More teeth for RH Law
The latest numbers surrounding the Reproductive Health (RH) Law are far from encouraging. Signed into law in December 2012 by President Benigno Aquino III, Republic Act No. 10354, the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, met much resistance and did not get enacted until 2014, after which it still faced legal challenges and protests.
The RH Law set a target contraceptive prevalence rate (incidence of Filipinos using contraceptives) of 65 percent by 2022. The prevalence rate at this time is a middling 40 percent. It’s even 10 percentage points lower than the 2019 target of 50 percent, according to the Commission on Population and Development (Popcom).
This reality is problematic, as the RH Law’s contraceptive prevalence target is crucial to the drive to manage the country’s population growth as part of measures to address widespread poverty.
As pointed out by Lydio Español, National Capital Region Popcom director: “Filipinos growing by about 2 million annually remains a critical challenge to socioeconomic development. The higher the fertility rate, the higher the poverty incidence.” Teenage pregnancies, noted Español, represented some 200,000 of the 2 million annual births.
The sought-after 65 percent would mean that 11.3 million women are using contraceptives and effective family planning methods, and preventing over 4.1 million unintended pregnancies and 2.4 million abortions over four years.
Why is this important?
Popcom has estimated that the Philippines would have a population of 108,885,096 by Dec. 31, 2019. Based on data from the last population census by the Philippine Statistics Authority in 2015, the Philippine population increased by 1.8 million in 2018 alone.
That means almost 5,000 Filipinos are born every day, or over 200 every hour. Some projections say the population will reach 142 million in 2045.
While it’s true that the national fertility rate has been dropping steadily — a 1.8-percent decline from 2016 to 2017 — the drop has not translated into a decline in poverty. That’s partly because, despite a projected workforce of 70 million, a sizable 18 percent are either unemployed or underemployed.
The implementation of the RH Law, on the other hand, has been spotty, to say the least. The Department of Health estimates that some six million couples need contraceptives, but have no realistic access to them.
There are numerous reasons for this, not least the Catholic Church’s continuing opposition to the RH Law. The constraints present an especially challenging scenario for how women are able to live their lives.
Jojo Guan, executive director of the Center for Women’s Resources, said that despite the existence of 35 laws meant to support women’s causes—marking the Philippines as supposedly among the most progressive countries for women in Asia—there remain many impediments in Philippine society.
“Calls for women’s empowerment will only be concrete if they also have economic security,” she said, identifying education, health, food and housing as primary concerns. “On the one hand,” she added, “we have a reproductive health law, but on the other, public hospitals are being privatized and access to birthing centers and facilities especially in the barrios has remained poor.”
Genuine access to contraceptives thus remains a major concern. Earlier this month, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced that President Duterte had approved “the full and intensified implementation plan for the national program on family planning” — a key feature of the RH Law rollout.
Panelo touted the plan’s 65-percent contraceptive prevalence target, which would reduce poverty incidence from 20 to 14 percent in 2022 when Mr. Duterte steps down, he said — a direction the administration will vigorously pursue: “We understand that a great majority of Filipinos favor family planning, but not all of them have access to contraceptives due to various reasons. Accordingly, the government is here to respond and help those who wish to undergo family planning.”
The following months and years should see whether that promise pans out, because, as always, plans are only as good as their execution.
“Family planning plays a crucial role in reducing poverty as it enables couples to plan and invest in their children better,” reminded Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia.
In that case, the DOH and other related agencies have their work cut out for them in educating many more Filipinos, widening their access to family-planning tools and achieving the ideal reproductive health targets. The law is there, but much remains to be done.
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