Philippine lawmakers confident of health bill approval

Philippine lawmakers confident of health bill approval

Philippine lawmakers confident of health bill approval

Updated 7 November 2012, 1:19 AEDT

Philippine lawmakers say they are confident that a controversial birth control bill will be passed by the House of Representatives by the end of this year.

The proposed legislation, known as the Reproductive Health Bill, would allow state-funded contraception and mandatory sex education in schools.

For more than a decade, the legislation has been blocked by the country's powerful Catholic Church and its political allies.

But now the Philippine President Benigno Aquino has thrown his weight behind the bill in defiance of the church.

Mr Aquino says his conscience would not allow him to stand quietly aside, despite possible repercussions.

"Every child who would not be brought up properly or would not be given the opportunity that is there inherent right would be a burden that I couldn't bare," he said.

"Items like sex education for instance, how can anyone argue that there is such a need, it shouldn't be deriving your knowledge from your peer group who are actually as ignorant as you, to be able to make informed decisions that's the only position we have."

'Informed choice'

The Philippines is one of the fastest growing populations globally, with an estimated 200 babies born every hour.

Increasingly its poor teenagers who are giving birth, some as young as 13 who have little or no access to contraception or family planning advice.

The result has been a disturbing increase in maternal and child mortality rates and backyard abortions.

The head of the United Nation's Population Fund in the Philippines, Ugochi Daniels, says her first visit to a Jose Fabella maternity ward was overwhelming, because of the number of mothers and babies but also because of how young many of those mothers were.

"The Philippines, what we're seeing in the region, has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and over the past ten years the number of teenage pregnancies has gone up 65 per cent and this is exactly what we don't want to see," she said.

The UN has urged the Philippines to fast-track the Reproductive Health Bill.

"We need to remember the human face of this, the number of lives, we've gone from losing 11 mothers a day to now 14 or 15 mothers a day," Ms Daniels said.

Bishop Gabriel Reyes says contraception is against the "moral law of marriage" and will lead to more abortions.

"The solution is to teach our children not to have premarital relationships because if you give them more condoms for the boys and all those pills they will have more promiscuity and maybe more pregnancies because these condoms and pills are not always effective," he said.

The Reproductive Health Bill's principal author, Congressman Edcel Lagman, says already there are more than 500 cases of abortion - mostly the result of unwanted pregnancies - every year in the Philippines.

"The essence is freedom of informed choice, even in the Catholic faith there is freedom of will, so it is not against the Catholic faith. And I hope that the Catholic Church of the Philippines will be tolerant like the Church in other countries like Europe and Latin America."

Congressman Lagman adds that the Philippines must address the population problem if it wants sustainable development.

The Church says if the Bill is passed it will fight it in the Supreme Court.