Duterte orders full implementation of modern family planning by 2018

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order providing funds and support for modern family planning, in a bid to make modern family planning available to the poor by 2018.

"This Order aims to intensify and accelerate the implementation of critical actions necessary to attain and sustain 'zero unmet need for modern family planning' for all poor households by 2018," reads Executive Order No. 12, signed by Duterte on January 9 and released on Wednesday.

Among the strategies outlined in the four-page document is to do a comprehensive review of couples and individuals in need of family planning services.

"There is a plan in the next six months for local governments to go out in the field, to do house-to-house visits, identify those in need of family planning, [and work] with all these agencies," National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director General Ernesto Pernia said in a press briefing Wednesday.

Strengthening the Implementation of the Reproductive Health law is part of President Duterte's 10-point socio-economic agenda.

Pernia said that if the law was not implemented properly, the Philippines would be "unable to meet our poverty reduction target."

The government hopes to reduce poverty to 13 percent by the end of Duterte's six-year term in 2022, the socio-economic manager added.

The Philippines has six million women, of which two million are poor, that "have unmet need for any modern method of contraception, and remain unable to fully exercise their reproductive rights," the Executive Order said, citing Philippine Statistics Authority findings from 2013.

EO provisions

The order seeks to mobilize the Department of Health, Commission on Population, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in implementing "quality modern family planning information and services."

It called for the agencies to map areas and locate individuals with unmet needs, mobilize local structures, conduct demand generation and referral activities, and partner with the private sector.

The Health Department is tasked by the EO to "review the gaps in the implementation of the (Reproductive Health) law, issue corresponding orders and guidelines, and implement interventions to support LGUs (local government units) and (civil society organizations)."

The Department of Education is also tasked to implement a "gender sensitive and rights-based" sexuality education in schools.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development is set to integrate the law's strategies in the national poverty reduction and social protection programs.

The Philippine Commission on Women is expected to "promote reproductive health rights."

PhilHealth will "implement benefit packages that ensure maximum benefits for family planning services."

The Commision on Population will adopt the attainment of "zero unmet need for modern family planning as a population management strategy." The Philippines has a population of over 100 million.

The order provides that funds for the implementation of the plan "shall be sourced from available funds of the agencies concerned," although future expenses are to be included in budget proposals.

It also said that the Department of Budget and Management "may realign and augment appropriations" in accordance with regulation.

Against TRO on contraceptives

The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law was enacted under President Noynoy Aquino in December 2012 after a contentious 14-year battle with the Catholic Church and pro-life groups.

But its full implementation was held back by a temporary restraining order (TRO) against contraceptive implants, issued by the Supreme Court in July 2015.

The TRO came after the health department had acquired around 400,000 contraceptive implants for distribution. Complaints that the contraceptives had alleged abortaficient qualities surfaced, which the government contested.

"[Pro-life groups] keep saying that contraception or family planning or the reproductive health law is abortifacient, it's anti-life," said Pernia. "But... we in the government, we think differently... We feel that it is pro-life, pro-women, pro-children, and pro-economic development."

Pernia said the TRO covered only government agencies, and the Executive Order provides for collaborations with civil society and the private sector.

"There might be some municipalities or local governments that can... get around the TRO by letting (non-government organizations) implement the RPRH Law because the private sector is not covered by the TRO," said Pernia.

Pernia also said that "the government cannot continue to tolerate this delay in judgment" and they are hoping the TRO would be lifted.

Health Secretary Dr. Paulyn Ubial also told The Source on Wednesday that they had filed a motion for reconsideration for the TRO at the Supreme Court.

She said she was "very happy" to announce that the order had been signed.

"So that means that we really have to reach out to all couples so that they will be provided services, so that they can practice the number of children that they desire and the spacing that it would need," said Ubial.