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Parliament blocks Philippines condom funding

MANILA, December 13, 2010 (AFP) – The Philippine parliament said Monday it has blocked government efforts to give free condoms to poor people next year amid a raging debate over a proposed law to allot annual funding for family planning.

The Senate and the House of Representatives agreed to cut a proposed 200 million-peso (4.55-million-dollar) allotment for contraceptives in the health ministry’s budget for next year, Senate Majority leader Vicente Sotto said.

“The 200 million pesos allotted for the purchase of pills, injectables and even condoms has been removed because these contraceptives are in violation of… the constitution,” Sotto told reporters.

He cited a provision in the constitution that says: “It (the state) shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

The decision to trim the health ministry budget was made in the conference committee, made up of representatives of the House and the Senate who are working to merge their versions of the 1.645-trillion-peso budget bill.

The freed-up funds would go into servicing the country’s debts, Sotto said, adding that the Senate had proposed the cuts which the House supported.

Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile said parliament agreed to keep a 680-million-peso portion of the health ministry budget intended for fund related programs like maternal care and responsible parenting for the poor.

The decision, which President Benigno Aquino can either veto or uphold when he signs the final version of the 2011 budget act into law, suggests a separate reproductive health bill being debated in parliament will have rough sailing.

The bill, which is backed by Aquino but strenuously opposed by the dominant Roman Catholic church, would oblige the government to fund mass contraception programs.

“We don’t want to be (misconstrued as) supporting the reproductive health (bill),” Enrile told reporters after the House and Senate representatives came up with the compromise version of the budget bill.

While the reproductive health bill has majority support in the House, key members of the 24-seat senate including Sotto and Enrile have spoken out against it in the past, though Enrile now says he is keeping his options open.

“It will take a lot of discussion in Congress. We will discuss it first,” Enrile added.

The Philippines has one of the fastest growing populations in Asia and birth control campaigners say the government should change its approach to contraception.

Tight controls have for years hampered efforts by health agencies to distribute artificial contraceptives in the devoutly Catholic country, even as its population has boomed to 94 million.

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