MANILA — Alarmed by rising cases of pregnancies among teenagers, lawmakers and advocates have asked the House Committee on Youth and Sports Development to consider giving minors access to reproductive health and birth control.
Albay Second District Rep. Edcel Lagman, principal author of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law enacted under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, noted there were 3 major programs and strategies to prevent adolescent pregnancies under the law.
He said these include age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education, access to contraceptives by adolescents, and comprehensive legislation.
But Lagman noted the Department of Education has not fully implemented sexuality education nationwide and the country has not given adolescents access to contraceptives.
"What we still lack is access to contraceptives by adolescents. Adolescents access to contraception complements RH sexuality education as well as the comprehensive law," Lagman said during the hearing.
He noted that increased use of contraceptives accounts for an 86-percent decline in teenage pregnancy in the US. Contraceptive use is also "cost- effective", given that it is only a small portion of the total expenditure for overall RH services.
"Unfortunately in the Philippines, there is a stringent barrier to adolescents accessing modern contraceptives," Lagman said.
"The diluted compromise version in the RH law requiring written parental consent for minors to access modern contraceptives except when the minor is already a parent or has had an abortion was further diluted by the Supreme Court...where the majority stuck down the 2 aforesaid exceptions purportedly eroding parental authority int he rearing of children," he added.
Both Lagman and Kabataan party-list Rep. Raoul Manuel downplayed concerns that access to contraceptives could change Filipino culture.
"Culture is not static. It is in a continuing process of evolution and consistent with modern trends. In other words, the access to contraceptives by adolescents will not be a threat on our culture because it is now of a modern situation, where access to contraceptives is given likewise to adolescents particularly ages 16 and above," Lagman said.
"In other countries this is already the norm and I think the norm should also be adopted in the Philippines," he continued.
Elizabeth Angsioco, National Chair of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines, pointed out that sexuality remained a taboo topic in Filipino families, which in turn makes proper knowledge more inaccessible.
"Sexuality and everything related to this are taboo topics not discussed in families. These result in very poor or wrong knowledge among women and girls when it comes to sexuality and sex," Angsioco said.
"This also results in the mothers and we say mothers because we deal largely with the mothers, refusal outright refusal, inability or discomfort to discuss these matters with their children," she added.
The Philippines has "one of the highest adolescent birth rates" among Southeast Asian nations, according to a United Nations Population Fund policy brief in 2020.
In 2020, adolescent birth rates were at 31 per 1,000 girls, lower than 47 per 1,000 in the 2017 National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS), according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
The Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) in 2021 said the COVID-19 crisis "worsened" the difficulty of availing family planning services, which are "very crucial in mitigating cases of early pregnancies."