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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rethinking Population Policy

At Large

Rethinking population policy
By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:40:00 04/08/2008

The logic seems impeccable. Experts have said that the “rice crisis,” which suddenly exploded into the headlines when rice prices around the world suddenly rose, is due to two factors: the reduction in the amount of arable land planted to rice, with the conversion of productive rice lands to residential subdivisions contributing to the problem; and a rapidly growing population which needs more rice than can currently be met by current levels of production and even importation.

Of course, authorities can do little about the lack of arable land, although I would think putting a halt to the conversion of productive and even irrigated agricultural land to other uses would make a difference. But our national leaders have long been in a position to do something about stemming or slowing our population growth rate. The trouble is, they have chosen to ignore the problem, and chose instead a “political” solution: the promotion of natural family planning (NFP) at the expense of modern, more efficient methods on the mistaken assumption that NFP was more “acceptable” to Filipinos.

It turns out, of course, that NFP, while totally acceptable to Catholic bishops and their ultra-conservative allies, is not at all accepted or preferred by Filipino couples. Despite years of policy and budgetary support, the promotion of NFP among couples of reproductive age has resulted in little or no impact at all on our population growth.

Ramon San Pascual, executive director of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), has pointed out in a statement that “the current population policy of the Arroyo government is problematic since more Filipinos prefer modern family planning over NFP and majority of those who do not practice family planning are the poor.”

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Recently, however, administration officials admitted that as a result of the current shortfall in rice supply, one of the responses being considered is a “review” of the government’s population policy.

“We hope that they go beyond lip service and implement a population policy that includes unbiased promotion of both the natural and modern family planning methods,” San Pascual said in a statement. “For years, the Arroyo administration has given more focus to (the) natural family planning (NFP) method only. The responsibility of providing contraceptive commodities and promoting modern family planning methods were left to the local government units (LGUs).”

But this policy focus flew in the face of reality. “The 2006 Family Planning Survey of the National Statistics Office (NSO) reveals that Filipinos prefer modern family planning methods, with pills as the consistent Number 1 method of choice. In addition, the 2003 National Demographic and Health Survey of the NSO showed that poor women have three times more children than the rich and that only half of married women practice family planning because of lack of information and proper knowledge of family planning methods and services,” the PLCPD head added.

“We call on the Arroyo government to act on the problem of rapid population growth once and for all,” said San Pascual. “A rational population policy is imperative to mitigating hunger and poverty. Alongside the efforts to boost rice production and self-sufficiency in the country, the passage of a national law that will provide access to information and services on reproductive health, including family planning should also be given immediate attention.”

“As long as our population problem is not addressed, any poverty alleviation effort will surely fall short,” he declared.

The PLCPD is pushing for the passage of HB No. 17, the Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Management bill, filed by Albay province’s Rep. Edcel Lagman and SB Nos. 40 and 43 filed by Senators Rodolfo Biazon and Panfilo Lacson respectively as counterpart bills in the Senate.