Duterte plans free condom scheme 

Catholicism is the dominant religious denomination in the Philippines. Source: Wikimedia 

The Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered government agencies to ensure free access to contraceptives for 6 million women, which could cause trouble with the archipelago’s Catholic church.

The Philippines is the only Asia-Pacific nation in which the rate of teen pregnancies has risen in the last 20 years, the UN has reported.

“All women of reproductive ages should be able to achieve their desired family size, their desired number of children, rather than having more children than they want or they can afford and provide for adequately, and that is exactly the essence of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law,” Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia told the media at the president’s Malacañang palace.

A battle between Duterte’s government and the Roman Catholic church is expected.

The previous president, Benigno Aquino, led a 14-year-long campaign to pass the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, which was obstructed by Catholic and pro-life groups. The law’s full implementation was held back by a temporary 2015 restraining order by the Supreme Court.

Pernia, also director general of the National Economic and Development Authority, said the availability of contraceptives would ensure “zero unmet need for family planning”, which was key to poverty reduction.

He said the official target was to slice the poverty rate from 21.6 per cent in 2015 to 14 or 13 per cent by the end of Duterte’s first presidential term in 2022.

“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, with all these agencies,” Pernia told the media.

Duterte has said he would defy the Roman Catholic church and seek to introduce a three-child rule.

His executive order said of the 6 million women with unmet needs for modern family planning, 2 million had been identified as poor.

Those 2 million should have access to contraceptives by 2018, and all the rest afterwards, Duterte’s order said.

State agencies have been tasked to work with NGOs to find couples with family planning needs.

Juan Antonio Perez, chief of the Commission on Population, reportedly said the growth of archipelago’s population, now at 104 million, could be reduced to 1.4 per cent from the current 1.7 per cent by 2022 if Duterte’s campaign was successful.