Church, State, Canada in condom conundrum

Canada will invest about $18 million for projects addressing Filipino women’s reproductive health services just as the Philippines thumbed its nose at its powerful Catholic church to and began distributing contraceptives that do not cause abortions.

The announcement marked a victory over the influential Catholic church which counts most of the Philippine population as followers and opposes all forms of artificial contraception.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque said 51 types of contraceptive pills, coils and injectables could now be distributed to the public after the Food and Drug Administration certified they did not cause abortions, defeating a petition filed by a Catholic group.

“It is now all systems go for us in the Department of Health to implement the (Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health) law,” Duque told reporters.

For years, the Church has waged a bruising battle against government efforts to promote birth control despite the country’s widespread poverty and ballooning population.

The reproductive health law granting access to contraceptives was passed in 2012 despite strong Church opposition. However, abortion remains illegal.

A religious group filed a case with the Supreme Court charging that many of the government-issued contraceptives were abortifacients and therefore banned.

This prompted the court to issue in 2015 a restraining order on the 51 contraceptives pending a finding by the FDA.

The Philippines is now rushing to distribute about US$5 million worth of old stocks of contraceptives before their expiration date.

Government stocks of the contraceptives, acquired before this court order, are now being delivered to health offices and development groups to ensure they can be distributed before they expire, Duque said.

President Rodrigo Duterte, a fierce critic of the Catholic church who was elected last year, has promised to deliver the free contraceptives to women as part of his reproductive health push.

Despite Church lobbying to cut funding for contraceptives, Duque said the government had budgeted 4.2 billion pesos ($82 million) for implementation of the law this year.

The head of the government’s Population Commission, Juan Antonio Perez, said the two years that the court order was in place had likely resulted in 500,000 unplanned pregnancies.

“I think we have a good number of people who may be asking for these implants,” said Doctor Juan Antonio Perez, executive director of the Commission on Population.

Perez said the two years that the court order was in place had likely resulted in 500,000 unplanned pregnancies.

Perez said that the Philippines had 20 million women of reproductive age, six million of whom were already using contraceptives. He added a million more were expected to start using contraceptives each year now that the ban had been lifted.

As the rush to distribute the old contraceptives began, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his country will invest a total of $17.8 million over five years for projects addressing Filipino women’s reproductive health services.

“I am pleased to announce that Canada will be investing in sexual health and empowerment projects that will be implemented by Oxfam,” Trudeau said during a press briefing at World Trade Center in Pasay City.

Trudeau hoped the funding of the Canadian government would improve access to sexual and reproductive health services to more than 85,000 women and girls living in rural areas in the country.

“When we invest in women and girls, we help entire families, communities, and societies succeed,” he said, while in the Philippines for the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit.

The Catholic church, as expected, denounced the moves to increase access to contraceptives.

A top official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). Fr. Jerome Secillano questioned the wisdom of funding the procurement of family planning commodities while millions of Filipinos don’t have access to medicines when they fall ill.

“Is it really sound to pour in billions for the procurement of pills and condoms while many Filipinos don’t even have access to real medicines when they get sick?” asked the priest.

Secillano is the executive secretary of the CBCP’s permanent committee on public affairs.

One of RH law’s most vocal critics is the Catholic Church, which has repeatedly opposed moves to legalize abortion and the purchase and distribution of contraceptives.

“Can these “non-abortifacients” be an alternative for food and shelter which the Filipinos truly need?” the Catholic priest added.

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