THE Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law of 2012 (RPRH Law) gave the Philippines a comprehensive framework for programs and services pertaining to family planning and reproductive health. While national and local government agencies could always provide such services even without a law, it never seemed to be a priority. In fact, due to opposition from the Roman Catholic Church to any form of artificial family planning methods, and because many of us who favor family planning never were half as aggressive as the so-called pro-life groups, reproductive health has been in the backburner for a long time. We have to go back 20 years to the days of the late senator and health secretary Juan Flavier to find a government promoting family planning in earnest.
And this is unfortunate, not only from a women’s rights perspective: Family planning and reproductive health are matters that impact on a nation’s long-term development and the quality of life of every citizen. They constitute “a fundamental component to a comprehensive approach to poverty alleviation and human development” (United Nations Population Fund Asia Pacific, January 12, 2017).
From an economic development perspective, the persistent relatively high population growth in the Philippines means that while the economic pie may be getting bigger, it also has to be cut into ever more slices. Of course, inequitable distribution of wealth and ‘growth without jobs’ also account for poverty in the midst of growth, but all other things being equal, a smaller population growth means that the government can focus more of its resources on improving services rather than chasing after the perennial shortage of classrooms, garbage trucks, hospital beds, and so on.
The Constitution puts the family in center stage as the basic unit of society. But what becomes of society when the basic unit cannot provide, materially and emotionally, for itself and its members because men and women are deprived of the information and tools to have the number of children that is right for them?
Thus, it has been very frustrating to see what happened to the RPRH Law after it was passed. The Supreme Court struck down certain provisions as unconstitutional and issued temporary restraining orders with the implication that existing certifications of contraceptives being distributed in the country, would lapse into expiration.
President Rodrigo Duterte in his state of the nation address last July expressed the hope that the Supreme Court would lift the TROs so that the law could finally be implemented in its entirety and Filipinos enjoy the freedom to decide the size of their families. Earlier, the president issued Executive Order 12 supporting the full implementation of the RPRH Law.
While Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno clarified that the TRO covered only the implants Implanon and Implanon NXT, two devices that are suspected of causing abortions, the Supreme Court also ordered the Food and Drug Authority (FDA) “to observe the basic requirements of due process by conducting a hearing, and allowing the petitioners (Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines or AFFP) to be heard, on the re-certified, procured, and administered contraceptive drugs and devices, including Implanon and Implanon NXT; and to determine whether they are abortifacients or non-abortifacients” (Philippine News Agency, October 19, 2017). In other words, all contraceptives due for certification or re-certification are covered by the court’s order. The AFFP suspected “many contraceptives and devices sold commercially … and promoted by the state” of being abortifacients (CBCP News, August 1, 2017).
The FDA is tasked to ascertain and certify the safety of contraceptives before approving them for sale and distribution so in a way, the Supreme Court simply told the FDA to do its job, and do it in a scientific and transparent manner.
The FDA finally conducted a hearing last August 21 and also invited interested parties to submit evidence for or against the 51 contraceptives that are to be re-certified.
The Population Commission announced a few days ago that the result of this thorough evaluation of contraceptives will soon be known and that the FDA would submit its list of re-certified contraceptives to the Supreme Court. The TRO on Implanon and Implanon NXT, meanwhile, was made permanent (Abante Tonight, September 4, 2017).
Anticipating the lifting of the TRO, the Davao City local government has set up a city implementation team chaired by the mayor and co-chaired by the city health officer, with other team members coming from the Department of Health, Department of Education, Department of Interior and Local Government, and various civil society organizations, Liga ng Barangay, Sangguniang Kabataan, among others (Davao Today, October 13, 2017). The team will “ensure the integration of the RH Law in activities of member agencies, provide (status reports), and come up with recommendations to address the gaps.”
Hopefully, other local governments will follow Davao City’s example and make family planning and reproductive health services available to all.