In one of Manila’s sprawling slums, Clarita is busy making lunch for her family.
She has 10 children and making sure they do not go hungry is a daily struggle.
Down a narrow alleyway another desperately poor woman has eight children. Another woman just round the corner has nine.
It is hardly surprising then that the Philippines has the highest birth rate in South East Asia. In 1990 there were 60 million Filipinos. Now there are more than 95 million.
Like her neighbours and more than 80% of the population, Clarita is a Catholic.
She regularly attends church and has a picture of Jesus Christ and a bible verse taped on to the wall of the one small room in which the family live.
But recently she has begun to think that, on one matter at least, the Church is wrong.
“I used to believe in the Church’s teachings about having lots of children,” she says.
“But now I really think we should have family planning.”
‘Happily out of step’
In theory, it is easy to get contraception in the Philippines. You can buy the female pill over the counter at any pharmacy and virtually every corner shop sells condoms.
But for someone like Clarita, these options are far too expensive. A packet of condoms would cost her almost as much as her weekly food bill.
Bishop Teodoro Bacani says the government should not be promoting family planning
That is why the government has put forward a reproductive health bill that includes a provision to give out free contraception and family planning advice to couples that want it.
But the bill is facing fierce opposition from the Church.
“It’s not the business of government to be promoting contraceptive devices,” says Bishop Teodoro Bacani.
“It’s like the government saying it will pass a law which will fund the promotion of pork-eating among the Muslims. Can you imagine what an uproar there would be among the Muslim population?”
While many Catholic countries are debating whether to allow abortion, that issue is not under discussion here. Everyone in this debate knows that a bill to legalise abortion would have little support.
This is purely about contraception, which according to many senior bishops is almost as bad as abortion anyway, because anything that prevents a sperm meeting an egg prevents a potential birth.
Bishop Bacani said he realised the Philippines was out of step with the rest of the world, saying: “We are… and happily so.”
This is not a belief that is confined to the clergy. Many senior members of society – politicians, media commentators, businessmen – are openly siding with the bishops.
And every Sunday, churches are packed with people listening to the message from the pulpit – and frequently that message involves the reproductive health bill. read more?,