The Philippine government has restored funding to service Filipinos’ reproductive health needs, most significantly for the estimated 13.4 million women who rely on government-supplied contraceptive products.

An NGO health worker holds contraceptive pills during a family planning session with housewives availing free pills in Tondo, Manila August 6, 2012. 

© 2012 Reuters

The long-overdue move reverses a cut in those funds in January 2016 that threatened to roll back hard-fought gains in maternal health and reductions in infant mortality over the past decade, made possible by government-subsidized or free contraceptive services.

President Rodrigo Duterte reinforced his government’s commitment to reproductive health on January 10, 2017, with the issuance of an executive order to “intensify and accelerate the implementation of critical actions necessary to attain and sustain ‘zero unmet needs for modern family planning’ for all poor households by 2018…within the context of the [reproductive health] law.” This action is a bright spot in the administration’s otherwise horrendous human rights record via its abusive “war on drugs.”

In January 2016, at the urging of elements of the Catholic Church, conservative lawmakers surreptitiously cut by 1 billion pesos (US$20 million) the 2.2 billion peso ($44 million) budget for “family health and responsible parenting” guaranteed under the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RPRH) of 2012. That deprived low-income Filipinos, particularly women, access to government-supplied contraceptive products. The United Nations Population Fund criticized the cut as a threat to “the basic human right to health as well as the right to reproductive choices.”

The budget cut also dealt a blow to efforts to contain the Philippines worsening HIV epidemic. In a December 2016 report, Human Rights Watch decried the cuts as one of several government policies threatening to worsen the country’s HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men, fueled mainly by lack of access to condoms. Government clinics – often the main or only source of condoms for many Filipinos “are likely to exhaust their condom supplies in early 2017.”

The onus is now on the government, particularly the Department of Health, to ensure that relevant agencies disburse the allocated budgetary funds as intended. The millions of Filipino women and families who have been deprived of much-needed reproductive health services because of religious and conservative opposition have suffered long enough.