Manila slashes contraceptive budget

Manila Cathedral. The Catholic church wields considerable power in the Philippines. Source: Wikimedia

The parliament in Manila has slashed the government’s contraceptives budget, despite legislation guaranteeing the state should provide them to the poor.

The health secretary, Janette Garin, said the department’s 2016 budget for contraceptives had been scrapped.

“This will have a huge effect since a lot of mothers depend on what the Department of Health provides,” Garin said.

She said the department would now seek private donors to fund the distribution of contraceptives in the largely Catholic country.

Foreign and domestic authorities have called for more investment in birth control in the Philippines, which has one of Asia’s highest birth and maternal mortality rates.

Roughly a quarter of the 100 million Filipinos live in poverty.

President Benigno Aquino’s government was allocated a sum for contraceptives in the 2016 budget but this was axed while the legislature debated the bill, the health department said.

Garin said the budget cut was a surprise.

The government and the Catholic church have battled over the issue for years, with the ecclesiastical establishment opposing attempts to boost the availability of contraceptives.

In 2014 the supreme court upheld a reproductive health law, dismissing more than 12 petitions opposing it from church-linked organisations.

The law requires government health clinics to supply free condoms and birth control pills and as well making sex education in schools compulsory.

It also requires health workers to take family-planning training and medical care after an abortion is to be legalised.

Senetor Pia Cayetano’s reaction on Thursday upon learning that the budget was being slashed was indignant, citing a breach of trust from her colleagues.

Cayetano, a principal sponsor of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law, said: “I am shocked … We work on a basis of trust that the chair of the finance committee would not make significant changes without informing the body or in the case of RH, no major changes will be made without informing me, knowing that I sponsored the measure.

“As of this time, my office is looking into this because this is totally unacceptable,” Cayetano said.

Nearly 80 per cent of Filipinos are Catholic, a legacy of 300 years of Spanish colonial rule that ended just before the 20th century. Divorce and abortion are illegal in the archipelago.