City of Manila Health Official Apologizes for the Denial of Reproductive Health Services and Violations Against Women

(PRESS RELEASE) This week, a Manila City Health Office official has apologized for the barriers facing women with unplanned pregnancies when seeking reproductive health services after hearing from community activists.

Dr. Benjamin Yson, acting City Health Officer of Manila, made the remarks during a convening with Philippine government officials and civil society organizations—including the Center for Reproductive Rights and EnGendeRights—to address the U.N. recommendations that the Philippines ensure universal and affordable modern contraceptives, decriminalize abortion, and implement the country’s Reproductive Health Law.

Although Dr. Yson recognized the grave and systematic rights violations suffered by women seeking reproductive health services in Manila City, he stated the government sees no need to revoke prior local policies that restricted access to modern contraceptives. Despite passing the Reproductive Health Law in 2012, other local government units have continued to introduce and implement restrictive reproductive health ordinances, including recently in Sorsogon City where a local ordinance has been relied upon to provide trainings stigmatizing contraceptives.

Said Payal Shah, senior legal adviser for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“While the health official’s apology is a welcome first step, much more needs to be done to address the injustices and harms suffered by countless women and families under Manila’s contraceptive ban.

The promise of the Reproductive Health Law must be made real for the women throughout Manila City who still face significant ongoing misinformation about contraceptive access and barriers to reproductive health care.

“The passage of the Reproductive Health Law was a victory for millions of Filipino women. The city of Manila must immediately address these strong U.N. recommendations and take action to implement the law and undo the years of suffering caused by the contraceptive ban.”

Said Clara Rita Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights:

“The City of Manila should allocate funds, source contraceptive supplies, and designate medical providers to address the prevailing reproductive rights needs of its residents particularly poor women and adolescent girls who are unaware of contraceptive methods, many of them ended up giving birth at early age even as young as 15 years old.

“Although the EOs have already been declared moot, a new EO or ordinance providing universal access to contraceptives including allocation of funds is a definitive action that clearly manifests its commitment to implement programs to implement the RH Law and the recommendations of U.N. Committee on the inquiry.”

Government representatives from the Departments of Health, Justice and Foreign Affairs, alongside the Philippine Commissions on Women, Human Rights and Population and the National Anti-Poverty Commission sat down with reproductive health groups to discuss reproductive health violations and systemic human rights violations women have faced in the Philippines for decades. These groups included Catholics for Reproductive Health, Women’s Health Care Foundation, KAKAMMPI, SAMAKANA, ZOTO, Philippine Center for Population and Development, The Forum for Family Planning and Development, Population Services Pilipinas, Inc., and PROCESS.

The reproductive health groups called for the government to implement recommendations from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (U.N. CEDAW), including by clarifying the revocation of the Manila City executive orders, introducing a mechanism for oversight of local government policies on contraceptives, establishing a local complaints mechanism where women can seek remedies for violations of their right to reproductive health care, and creating awareness and education campaigns to address misinformation and misconceptions about contraceptives as guaranteed under the Reproductive Health Law.

The Filipino government’s long-standing hostility towards modern contraception contributed to an estimated 610,000 illegal abortions in 2012, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In May 2015, U.N. CEDAW released a report criticizing the government for failing to prioritize women’s human rights over religious ideology and cultural stereotypes, which has led to widespread discrimination against women and hindered access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. For the report, designated members from U.N. CEDAW traveled to the Philippines in November 2012 to conduct the inquiry after the Center for Reproductive Rights and other NGOs raised concerns over the human rights violations women in the country were facing mainly due to Executive Order 003, which effectively banned women’s access to modern contraceptives inManila City.

The Center has worked on reproductive health issues throughout Asia, with major initiatives addressing issues ranging from maternal mortality in India to access to modern contraception in the Philippines. Residents of Manila City filed a case against the government in 2008 challenging the constitutionality of Executive Order 003 and demanding its revocation. It was quietly dismissed in 2014 after a judge determined that the case is “a moot point,” given the passage of the 2012 Reproductive Health Law. To date, women in Manila City do not have access to a full range of modern contraceptives and related information and services.

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