President Rodrigo Duterte and the entire Cabinet agreed last Monday, March 4, that it is time to get serious on reproductive health and family planning, auspiciously as the country celebrates Women’s Month.

Not since the administration of Fidel Ramos (1992-1998) has the National Program Family Planning had such prominence. National Economic and Development Authority Secretary (NEDA) Ernesto Pernia, the Chair of the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM), got the President’s consent for POPCOM and the Department of Health to intensify and expand the Family Planning (FP) program in the next four years.

The approved program will nearly double the number of women and men practicing FP from 6.5 million to 11.3 million. POPCOM in particular is expected to provide information to over 2 million women and couples every year for the next four years. With support from the Department of Health (DOH), Local government units (LGU), population and health workers will provide FP services to at least 1 million women and men every year. POPCOM will also work with NGOs, faith-based organizations and private health providers to assist local governments in the program.

While the FP program will continue to prioritize the poorest Filipinos who are in greatest need for FP, POPCOM will also open new service points for workers, farmers, fisherfolk and marginalized populations who have not been covered by public health service providers.

As an initial step, NEDA, DOH and POPCOM signed a Joint Memorandum Circular 2019-1 last February 15 aimed at addressing the needs of the country’s growing population and its impact on social and economic development through a co-managed (by DOH and POPCOM) and harmonized National Program on Population and Family Planning (NPPFP).

Population growth rate has seen a decline in past years but the number of Filipinos is still increasing given its large population base and a fertility rate which has remained the highest in the ASEAN region, the 2018 State of the World Population Report revealed.

The plan gave utmost importance to the gap between wanted and actual number of children and the consistently high unmet need for family planning among adolescents aged 15 to 19. According to the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), Filipino women, on average, have one child more than they intended; and the figures are highest among women from the lowest wealth quintile and lowest educational attainment. Unmet need for family planning has also increased since the 2008 NDHS, with vital registration records revealing more than 200,000 births per year from adolescents aged 10-19.

The government’s intensification of its family planning program aims for an increased usage of modern contraceptives, from 40 percent to 65 percent of women of reproductive age 15-49 years old by 2022. This could benefit 11.3 million Filipino women and “promote better health and socioeconomic development,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement. While the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law has made significant strides in addressing the needs of the population since its passage in 2012, there is still a lot of work to be done to enable women and couples to achieve their desired number of children.

The approval of the plan comes in time for the celebration of national women’s month. Women’s role in national development is further highlighted as POPCOM continues to empower women and couples to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

This year, as in the past years, POPCOM has joined the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) in celebrating the month of March as National Women’s Month. Since 2017 and until 2022, PCW has given strong emphasis on the contributions of women to national change, embodied in the theme: “We Make Change Work for Women.”

POPCOM will ensure that this change will happen by providing an enabling environment to engage women and provide proper programs and policies for their benefit.

POPCOM Undersecretary Dr. Juan A. Antonio Perez III said, “POPCOM’s 50 years of service has been anchored on women and their active roles in both the private sphere of the home and in the public sphere of the workplace. During this Women’s Month, which coincides with the launching of the national family planning program, we honor the women who have become the backbone of our population advocacies. Time has since proven that, given the right information and services, they can be whoever they want to be— doctors, educators, scientists, leaders and mothers.”

“Empowered women will be the boon of our efficiency and the catalysts to the achieve happy, healthy and empowered Filipino families and communities,” Usec Perez concluded. ###