The Philippine president has signed a law that will promote contraception, sexual education and family planning programmes vigorously opposed by the country's Roman Catholic Church.
President Benigno Aquino III signed the law on 21 December and his administration announced it today because of the "sensitivity" of the issue, said deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte.
Ms Valte said the passage of the law "closes a highly divisive chapter of our history"
She continued: it "opens the possibility of cooperation and reconciliation" among those who oppose and support the "Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012."
Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz, said Mr Aquino is dividing the country while adopting a "first world country value system".
He warned that the law will be followed by the passage of a divorce bill and same-sex marriage, both strongly opposed by the Church.
Archbishop Cruz, a former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, criticised the secret signing of the law despite the presidential certification that it was an urgent measure.
He said responsible parenthood as taught by the church entails using only natural family planning methods.
Providing artificial contraceptives will "separate pleasure from the hardship" of bringing up a family.
"This government has now entered the bedroom bringing with it the condom and the pill.... That is very irresponsible," Archbishop Cruz said.
He said a Catholic group is planning to question the law at the Supreme Court.
Women's groups and other supporters of the law have praised President Aquino for pushing its passage.
This has occurred within the first half of his six-year term after the measure languished in Congress for 13 years.
It was languished largely because legislators were reluctant to pass it because of the strong opposition of the Catholic Church.
The Aquino administration "should be commended for its political will to see this law through," said Carlos Conde, Asia researcher for the US-based Human Rights Watch.
Mr Conde said the law "will advance human rights in the Philippines, particularly of women and mothers".
He said it will empower them to make their own decisions over their health and family life.
Mr Conde said: "It gives a clear mandate to the government to make reproductive health services readily available and, because of that, the law can save many lives."
In about a dozen provisions, the 24-page law repeatedly reminds that abortion drugs are banned, but it requires health workers to provide care for those who have complications arising from illegal abortions.
Under the law, the government will hire more village health workers who will distribute contraceptives, especially to the poor, and provide instructions on natural family planning methods that the Church approves.
The government will also train teachers who will provide age- and development-appropriate reproductive health education to adolescents.
This will include information on protection against discrimination and sexual abuse and violence against women and children, teen pregnancy, and women's and children's rights.