Back to Basics: A Rational Philippine Population Policy; (First of Two Parts)
Byline: Fidel V. Ramos
POPULATION has long been a crucial concern in the Philippines, which has a much higher growth rate compared to other predominantly Catholic countries and our neighbors in Southeast Asia, who are also our closest competitors. The Arroyo administration through, its Population Commission (PopCom), unfortunately, is "going against the people's basic right to health and informed choice," complains Congressman Edcel Lagman, principal author of the proposed "Responsible Parenthood and Population Management Act" (HB 3773), in a vehement reaction to the PopCom's insistence on providing only "natural planning services." Since Filipino couples prefer modern family planning methods, with pills being consistently the No. 1 choice, according to the National Statistics Office (NSO), Rep. Risa Hontiveros, a militant feminist and human rights champion, deplores that PopCom's new policy twist "will isolate the majority of women who prefer modern and artificial methods."
As honorary president of the Human Development Network (HDN) and Eminent Person of the Forum for Family Planning and Development (FFPD), I keynoted the conference on "Population Management: A Key to Governance Competitiveness" organized by FFPD and the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) last 23 November. Most of the experts and scholars who participated expressed strong positions, like Lagman and Hontiveros, against the present government's population policy.
Family planning, responsible parenthood, and the Constitution
In the past, on the basis of medical studies, demographic research and public opinion, Government had sought to integrate, converge, harmonize, and resolve population issues within a democratic framework - one that respects individual rights and principles enshrined in our Constitution. As already proven in the long experience of the U.N. agencies devoted to sustainable development (UNDP), environmental protection (UNEP), and population management (UNFPA), there is no better way to mitigate the population problem than to strike a synergistic balance among the factors of population, environment, and development. Indeed, our population, environment and development policies are crucial to our political stability, social equity, and economic competitiveness as a nation. These are the essentials needed to be balanced, reconciled and put to positive use in our strategic programs - if we are to substantially reduce mass poverty, insure a higher quality of life for younger Filipinos, and regain a place of respect and dignity in the community of nations - a position the Philippines once occupied.
Family planning - guided by the concept of responsible parenthood - is one such program that can offer so much to our people. But, we need to understand what the program specifically stands for. First and foremost, family planning is anchored on the basic rights in our Constitution, one of the most fundamental of which is the freedom of conscience guaranteed to all. Simply stated, as articulated during the Ramos Administration and now by the FFPD: "Family planning is the exercise of the freedom of conscience of the married couple, as responsible parents, according to their aspirations for a better quality of life for themselves and their children." Such a policy fosters quality instead of quantity and, more importantly, social responsibility over selfgratifying behavior. In the end, the family achieves improvement in measurable terms - in sanitation, nutrition, life expectancy, health, education, housing, etc. - and the entire country benefits.
In the family planning-responsible parenthood program, we affirm the right of citizens - especially of women - to make decisions about their fertility, their families and their future. Among the major principles of Philippine democracy is our firm commitment to enhance the role of women and insure food security for our ever-expanding population. We constantly drew attention to these issues wherever and whenever we could. …