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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Rise in births in RP feared with phase-out of US program

Associated Press
Last updated 00:15am (Mla time) 08/15/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine government is unprepared for the phase-out of a contraceptive donation program by the United States, which could mean high population growth, maternal deaths, and abortion, family planning advocates said Tuesday.

The US Agency for International Development began phasing out its 30-year program to donate condoms and birth control in 2003 and will complete it next year.

The government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo promotes natural family planning in line with the stand of the dominant Catholic Church, officials said.

The Philippine Congress has allocated 1P80 million (US$3.9 million) for family planning this year, but guidelines for the funds' release to local governments have not yet been approved, private groups said.

Benjamin de Leon, head of The Forum for Family Planning and Development, Inc., said the money was needed to bring down infant and maternal mortality.

About 473,000 abortions, or a third of 1.4 million unplanned pregnancies, occur in the country yearly, said Rena Dona, a UN Population Fund official.

Two out of five women who want to use contraceptives don't have access to them, Dona told a forum on family planning.

A UN study showed the country needs about US$2 million for contraceptives yearly from 2007 to 2010 to provide them free or at subsidized prices to the poor.

Alberto Romualdez, a former health secretary, doubts the budget for family planning would be available anytime soon, and fears a rise in population.

"The problem is that the conservative elements of the church hierarchy seem to have the upper hand in getting access to the President's ear, that is why her policies reflect the extreme conservatism of those who oppose any kind of family planning," he added.

The government estimates the Philippine population has topped 88 million, with a growth rate of slightly less than two percent.

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RP not ready for phase-out of US contraceptive aid (Malaya)
Uncontrolled Population Growth (Manila Bulletin)