May 28 marks the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, when the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women are commemorated around the world. To the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), this day is tinged with lamentation in light of the Supreme Court’s (SC) final decision not to lift the temporary restraining order (TRO) on contraceptive implants. Indeed, this is a fervent reminder of the need for a more aggressive assertion of the SRHR of women, especially those in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas.
In recent years, landmark achievements in reproductive health have been made: the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Law was enacted in 2012, and the Executive Order No. 12—which aims to accelerate the implementation of the RPRH Law—was signed early this year. However, the extended TRO placed by the Supreme Court on the distribution of hormonal implants and the registration and recertification of reproductive health products and supplies has prevented the RPRH Law from coming to fruition. The cascading repercussions of the Supreme Court’s refusal to lift the TRO have yet to be fully manifested, but the current situation already appears to be quite grim.
The Philippine Statistics Authority revealed that the maternal mortality ratio increased from 162 in 2006 to 221 in 2011, while the 2013 National Health and Demographic Survey presented an alarmingly increasing rate of teenage pregnancies. The factors leading to this include a less than desirable contraceptive prevalence rate, an actual fertility rate that is higher than wanted, and a lack of access to skilled attendants at birth.
Moreover, the 2013 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study reported that Filipino youth are engaging in risky sexual behavior: 32 percent of young people are sexually active, and 78 percent reported being unprotected from sexually transmitted infection or pregnancy during their first sexual encounter. The monthly report of the Philippine HIV/AIDS and ART Registry of the National Epidemiology Center also reveals that new cases of HIV infection are highest among young people: 62 percent of newly diagnosed HIV infections are among 15- to 19-year-old youth, and 85 percent are among the 15- to 34-year-olds. Just this March, the Department of Health revealed a record-breaking number of new HIV cases, 968, the highest in a month since 1984.
These are due to drawbacks in pursuing a national policy and program on RH. From a decade-long struggle in Congress, all three branches of the government—challenges in implementation and inadequate funding in the executive branch, retrogressive bills in the legislature, legal battle in the Supreme Court—and all levels of governance from national to local have now become the battleground for RH.
What is unjustly compromised is the fulfillment of Filipinos’ sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Despite these challenges, PLCPD looks to the future with renewed strength, continuing the fight for SRHR and condemning actions that impinge on the right of women to reliable and safe family planning. We urge the government to faithfully implement the provisions of the RPRH Law, including the age-appropriate sexuality and reproductive health education for young people. Stakeholders are also implored to remain vigilant towards any delay and take part in seeing its full implementation through.