EU officials to give 35 million euro for RH

Published by rudy Date posted on April 16, 2011

European Union (EU) officials yesterday announced they would provide an initial fund of 35 million euro to help poor Filipinos gain free access to contraceptives and strongly backed the controversial Reproductive Health bill, which has been vehemently opposed by the dominant Roman Catholic Church.

The Philippine government needs to address its population growth more effectively like other Asian countries to be able to better deal with the problem of poverty, which has forced many job-seeking Filipinos to leave the country, the officials said.

“We’ve always taken our rights-based approach saying that, unequivocally, with no hesitation at all, we support access to modern family planning,” Nicholas Taylor, head of operations section of the EU Delegation to the Philippines, said in a news conference. “Hear my words, access.”

In a strong advocacy that could earn the ire of the local Catholic church, the EU officials urged the free provision of contraceptives specially to the rural poor, saying making them pay for pills and other family planning methods is “silly.”

“If you find in some rural health units there are modern contraceptives available, say birth control pills but the municipal health officer would say you have to pay P5 a time, that is a denial of access to very poor people,” Taylor said.

“The issues become ways of helping by working to ensure that service delivery happens through the provision of the actual commodities and making sure that silly things like unnecessary usage charges are not imposed on the poor,” he added.

Jöern Dosch, leader of the EU’s cooperation program evaluation team on the Philippines, said “other countries in the region are much more advanced in this regard in terms of addressing population growth.”

“In terms of population growth, that is certainly an issue in the Philippines and it needs to be addressed at some point,” Dosch said. “There might be a sustainable solution to the problem and this of course is directly related to poverty. That’s the challenge.”

Taylor said the government can promote family planning and access to contraceptives better “if the Reproductive Health bill is passed because that gives a legal framework for driving it much more effectively.”

The Catholic church has strongly opposed the so-called RH bill, which is now pending in the House of Representatives, saying the bill promotes abortion, which is banned under the Philippine Constitution.

While abortion is condemned to high heavens by local Catholic church, EU officials said it is a practice that can be accepted or rejected depending on each country’s laws and beliefs.

“I don’t want you to confuse family planning with abortion. They are two completely separate things. Abortion is complicated because country by country there are different laws,” Taylor said. “For me family planning is a human rights issue. Abortion is a moral issue and we all have different views on this.”

The EU, he explained, cannot interfere in local legislation, but said it can support the civil society, which has been pushing for the RH bill’s passage in the House of Representatives.

The EU officials spoke in a news conference, where they evaluated development projects in the Philippines from 2002 to 2009 and 2006 to 2013. They said that starting this year, EU’s assistance will focus more on helping the country reform its health sector, specifically mentioning a target to improve public access to contraceptives.

Health sector has become the EU’s primary focus in the Philippines. Total grants committed by the EU to health care reforms in the country has already reached 45 million euro since 2006.

Taylor said this program is a reaffirmation of the EU’s commitment to contribute to the attainment of health-related United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with regard to maternal and child health.

The Philippine government has committed itself to the MDG and among these goals require that maternal and child mortality are reduced and that people generally have effective access to reproductive health services.

Apart from its support for Philippine health reforms, the EU is one of the country’s largest providers of development assistance and aid, particularly in Mindanao. It has provided support to alleviate the plight of tens of thousands of villagers displaced by the fighting between government troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels.

President Aquino has expressed support for the RH bill, but earned criticisms from the Philippine church and pro-life groups.

Acquiescing to the church position, Aquino came up with a sanitized version of the RH bill, called the Responsible Parenthood (RP) bill.

Aquino said his five-pronged RP policy has “common grounds” with the conservative views of the Catholic Church since it does not target a specific population growth but is more focused on the idea of responsible parenting.

Among the provisions that was included in the five-pronged RP policy is the distribution of free contraceptives to poor couples that would go side by side with the government’s information drive about family planning in poverty-stricken communities.

The EU officials mentioned that in the Philippines, the national government does not provide funding for contraceptives, citing a policy by former President Arroyo. They said, however, that local governments can still do that.  –Michaela P. del Callar, Daily Tribune

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