Duterte makes birth control free in one of the world’s most Catholic countries.

The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte has signed an executive order that seeks to enforce The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (The RPRH act). Signed in 2012 by President Benigno Aquino III, the act seeks to provide reproductive health services such as contraceptives to poor women in the Philippines. The act took more than 13 years to be signed into law and has faced a lot of opposition from the Catholic Church and other anti-abortion groups. Duterte’s support has been described as a further blow against the Church, to which he is fervently opposed.

The Executive Order recognizes “the right of Filipinos to decide freely and responsibly on their desired number and spacing of children.” According to the Philippine National Demographic and Health Survey of 2013, there are 6 million Filipino women including 2 million poor who do not have access to contraception. The Executive Order has ordered government agencies to begin the implementation of the RPRH act immediately.

National Economic and Development Authority Director General Ernesto Pernia told reporters, “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.”  

The Catholic Church has been strongly opposed to the RPRH act and actively tried to make the law null and void in the Supreme Court. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the RPRH was constitutional, though it struck out some portions of the act. About 80 percent of Filipinos identify as Catholic, which amounts to about 74 million people. The President and the Church have been on a collision course from the very beginning of Duterte’s Presidency, with Duterte labeling the Church as “the most hypocritical institution.” President Duterte has accused bishops and priests of corruption and of adulterous behavior.

The Catholic Church has also differed with Duterte over his anti-drug campaign that has claimed the lives of thousands of Filipinos. Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa commented, “I think whether he knows it or not, whenever we do anything bad, you are the tool of the devil. If you bring harm to others, you are the devil’s tool.”

Arguelles further went on to remark, “He said he was going to destroy the church. The only thing I can tell him is that Hitler tried to do that, Bismarck tried to do that, Napoleon tried to do that. The church is still there, all these people are gone.”

Polls by Pulse Asia show that 86 percent of Filipinos support the push to provide government sponsored reproductive health services, while 55 percent of the population want the government to focus more on programs that are aimed at fighting poverty. While on the campaign trail, Duterte vowed to reinstate the program of family planning, adding that getting three children was more than enough. During a TV show, Duterte remarked, “You tell the children that they will go to hell. You always use that to scare them. But that is not true. Hell, is here.”

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