Ballooning population blamed for hunger

Published by rudy Date posted on April 11, 2011

MANILA, Philippines – Supporters of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill have blamed the country’s ballooning population for the reported rise in hunger incidence in the last three months.

Benjamin de Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development (The Forum), said on Saturday that the latest survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), which showed that more Filipinos experienced involuntary hunger in the past three months, “is a reflection of the dire need for the country to be better educated on the benefits of family planning to address the problem of the growing number of Filipinos who have experienced hunger and poverty.”

The SWS survey, conducted from March 4 to 7, found 20.5 percent of respondents or about 4.1 million families who went hungry at least once in the past three months.

This was up from the 18.1 percent (an estimated 3.4 million families) recorded in November 2010, the SWS said.

President Aquino earlier said the survey may have failed to include the beneficiaries of the government’s conditional cash transfer program who are mostly in the Visayas and Mindanao.

“Even if the survey only covered Manila, it still demonstrates that hunger and poverty are climbing in the capital. The President’s Cabinet may be telling him that things are getting better, but the people are telling him their conditions are getting worse,” De Leon said.

“Who is better to speak for the people than the people themselves? The random answer given in the survey said that they are poor, they are hungry. They want to alleviate their poverty. I think that if they are given the choice of family planning methods, the survey would not be this disheartening,” De Leon said.

Citing a paper released by the University of the Philippines School of Economics, De Leon said the “rapid population growth and high fertility rates, especially among the poor, do exacerbate poverty and make it harder for the government to address it.”

The Asian Development Bank made the same opinion in its Country Poverty Analysis for the Philippines, said De Leon.

“Giving poor women the ability to have only as many children as they plan to have will curb rising hunger and poverty,” De Leon said quoting the ADB report.

De Leon said that with the RH bill, families would spend less money on their basic needs.

“Unplanned children mean unwanted expenses. Money spent by the poorest families on pre- and post-natal care, child care, housing, and school supplies could go to alleviating the rising hunger and poverty that SWS has identified they are facing,” De Leon said.

Civil society groups, including The Forum, have been asking Aquino to certify the RH bill as urgent.

“Much to the disappointment of the Catholic Church, the government had been consistent in its position on responsible parenthood and reproductive health through its current programs but this is just a stopgap measure. Given the current situation, certifying the RH bill as urgent is a big leap in addressing the poverty situation for the long term,” De Leon said.

Participation welcomed

Meantime, a Malacañang official yesterday welcomed Filipino world-class singer Lea Salonga’s voice in the raging debate over the Reproductive Health bill, even if this is against the stand of the Roman Catholic Church.

“As a private citizen, she is perfectly entitled to voice out her opinion. Our focus is really on hearing the opinions of stakeholders,” said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.

The RH bill, which has been vigorously opposed by the bishops, is now with the House of Representatives, where six consolidated bills will be undergoing plenary deliberations before it can be approved and sent to the Senate.

Over the weekend, Ms. Salonga joined about 300 residents of posh Ayala Alabang Village in Muntinlupa City, where they voiced their concerns and opposed a local ordinance that prohibited the use of condoms.

The residents trooped to the Ayala Alabang gate at the corner of Commerce and Madrigal Avenues to protest Ordinance No. 1 that restricts the sale of contraceptives without a doctor’s prescription.

“As a citizen of this peaceful barangay, I oppose this ordinance,” said Salonga, adding that she is “disappointed” with the local measure. The world-acclaimed singer said she decided to live in the posh village as it has a harmonious community.

Salonga clarified that although she is an RH advocate, she considers this a separate issue.

Former health secretary Esperanza Cabral, also an Ayala Alabang resident, likewise opposed the ordinance, saying no one should dictate on what people should do regarding this matter.

Cabral is worried that other LGUs might issue a similar ordinance.

In late March, seven barangays in Balanga City in Bataan province issued ordinances that ban the sale of condoms without a doctor’s prescription.

Other Ayala Alabang residents who supported the demonstration are business leader Pete Wallace, artist and tour guide Carlos Celdran, and other NGO groups. –Helen Flores (The Philippine Star) with Delon Porcalla

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