• [Image: Brayant Gonzales]

    Brayant Gonzales


    Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP)

    “Since the Philippines is the only Catholic country in Asia (the nearest other such country is East Timor), the Church really asserts its doctrines there, including during elections every three years. They emphasize that we shouldn’t vote for politicians who support family planning. But the last survey on this issue, in 2002, showed that many young people are becoming less religious, especially those in urban areas, who don’t tend to go to mass or are not really practicing their religion.”

    “Reproductive health commodities, such as contraception, are not free in the Philippines, not even from Government clinics. Some local governments do make them available at a cost, but young people don’t have much income and are dependent on their parents until about age 24. So they simply can’t buy contraception. Also, if you are unmarried in the Philippines, it’s a taboo to have sex, so asking your parents for money to buy contraception is out of the question.”

    “We had one government-provided family planning clinic in my city, which was located in the compound of the city hall. This was totally inaccessible to young people – they wouldn’t really do business in the city! My idea of a youth centre is that it should be accessible, maybe by locating it in a school or within a shopping mall … but in the city hall?”

    “There was a programme initiated by the Ministry of Health and Population Office in the early 2000s, which involved setting up youth centres in every town through local government units. That wasn’t sustainable, though: within two years all the youth centres were gone. Many of the centres we have now are set up by reproductive health organzations rather than the Government. There’s an organization that has initiated a social franchising model youth centre, and sold it to local governments, and I think about ten local government units have used that model, and I think now there are only two existing youth centres that are using it. They offer counseling and information, but not supplies. So there’s really a disconnect: these centres just provide counselling and information, and people have to get the supplies they need at a pharmacy or a private clinic.”

    “The Family Planning Association of the Philippines has 25 chapters, all of which are clinics providing services, such as counseling, as well as contraceptives. However, we still seek donations for our commodities because we have to recover the costs. Although the contraceptives we get from IPPF are free, when the shipments arrive in the Philippines we have to pay taxes on them of around 12%. For us to be exempt from paying these taxes, we have to be included in the law that mandates such exemption, but we’re not.”

    “Youth centres are not necessarily the best model for providing services to young people. When we provide a separate youth centre it means extra costs for personnel and infrastructure. Instead, we trained our service providers to become youth-friendly. At some of our clinics, we have even changed the façade and the name to ‘Community Health Care Centre’, so that young people would be more comfortable going to that clinic. He or she would think twice if it said ‘family planning’, because they might be single and not interested in planning a family, even though they are sexually active. These centres also have indoor games, for example, which makes it more inviting. This is one potential model for providing services to young people. Another is to have a system of peer educators, or a peer motivator who would motivate his or her friends to go to a clinic. There are pilot projects of this model now, and we have seen a rise in the number of services that we provide to young people and the number of them who attend the clinic.”

    “We sometimes meet a young client who tells us that he or she is really glad there is a service for young people. In areas where the Catholic Church really enforces its doctrine, such as in the villages, young people tell us they are really glad there is a service for them.”

    “One of our clinics provides services to young sex workers, who migrated there because of the nearby American military base. They were really happy that we operated in that area because it meant they didn’t have to go to the next city to get pap smears, contraceptives and other essential services. Many of these sex workers were young women not native to that province or village; they migrated there so were isolated from their families.”

    “Young Filipinos are really brand conscious and look for a specific brand of pills or other products that really work for them. So its important not only to ensure adequate stock of contraceptives, but to be consistent with the brand that is provided.”

    “The high unmet need for family planning in the Philippines has resulted in high levels of unsafe abortion. Although abortion is criminalized – for Catholics in the Philippines, anything that prevents the egg and sperm from meeting is an abortificent – there are around 500,000 cases on average every year, and one-third are among young people. There is a low prevalence of HIV and AIDS, but many new cases, almost half of which are in people 24 years old or younger. The documented cases are those which have been identified, but most young people have not been tested.”

    “Sexuality education is not part of the school curriculum. UNFPA tried to introduce sexuality education in the Philippines, but it was opposed by the Catholic bishops. The Minister of Education was in favour of continuing the integration of sexuality education into the curriculum, but the government changed in the past year and, once again, sexuality education has been banished. Based on a recent survey, many young people don’t have much information, for example, they believe that HIV is curable. The only sexuality education that goes on in schools relates to anatomy, and there is no discussion of HIV and AIDS. Age-appropriate sexuality education would go a long way towards reducing unwanted pregnancies, but also it would teach basic things, like preventing HIV and also safety with regard to gender-based violence.”