The Philippine president has signed a divisive birth control act into law despite fierce opposition from the country's influential Catholic Church. It will make sex education and contraceptives more widely available.
President Benigno Aquino's government called for reconciliation on Saturday after he announced that he had given his seal of approval to the controversial law.
The legislation was reportedly signed into law on December 21, but was only announced by the administration on Saturday due to the "sensitivity" of the issue, the president's spokeswoman, Abigail Valte said.
In a statement she said the landmark legislation, which is due to come into force next month, "closes a highly divisive chapter of our history."
"At the same time, it opens the possibility of cooperation and reconciliation... engagement and dialogue characterized not by animosity, but by our collective desire to better the welfare of the Filipino people," she added.
The law is designed to promote artificial and natural contraceptive methods as well as sexual education and family planning programs aimed particularly at the country's poor.
The final version of the act was passed by both chambers of parliament on December 19 following a fierce debate that pitted women's groups against powerful church leaders.
Supporters of the bill said it would help calm the nation's rapid population growth, reduce poverty and bring down its high maternal mortality rate. The Catholic church, meanwhile, described it as immoral and warned it would promote promiscuity.
Groups allied with the church are expected to challenge the law in the Supreme Court.
According to the United Nations around of the Philippines 3.4 million pregnancies every year are unplanned. The government's Commission on Women adds that there are around 162 deaths for every 100,000 live births.
ccp/rc (AFP, AP)