Picture for representation
A community health worker holds up contraceptives during a lecture on family planning at a reproductive health clinic run by an Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Tondo city, metro Manila January 12, 2016. Reuters

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has announced free contraceptives for six million women, a move seen as a direct challenge to the dominant Roman Catholic Church in the country. The president also said that he will defy the Catholic Church and impose a three-child policy in the nation.

The government agencies have been ordered by the president to ensure free access to contraceptives, an official said, according to the Associated Press. These agencies have also been asked to identify couples with the utmost need of family planning and urge civilians and village administration bodies to take part in the drive.

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"All women of reproductive ages should be able to achieve their desired family size, their desired number of children, rather than having more children than they want or they can afford and provide for adequately, and that is exactly the essence of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law," Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said in a press conference.

The new measure, according to Pernia, aims at reducing poverty in the country. The government's target is to cut the poverty rate from 21.6 percent in 2015 to 14 or 13 percent by the end of 2022, when Duterte's term ends.

Also read: "I don't have time to pretend to be nice," says Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

According to the United Nations Population Fund, Philippines is the only Asia-Pacific country where teen pregnancy remains an epidemic, whereas other countries of the region have shown a downward trend.

The Associated Press also reported that the executive order signed by the president identifies 2 million women out of 6 million as poor and in need of proper awareness on family planning. They should have access to contraceptives by 2018, and all the rest thereafter, the order added.

The new order came just after the Commission on Population announced last week the population of the country can grow up to 105.7 million by December 2017 due to shortage of contraceptives.