The close of January saw the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, sign an executive order that would provide six million women of the island nation free reproductive services and contraception through the government. The executive order was enacted as a means to place into immediate action a pre-existing law that codified the same policies as the president’s order. The subject of numerous debates and votes extending over the space of 13 years, this law was finally accepted as a part of the Philippine’s legal code in 2012.
During the nearly decade and a half that the bill struggled to be put into law, its staunchest opposition issued from the church hierarchy, as well as lawmakers and anticontraception groups allied with the Vatican’s policies—the combined force of which filed several petitions with the country’s Supreme Court to block specific portions of the law over the years. President Duterte’s order sought, in part, to remove the obstructions placed on the law by the petitions and rulings, namely the prohibition of procurement, distribution and sale of birth control implants on the part of the nation’s Health Department.
While the president has framed the executive order as an antipoverty measure, many see it as another round in an ongoing battle between the Catholic bishops and Duterte. In a country where close to 80 percent of the population identifies as Catholic, Duterte has accused the clergy of keeping mistresses, pedophilia, corruption and graft; has generally referred to the church as “the most hypocritical institution”; and has specifically referred to Pope Francis as a son of a whore.
Despite this, surveys carried out by Pulse Asia indicate that Duterte’s stance on reproductive health is viewed favorably by the populace, with 86 percent of citizens in favor of government-backed reproductive healthcare services.