Philippine parliament scraps budget for contraceptives

The Minor Basilica of St Lorenzo Ruiz, an ancient church in Manila. Policies prohibiting abortion and use of contraceptives are influenced by the Philippines’ Catholic heritage.
The Minor Basilica of St Lorenzo Ruiz, an ancient church in Manila. Policies prohibiting abortion and use of contraceptives are influenced by the Philippines’ Catholic heritage.PHOTO: LEE XIAN JIE

MANILA (AFP) - The legislature in the mainly Catholic Philippines has eliminated the government's budget for contraceptives, the health department said Wednesday (Jan 6), despite a law mandating the state provide them to the poor.

Health Secretary Janette Garin has confirmed the department's 2016 budget for contraceptives was scrapped when it passed through Congress, the bureau's press office said.

"This will have a huge effect since a lot of mothers depend on what the Department of Health provides," the office quoted Garin as saying.

Foreign and local authorities have long cited the need for improved birth control in the Philippines which has one of Asia's highest birth rates as well as high maternal mortality rates.

The country has a population well over 100 million with about 25 per cent living in poverty.

The government of President Benigno Aquino had allocated a sum for contraceptives in the 2016 budget but this was removed as the legislature was debating the bill, the department said.

Garin said she only learned of the budget cut on Monday (Jan 4).

The government and the dominant Catholic church have waged a bruising struggle over the issue for years. The church has long opposed efforts to make birth-control more available.

It was only in 2014 that the Supreme Court finally upheld a "reproductive health" law, striking down more than a dozen petitions against it from church-backed groups.

The law requires government health centres to supply free condoms and birth control pills, as well as mandating sex education in schools.

It also requires that public health workers receive family planning training, while medical care after an abortion will also be legalised.

Nearly 80 per cent of the population is Catholic, an inheritance of three centuries of Spanish colonial rule that ended in the late 1800s.

The Catholic church opposes birth control and abortion and its hold is strong in the Philippines where divorce and abortion are illegal.

Garin said the department would now seek private donors to provide funds for contraceptives.