The Philippine President has signed into law a family-planning bill that was blocked by the Catholic Church for more than a decade.

Presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said that President Benigno Aquino III had signed the law on December 21 and that his administration announced it only on Saturday because of the "sensitivity" of the issue.

"The passage into law of the Responsible Parenthood Act closes a highly divisive chapter of our history - a chapter borne of the convictions of those who argued for, or against this act, whether in the legislative branch or in civil society," Abigail Valte said. 

"At the same time, it opens the possibility of cooperation and reconciliation among different sectors in society: engagement and dialogue characterized not by animosity, but by our collective desire to better the welfare of the Filipino people," she said.

The law, which will take effect next month, allows government funding for contraceptives that would be made available especially for poor women.

Argument persists

It promotes responsible parenthood and requires officials to provide information on family planning options as well as education on reproductive health and sexuality.

Both chambers of parliament passed the final version of the act on December 19 after an acrimonious debate pitting non-government organisations and women's groups against the country's dominant church and its lay organisations.

The Catholic Church, which approves only natural forms of birth control, had blocked the legislation for the last 13 years.
The Church and its supporters said the law was immoral and would promote promiscuity.

Asia's largest Catholic country has a population of 94 million and an average annual growth rate of 1.9 percent, one of the fastest in the region.

The Philippines has one of Asia's highest birth rates, with the United Nations estimating that half of the country's 3.4 million pregnancies each year are unplanned.

The government's Commission on Women said that maternal mortality also remains high, with 162 deaths for every 100,000 live births, while 10 women die every day from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications.

Source: Agencies