by Rodel Rodis, April 21, 2008
The severe rice shortage that may yet result in food riots in the Philippines has forced the staunchly “Pro-Life” government of Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to belatedly concede the need to raise public awareness of population control. After years of rejecting United Nations and USAID funding for family planning programs, the government has finally realized that maintaining current levels of rice production is not nearly enough when the Philippine population is growing by at least 2 million a year. In 1945, there were 20-M Filipinos. By 2000, the population had risen to 76.5-M. Less than 8 years later, it is now 88.57-M and is expected to break the 100-M mark in just 5 years.
According to former Health Secretary Alberto Romualdez, “the worst part of it all is that the people who are growing at a faster rate are Filipinos who could not afford it. And the rich who have the money, are actually not growing at all, with a growth rate of zero percent,” he said.
With less arable land available for rice production and higher costs for fuel, seeds and fertilizers, the government is straining to retain previous levels of productivity that, even if successful, will still yield little or no rice for 2-M people.
According to a study just released by the European Union (2008 Philippine Development Forum), "Continued rapid population growth in the Philippines is draining health and economic resources and slowing down economic growth. It also threatens the sustainability of rural livelihoods and is inexorably destroying the remaining natural forest and marine habitats. The poor are paying the highest price, both individually and collectively. The European Union therefore calls for the effective implementation of a comprehensive national family planning policy, promoting access to family planning methods."
But raising public awareness of population control is not enough if the only kind of birth control endorsed by the government is the “natural family planning method” where couples are encouraged to have sex only during certain “safe” periods in a woman’s menstrual cycle, a method otherwise known as “the Vatican roulette”.
Alas, even this wholly unreliable method cannot be effectively promoted because, according to Malacanang Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, the national government is “no longer involved in implementing the birth control program since this has been devolved to local government units (LGUs)” where the local chief executives are in charge of implementing birth control policies in their jurisdictions.
What compounds the problem is that even discussing the need for population control has drawn opposition from the Catholic Church and pro-lifers in the Arroyo Administration led by former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, currently Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources. Atienza believes that the solution to the present food crisis is a strong agricultural production program and not birth control.
When Atienza was mayor of Manila from 2000 to 2006, he issued Executive Order 003 (EO 003) banning the use of artificial contraceptives in all of Manila’s public health facilities. Although not oficially, this order was even extended to private pharmacies and drug stores in Manila which were prohibited from selling any artificial method of birth control, even condoms.
Although Atienza is no longer mayor, his ban still remains in effect. So in January of this year, 20 directly affected women filed suit to invalidate EO 003. One of the female plaintiffs, Tina Montiel, age 36, wanted to have only two children, according to her affidavit. Before Atienza was elected mayor, Manila had a health policy which allowed her to obtain contraceptive supplies from the Manila health system. After Atienza abolished this program, Tina gave birth to two more children. After 4 children, Tina asked to have her tubes tied (tubal ligation) so that she could no longer have babies, but this was not allowed because of EO 003. Tina now has eight children.
In her affidavit, Tina stated:
"Our daily income is 150 pesos from scavenging. My family’s breakfast includes three sachets of coffee and a few pieces of pandesal [bread rolls]. One kilo of rice is insufficient for lunch and dinner. We make do with soy sauce or salt if we can’t afford to buy ten pesos’ worth of cooked vegetable for lunch or dried fish for dinner. If our daily earnings only amount to below 70 pesos, we only have bread for dinner.
"My children are malnourished. Oftentimes, they miss a meal. My sixth child, who was underweight at birth, hasn’t recovered yet. I give each of my children five pesos for school allowance. I feel sorry for them because I can’t buy them school shoes. They miss lunch if they have to pay something in school. One of my children had to stop going to school.
"My eldest son died of rheumatic heart disease. Most of our earnings went to his medication. My husband lost his job as security guard, after he was unable to pay more than 3,000 pesos needed to renew his license.”
What kind of lives have Tina and her children been condemned to live? Is being pro-life being pro-miserable life?
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