What You Need to Know About the State of Reproductive Health in the Philippines
It's easy to dismiss the ongoing issue about the TRO on birth control if you're not actually using contraceptives. But if you read through this list of things you need to know about the state of reproductive health in the Philippines, you'll realize that this issue affects you more than you think.
- The RH Law is here to protect you, your body, and your choice and control over it.
The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 was the first step to a better reproductive health care system in the country. In the National Policy enacted on December 21, 2012, it reads "The State guarantees universal access to medically-safe, non-abortifacient, effective, legal, affordable, and quality reproductive health care services, methods, devices, supplies which do not prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum as determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and relevant information and education thereon according to the priority needs of women, children and other underprivileged sectors, giving preferential access to those identified through the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR) and other government measures of identifying marginalization, who shall be voluntary beneficiaries of reproductive health care, services and supplies for free." No one is forcing you to use birth control pills or contraceptive implants especially if it goes against what you believe in. But the fact is, we're talking about your body and you have every right to control what you do with it. This law is meant to protect you: "Gender equality and women empowerment are central elements of reproductive health and population and development."
- Ten percent of the country's population are young women—and one in ten has already given birth.
And while the RH Law supposedly guarantees universal access to all methods of modern contraception, sex education, and maternal and child care, it has been met with a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) for its full implementation. Not to mention, budget cuts that made it impossible for the Department of Health (DOH) to fund government health centers supplying communities with free condoms and birth control as well as sex education. The country's population is currently at 100.7 million, with one in ten of young women aged 15-19 has begun giving birth according to a National Demographic and Health Survey done in 2013. According to the UN Population Fund, the Philippines is the only country in Asia where teen pregnancy is still rising. Perci Cendana of the National Youth Commission says, "TheTRO spells double jeopardy for teens."
- Birth control implants are covered in the TRO issued by the Supreme Court.
In June 2015, the Supreme Court (SC) of the Philippines issued a TRO to the DOH to stop "procuring, selling, distributing, dispensing or administering, advertising, and promoting the hormonal contraceptive Implanon and Implanon NXT." So what does this mean? These contraceptive implants, which are proven to be 99% effective and lasts up to 3 years will no longer be administered by government health agencies.
- "The TRO should be lifted now if we have to avert an impending national health crisis."
According to DOH Commission on Population (POPCOM)'s executive director Dr. Juan Antonio Perez III, fifteen certificates of birth control registration already expired in 2016 and 10 already expired as of May this year. If the TRO is not lifted, it's possible that by 2020, there will be no available contraceptives in the market. Over 300,000 people have signed a petition to lift the TRO and it has been submitted to the SC in hopes that there’s still a chance the TRO will be lifted. Dr. Perez also warns, "Unsafe induced abortions may also rise without a family planning program in place."
- Even the President's Executive Order might not be able to help.
In an Executive Order that President Rodrigo Duterte signed in December 2016, he ordered three major agencies, the DOH, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and POPCOM "to assist local governments in implementing the RPRH Law by mapping out and identifying women who have a need for family planning." But even if the President has pushed for this, what will these agencies work with if the contraceptives are no longer available?
- FDA, the ball's in your court now.
Unfortunately, on May 26 of this year, the SC has affirmed the TRO, which it says cannot be lifted "prior to the summary hearing to be conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the safety, efficacy, purity, quality, and non-abortiveness of the contraceptives." The court clarified that the TRO "only prevented the DOH from registering, recertifying, procuring, and administering Implanon and Implanon NXT—contraceptives being contested by the Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines Inc."
So what's next? Until the FDA proves and recertifies specific drugs as non-abortifacient, only then is there even a chance for the TRO to be lifted. What can you do?
Grrrl Gang Manila has begun the #PinayTakeAction campaign inspired by the global Women’s March, a worldwide protest to fight for the rights of women everywhere. In the next 100 days, there will be 10 actions geared towards making sure that Filipinas have reproductive health care and control over our bodies. First on the list? Lifting the TRO within parameters that are legal, just, and scientific. Are you with us?