By Alisa Tang
BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Philippines Department of Health has adequate funds for contraceptives despite the decision to eliminate contraception funds from the country's reproductive health program, a lawmaker said on Tuesday.
Infuriated legislators and advocacy groups said last week the legislature's decision to cut the $21 million contraceptive budget would fuel HIV infections, maternal deaths and teenage pregnancies, particularly among the poor.
But Senator Loren Legarda, head of the Senate Committee on Finance, said the Department of Health (DOH) still had enough funds for contraceptives for 2016.
"The 2016 budget for FHRP (Family Health and Responsible Parenting) was reduced by 1 billion pesos ($21 million), but the budget for the procurement of contraceptives is not zero. There remains 1.6 billion pesos ($34 million) that can be used for this," Legarda said in a statement.
Enough contraceptives were bought in the last quarter of 2015 to last until mid-2016, and the DOH has budget funds left over from 2015 for its reproductive health program, she added.
"Also, historical data shows the DOH is unable to completely spend its budget every year. These unused obligations or savings can be realigned within the agency as long as approved by the president," she said.
Reproductive rights advocates in the Philippines fought for more than a decade to pass the 2012 Reproductive Health Law, which guaranteed funds to provide contraceptives to the poor.
The largely Catholic archipelago nation, home to about 100 million people, has struggled to manage its burgeoning population and seen skyrocketing HIV infection rates in recent years.
The cheapest birth control pills cost $1 - enough to buy a kilogram of rice and a can of sardines.
Legarda said last week that some of the $21 million cut from the family planning fund went to national defense, to buy aircraft to defend the country's maritime borders.
(Reporting by Alisa Tang, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)