Manila admits RH violation under former mayor Atienza

MANILA, Philippines – For the first time since the release of a United Nations (UN) committee report, the city of Manila admitted that a 2000 ordinance issued by former mayor Lito Atienza violated women's reproductive health (RH) rights. 

At a roundtable forum led by advocacy groups Center for Reproductive Rights and EnGendeRights on Monday, June 29, Acting City Health Officer Benjamin Yson admitted that Atienza's Executive Order (EO) 003 led to "some violation" of women's rights to access RH services and commodities.

"Of course, we’re not going against the notion that there was grave and systematic violation of women's rights. What we would not argue against is 003 – definitely there were some violation of women's rights or access...to certain services and commodities...supposedly necessary for their everyday reproductive rights," Yson said.

In April 2015, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) found the Philippine government accountable for tolerating EO 003 and 030 under former Manila mayors Lito Atienza and Alfredo Lim, respectively.

EO 003 discouraged the use of artificial methods of contraception, while EO 030 imposed a funding ban on modern contraceptives.

But Yson defended EO 030 because, according to him, it came about because of the need to change EO 003. 

"What was prevailing then was a budget deficit, which means that priority areas in health would have to be given attention…the funding ban is due to a budget deficit, and not to make artificial commodities not available to those who need it," Yson explained.

Express repeal

On Monday, CRR urged the city of Manila to execute an "express repeal" of the two ordinances that "gravely" and "systematically" violated women's rights. 

But Yson pointed out that EO 030 already revoked EO 003, while the RH law – which was declared constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2014 – is "above" EO 030. (READ: A year after the RH law, why the silence?)

Melissa Sena from the Department of Health's (DOH) Family Planning Program said because of the repealing clause of the RH law, "there's no need for official declaration from Manila revoking EO3 and EO30."

Still, CRR Legal Fellow for Asia Jihan Jacob insisted there is a need for another EO that will revoke the two existing city ordinances.

This is to prevent "inspiring" other restrictive ordinances, like Sorsogon City's EO 3 signed in February declaring the city as "pro-life."

According to CRR, "pro-life" trainings for health care providers and government officials in the city discuss that "contraception is the gateway to abortion." 

"Ang hinihingi natin express repeal para malinaw na wala na, kasi 'pag implied, subject to interpretation pa rin yun. Pero 'pag express, wala nang pag-aawayan," Jacob explained.

(What we're asking for is an express repeal so that it's clear the ordinances no longer take effect, because if it's implied, that's subject to interpretation. If it's express, there won't be any cause for arguments.)

'Progress'

Despite the CEDAW report, the health department said progress has been made in providing RH services both in the national level and in Manila.

For the first time in history, DOH's Family Planning Program is procuring condoms. This is on top of the usual condoms procurement under the National HIV/STI Prevention Program.

"We don't just provide for modern, artificial methods, but also for modern, natural family planning methods," Sena shared.

Meanwhile, Yson announced the city of Manila will put a budget for artificial commodities in 2016.

"Actually, marami kaming condoms, but ito po ay lahat tulong ng national Department of Health, kaya po di kami nag-aalala sa aming mga supply," he said.

(Actually we have a lot of condoms, but these are all from the national Department of Health, which is why we don't worry about supply.)

They are also training at least 70 health workers on providing RH services and commodities.

"We have been left behind, admittedly left behind for the past several years since 2000, so we have a catch up period with regards to technology, information," Yson added. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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