Owning the Collective Challenge of Teenage Pregnancy in Tacurong City in the Philippines
Contributors: Marlet Salazar and Julie Anne Llavore
Recognizing that teenage pregnancy is a collective challenge in Tacurong City was an essential step for effectively addressing it under The Challenge Initiative (TCI) program in partnership with the Commission on Population Development (POPCOM) and the Department of Health. Mayor Lino Montilla is determined to pick up where his brother, former Mayor Angelo Montilla, left off after his passing last June.
While Tacurong City has been a longtime partner of Zuellig Family Foundation (ZFF) for other programs, it had not previously prioritized adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health (AYSRH) issues. Mayor Montilla shares:
We focused our efforts on addressing maternal and child health and nutrition system putting AYSRH issues on the sidelines. We admit that there is a high incidence of teenage pregnancies, but there are no apparent in-depth assessments on what led to the situation.”
The city has an AYSRH committee in place to coordinate a response to teenage pregnancy and AYSRH issues, but it never was given proper attention to function effectively. In addition, many activities to reach youth with sexual and reproductive health information and education, such as workshops and campaigns, were halted during COVID-19 lockdowns and gathering restrictions.
Realizing the severity of the situation, Mayor Montilla knew he wanted to do something and decided to engage TCI, which is implemented locally by ZFF and POPCOM. In August 2021, he attended the City Inception Meeting and promptly committed his political and financial support to implement TCI’s high-impact AYSRH interventions in Tacurong City. Through the Program Design Workshop, the local government of Tacurong was able to identify priority gaps that led to the growing number of teenage pregnancies and, as a result, select and adapt which interventions would be the most impactful.
One of the priority gaps identified by Mayor Montilla and colleagues was the inadequate training of health staff on AYSRH. He shared:
There was miscommunication and misinformation at the household level. While there are policies, these are not fully implemented due to limited human resources and lack of comprehensive information regarding AYSRH.”
Second, the AYSRH committee that Mayor Montilla mentioned was “not functioning properly.” In fact, he noted that its lack of direction might have exacerbated the situation, saying:
There was poor implementation of the programs, projects and activities (PPAs) and the team had insufficient knowledge on what the program was all about.”
Finally, Tacurong City was dependent on the family planning programs of the Philippines’ Department of Health, which aim to address the family planning needs of young women and men who are 20 years-old and older and not necessarily the 10- to 19-year-olds.
To address these gaps, Mayor Lino and the City Leadership Team of Tacurong will be adopting the following high-impact interventions of TCI: Leadership for Adolescents and Youth-Friendly Cities; 2) Adolescent and Youth-Friendly Health Services; 3) Intergenerational Dialogue; and 4) Engaging Parents to Ensure Community Support.
Mayor Montilla emphasized how the TCI interventions provided by ZFF and POPCOM will enable Tacurong City to make AYSRH one of its top priority health programs. To ensure that they are on track, he personally committed to monitoring the progress of the AYSRH program.
He is also committed to meaningfully engage youth and key stakeholders in ensuring the success of the program:
I want to make sure that the [coordination and implementing] team will include representatives from our vulnerable population – our target population – the youth and marginalized populations as well as our first line of health workers in the community.”
Looking ahead, Mayor Montilla wants the city’s Population Office independent from the City Social Welfare Development Office. This will allow his office to allot budget and human resources to both, like any other government unit. He explained the significance of this change:
These are the factors that will allow us to ramp up our youth education efforts. We are also trying to help the youth go back to school through scholarships. I will make sure that the programs will be stable for the protection of our youth.”
With the upcoming national elections this year, Mayor Montilla is determined to put a sustainable AYSRH program in place, which the next mayor can continue regardless of the outcome. He explained what motivates him to do this:
I can see that the community is supportive of the program. I hope to continue our partnership with ZFF-TCI and POPCOM for this program because I believe that outside help and assistance are important for us to effectively and efficiently protect our youth.”