08 August 2012

Fight for Contraceptives in the Philippines Drags On

Comprehensive birth control legislation has languished in the House of Representatives for the Philippines for years. The bill which aims to provide free birth control to poor Filipino families has languished in debate for some time.

President Benigno Aquino is one of the high level proponents for the legislation that needs to clear both the house and the senate before appearing on his desk. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church has proved to be a staunch and powerful opponent.

An agreement to suspend the debate and move to a vote on Monday was met with cheers from supporters and cries from opponents. The UN even got in the mix releasing a statement in support of the bill saying, “Hopes of future prosperity could turn to dust if the country is not able to deal with the population growth by giving men and women access to the information and means to freely and responsibly exercise their human right to have just the number of children they want. If current trends continue, as the country grows richer, the number of people living in poverty will increase.”

The debate has a famous opponent: former boxer and member of congress Manny Pacquiao. "God did not say just have two children or three children. He said go forth and multiply," he said in an interview in May of 2011.

 The Catholic church in the Philippines has proved to be a loud and well organized opponent. "You heard our president during his campaign say, 'If there is no corruption, there will be no poverty,'" Villegas said. "Birth control, they say, means more food, more classrooms, more houses and better health for mothers. If more babies are the cause of poverty, are we now saying, 'If there are no children, there will be no poor?'" said Archbishop Socrates Villegas to a crowd of about 10,000 people over the weekend.

At the heart of the matter is the high birth rate in the Philippines which is largely centered within people living in poverty. "There is a population issue in terms of the demand on natural resources—we cannot keep increasing as rapidly as we have been," said Mary Racelis, a professor at the Philippines' Ateneo de Manila University to the Wall Street Journal.

While the sides of government and church battle it out on the pages of major reports, the people most affected by the legislation remain on the sidelines waiting for the important decision to be made on their behalf.