New Philippine econ minister vows strong push for family planning

By Reuteurs/Enrico dela Cruz   May 25, 2016 | 03:27 am PT
Philippines President-elect Rodrigo Duterte will aggressively implement the country's family planning law to push his economic growth agenda, one of his aides said on Monday, in a move that could add to simmering tensions with the Catholic church.

Congress passed a law in December 2012, despite opposition from church leaders, allowing public health centres to hand out contraceptives such as condoms and pills and teach sex education in schools.

Duterte is pushing for "rapid and sustained implementation" of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, said Ernesto Pernia, an economic advisor to the tough-talking 71-year-old who assailed the Catholic church on Sunday, calling it "hypocritical".

The past six years saw the Philippine economy's average annual economic growth topping 6 percent, but critics say the improvement has not translated into jobs or better livelihoods for millions of poor.

About a quarter of the country's population of around 101 million remains poor, official data show.

"If you enable families to limit and phase their children to what they can afford and what they can provide for, then that's going to have an effect on poverty and inequality," Pernia said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.

Pernia, a former university lecturer and economist at the Asian Development Bank, will join Duterte's Cabinet as chief of the National Economic and Development Authority. He will form part of an economic team headed by Carlos Dominguez, who has been named finance secretary.

Pernia's comments followed Duterte's remarks in Davao City on Sunday saying he would defy the Catholic church's opinion on family planning and might push for a three-child policy, though he did not elaborate how that would be carried out.

Duterte, who has yet to be proclaimed the May 9 poll winner, has a huge lead over his rivals based on an unofficial vote count by an election commission-accredited watchdog. He is due to take office on June 30.

He is hugely popular in a country that has the largest Catholic concentration of any Asian nation, despite his vow to hang criminals "until the head is completely severed from the body," rape joke, and tirades against Filipino clergies.

Pernia said Duterte's economic program focuses on tackling the urgent need to cut red tape in government and addressing traffic problems in the capital to encourage investments in infrastructure and manufacturing, which will create more jobs.

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