Philippines President takes on Catholic Church over sex education | Connect Asia

Philippines President takes on Catholic Church over sex education

Philippines President takes on Catholic Church over sex education

Updated 8 November 2012, 15:33 AEDT

Around 200 babies are born in the Philippines every hour, and increasingly it's poor teenagers who are the mothers, some as young as 13.

For more than a decade, Philippine lawmakers have been trying to pass legislation that would allow state-funded contraception and mandatory sex education in schools, but it's been blocked at every turn by the Catholic Church.

But now legislators are confident of a breakthrough, now the President himself has defied the church and thrown his weight behind the bill.

Australia Network's Kesha West filed this report from Manila.

Correspondent: Kesha West

Speakers: Gabriel Reyes, Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines; Cherry Francisco, young mother; , Mary Dungo, supervising nurse; Ugochi Daniels, head of the UN Population Fund in the Philippines; Congressman Edcel Lagman; Benigno Aquino, Philippines President

WEST: It's Sunday morning in Marikina, on the outskirts of Manila. Every inch of the town's four hundred year old church is packed for mass. 90 million people live in the Philippines, around 80% are Catholic.

And the presence of the Church is evident in every aspect of daily life... particularly when it comes to family planning. Gabriel Reyes, is from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.

REYES: It's against the moral law. For us, contraception is against the natural moral law of marriage.

WEST: But as the population soars and with it teenage pregnancies, even Catholic Filipinos have come to believe this way of thinking might be damaging the country. And it's the very poorest here who are having the most babies. Cherry Francisco has just given birth to her third child, but she has lost another 3.

FRANCISCO: I was 14 years old when I first got pregnant. Now, this is on my sixth pregnancy. The very first baby died inside my womb at 8 months.

WEST: The Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital is one of the world's busiest maternity hospitals. And the sheer number of babies being born each day an average of 70 to 80 sometimes up to 130 means mums and babies have to be prepared to share. Supervising nurse, Mary Dungo.

DUNGO: On a single bed we have two mothers but we put our beds together, we call them tandem bed and we have four mothers and four babies on two beds.

WEST: While its very rare for a baby or mother to die during childbirth in this hospital it does sometimes happen, across the Philippines maternal mortality rates in particular have jumped almost 40% since 2006 and the nurses here say meeting their millenium development goal of reducing that rate is next to impossible.

WEST: The UN has urged the Philippines to fast-track a bill, which will allow state-funded contraception and mandatory sex education in schools. Ugochi Daniels is the head of the UN Population Fund in the Philippines.

DANIELS: Every day that services and information are not provided is measured in the number of women and girls who die, who lose their lives while trying to give life.

WEST: The proposed Reproductive Health Bill -- has been blocked by the powerful Roman Catholic Church and its political allies for more than a decade. But now, the Bill has an arguably equally powerful force supporting it the Philippine President himself.

AQUINO: 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.

WEST: The principal author of the RH Bill, Congressman Edcel Lagman, is now confident the Bill can be passed by end of the year.

LAGMAN: We are unable to sustain our human development because we are not able to address the population problem

WEST: But Bishop Reyes believes the RH Bill is not the answer.

REYES: 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 promescurity and maybe more pregnancies

WEST: There's been reports that Bishops have warned lawmakers that they will campaign against their re-election next year if they support the Bill. And that the Church has even gone as far as threatening to excommunicate the President himself. Something Bishop Gabriel Reyes denies.

REYES: We are not happy about it and I hope he will change his mind because it is promoting something which we think is not good for the country.

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

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