Who will tackle our population growth?

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WE have of late been professing quite a lot of admiration for and envy of some of our Asian neighbors. Some of us have wistfully imagined what might have been had the Philippines but emulated Singapore and the authoritarian strategies of Lee Kwan Yew. Or if we had but gone the way of South Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia, countries that were doing pretty badly in the 1950s and 1960s but have now sped well ahead of us. Even late-comers such as Vietnam are predicted to do better in the next decade or so. Various and different paths and policies were and are being followed by these countries to propel them to develop and industrialize, and transform their economies into advanced, high-income ones.

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There is, however, one common factor for success that these other countries share and which most Filipinos have been loathed to confront — a national population policy designed to curb population growth. It is in this area that the Philippines looks as if it is really shooting itself in the foot.

An interactive datablog on global development and family planning published recently by the British newspaper The Guardian, shows a dramatic rise in rates of contraceptive use among women aged from 15 to 49 in East and Southeast Asian countries since 1970. [*Ford, Liz, and Josh Holder. "Contraception and Family Planning around the World – Interactive.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 08 Mar. 2016. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.] Indonesia’s prevalence rate jumped from 6.6 percent to 62.9 percent by 2015, Thailand from 20.2 percent to 78 percent, Vietnam from 17.2 percent to 76 percent, and South Korea saw an increase from 23.7 percent to 78.7 percent. Singapore, the state some esteem so much, has always been a high user of contraception and maintains an upward trend from 55.5 percent to 66 percent. By comparison, contraceptive use in the Philippines climbed more slowly, moving from 23.2 percent to 54.8percent.

Beyond Asia, Latin American countries have shown the fastest growth in contraceptive use and family planning, boasting a continental average of 72.7 percent. Brazil is the world’s largest Catholic country, yet almost 80 percent of its people use modern contraceptives and family planning is a constitutional right.

Overall, contraceptive use among women in developing countries has “soared.” The UN now projects a cut in global population growth by as much as 1 billion by 2030 (so instead of 9 billion people on the planet, the forecast is 8 billion people).The ability to make informed choices about sexual and reproductive health and family size is good for the lives of women and their families. “Evidence shows that women who have access to family planning choose to use family planning, often resulting in smaller families, higher educational achievements, healthier children [a[and]eater economic power as well as influence in their households and communities,” said Jagdish Upadhyay of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

In our devoutly Catholic country, we have done our utmost to buck the trend and have resisted lowering our population growth. With a population of 102 million people, the Philippines is the twelfth most populous nation on earth. Births per woman stand at 3.15, our population growth rate is almost 2 percent, and both are the highest in Southeast Asia. Set at 12 years old, we share with Angola one of the lowest ages of sexual consent in the world. Our teenage pregnancy rate is the highest of the Asean countries and rising. In 2014, the National Youth Commission predicted that we are heading toward a teen pregnancy crisis. But we are already in a crisis. The Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS), through the University of the Philippines Population Institute, found that 14 percent of girls aged between 15 and 19 were pregnant or had become mothers.

Historically, Southeast Asian states responded to high birth rates through government campaigns designed to control and direct family size. Vietnam’s “stop-at-two” policy was particularly harsh on a woman, whose status within her husband’s family depended on male heirs. In Indonesia, school textbooks taught young children that parental love and care, when shared only between two children, would be generous, but would be diluted if there were many. Singapore manipulated birthrates by class. Special privileges and allowances were given to women with a college education who gave birth to a third child but were withdrawn from women without high-school diplomas.

We passed the Reproductive Health Law, with enormous difficulty, in 2012. The RH Law aimed to address the abysmal situation of poor women who give birth on average to 5.2 children. But putting the law into practical effect has been hobbled from the outset. A year after declaring the RH Law constitutional, the Supreme Court slapped a temporary ban on the Department of Health from issuing contraceptive implants, upholding the mistaken claim that the implants had abortifacient side effects. In July 2015, the free HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccination program that sought to protect young girls from cervical cancer was stopped on the grounds of morality. In a stunning act of misinformation based on a morally spurious assertion, opponents of the program argued that the vaccine promoted promiscuity. In January this year, the RH Law had its budget axed.

In the dynastic democracy that defines our governance, and where politicians defer to the Catholic Church, national policy attempts to curb population growth have been dealt with hammer blows. The issue struggles to stay on the development agenda and remains a political pariah. We are sabotaging our prospects for a prosperous society for all.

Who among the current presidential candidates has the courage to take a strong stance?

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13 Comments

  1. If we go on teasing China,because the Americans want that, the problem will be resolved. We’ll be nuked, chinoys included.

  2. Francis Dizon on

    I have been following your column for a few weeks now and I have to give credit to your choice of issues and the exceptional manner of flow and clarity you provide.
    Another excellent issue in the above.
    Overpopulation is indeed one of the most pressing concern that the country is confronted and one that needs to be addressed without delay. Without sustainable socio-polittico-economic, cultural and faith reforms or reorientation done simultaneously we will find ourselves at the losing end.
    As diverse as we are, we are not short of capable but we’ll intentioned leaders who could and would steer the country in the right direction. It’s never too late!

  3. During Marcos time, we have a POPULATION COMMISSION who is monitoring our population growth. Now , where is this government dept.??? As far as I remember, marcos issue a PD that filipinos will have only 4 children for each family, exceeding to that law, will given penalty or tax for each child.

  4. Catholic priests in the Phils. don’t care for their flocks’ welfare. They only careon how will the church’s distribution to increase so they want them to produce more babies so more will study @ their schools, become acolytes and in masses more contributions even they are only coins.

  5. There is a saying “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” I am referring this time to most Filipino politicians.

    If the Filipino voters collectively elect politicians who are not qualified, those who are corrupt, those with poor education and those who are plain S~T~U~P~I~D then what kind of work do you expect from them?

    Additionally, Filipinos should not listen to the Catholic priests who are against the modern but effective methods of contraceptions. Less children means more of everything for the children who will be born. There will be more food, more clothing, and most important of all, the parents will be able to devote more time to each children to mould them into law-abiding and productive citizens.

    Filipinos need to realize that these self-serving Catholic priests will not and they do not have the desire nor the capacity to feed, educate and house the millions and millions of Filipino babies who will be born into this world because their parents did not use nor could not afford birth control.

    I am saddened when I see millions of Filipino children growing up hungry, those who are living in poverty, and they suffer from malnutrition that results in mental retardation, low body weight and short physical stature. Imagine a future when millions of adult Filipinos have low intelligence. That would be a pretty scary future.

  6. I know a way to kill 2 birds with 1 stone…

    Purchase surplus babies from poor mothers for use in scientific research and/or as a source of organs for transplant.

    The mothers benefit financially while we control our population.

  7. population control is not the problem, corruption in every facet of life in the PH is to blame. Look at China and Russia they have reversed their decision with population control.

    • Fair N Square on

      China and Russia changed their population control policy because they prospered while the policies were in effect. The Philippines can take a break and adopt a population control policy, then when we make significant progress, relax the policy.
      However, this can not happen. We have the Catholic Church and. political leaders who both thinks we can feed, educate and give jobs to every poor person born in this country. As long as the birth rate is more than what our economy can support, poverty will exist.

  8. The Phil can only succeed by copying the other Catholic Country that succeeded.
    The success in Brazil was largely due to Women’s Rights activists in their struggle against the military Govt of Brazil. The success was accomplished in part, by the use of telenovelas. The shows depicted idealized family life, and frequently had characters speak lines such as ‘I will only have 2 children’. “illegal tubal ligation” was still a punishable offence until 1997. The law (forced by the church) imposed many conditions designed to make tubal ligation extremely difficult for women in Brazil.
    To ask the president of the Phil to go against the Catholic Church is expecting too much. Any elected official is afraid of the Sunday sermon. It is the Filipina (and I mean the nationalistic feminist, not the nuns at EDSA) who will have to fight for her rights. Don’t count on the men to do it for you. And you can count on the Church fighting against you. The question is not which candidate has the courage, rather how many Filipinas have the courage? When Filipinas block EDSA to get RH to every woman in every corner of the Phil… then will you start to see progress. Until that happens… well, we can keep talking about the problem.

    • Northern California.

      Wow, I couldn’t agree with you more. You have an excellent suggestion. Seriously, this is the best I have read about population control in a very long time!

      Yes, the Philippines needs women leaders who will fight for the Filipino women’s rights to have affordable or free contraceptives provided by the Philippine government with the mandate from the RH Bill.

      The Filipino politicians are too corrupt or just plain coward to go against the wishes of the Filipino Catholic priests even though the Holy Pope himself said to the Filipinos to “STOP REPRODUCING LIKE RABBITS”!

      I rest my case.

  9. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    14 March 2016

    I heap kudos on Rachel A. G. Reyes for her courage in getting published this troubling Commentary or hers, “Who will tackle our population growth,” In the Inquirer of 14 Marc 2016. I heap kudos likewise on the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

    I have been in this uphill and thankless battle for the country to seriously and aggressively implement a population control program since I first published a long Article in The Philippines Free Press way back around 1969, with the scary title, “POPULATION CONTROL–OR DISASTER!”, and have been pushing such a program every chance I have gotten all of the past 47 years or so.

    Even now when I am in “the winter of my life” I refuse to give up.

    The Congress did pass a Bill, the Reproductive Health Bill, finally, after a draft had languished for 14 years in the labyrinths of the Congress three years ago [if my memory does not fail me now], obviously thanks to President Benigno Aquino who gave its passage his strong support, and regardless of the threats hurled at him by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines that he would be “excommunicated!” if he signed the Bill into Law.

    Alas, the RH Law has run aground in a Supreme Court which agreed, on the representations of minions of the Roman Catholic Church to defang it in ways which would make it impossible for the law to make a real dent on the country’s population which for several decades has been exploding at a rate which doubles it every 35 years or so, and is one of two main reasons why the Philippines has remained in the economic backwaters and earned the pejorative distinction as “The sick man of Asia.”

    The Paradox is that under the leadership of President Aquino and the able support of his economic “brain trust,” the country’s GDP has been spurting at the rather impressive average annual rate of around 7%, but such a rate of growth has been uniformly JOBLESS. In spite of President Aquino’s signature anti-poverty program, his CCT, to which he may already have thrown the humongous sum of around P300 BILLION in the last five years or so, the incidence of widespread and chronic poverty has increased.

    The country’s continuing and unmitigated population explosion is the main CULPRIT
    Pope Francis may not have a PhD from Harvard or Wharton but on his January 2015 visit to the Philippines where he saw with his own merciful and compassionate eyes how truly “poor” poor Filipino families, pointedly warned Filipino Catholics “NOT TO MULTIPLY LIKE RABBITS!”

    But without a serious and aggressive Population Control Program such as the Reproductive Health Law, fecund Filipino couples–most of them in the boondocks living lives of extreme degradation and dehumanization, will continue “to multiply like rabbits.” They have nothing better to do when darkness falls than exercise their groins instead of what’s inside their skulls called “brains.” Thanks to such fecundity, an average poor Filipino family will sire an average of 6-8 children.

    Tragically, if no drastic or even a draconian national policy like Mao Zedong’s “One child per family” is pushed by the Government asap, there is a very good chance that the Philippines cannot avoid morphing from “The sick man of Asia” to a FAILED STATE like Haiti or Somalia.

    The Filipino people have the Roman Catholic Church and a cowardly government to thank for such a dire eventuality.

    MARIANO PATALINJUG
    patalinjugmar@gmail.com

    • Northern California.

      When I left the Philippines, its population at that time was in the vicinity of 50 MILLION. Even during that time, I had read from various local newspaper articles about the dire prediction for the Philippines due to over population…in the future. The “future” has arrived so to speak, millions of Filipinos are suffering from abject poverty and I am afraid that things will only get worse before the country can ever hope that things will turn around for the better.

      When I arrived in the United States, its population was 250 MILLION. My “home state” of California’s population was in the low 20 MILLION.

      By 2016 the Philippines’ population has roughly doubled in size, while America’s population grew at a reasonable percentage even though America has admitted millions of immigrants from around the world during this time period.

      California’s population also increased, mostly from immigration, legal or otherwise, and from people moving in from other states in the Union.

      Just before I left the Philippines, South Korea was still sending their own version of “overseas workers” to the Middle East. Nowadays, South Korea has become one of the most industrialized countries in the world. South Korea’s Samsung, for example, is rivaling America’s own Apple company. And South Korea has been importing workers from other countries to keep their country’s factories humming.

      On the flip side of the coin, the Philippines is over populated and it is still getting worse. The land area is finite and it is getting too crowded. The Philippines cannot generate enough decent jobs to substantially increase the number of middle class families in the country. The Philippines’ answer to its lack of decent-paying jobs and too many people is to export its people.

      Well, yours truly is one of the millions of Filipinos who have come to America and stayed permanently in order to provide a comfortable life for our respective family.

      With all due respect to the high school or even college educated Filipino women who have to work as ‘Overseas Filipino Workers’ doing various menial jobs or famously as house maids, then something is very wrong with the country.