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Reproductive Rights Advocates Call on Candidates to Uphold Reproductive Rights–Consent to the Visit of CEDAW Experts and UN Special Rapporteurs

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Quezon City, February 18, 2009 – We call on the candidates for the national, congressional, and local elections to uphold reproductive rights and make reproductive health part of their program of action providing the necessary budget for RH information and supplies. We urge the current and the future government officials to consent to the visits of the UN CEDAW experts[1] and the UN Special Rapporteurs[2] on their investigation of reproductive rights violations in the Philippines . We urge the future members of the 15th Congress to the pass the Reproductive Health Care Bill (RH bill) into law immediately.

We urge electorates to vote for candidates who are supporting the passage of the RH bill into Law. It has been over eight years since the first RH bill has been filed in Congress. The failure to pass the RH bill has been detrimental to the health and lives of Filipinos especially women and children.

According to the recently-launched 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey (2008 NDHS 2008), one in three births is either unwanted or mistimed; over half of married women age 15-49 do not want another child; 82 percent of married women want either to space their births or to limit childbearing altogether. The total unmet need for family planning[3] is 22 percent with highest unmet need for women age 15-19, lowest quintile of wealth, rural women and women in ARMM while the contraceptive prevalence rate among currently married women who use modern methods is a mere 34 percent. Twenty-six percent of women age 15-24 have already began child-bearing.

The 2008 NDHS also cites health concerns and fear of side effects as the two foremost reasons why women do not use contraceptives while only three percent do not use contraceptives because of religious belief. Only 44 percent of births occur in health facilities and only 62% of births are assisted by a health professional.[4] The under-five mortality rate for children born less than two years after a previous birth is 54 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with 25 deaths per 1,000 for children born after an interval of four or more years showing the importance of birth spacing for the health of the children and that of the mother. The infant mortality rate from 2004-2008 is 25 deaths per 1,000 live births and the under-five mortality rate is 34 deaths per 1,000 live births[5] showing the impact of unintended pregnancies and lack of access to reproductive health information and supplies.

Nationwide, almost half of all pregnancies are unintended.[6] Based on the UNFPA State of the World Population Report (SWPR) in 2008, the maternal mortality ratio was 230 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births.[7] This translated to 11 women dying per day while giving birth. Not a single death should happen due to pregnancy and childbirth. These are preventable deaths. Deaths that could have been prevented by proper information and access to services while we have aspiring government officials and current government officials who do not support the passage of the RH bill and even restrict access to modern contraceptives such as in the case of Manila City .

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has identified in its guidelines for voters that they should not vote for candidates who support the RH bill. The above findings on the negative impact of the non-passage of the RH bill and the restriction of access to modern contraceptives show that the CBCP is not responsive to the needs of the Filipinos—Catholics included. “The CBCP’s stance on the RH bill is detrimental to women’s reproductive rights. CBCP is completely disregarding the needs of Filipinos and this is detrimental to the lives and well-being of Filipinos especially the poor,” said Attorney Clara Rita A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights.

“The 2008 national and Manila City surveys of the Social Weather Stations both confirm that majority of Filipinos want the RH bill passed into law, 71% and 86%, respectively. Politically, it is popular for legislators to support the RH bill. With these statistics, a c lea r support for the RH bill increases the possibility of winning a seat in the coming 2010 elections. More and more voters are keeping tab,” added Benjamin de Leon, President of The Forum for Family Planning and Development.

“As can be seen in the survey, the residents of Manila want the RH bill passed into law. The poor of Manila took the brunt of former Mayor Atienza’s policy under EO 003 (Series of 2000) by restricting their access to contraceptives. And they are still feeling the impact of such restrictive policy even now under Mayor Lim’s term since the Office of the Mayor is not providing funds to buy free contraceptives for Manila residents. The impact of such a policy is especially felt by poor women who cannot even afford to buy a 25 peso kilo of rice for their families,” stressed Benjamin de Leon.

Ramon San Pascual, Executive Director of Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), stressed that, “The impact of the lack of reproductive health information and access to health care services is grave especially to poor women who do not have money to pay for their own contraceptive supplies and for counseling from private doctors.”
“If we have a comprehensive reproductive health care law, we will not have these restrictive policies in place. We will have more women having access to sexuality education and reproductive health information and services,” says Ramon San Pascual.

It is the obligation of the Philippine government as cited in the 2006 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) Concluding Comments on the Philippines to “strengthen measures aimed at the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, including by making a comprehensive range of contraceptives more widely available and without any restriction”; “give priority attention to the situation of adolescents and that it provide sex education, targeted at girls and boys, with special attention to the prevention of early pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.”

“Our representatives in government and aspiring government officials must realize that our very own Constitution states that, ‘Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.’ Government officials must be reminded that they are mere representatives of the Filipino people and that their obligation is to the Filipino people and not to the Catholic Church and its bishops who are against the passage of the RH bill into law. Government officials must respect plurality in our society. They must uphold access to reproductive health information and health care services and give primary importance to a person’s right to reproductive self-determination. Fundamentalist public officials who restrict access to information and health care services do not deserve any place in governance,” Atty. Padilla added.

For a copy of the SWS survey, see


[1] The Philippine-based Task Force CEDAW Inquiry led by EnGendeRights and WomenLead, the Center for Reproductive Rights and International Women’s Rights Action Watch, Asia-Pacific (IWRAW-AP), have submitted a total of three official requests for inquiry for consideration of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) to investigate discrimination and other treaty violations resulting from the EO.

The initial request for inquiry, dated June 2, 2008, asserted that the EO violates Articles 2, 3, 5, 10, 11, 12, and 16, and that the state is responsible for such violations. The subsequent requests, also sent by the Task Force CEDAW Inquiry, dated October 27, 2008, and April 22, 2009, highlight further violations by the Philippine government. In addition, the subsequent requests for inquiry discuss the controversial Reproductive Health Bill, which present Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim does not support.

The Philippine-based Task Force CEDAW Inquiry consists of twenty members: EnGendeRights (co-convenor; see, WomenLEAD (co-convenor); Alternative Law Groups (ALG); Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP); Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP); Health Action Information Network (HAIN); Health & Development Initiatives Institute, Inc. (HDII); Institute for Social Studies and Action, Philippines (ISSA); Kapisanan ng mga Kamag-anak ng Migranteng Manggagawang Pilipino, Inc (KAKAMMPI); MAKALAYA; Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD); Philippine NGO Council on Population, Health and Welfare, Inc., ( PNGOC ); Population Services Pilipinas, Inc. (PSPI); Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panlegal/Alternative Legal Assistance Center (SALIGAN-ALAC); Save the Children USA-Philippines Country Office; The Forum for Family Planning and Development, Inc.; Woman Health Philippines; Women’s Crisis Center; Women’s Legal Bureau (WLB); Women’s Media Circle Foundation, Inc.

[2] On March 27, 2009, the Philippine-based Task Force CEDAW Inquiry led by EnGendeRights and WomenLead, the Center for Reproductive Rights and International Women’s Rights Action Watch, Asia-Pacific (IWRAW-AP), submitted a request to six United Nations Special Rapporteurs (UNSRs) requesting for an Urgent Appeal to be transmitted to the Philippine government and seeking a fact-finding country visit to investigate reproductive rights violations related to Manila City Executive Order 003 (“EO 003”). The goal in submitting the request was to draw the UNSRs attention to the grave violations perpetrated in Manila City by the Philippine government against women and their families.

The request for an Urgent Appeal was submitted to six UN Special Rapporteurs, namely, health, violence against women, education, human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief, and the Independent Expert on extreme poverty.
[3] Unmet need for family planning is defined as the percentage of currently married women who either do not want any more children or want to wait before having their next birth, but are not using any method of family planning.
[4] UNFPA says that for every 500,000 people there should be at lea st 4 facilities offering Basic Emergency Obstetric Care (BEmOC) and for every 500,000 people there should be at lea st 1 facility offering Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric Care (CEmOC) which should be appropriately distributed.

[5] Infant mortality is the probability of dying before the first birthday while under-five mortality is the probability of dying between birth and fifth birthday.
[6] Singh S et al., Unintended Pregnancy and Induced Abortion in the Philippines : Causes and Consequences, New York : Guttmacher Institute, 2006.

[7] If you compare the Philippine maternal mortality ratio with other countries, you would see the effects of access to reproductive health information and services. The 2008 maternal mortality ratio in other countries are, as follows: 11 in US (with modern method contraceptive prevalence rate of 68%), 7 in Canada, 4 in Spain (with modern method contraceptive prevalence rate of 62%), 3 in Italy, 6 in Japan, 14 in South Korea, 14 in Singapore (with modern method contraceptive prevalence rate of 53%). Across Europe, with the exception of Albania , Romania , and Estonia , the maternal mortality ratio is below 15.

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