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The Globe as you know it is changing.

Since 2007, Southeast Asia Globe has been a space for some of the region’s best writers and photographers to take our readers behind the headlines into the stories that shape people’s lives. Every month, you could expect to pick up our latest print edition and find high-quality journalism, analysis and artwork waiting on every page. And since 2007, we’ve fought to uphold our promise of quality and independence to you, our readers.

But, like we said, the world is changing. Print publications just aren’t reaching the audiences they need to fulfil their promise of informing, educating and entertaining the public. Advertisers continue to invest in digital platforms while printing costs creep ever higher. Print may not be dead, but it’s fighting for its life. And we’re tired of waiting by a sickbed for its condition to improve. We want to be present at the birth of something new.

That’s why Southeast Asia Globe is relaunching as a member-driven platform featuring daily long-form features combining world-class journalism with enthralling art design and data-centered tech. Through our core pillars – Power, Money, Life and Earth – we are focusing in on the central issues that our readers have always engaged with most, with the same in-depth coverage of politics, business, social affairs and the environment that you’ve come to expect since 2007.

But leaving print behind us doesn’t just save our backs from lugging stacks of magazines across Southeast Asia. It opens up a global readership who don’t just want to read the news, but have a say in the stories that we tell and the way that we tell them. We’re not asking you to take out another magazine subscription – our stories are open to all. What we’re offering our members is a space where they can pitch and vote on the stories that they think deserve to be told. We want to inspire an engaged and active community of members who vote for, comment on and contribute to the stories that matter most to them. We want to work with our members to curate the way they engage with the news – not just as readers, but as an active extension of our editorial team.

That’s how we’re changing to bring you great stories. Here’s how we’re not.

We’re independent. Always have been, always will be. We’re not owned by any corporation or aligned with any state. We choose the stories that we tell, and the way that we tell them.

We’re creative. We’re not interested in churning out breaking news stories on the hour, every hour. We believe that the best stories are the ones that come alive on the page, digging deeper into the issues that shape Southeast Asia – and bringing you along for the ride. From our dedicated designers to our new software development team, our commitment is to constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways of reaching out to our readers.

We’re open. Challenging governments, NGOs and businesses to be transparent with the public means nothing if we keep our own readers in the dark. That’s why we will be completely open about why we tell the stories that we tell – and how we pay for them. Work with us to build something that endures where many media fail, and decide with us exactly where that money is going.

Above all, we’re optimistic. And yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Faced with impending climate collapse, the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments across the world, widening wealth and income inequality and deepening divisions rooted in race or gender or creed, it’s hard not to open the papers and feel the weight of the world pressing down. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe that when people work together, they can make their little corner of the world a more just, open and equal place.

And that’s why we can’t do this without you. We believe that across the globe is a community of people who care deeply about social justice, environmental action and press freedom – and who will join in to help make those ideals a reality. We’re not just holding our hand out – we need your voice to play a vital role in building Southeast Asia Globe into a leading space for progressive causes in the region. Tell us what stories the mainstream media is missing. Share with us the causes that matter most to you, and how we can champion those causes not just across Southeast Asia, but the world.

Our vision is clear. By 2025, we want to be recognised for building a great space for outstanding journalists from across the region to explore new ways of telling Southeast Asia’s most vital stories. Let’s bring together a community of engaged and loyal members who want to help reshape the media rather than just read it. And we want to reach a point where our readers, not advertisers, are the ones working to support our shared vision of an inclusive media.

We can’t do this without you. Let’s get together and build something that we all believe in.

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Whatever happened to / The Philippines’ reproductive health law

By: Cristyn Lloyd - Posted on: July 24, 2018 | Best of 2018

For decades, the Catholic Church in the Philippines has used every legal recourse to block reproductive health legislation in the fiercely religious country. Despite President Duterte’s signing of an executive order last year, a new wealth of challenges has presented itself to officials and the six million Filipina women whose reproductive needs are still unmet

Filipinos hold up placards during a protest outside the gates of Supreme Court in Manila, Philippines, in 2013, after a restraining order was issued to stop the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law Photo: Dennis M. Sabangan / EPA

The fight for access to adequate family planning in the Philippines has for decades been an endless game of politics. With no shortage of vicious rhetoric on either side of the divide – a war of words which has seen President Rodrigo Duterte labelled a “modern-day Herod” – the ever-watchful gaze of the gale force that is the Catholic Church continues to grip the country and to paint in broad brush strokes the church’s declaratory motto: “Contraception is corruption”.

Rumblings of reproductive health policy were first heard in the government with the establishment of a population commission back in the 1960s as a measure of population control to manage high fertility rates and alleviate poverty. Ever since, backlash from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has been unrelenting.

The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, commonly RPRH or RH for short, was passed in 2012 – 14 years after a first version of the bill was presented to congress under belligerent opposition campaigns from the CBCP. The act mandated that contraceptives be made available for free and that information about family planning be made easily accessible at public hospitals.

“We were overwhelmed with joy, of course,” said Benjamin De Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development. “After 14 years of hard struggle, we now have a population and development policy in this country. [But] it’s still a struggle in terms of making sure we achieve fertility planning.”

Filipino street children play at a park in Manila, Philippines Photo: Francis R. Malasig / EPA

With ongoing pressure from the church, the bill faced two important setbacks: in March 2013, it was challenged before the Supreme Court, which delayed full implementation of the law. Only a year later was the case resolved, and, while the bill was declared “not unconstitutional”, some provisions were removed and are still void today. The axed provisions included a clause that allowed minors to access reproductive health services without the written consent of a guardian and penal measures for government officials who did not implement the law. There is also still no comprehensive sexual education curriculum taught in schools – a top priority at the Forum, according to De Leon.

In 2015, a further temporary restraining order (TRO) issued again by the nation’s Supreme Court prevented the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Philippines from procuring, distributing or issuing new certificates of product registration on more than 50 different contraceptives, allowing many licences to eventually expire. The TRO was launched after the FDA registered a contraceptive implant called Implanon, which critics falsely argued could be used to induce abortion.

In January of last year, in a move that was celebrated by international human rights groups that are normally staunch critics of Duterte and his violent war on drugs, the cut-throat strongman signed an executive order that sent strict directives to all responsible parties and ensured the push for a family planning agenda to cover all families across the Philippines.

Here we feel that the anti-RH groups are very successful in propagating myths and misconceptions on family planning – that they cause cancer, that they cause abortions

Yet, what should have signalled a new stage in the battle for full access to reproductive health services could only fall flat because of the lingering TRO – and has today merely heralded a shift away from constant legal challenges from anti-family planning law campaigners towards new, more pernicious forms of resistance.

With the TRO still in effect despite the executive order, and with certifications quickly running out, a simple lack of supply of contraceptives in the market threatened to negate any policies Duterte could put in place. Only in November last year, when the implants  were finally ruled non-abortifacient, was the TRO on a range of contraceptives lifted.

“The TRO, by the time it was lifted, had resulted in the unavailability of almost 80% of contraceptives in the market,” said former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, who now heads the National Implementation Team for the reproductive law. “If the restraining order had not been lifted, by this time, there [would have been] no hormonal contraceptives available in the market for both the public and private sector, and we would have been left with condoms and surgical contraception.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Photo: Jeon Heon-Kyun / EPA-EFE

The Implanon implant has proved popular among Filipinas, according to Cabral, because of the convenience of its three-year effectiveness period. There’s also an equally steady stream of all kinds of contraceptives returning to the market – although more rural areas still lack access, and progress is slow on all accounts, said Cabral: “[The] short answer is, the executive order has not yet had any significant impact on the implementation of the law.”

With Duterte at the helm, De Leon knows that the church is unlikely to proceed with any legal appeals to the lifting of the TRO or other challenges to the law. “We have a president whose political will is there. He’s not afraid to face the church in terms of sanctions,” he said. “Our friends from the other side have not protested legally because the TRO which has been lifted says that any appeal contrary to the recertification has to go through the office of the president. So they know that if they make an appeal, their endeavour will be wasted.”

De Leon cautions that while more and more bishops are supporting the law and the right of couples to choose the size of their family, the anti-contraceptive forces aren’t done yet: “They are monitoring us. Of course they are monitoring us.”

The country’s de-centralised form of government also means that the responsibility of imposing any legislation put in place by Duterte’s administration lies with local government actors. “Local government implementation of family planning is dependent on the priority capacities and personal beliefs of local government officials and local health officials,” said Michael Singh, national programme officer for reproductive health at the UNFPA Philippines, the UN’s reproductive health and rights agency. “So in a way, implementation is varied across the country.” Not enforcing the law results in no punishment, a provision the Supreme Court had mandated before it was removed.

A crowd of Filipinos shout slogans and hold placards to show their support for the Reproductive Health Law Photo: Ritchie B. Tongo / EPA

Despite country-wide popular support for access to family planning – around 80%, according to a Forum survey undertaken during the height of the debate over the legislation – Singh says that the remaining reluctance to use contraceptives is borne out of a fear of side effects: “Here we feel that the anti-RH groups are very successful in propagating myths and misconceptions on family planning – that they cause cancer, that they cause abortions. And this is a major reason why many Filipinas still don’t use family planning.”

Beyond issues of morality and the politics of contraception, experts insist on the developmental benefits that family planning legislation will bring, especially important in a country with the highest HIV growth rate in the Asia Pacific, per the UN. HIV diagnoses shot up 140% to 10,500 between 2010 and 2016, according to the Health Ministry. The Philippines also registers a high number of unwanted teenage pregnancies, with one in ten women aged 15 to 19 becoming pregnant, said De Leon.

Filipinas become more empowered, more autonomous, more productive members of society” when they can freely access family planning tools

“[Filipinas] become more empowered, more autonomous, more productive members of society” when they can freely access family planning tools, said Singh. “And it addresses the social ills of society – for example, teenagers who have access to family planning are able to complete their education. Families who are able to space their births have less deaths and less sickness in their families. Families who are able to achieve their desired family size have better access to basic needs such as shelter, education [and] employment.”

It is these most vulnerable members of society who are most in need of access to services, a goal which would require $10 per women per year, estimated Cabral, to reach the poorest 60% of women in the country – not achievable with the current budget, she said, despite increases in funds since the executive order came into effect.

Manpower and resources need to be rallied to feel the effect of Duterte’s directives, said Cabral. Singh agrees that the law does not go far enough, “especially for those who are left behind – the people in the slum areas, the farmers, the fishermen, the disabled, the indigenous peoples, the people displaced by emergencies”, he said. “So there [is] still a lot of work to be done, but I think the RPRH law is a very strong anchor on which positive changes can be made in the lives of women and men in the country.”

This article was published in the July 2018 edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here.