Contraception ban in Bataan
By ANA SANTOS
After affluent Alabang, local politicians shut down access of women in poor communities to contraceptives
She and her husband already have three children and with his measly earnings, they cannot afford another one.
“My husband is a fisherman and does not have a steady income. Sometimes he can earn as much as P500 a day. On a bad day, [he earns] only P100, and on a really bad day, nothing. And me, I am just a housewife.”
For her contraception needs, Maricel would go to the local health clinic in Balanga, Bataan for a hormonal injection that would prevent her from getting pregnant for at least three months.
But Maricel has not been able to get a shot since August. She was told that the local health clinic could no longer administer injectables since an ordinance was passed banning all forms of modern contraception in seven barangays in Bataan, including her own.
Desperate, Maricel went to the local drugstore to buy birth control pills or condoms, but found none for sale. Commercial drug stores have also been banned from selling them.
In March of this year, Barangay Ordinance No. 3, which banned the sale of modern forms of contraception, was passed in seven barangays in Bataan: Puerto Rivas Itaas, Puerto Rivas Ibaba, Puerto Rivas Lote, Tortugas, Cupang Proper, Cupang West and Tanato.
The ordinance which was written in Filipino is entitled “Protection of the Life and Safety of the Unborn”.
Newsbreak was able to secure a copy of the Tortugas ordinance, which explicitly defines abortifacients as any device, medication or substance that harms, puts in harm’s way or causes the death of an unborn child. The ordinance further lists IUDs and hormonal contraception like birth control pills as abortifacients.
It also states that condoms promote promiscuity among the youth and infidelity among married couples.
Persons engaged in the promotion, sale, prescription, advertisement of these forms of contraception are going to be fined between P200-P400 for a first offense and a maximum of P1,000 for their third offense.
If a commercial establishment violates any of the provisions, the president or chief executive officer will be made to pay the fine. In addition, their barangay permit to operate will be revoked.
Furthermore, it states that barangay budgets will be spent only on promoting natural family planning methods among those who are married or those who are planning to get married.
‘Nothing to give’
Dominga Manalang, a health worker who has worked in Balanga since the 1970s, says that because of the ban, they have had to curtail their services.
“It was our standard practice to reach out to the women in the community with four or more children and proactively educate them about family planning options,” explains Manalang.
“There are many women asking us for contraceptives, but we have nothing to give them. We have always taught all forms of family planning and left it up to the women to decide what method is right for them,” she adds.
But many women would chose modern forms of contraception because “periodic abstinence is not advisable for some women who don’t see their husbands regularly or whose husbands will not take no for an answer when it comes to sex.”
Manalang says that even without the ban, contraceptive supplies have been erratic. The ban has only further exacerbated the problem.
And it is women like Maricel who pay the price.
According to Maricel, she and her husband had originally wanted to have only two children. “But I would sometimes go to the clinic when it’s time for my injection only to be told there is no supply. I think that’s why I got pregnant with the youngest who is three years old.”
Now, there are no supplies at all, and as Maricel found out, no supplies even to be bought.
According to the National Statistical Coordination
Board, poor families are larger than non-poor families by more than one member. On the average, 21 out of every 100 poor families had at least 7 members in 2003 compared to only 6 among the non-poor.
A study entitled, “Unmet Need for Contraception in the Philippines” done by US-based reproductive health think tank, Guttmacher Institute found that Filipino women are having more children than they want, especially among poor women.
Guttmacher works to advance sexual and reproductive health through research and policy analysis. In the case of the Philippines, Guttmacher states that in 2008, an estimated 1.3 million pregnancies were unintended and these occurred among women who were not using any contraceptive method at all.
The most commonly used methods of contraception were the pill and female sterilization, accounting for more than two-thirds of all contraceptive use in the Philippines. Natural family planning methods were least used.
Adoracion dela Pena is a Bataan-based field officer of Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP), a national federation of grassroots community women’s organizations working towards the passage of the RH Bill and the advancement of women’s rights.
Dela Pena shared with Newsbreak the results of a series of interviews with barangay officers (kagawad). Dela Pena found that barangay officers from the seven barangays were asked by the city government to attend a seminar about reproductive health. During the seminar, they were shown videos of babies being aborted, and were told that this is a result of contraception like hormonal birth control pills and IUDs.
They were made to understand that if they are against abortion, they should sign the ordinance. Then they were told about the barangay’s plans to pass an ordinance to prevent this from happening.
Barangay Puerto Rivas official Angol Diaz was one of the barangay officials interviewed by dela Pena. Diaz said that he just signed the ordinance without really understanding what it was about because he was told that it was an urgent bill that needed to be passed.
In an interview with Newsbreak, barangay official Wilfredo Reyes admitted that he had not even read the entire ordinance but still signed it, not being fully aware of its implications.
Balanga Mayor Joet Garcia was not available for comment on the issue, but Mayor Joel Payumo of Dinalupihan of a neighboring municipality who supported the passage of the barangay ordinance, told Newsbreak in a telephone interview: “Our religious beliefs were factored in drafting this ordinance. That was more important. It is the responsibility of parents to plan for their families. Local government funds are best spent and kept elsewhere [rather than family planning]. Anyway, they are free to buy their choice of contraceptives from other places, and can easily do so. Just not in our part of Bataan.”
The Alabang experience
The ordinance is very similar to one that was passed in the affluent community of Ayala Alabang at the beginning of the year.
In that case, condoms could not be purchased without a prescription. Residents led by former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, Lea Salonga and Senator Pia Cayetano mobilized protests, calling it an infraction of their right to choice and a clear invasion of their privacy.
The ordinance was eventually overturned. But it may not be as simple for Bataan.
Elizabeth Angsioco, chair of the DSWP, explains: “The communities in Bataan are small fishing communities. These are simple people who are scared to question this. Plus, it is the city government itself pushing for its implementation, which has far reaching consequences. They can, for example, impose such things withdrawing your business license if you sell condoms.”
“This really highlights the importance of the Reproductive Health Bill. Without national legislation, RH policies will remain to be based on the personal beliefs and whims of those in power rather than the good of their constituents.”
And unlike Alabang, there has been no such uproar in Bataan simply because the residents are scared. “In the absence of a critical mass who are willing to stand up to this ordinance, the issue has not been getting enough attention,” says Angsioco.
And women like Maricel will continue to anxiously wait, their fear about an feeding and raising another child not getting the attention it deserves.
Editor’s Note: The author is founder of sexandsensibilities.com. This is part of a research project with Newsbreak.