The Philippine government will provide contraceptives to poor couples who request it despite strong opposition from the dominant Roman Catholic church, President Benigno Aquino said Monday.
Speaking in a satellite television interview from the United States where he is on a seven-day visit, Aquino stressed that the number of children a couple had was a matter of personal choice.
"The government is obligated to inform everybody of their responsibilities and their choices. At the end of the day, government might provide assistance to those who are without means if they want to employ a particular method," he said.
"I believe the couple will be in the best position to determine what is best for the family, how to space (the births), what methods they can rely on and so forth," said Aquino at a "town hall" style meeting with expatriate Filipinos.
"They face the responsibility for the children that they bring in and government is willing to assist them."
Aquino, a 50-year-old bachelor and a practising Catholic, was responding to questions about how he planned to curb population growth in the face of opposition from the church.
The church wields considerable influence in the Philippines, where more than 80 percent of the population are Catholics, and has used its clout in the past to attack officials who champion artificial methods of birth control.
The church and its allies have also successfully blocked the passage of a proposed law, first introduced in 2008, that would require the state to provide its citizens with "natural and modern family planning" means.
However, a survey conducted by a research group in January found that as many as 68 percent of voters believed that government should provide couples with all legal means of family planning.
In February, then-health secretary Esperanza Cabral incurred the wrath of the Catholic Church when the department handed out free condoms in Manila on Valentine's Day. Three bishops demanded that she be fired but she remained in her post until a change of administration.
The Philippines estimates its 2010 population at 94.01 million, up from 76.5 million in the 2000 census and making it the 12th most populous nation in the world.