Five years after the passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, the law has yet to be implemented, no thanks to motions and petitions filed in court by conservative groups questioning its constitutionality, provisions and side effects.
Based on one petition, the Supreme Court slapped a temporary restraining order on certain contraceptive supplies in June 2015, the lifting of which became the subject of a number of pleadings by the Department of Health and several women’s groups.
When President Duterte assailed the TRO in his last State of the Nation Address and cited the millions of pesos worth of contraceptives set to expire in 2018, the Court was constrained to issue a clarification.
It said the TRO covered the sale and distribution only of Implanon and Implanon NXT — thin rods inserted under a woman’s skin that can prevent pregnancy for up to three years — and not other contraceptives.
The Court added that the TRO, while being final and executory, also has a sunset clause stating that after compliance with due process and upon promulgation of the decision of the Food and Drug Administration, the TRO would be deemed lifted if the questioned drugs and devices were found “not abortifacient.”
For the delayed implementation of the RH Law, the Court laid the blame squarely on the DOH and FDA: “Instead of complying with the orders of the Court as stated in the Decision (dated Aug. 24, 2016) to conduct a summary hearing, the respondents have returned to this Court, asking the Court to reconsider the said decision claiming that it has wreaked havoc on the organizational structure of the FDA.”
On Monday, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said “the TRO would be lifted” once the FDA determined that implants and other contraceptives are non-abortifacient. The FDA is expected to release its findings by month’s end.
“Once the TRO is lifted, the people can be assured that the provisions of the [RH] Law will be implemented without restraints and in full compliance,” Ubial said, adding that in the meantime, contraceptive supplies may still be accessed through rural health units, partner hospitals, and nongovernment service providers.
For couples — women especially — who have waited five years to finally get their due from the law, the prospect is possibly life-changing. After all, the RH Law gives couples and individuals the right to make free and informed decisions as to their preferred method of determining the ideal size of their family.
The law also obligates the state to provide them quality RH care services including universal access to affordable contraceptive supplies. Access to truthful information and education on reproductive health, especially among adolescents, is provided for in the law as well.
That last — sex education in school — has proven to be the most contentious of the RH Law provisions, and probably the most urgent at this time.
Statistics show that of the country’s 103 million population, 10 percent are girls aged 15-19. And one of every ten of those girls is already a mother, making the Philippines the only Asia-Pacific country where the rate of teenage pregnancy rose in the past two decades.
It is a situation that, according to United Nations Population Fund representative to the Philippines Klaus Beck, “limits far too many girls’ hopes, dreams and aspirations … and costs the country around P33 billion each year in foregone earnings.”
Beck is talking about the “demographic dividend,” the expected window of opportunity when the Philippines’ young population reaches effective working age and outnumbers younger and older dependents. More people working often translate into faster economic growth. That is, unless an early and unplanned pregnancy forces a young girl to drop out of school and therefore forego an opportunity to get a degree, pursue a career, and earn higher income.
With the full implementation of the RH Law, adolescents are given useful, age-appropriate information in school that would educate them on not only their bodies but also their rights—to say no, and to make personal decisions that will impact on their future.
As Beck said about the RH Law: “With the right policies and investments in human capital, countries can empower young people to drive economic and social development and boost per-capita incomes.”
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