13 AUGUST 2007
THIS MONTH'S i REPORT FEATURE
P C I J I N V E S T I G A T I O N — ARROYO'S LEGACY MAY INCLUDE MOTHER MOTHERS PUT AT RISK
NO BUYING OF ARTIFICIAL CONTRACEPTIVES
In 2004, DOH even awarded P50 million to the religious group Couples for Christ to fund a government program called Responsible Parenthood-Natural Family Planning (RP-NFP). According to its own website, the CFC considers sex education, contraception, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, and population control as “anti-life.”
Couples for Christ was one of the first groups to mobilize its members during Edsa II, which resulted in the ouster of then President Joseph Estrada and Arroyo’s ascension to power. In a June 2004 report to then Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit to cover the first tranche of the money, CFC said it used the fund to conduct almost a hundred lectures on natural family planning, “chastity education” campus tours, and media and public relations expenses.
Lawyer Rhodora Roy Raterta, executive director of the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP), says the deal violated the principle of separation of church and state, “as the CFC is known to have links with the Catholic Church.” But what made it worse, she says, were reports that CFC also used its trainings to denounce artificial contraception.
“The bottom line is, it’s wrong,” says Raterta. She also says that funding natural family planning alone violates the Constitutional provision that says the government will protect the right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their personal religious convictions.
Then Senator Luisa Ejercito, Estrada’s wife, was so incensed by the agreement between the DOH and the CFC that she filed a resolution demanding an investigation into its legality. She said the P50-million deal should have gone through bidding, like all other government contracts.
But health experts are also unhappy over CFC’s claims regarding the efficacy of natural family planning (NFP). Melgar says CFC does not tell its clients that “going natural” has a high failure rate of seven per 100 cases.
In a 1995 study by four experts led by Haishan Fu for the Alan Guttmacher Institute, abstinence, the core of natural family planning, was found to have a 22-percent failure rate while withdrawal had 26 percent. (The Standard Days Method, which the Church promotes, requires abstinence of up to 12 days.)
In comparison, says the study, implant and injectables have the lowest failure rates (two to four percent), followed by the pill (nine percent), the diaphragm and the cervical cap (13 percent), and the male condom (15 percent).
“It’s okay if women choose natural family planning methods,” says Melgar, who is Catholic. “But they should be advised that they could get pregnant, that it has a very high failure rate.”
Yet the CFC, in a letter to its members in October 2004 stated, “NFP is the most reliable, with 99-percent efficacy rate, proven in more than 100 countries and no side effects, except greater marital love and joy.”
As a state agency with almost four decades of experience, Popcom has built a strong network in all provinces, which could effectively reach all households, given enough funding and support. But Popcom has found itself unable to provide the whole array of options it used to offer women. In keeping with Arroyo’s ban on modern methods, its trainings are now limited to explaining women’s fertile periods and the natural methods of contraception. No lessons on artificial means are taught; should a woman ask for these, she is “referred to health centers,” says Popcom chief Osias.
What frustrates women’s rights advocates is the lack of a written, official government policy directive on the ban on contraceptives. This would have afforded them the right to question the policy in the courts. “Our problem is that our hands are tied,” says Likhaan’s Melgar. “There’s no executive order and it’s all verbal. GMA says ‘I am not funding,’ and it becomes the law.”
Arroyo’s political accommodations in favor of the Catholic Church are also clear and out in the open, leaving even career government officials in fear of losing their jobs should they go against the anti-contraceptives policy.
Thus, they have kept their mouths shut even as the likes of Padilla were named to the Popcom. Padilla is also one of the commissioners of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW). (Weeks of efforts to interview her for this piece proved difficult, however, as no one at CFC, Popcom, and NCRFW seemed to know how to get in touch with her.)
Five years ago, Arroyo also appointed Jose Sandejas, who has a doctorate in materials engineering, as presidential adviser on family matters. Sandejas, aside from being a close adviser of Archbishop Paciano Aniceto of Pampanga, has been a trustee of Pro-Life Philippines since 1987. In 2006, he was also named commissioner of Popcom.
Sandejas says that for 37 years, the country pushed artificial contraception, which he says only benefited big pharmaceutical companies. He says that by promoting just the natural methods, the Arroyo government is merely trying to balance the equation. “The pharmaceutical companies make a lot of profit,” he says, “let them push it (artificial contraceptives).”
“It’s really the work of the devil,” he says of artificial contraceptives. “The devil’s main strategy is to create divorce, contraception, homosexuality. The enemy is really winning out so much.”
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