complications of pregnancy and delivery every day. He said there are recorded 231 maternal deaths per 100,000 births – which had to be addressed under the Millennium Development Goals.
He also mentioned the high number of teenage pregnancies in the country as another justification for the government’s desire to implement an aggressive campaign in schools.
Under the EO, the Department of Education is tasked to implement gender-sensitive and rights-based comprehensive sexuality education in the school curriculum.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) shall integrate RH strategies in the national poverty reduction and social programs, while the National Youth Commission is tasked to ensure the integration of adolescent reproductive health concerns in youth development agenda and strategies.
NEDA is mandated to integrate RH strategies in the Philippine Development Plan, while the DILG would monitor compliance of the LGUs.
The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) shall promote reproductive health rights in their initiative for women’s empowerment and gender equality. The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) was tasked to implement benefit packages. The PopCom is tasked to adopt the attainment of zero unmet need for modern family planning as a population management strategy.
Perez said the high court’s TRO “affects 7.3 million Filipino women, most of whom belong to the lowest wealth quintile with high unmet need for family planning.”
“When there are many challenges that hamper our population management programs, the EO on unmet need strives to redeem our long-fought RPRH law victory and push forth our desire to achieve happy, healthy, and empowered Filipino families,” Perez said.
“Pro-life groups – meaning really conservative groups – keep saying that contraception or family planning or the reproductive health law is abortifacient, it’s anti-life,” Pernia noted.
“But, of course, we in the government think differently, just the opposite. We feel that it is pro-life, pro-women, pro-children and pro-economic development,” he said.