Various citizens’ groups announced yesterday that they are readying legal action against former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza for damages done to women and poor families by his nine-year ban on contraception in the city’s health facilities.
The devastating impact of the ban was revealed in the new fact-finding report Imposing Misery published by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Likhaan and ReproCen. Numerous interviews with ordinary women documented case after case of physical, emotional and financial woes that Manila’s poor endured after family planning supplies and services were unilaterally removed from all of the city’s health centers and hospitals. Interviews with doctors exposed cases of substandard care that they were forced to make do in handling family planning patients, including those with life-threatening conditions.
“Terrible and simply unacceptable! The health of families must never be sacrificed to the whims of anyone, especially public officials who are supposed to be servants of the people.” This was the reaction to the report by Dr. Alberto Romualdez, former Secretary of the Department of Health.
“This is one of the most devastating policies against women that we have seen in fifteen years of reproductive rights law reform,” said Luisa Cabal, Director of the International Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy group based in New York. “This report sends a clear message to policymakers: you cannot violate women’s basic human rights without being held accountable. The global community is watching.”
The heads of ReproCen and Likhaan, Atty. Elizabeth Pangalangan and Dr. Junice Melgar, raised the concern that unless sanctions are meted out and justice done, Atienza and his policy may return in three years time, or the same measures replicated elsewhere. They urged the current Manila government to publicly distance itself from the anti-poor and anti-women contraception ban and “simply exercise their newly-won mandate of good public service for all.”
“Mayor Atienza had a forced interpretation of the Constitution, which caused harm and injury to women and their families. We must exhaust our remedies under the Philippine Constitution and international human rights treaties,” said Raul Pangalangan, former Dean of the UP College of Law, in support of the call for legal sanctions.
In 2000, then Mayor Atienza issued Executive Order (EO) No. 003 “discouraging the use of artificial methods of contraception like condoms, pills, intrauterine devices, surgical sterilization, and other [methods].” This order coupled with the mayor’s well publicized stand against contraception had the effect of prohibiting all such supplies and services in Manila’s health facilities.
The 53-page report, Imposing Misery: The Impact of Manila’s Contraception Ban on Women and Families, gathered the testimonies of more than 67 individuals affected by or tasked to implement the policy: ordinary women, public and private health providers, national and local government officials and NGO members. It also studied the numerous local and international laws that the policy may have violated.
Some narratives in the report read as follows:
- In the case of one woman with eight children, her doctor had cautioned her not to get pregnant again after her fourth child…. “I had a difficult labor with my fourth child. I got dehydrated and was told that I had to undergo a caesarian section but could not for lack of money. Aware of my fragile condition, all I could do was pray…. The doctor at OM (Ospital ng Maynila) advised me not to get pregnant anymore because of my rheumatic heart condition. I wanted to have ligation but OM hasn’t been providing FP services. I was referred to Fabella Hospital but couldn’t afford the P2,000 fee.”
- [They] have five children, but don’t want to have any more for financial reasons, among others…. If they had only had three-the number they wanted to have-she thinks they could have given them a better life. … “Only the eldest and third of my children go to school. Each has five pesos to bring to school. I pity them because they go to school on an empty stomach. … I cook rice and buy P10 cooked vegetables, which the whole family shares for lunch. … Losing free supplies of contraceptive pills added a strain on our budget. Instead of buying pills, we’d rather add the money to our budget for food and other needs.”
- “Sometimes when there’s no money to buy condoms and I don’t want to have sex with my husband, he gets angry and forces me. I tell him, ‘Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? You’ve got so many kids already and we don’t have privacy.’ Our house is very small, we sleep together with the kids. Only a thin wall separates us from the neighbors and I don’t want them to hear us arguing so I just give in to what my husband wants.”
- According to the vice-mayor of Manila, “The mayor doesn’t want people in the hospital to propagate contraception. He will never allow our doctors even to talk on it. … When the mayor says something, it’s the law.”