Population, poverty and the reproductive health bill

Published by rudy Date posted on March 16, 2011

The Philippine population has been growing at a high pace compared to neighboring countries. At the same time, the economies of neighbors with which our country is often compared have been growing faster than ours over the last few decades. Part of their success comes from their ability to deal with their population growth.

Most specifically – populous countries like Thailand and Indonesia – have been able to achieve lower rates of population growth through the effective use of family planning methods. Time was when, during the 1950s, our population growth rates were almost identical with these two countries.

Today, Thailand’s population growth rate per year is 0.6 percent and Indonesia’s 1.3 percent. If all three countries were to achieve a five-percent growth rate of their total output equally, then Thailand’s annual per head growth of output would be 4.4 percent, Indonesia’s 3.7 percent and ours would only be 2.6 percent (because of our population growth rate of 2.4 percent per year).

By this arithmetic, each year, Thailand will have an economic surplus of 1.8 percent of new output that it creates over us and Indonesia’s, 1.1 percent of new output over ours. Should that situation to persist from year to year, then it would leave us further behind.

Both countries would build up higher surplus output over us to improve the welfare of their respective citizens. Count it: more food to eat, improved schooling and health for the children, better housing, and more consumption.

Our country was quite active in family planning programs from 1965 when the government created the Population Commission. For a decade and a half, progress was made. The Population Commission worked with the departments of Education, of Health and of Social Welfare, together with NEDA. Projects on family information, child and maternal welfare and direct assistance to the poor were undertaken to implement a family planning program.

Then in 1981 the program suffered a setback. The mood of international assistance on family planning and domestic changes in the people in charge of the program led to a decline in the effort. The early family planning program was heavily dependent on foreign support.

This happened at a time when domestic effort was required to increase. A hostile policy change accompanied the 1986 EDSA events. A strong program was badly weakened from lack of political support.

All these developments have shown up in terms of inescapably high growth rates of the labor force, high demand for public expenditure on education and on health, and the increase in poverty afflicted families.

The issue of family planning program continues to bother the nation. The stark reality of a burgeoning population of very poor people who cannot find jobs and who depend on state support to keep them away from excessive poverty continues to plague the nation. The sight of school age children recruited to beg and sell flowers especially after sundown in urban areas is simply inexcusable.

Highly bothered by this state of affairs, almost all the faculty members of the UP School of Economics discussed and formulated a very cogent paper in 2004. The facts and the issues of high population growth were confronted. Written principally by one of the country’s population economists, Dr. Ernesto Pernia, the paper was thoroughly reviewed and polished by a bevy of the nation’s major economists, debating all aspects of it. It was a paper that raised the level of the debate on family planning and population.

In the meantime, some of the country’s political figures in the House of Representatives were able to form a brave coalition of proponents of family planning. They know the nation needs this bill to pursue a more effective program of helping the poor as well as promoting long term development.

This bill (which was formerly known as HB No. 5043) is now known as HB 4244. It has become enormously popular and was thought ready to secure passage in 2010. But it failed passage in the previous session of Congress. The Church flexed its political muscles so that many politicians dilly dallied for fear of electoral reprimand at the polls in that year.

As the political debate concerning the passage of the bill heightened, a lot of misinformation and disinformation has entered the debate. This has beclouded the bill’s most important objective: “to enable couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information and means to carry out their decisions.”

The process of legislation would ultimately amend some of its most controversial features. But it is most important to pass the bill that authorizes the state to spend on family planning to help the poor.

To put in context subsequent debates on the population bill as it reaches the final round of debates on the subject, a revised addendum to the original paper was written recently, with the names of 28 authors of the School’s faculty. This paper can be secured from the website of the School of Economics, with the title “Population, Poverty, Politics and the Reproductive Health Bill.”

The major point of this paper is that the population bill is “pro-poor and is authentically pro-life and pro-family.” Among the many points made to support this contention are the following:

1. The experience across Asia that government supported family planning (FP) program is a critical complement to sound economic policy and poverty reduction.

2. Poverty in the country rises with the number of children in the family. Latest official data indicate that larger families are much poorer, invest less in the schooling of their children, and suffer from poorer health conditions.

3. Among the poor, smaller families are wanted. Among 10 percent of the poorest women, 44 percent of pregnancies are unwanted.

4. Lack of access to acceptable methods of contraception lead to high maternal deaths. Philippine statistics on maternal deaths is too high, 162 per 100,000 births, which is almost three times the Philippine (development millennium) goal of 52 by 2015.

5. Health risks above are higher for young mothers – and these compose almost a fourth of uneducated teenagers.

6. Unintended consequences of mistimed and unplanned pregnancies among poor families have high social costs. They account for the persistent presence of poverty. Such costs also put a high burden on the state budget to provide for higher social budgets for education and health spending.

7. Women who need assistance come mainly from the poor and these are those who need medical attention in public health facilities.

8. Ensuring access to family planning information raises the possibility of high success in attaining the desired family size.

In addition to these points, the paper also corrects and cites major misinformation made by oppositions to the bill. –Gerardo P. Sicat (The Philippine Star)

Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat.

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