MANILA, Philippines - The government has reaffirmed its commitment to uphold sexual and reproductive health rights, saying the country has recognized these as inherent human rights.
The commitment was made at yesterday’s opening of the 7th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSHR) at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.
The conference opened despite threats from the Pro-Life Philippines (PLP) to seek a temporary restraining order against the event.
Convenors expressed confidence the APCRSHR would push though after a Pasay court refused to issue an injunction order against it.
During a hearing yesterday, Judge Petronillo Sulla did not rule on the petition filed by the PLP, according to APCRSHR convenor Eden Divinagracia.
“The petition was just considered submitted for resolution. It’s free to proceed because no TRO was issued,” Divinagracia said as she expressed confidence the conference will close as scheduled on Friday.
The PLP had sought to stop the APCRSHR, claiming it would violate the law against abortion, one of the topics in the conference.
At least 2,000 people attended the event. Half of the participants were foreign experts and advocates from around the world.
In a speech delivered during the opening ceremony, Health Secretary Enrique Ona reaffirmed the government’s commitment to uphold sexual and reproductive health rights.
Ona said the Philippines has long recognized sexual and reproductive health rights as inherent human rights, being a signatory to international conferences and commitments such as the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the Millennium Development Goals.
He said for a long time, the Philippines remained on the sidelines, watching other countries in the region promote women’s health, particularly in the area of sexual and reproductive health rights.
“It took a bold, daring and courageous effort on the part of President Aquino, together with our champions in the Congress, to enact the historic Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RH) Law in the country,” he said.
Ona, however, said the country is constrained from implementing the law as the Supreme Court (SC) has yet to resolve its legality.
“I am confident our SC will uphold this law and sweep all barriers to its implementation. While the RH law is pending, we should not derail delivery of appropriate services to women and men, which can save their lives regardless of circumstances.”
He gave the assurance that the Department of Health (DOH) will continue to encourage local governments to adopt strategies that allow the best reproductive health care service in the country.
“Our message is clear, not just for my countrymen but for to all of us here. We are approaching sexual and reproductive health care as a critical element of primary health care,” Ona said.
Kate Gilmore, assistant secretary and deputy executive director of United Nations Population Fund, said 20 years have passed since the ICPD but it has not led to adequate investments in health, particularly in the field of sexual and reproductive health.
Gilmore said across the region, young people live in gravest inequalities, greatest poverty and with the least opportunity to exercise autonomy over their bodies and their selves.
She said South Asia has the highest level of child marriage in any region in the world, while at least six million adolescent pregnancies occur annually in the Asia Pacific region.
Gilmore said of all unsafe abortions in the Asia Pacific, 34 percent occur to women below 25 years old, with some 3.6 million unsafe abortions taking place each year.
Meanwhile, the Commission on Population (PopCom) yesterday asked local government units (LGUs) to stop health centers from collecting donations from those who wish to avail of the free contraceptives.
PopCom executive director Juan Antonio Perez III said they found out that there are health centers that collect donations, which discourage women from asking for contraceptives.