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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte raises a middle finger thrust out in an obscene gesture as he speaks before local government officials in Davao city, in southern Philippines, September 20, 2016. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr


MANILA (Reuters) - A presidential intervention to provide free contraceptives in the predominantly Catholic Philippines looked set to face hurdles, with conservatives and church leaders preparing possible challenges.

Access to artificial birth control methods is difficult in the country of over 100 million people despite the passage of the Reproductive Health Law in 2012 because of a Supreme Court order stopping its full implementation.

President Rodrigo Duterte issued an executive order on Monday directing agencies to fund and enforce the family planning programme to ensure free access to birth control, sidestepping the court's order.

"Here comes President Duterte issuing an executive order circumventing the intention of the hold order," said congressman Jose Atienza, representing a political group called Life.

He told Reuters his group will study Duterte's directive "word for word, phrase by phrase," and "if illegal, we will question it" before the court.

Duterte, a Catholic like 80 percent of the population, has made reproductive health a priority, convinced that giving people the means to limit or space births will help sustain economic growth.

"This administration is bent on implementing these provisions to ensure that Filipinos' access to family planning and means to space and limit the number of children will not be curtailed," Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said.

The country's Catholic bishops have criticised what they described as the president's "anti-life" measures, calling on people to join a "grand procession" next month to make a stand.

"When society opens its doors to welcome artificial contraception, abortion, divorce, legalised same sex union, it opens the minds of people to a particular mindset that problems can only be resolved through termination of relationships, terminations of person," the Episcopal Commission on the Laity of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said.

(Reporting by Karen Lema and Manuel Mogato; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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