Manila an “anti-birth-control dystopia”

At least, that is how it is described in the words of Carol Lloyd, blogger on women’s issues at Due to the centuries as a Spanish colony, The Philippines is a firmly Catholic country-one in which the Church holds a level of influence rarely seen in the western world. Although the Catholic Church has oddly never managed to have any appreciable effect on the Philippines endemic Southeast Asian liberalism towards homosexuality and gender identity, they have managed to keep abortion illegal in all circumstances but to save the life of the mother. (More information on abortion in SE Asia here.) Although pre-conception birth control remains legal throughout The Philippines, in 2000 conservative Catholic Mayor Jose “Lito” Atienza of Manila issued an executive order removing all contraception from free clinics within the city. Many women in the desperately poor slums of Manila find it impossible to fit contraception in with food and other basic needs into their family budget, which has the eventual effect of a larger and even harder to feed family. This is what has women living in three urban slums to file a lawsuit demanding revocation of the order. From Reuters:

Emma Monzaga, one of the petitioners, said she was getting injections once every three months to prevent her from becoming pregnant, but was told on her third visit to a public clinic that the treatment was no longer available. “I was asked to go somewhere else to get the shots because the city hall has stopped funding the family planning program,” Monzaga said, adding her family could not afford to spend extra for contraceptives. “We used to get it for free. It’s becoming a burden because we have to eat and send our six children to school.” She said she has given up the idea of saving some money from her husband’s 300 pesos ($7) daily wage as a construction worker to pay for the vaccines because of rising cost of basic needs.

Amazingly, it took almost eight years before a local NGO managed to file the lawsuit “because the women feared political reprisals.” Unsurprisingly, there is now a different mayor in charge, and many hope that he will revoke the previous order without the need for the lawsuit to proceed. The Center for Reproductive Rights has a 50 page report, full of testimony, on the issue entitled “Imposing Misery: The Impact of Manila’s Contraception Ban on Women and Families,” which may be downloaded in PDF from their website at the above link. The report claims that the executive order violates the Republic’s 1987 constitution, stating:

The 1987 Philippine Constitution guarantees the
rights to liberty, health, equality, information and education for all citizens,
as well as the right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their
personal religious convictions. These basic principles, reinforced by
several pieces of legislation, create the foundation under national law for a
right to reproductive health, including access to contraception. [p. 9]

The report suggests that “The Manila City government should revoke Executive Order No. 003” as well as various further plans. [p. 11]

While many people look at issues such as these primarily in terms of individual rights and their effect on individuals and families, it is critical to consider the broader picture as well.

The Philippines today has a population of just under 90 million, a staggering number of whom live in poverty. I can attest from my own visit to the country that the cities are clogged with slums, illegal shanty-towns line the rivers and fill public parks, and the ratio of the population with no gainful employment appears to be easily several times that of anyplace else I have ever been. I have even heard that the unemployment rate in Metro Manila may be almost 50%.

Without high quality and aggressive family planning, that 90 million could nearly double in a generation- and the country’s scarce economic resources would be stretched even thinner. Could the unemployment rate rise even above 50%? Will The Philippines be plunged into a Malthusian crisis like Bangladesh or parts of Africa? Lack of birth control is hardly the only factor that has made Manila, and many other third-world regions, into dystopias, but it is one.