Progress on Reproductive Health in the Philippines

One year after the publication of a groundbreaking United Nations report that held the Philippine government accountable for grave and systematic reproductive rights violations, there are signs of measured but significant progress in the country.

A press release issued last month by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (PCHR) indicates that the Commission has launched a national inquiry on reproductive health and rights—the first nationwide inquiry since its establishment.

The 2015 UN report, from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), placed the Philippines under substantial global scrutiny for its failure to implement the country’s Reproductive Health Law. Passed in 2012, the law guarantees access to contraceptives for all citizens, mandates reproductive health education in government schools, and recognizes a woman's right to post-abortion care.

CEDAW also provided a broad set of recommendations to promote women’s reproductive rights—covering contraception, abortion, post-abortion care, and access to justice, among other issues.

While the Philippine government did not officially accept the Committee’s report, the PCHR inquiry—which involves fact-finding missions and public hearings in five different areas in the country to gather accounts and testimonies on women’s access to reproductive health services—is an important step to further examining violations of women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

As Filipinos gear up to vote in a general election for national and local posts on May 9, women’s reproductive health has played a central role in the country’s debates and political conversations, with a number of candidates calling for full implementation of the 2012 law. A survey this year indicated that 95% of Filipinos believe family planning is important, and 86% believe it is the government’s responsibility to fund family planning services.

The CEDAW report that prompted this national inquiry resulted from a 2008 Center for Reproductive Rights request asking the Committee to investigate violations of women’s reproductive rights in Manila prompted by a ban on modern contraceptives from local health centers, clinics, and hospitals.

The Committee’s findings of state accountability and the local responses to date reflect the essential role that international mechanisms can play in making states fulfill their obligations under international human rights treaties and agreements.