The Philippines comprises more than 7,100 islands that support a population of more than 88 million. The island setting enables a vibrant fishing and farming industry, but natural disasters, such as tropical storms and volcanic eruptions, remain threats.
Repeated political crises have fostered an active and organized civil unrest, which has ultimately been responsible for the ousting of two governments in the past two decades. Islamic secessionist insurgents present a continuous threat of violence in the Philippines, particularly in some of the remote islands, and the U.S. has recently stepped in with support to the government as part of the "War on Terror."
Unequal land distribution has led to deeply entrenched poverty in rural areas, which lack adequate health care facilities and the road infrastructure to allow access to services elsewhere. Thus, life in the Philippines differs dramatically depending on whether one lives in a major city or in its poorer outskirts. On average, the poorest women in the Philippines will have nearly seven births per lifetime as compared to just two births per lifetime among women more well-off.
Although life expectancy and literacy rates are relatively high overall, access to health care remains an outstanding public health problem for everyone. In 2000, there were approximately 1,700 people for every one doctor.
Although access to health care is better in urban than in rural areas, an executive order discouraging modern methods of contraception in Manila in 2000 has gravely affected the human and reproductive rights of women, with dangerous consequences. Executive Order 003, which promotes the use of "natural family planning methods" over "artificial" ones, has shut down family planning clinics and all but stopped the distribution of contraceptives.
The virtual ban is part of the broader strategy of the present administration, which has continued to re-allocate public funding away from the provision of contraceptives for this rapidly-growing population. These harmful policies mean that unintended pregnancy and the spread of STIs, including HIV/AIDS, are growing problems. The use of modern contraception has been stagnant at just 36 percent for several years, contributing to the Philippines having one of the highest rates of fertility in all of Southeast Asia.
PPFA in the Philippines
Since abortion is illegal in the Philippines except to save a woman's life, and is highly stigmatized within this largely Catholic society, many women suffer the devastating effects of unsafe abortion. There are an estimated 473,000 abortions performed each year, many of which are illegal and unsafe, and which result in the hospitalization of 79,000 women.
In the Philippines, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) works to improve contraceptive use among adolescents and youth through peer education and outreach programs, and reduce the rate of maternal death and disability by increasing access to comprehensive and quality post-abortion services.
Since 1971, PPFA has been working with partner organizations in the Philippines to increase the provision of youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health care services, including peer counseling programs in which youths increase their awareness and encourage each other to make responsible reproductive health choices. PPFA's work also involves training doctors and mid-level providers in post-abortion care to ensure that women have access to safe and quality services.
PPFA's programs in the Philippines are expanding fast, with programs such as the Reproductive Health Program for Street Children and Yo! LEAD, which are dedicated to reproductive health peer education and peer leadership programs for underserved and out-of-school youth in areas like Metro Manila.
The Prevention and Management of Abortion Complications project, implemented by Likhaan — one of the country's key women's rights organizations — trains private and public health care workers to provide comprehensive post-abortion care services for women suffering from complications from unsafe abortions. The project also enables the provision of gender-sensitive and rights-based quality information and services to Filipina women, and thereby serves as an important vehicle for reproductive rights advocacy in the Philippines.