In 2012, the late former President Benigno S. Aquino III signed Republic Act 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RH) Act of 2012, popularly known as the RH Law, giving rise to improved access to and awareness of reproductive healthcare and family planning.
While efforts have been made to raise public awareness and to debunk misconceptions about the law, there has been a lack of large-scale campaigns to specifically promote reproductive healthcare, as most are largely focused on health promotion in general.
With the legislation’s 10-year anniversary this 2022, its mission of making Filipinos more open to reproductive health discussions seem to still be a far reach.
RH Law for the people
RH Law guarantees to uphold the rights and welfare of families, women, the youth, children, and the unborn while also promoting gender equality, gender equity, and women empowerment and dignity in addressing reproductive healthcare. It vows to promote reproductive healthcare services and resources and to dispel any form of discrimination surrounding the exercise of one’s reproductive health rights.
The law’s benefits cover not only family planning but also access to contraceptive methods. Considering Duterte’s declaration in June 2021 of considering the teenage pregnancy crisis a national priority, the law is especially significant in educating adolescents about safe sex.
In that regard, Amarela—a reproductive healthcare advocacy organization—discusses that given proper and effective implementation, the law could provide Filipinos with quality and accessible resources, knowledge, and decision-making skills regarding reproductive health and safe and consensual sex. “If executed properly, the current RH Law can definitely empower our youth with a better perception of themselves, of relationships, and of their reproductive rights,” states the organization.
Adding to Amarela’s sentiments, healthcare startup Ivy comments, “If implemented properly, the RH Law can help lower the high rates of teen pregnancy in the Philippines by guaranteeing that young Filipinos have access to family planning resources.” “The law must promote informed decision-making through sex education,” they assert.
A study from the Philippine Institute for Development Studies conducted last March 2021 cites that while the Department of Health is expected to conduct and implement certain health promotion programs and policies, their Health Promotion and Communication Services unit admits that they have not executed any RH Law-centered initiatives.
Furthermore, it was discovered through the study that communication between the Department of Education (DepEd) and teachers regarding the delivery of sex education modules still needs improvement.
Despite the enactment of Executive Order No. 12 that directs DepEd to integrate Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in the K-12 curriculum, several teachers reported that they were not provided any training related to the said integration. It was previously agreed upon that CSE would be integrated into subjects such as Science, Edukasyon sa Pagpapakatao, and Music, Arts, Physical Education, and Health. They also added that the lack of curriculum guides and learning materials to aid the cultural orientation of other teachers, students, and families to the topic would be challenging as well.
Due to the information gap surrounding reproductive healthcare and the RH Law’s provisions, many Filipinos are still unaware and unreceptive of its benefits. For instance, a nationwide survey conducted by the DKT Philippines Foundation from June to July 2021 found that among 500 unmarried, sexually active young women yielded that 68 percent of them had engaged in unsafe sex, with three out of four being unaware of emergency contraceptive pills.
However, the dissemination of reproductive health information and providing access to reproductive health services is not limited to government agencies but extends to non governmental organizations (NGOs). Ivy, Amarela, and Likhaan Center for Women’s Health Inc. are examples of NGOs in the country that aim to create a space where Filipinos can openly discuss sex education and gender equality, while also providing access to contraceptives and reproductive health care services.
Furthermore, they release publications through their social media platforms with information that have been verified by medical professionals.
Amarela and Ivy emphasize the need to include reproductive health topics in a curriculum that is free of bias and prejudice. “They should take a holistic, science-based approach that covers topics like consent and sexuality,” Ivy expresses.
Seeking more (re)productive discussions
Cariece Antonio, co-founder of sex education platform Now Open, highlights that while statistics are a significant basis, data is still limited as there may not be sufficient representation of participants with varying socioeconomic classes, educational backgrounds, religious affiliations, and access to information. Meanwhile, both Ivy and Amarela state that the lack of information poses threats to Filipinos’ well-being.
The two organizations also share their sentiments toward mixed views of Filipinos on discussing topics related to reproductive health. Ivy raises that there are still reservations among younger Filipinos, which they believe can lead to “dangerous consequences”, such as not knowing when or where to seek medical help when needed. Amarela also cautions that looking into the internet conversations about these topics is insufficient to determine Filipinos’ current perspectives regarding reproductive health.
“If there were any reproductive health related concerns [on] my end, I would simply have conversations with my friends or search on the internet on credible news sites, journal articles, and trusted documentaries,” Katkat Ignacio (IV, ECM) states. “It is baffling that such pertinent information is not widespread among institutions since it can be harmful to simply believe what we see online,” she concludes.
Moreover, Amarela notes that the lack of knowledge rids us of the right to call on legislators to “properly give us the services and changes the law promises,” and that it hinders us from educating others. “The RH Law can drastically improve the lives of men and women through the power of informed choice but people cannot be empowered to exercise rights [when] they do not even know [what] they are entitled to,” Ivy adds.
Meanwhile, Ignacio suggests, “There should be a way to make it easier for all types of people to understand [the law, such as those belonging to different socioeconomic statuses], academic backgrounds, and age groups.”
Ignacio also notes that sex education may not be as comprehensive enough, given conservative ways of delivering such modules in religious schools. “In my opinion, [the RH Law] should be taught in all schools in the Philippines, no matter the affiliation of the school,” adds Ethan Rupisan (IV, BS-MEEMTE).
While the country is beginning to see progress in how Filipinos regard and perceive reproductive health, there are existing provisions in the RH law that still need to be revised, especially issues surrounding the growing concern for teenage pregnancies, spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and general lack of awareness toward existing reproductive health programs.
Continuous coordinated effort between government agencies, coupled with the efforts exerted by NGOs, can hopefully someday provide safe spaces for Filipinos to discuss their reproductive health concerns without prejudice or shame. But until then, there is much more work to do.