President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III ignited a firestorm during his six-day working visit in the U.S. when he announced that he might give assistance to Filipino couples needing contraceptives to limit the number of their children. Instantly, Catholic Church leaders unleashed an attack accusing him of “selling out the Filipino soul” for American dollars and threatened him with excommunication if he went ahead with his plan. Unfazed, P-Noy stood his ground.
However, upon his return from the U.S., he met with Church leaders and softened his stand acknowledging that “the State is not empowered by any law to dictate upon any couple how they should plan their family.” But he emphasized that the government “has an obligation to educate all its citizens as to their choices,” although he insisted that his stand has not changed.
Pro-life vs. pro-choice
In reaction to P-Noy’s hardline position, Bishop Nereo Odchimar, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said: “Well, being the President of all, you must consider the position of the Catholic Church because we are approaching this issue from the moral aspect, the morality, because life is at stake, the life of the unborn. For abortion is a grave crime, as a matter of fact, excommunication is attached to those who commit abortion … that is a violation of God’s commandment.” He further stated: “I maintained that the traditional position of the Church is that human life starts at conception and not at implantation. Some contraceptive pills and devices are abortifacient. Any completed act to expel or kill the fertilized ovum is considered to be an act of abortion.”
Thus, the battle line was drawn between the pro-life Catholic Church and the seemingly pro-choice stand of P-Noy.
Rapid Population Growth
But the bigger issue that confronts the world in general and the Philippines in particular is “overpopulation.” It’s a daunting challenge for the Philippine government because the country’s economic growth cannot keep pace with its rapid population growth; thus, putting more people into poverty year after year.
In 1903 when the first census was taken, the population of the Philippines was 7,635,426. Thirty-six years later in 1939, the population more than doubled to 16,000,303. Twenty-nine years later in 1960, the population increased by 169 % to 27,087,685. Forty-seven years later in 2007, the population increased by a staggering 327 % to 88,574,614. This year, 2010, the population is estimated at 97,976,603, an increase of more than 11% in three years or 3.67 % per year. At this rate, the population would be 500 million in 50 years, 1.2 billion in 80 years, and 2.2 billion in 100 years!
Compared to other Asian countries, the Philippines has one of the highest – if not the highest – population growth. China’s population growth is 0.66% while Japan’s is 0.19%, one of the lowest in the world. It is interesting to note that China and Japan are, respectively, the world’s second and third economic powers. The number one economic power is still the United States with a population growth of 0.98%. However, it would be much lower than that if immigration were not included.
It can then be surmised that economic growth is correlated to population growth. In essence, economic growth would increase the per capita income much faster if the population remained constant. Conversely, if economic growth were not at par with the population growth, the per capita income would decrease.
The Philippines – one of the poorest countries in Asia – would always be in a “catch-up” situation if nothing were done to control its rapid population growth. The Reproductive Health bill that’s filed in Congress would address some of the issues in formulating policies on family planning. But the Catholic Church considers “family planning” as a vehicle for birth control and therefore an instrument of abortion.
The Church has made it crystal clear that it is opposed to the “use of artificial means of contraceptives as a mode of family planning because it is antilife and antifamily.” However, P-Noy was steadfast in his position, that is: “The intervention of contraceptives takes place before the conception of human life, that is before a human fetus is formed. Therefore, according to this view, there is no human life aborted by contraceptives.”
Zero Population Growth
With the world population now past the 7-billion mark, a lot of industrialized countries have adopted Zero Population Growth (ZPG). According to Wikipedia, “ZPG (also called the replacement level of fertility) is a condition of demographic balance where the number of people in a specified population neither grows nor declines, considered as a social aim. According to some, zero population growth is the ideal towards which countries and the whole world should aspire in the interests of accomplishing long-term environmental sustainability.” In other words, ZPG is achieved when the birth rate equals the death rate.
Take the case of China whose 1.3-billion population requires an aggressive program – initiated in the early 1970s — to control its growth. China’s goal is to achieve ZPG by 2030. The key to the success of China’s family planning policy is due to the following: (1) Late marriages and late childbearing are encouraged; and (2) Urban couples are limited to one child and rural couples to two children.
The question is: Will China’s family planning model work in the Philippines? There is a big societal difference between the two countries. A communist government runs China where religion is suppressed while the Philippines is a nation of zealously religious people. In the Philippines, a strong resistance from the Church could doom the Reproductive Health bill. Many members of Congress have strong ties to the Church and would most likely be pressured into voting against the bill.
In the final analysis, educating the people on the virtue of family planning could be P-Noy’s most effective weapon to combat ignorance and fear of damnation. Is it time for population control?