by Anna Dinglasan, Isis International

Barely a month as the new president of the Philippines, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino Jr. already has women's organisations, both locally and internationally based, keeping a watchful on him.

Aquino has been cornered about his views and plans on reproductive health, which has remained one of the most controversial issues in the country.

The Philippines is a largely Catholic with the church having substantial influence in politics. The Catholic church has also been instrumental during the 1986 People Power Revolution against Ferdinand Marcos which helped install Corazon C. Aquino, the younger Aquino's mother, as the first woman president of the country.

Given this context, it is not surprising that the new administration has remained to have quite a vague stand on issues of reproductive health and rights. Aquino's platform on reproductive rights is focused on population control and poverty alleviation as opposed to approaching it as integral to women's human rights.

He emphasised “responsible parenthood,” as the main agenda for reproductive health, saying that the government does not have the right to dictate to parents how many children they should have and neither does the state have the right to tell them about how to plan their families.

Aquino advocates the need for an aggressive programme that would constantly remind parents of their responsibility to the children they conceive, as well as providing them with support in terms of education, housing, health concerns and food.

He said the main task of government is to make options available to all. He said he wants all Filipinos to be educated about the different methods of family planning and for them to be free to choose whatever method they prefer.

Promising as it sounds, women's organisations and women's rights advocates in the Philippines challenges the new administration by demanding that it takes reproductive health and rights as more than issue of population control.

In a statement released by the Women's Global Network on Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) in late June, women's organisations urge the new administration to “seize the opportunity to respect the rights of all Filipino women to reproductive and sexual health, as guaranteed under national and international law,” emphasising the need to make comprehensive reproductive and sexual health services universally accessible and available throughout the country.

The statement also calls on the Aquino government to take “concrete steps to meet the sexual and reproductive health rights obligations outlined in the the country's 1987 constitution and the international commitments it has made at the United Nations”. It also calls on the new government to reform national laws pertaining to reproductive and health rights as well as to work towards the passage of a comprehensive reproductive health bill.

WGNRR says that it hopes Aquino's platform takes into account the need to support the advancement of the health, well-being, and equitable distribution of wealth and power within and between families and communities. This includes addressing the needs of prospective and current parents who identify as indigenous peoples, an ethnic minority, urban poor, landless peasants, differently-abled or an inmate in prison. Further, the network believes this agenda should include the provision of a full, comprehensive range of contraceptive and other reproductive health services that are publicly available, universally accessible, and provided on a non-judgemental, non-discriminatory and voluntary basis.

Integral to this is the provision of gender sensitive, empowering and non-discriminatory comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights education programmes to all, especially the youth.

References:

WGNRR statement released on 29 June 2010.
Interview with Ms. Tanya Roberts-Davis of the Women's Global Network on Reproductive Rights
http://www.ucanews.com/2010/02/01/aquino-denies-back-down-on-birth-control-bill
http://noynoy.ph/blog/tag/rh-bill/

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