It took 14 years for our lawmakers to pass the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RRPH or RH Law). And, finally earlier this year, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order 12 (EO 12), so the RH law can, at last, be enforced. That has not happened.
The Supreme Court (SC) issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on contraceptive implants, Implanon and Implanon XT, based on a complaint that it could cause abortions. When the Department of Health (DOH) moved to lift the TRO, the SC rejected it in August 2015, and it even imposed stricter provisions on its decision.
According to Elizabeth Angsioco of The Manila Standard, the TRO effectively bans the DOH and all public hospitals and health centers from buying, distributing artificial contraceptives in the country, and not just the two implants cited in the complaint. The SC's August decision also imposed that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives RH law opponents a say in the decision-making process when it comes to registration and certifications of hormonal contraceptives. With the SC ruling, anti-RH law groups could effectively question and appeal the FDA's decisions.
"Even without hearings, I was told by people in the know that registering a particular contraceptive still took more than a year," Angsioco wrote in her column. Given how long it took for the RH law to be passed, it's safe to assume that registration and certification of new contraceptive drugs would have a similar time frame.
A motion to reconsider filed by the DOH and the FDA is still pending with the SC, while contraceptives in the country are slowly running out. According to data provided by Commission on Population (POPCOM), 31 percent (or about 15 brands) of contraceptive certifications have already expired as of December 2016. Another 31 percent will end by this year and 29 percent in 2018 for a total of 91 percent. By 2020, only two percent of certifications will be valid. Women would have to settle for natural methods or condoms soon.
"What we are seeing now (in the market) are just existing stock that will eventually run out. By 2018, there will hardly be any more brands left, and by 2020, there will be no more contraceptive brands available unless the Supreme Court lifts its TRO,” said Dr. Juan Antonio Perez, POPCOM executive director, tells PhilStar.com.
Dr. Perez added that only four of the 48 brands on contraceptives today will remain in the market before the end of 2018. If you're familiar with how hormonal contraceptives works, it would be hard to imagine that all Pinays would be "hiyang" to those four brands. Worst, the lack of supply could trigger a significant increase in population, maternal deaths, and unwanted pregnancies, Dr. Perez says.
"More than 13 million Filipino women will be affected," Romeo Dongeto, head of advocacy group Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) tells Newsdeeply.com. It could also worsen teen pregnancies (the Philippines remains the only Asian country where teen pregnancy continues to be high).
Yes, the country is running out of birth control not just for the poor women also for the women who can spend for it. "In a worst case scenario, you will have to get your birth control supplies from abroad or get [them] locally for an astronomical price through the black market. That will not only be expensive, but potentially dangerous because no one regulates the black market to ensure that products are safe," writes Ana P. Santos in Cosmo.ph.
Unwanted pregnancies aren't the only concern with the lack of birth control. What may have been lost in translation to the general public is the hormonal contraceptives do not exist solely for family planning. Women who suffer from reproductive health issues, from irregular menstrual periods and menstrual cramps to endometriosis and polycystic ovarian symptoms, also need these pills. The last two conditions significantly affect women's chances of having kids, and hormonal pills could help them conceive.
Until the SC decides to lift the TRO and reverse its August 2015 decision, the implementation of the RH Law will remain on paper.
What can you do to help the cause? Sign the petition here, make your voices heard on social media to make the issue relevant, or support and volunteer with non-government organizations that support reproductive women's health.