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Philippine poor women yearn for birth control
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Struggling with a daily meal budget of less than two dollars for a family of 12, Floriza Bacli said she was happy to spoil her children a bit on the New Year Eve with something special -- half kilo of fried chicken and a quarter kilo of hot-dogs.

Squeezed inside a tiny make-shift shack made of galvanized steel and wood with her 10 underage children, 37-year-old Floriza said the family had fun on the New Year Eve, or the Noche Buena, literally the good night.

"I wished my family would be far from sickness, even though we might not get rid of poverty," Floriza said.

The mother of 10 said she hid another seemingly more far- reaching wish in her heart. "Wouldn't it be nice if someone can pay the college fees for my two eldest daughters who are finishing high school this April," she added.

College remains a remote dream for Floriza's family which depends on her husband's meager income of 350 pesos (about 7 U.S. dollars) a day as a pedicab driver. The husband might return home with only 150 pesos (about 2 U.S. dollars) in those low season days when there are not so many tourists.

But Floriza said she remained hopeful for the new year, at least there will be no more unwanted pregnancy to worry about. She got the yearned-for tubal ligation last July, an operation that cost around 500 pesos (10 U.S. dollars) at a local clinic but would nevertheless effectively buffer the child-feeding burden of the family.

"We really can't afford to provide for more. The money we earned is barely enough for our daily meals." Florizas said. Like most poor Filipino women, she had no idea of family planning until life became tough after the birth of her sixth child.

She thought about condoms, but they were not quite accessible; she thought about contraceptive pills, but was told that she had varicose veins. Floriza said if she had known that a ligation was so simple and relatively harmless, she would have had it done earlier.

A right deprived

In a country where a woman has 3.05 children on average and artificial birth control methods are frowned upon by the dominating Catholic Church, Floriza was not alone in wanting to plan pregnancies. She was lucky to get one before it was too late.

According to a United Nations Population Fund report, half of the Philippines' 3.1 million pregnancies every year are unwanted or unintended, about one third of which end in abortion. About 10 women in the Philippines die every day for giving birth. Death occurred to mothers who are either too young or too old or those who have more than three previous births with dangerously short intervals.

Surveys also showed that over 60 percent of mothers do not want additional children while two out of five women who want to use contraceptives do not have access to them.

Fearing the withdraw of support from the Roman Catholic Church which counts 80 percent of the 89 million Filipinos as followers, the national government has been cautious to widely and effectively promoting the use of contraceptives, proper sex education in schools, and free birth control services to the poor.

In Barangay Maisan where Floriza lives, visitors may be overwhelmed by the number of children, virtually everywhere in the crowded and poverty-dripping squatter community. Toddlers hang on to their mother's shirts, whose arms are used to carry a smaller infant. Babies are being openly breast-fed while mothers yell at their other children chasing each other in the courtyard.

"Women in this Barangay know about ligation but few can actually afford one due to its medical cost and other inconveniences," Floriza said.

Carlos Celdran, a local advocate for women's reproductive rights who paid for Floriza's ligation, said every time he went through squatter communities to give way condoms and birth control pills, people eagerly asked for them and the stocks he bought out of his own pocket from pharmacies would soon run out.

"They want it, they need it and they use it," Celdran told Xinhua. "Birth control is something we want but not given to us. It is a right deprived rather than personal faith."

"A pack of condoms that cost five pesos is still too expensive for the poor. It shouldn't be that only rich people can plan the family," said Celdran, whose regular day job is guiding tourists around old towns of Manila and volunteer to help squatter women plan their pregnancies and find affordable medical services on birth control.

The hurdle facing people like Celdran, however, is big and quite visible.

Blocks away from Barangay Maisan stands the compound of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the seat of the Church authority in the country. A banner declaring "pro- God, pro-Life, pro-Family, No to DEATH bills, No to RH ( Reproductive Health) bills" at the entrance clearly demonstrated that any progress in family planning in this Catholics dominating country wouldn't come around without overcoming strong resistance.

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