family planning

Christianity Undermines the Family

Yup, that’s right; that’s not a typo. The Catholic Church was responsible for reducing the size of families in Western Europe contrary to popular belief.

Before I get stuck in the details, a little context is needed.

The fight over the reproductive health bill in the Philippines has pitted the Catholic clergy and faithful on the one hand against secular, feminist, and humanists on the other. One of the contentions of the anti-RH camp is that the bill is anti-family and will cause a rapid decline in our population similar to what has occurred in Western Europe.

Here is Sen President Juan Ponce Enrile one of our elder statesmen opposed to the RH bill,

If you are going to contract the population, you reach a point in time where you will have less workers, less production, less consumption, less taxpayers to support the government.

And again, he goes on

The economic interest of the country will be a factor and the security of this nation for the next 100 years will be on the balance. Mind you, this bill is not really that easy. It’s a matter that will affect, will impinge on the faith of each one of us.

This popular belief which he expresses comes from the experience of Western European countries where fertility rates have dipped below replacement levels since the mid-60s. This is attributable to the rise of contraception use in those countries, the strength of the women’s movement and the legalization of abortion. Concurrent with these developments has been the collapse of the traditional family and with that the greying of the population.

The Philippines with its exposure to Western media and culture has still managed to maintain laws which reflect the predominantly Catholic nature of its population. This according to Sen Enrile is the only thing that prevents it from slipping into the demographic malaise of our European counterparts.

Modern Family

In reality, the decline of the traditional family in the West preceded the rise of modern contraceptives. In his new book The Origins of Political Order, Francis Fukuyama devotes an entire chapter the title of which I borrowed from him here to discuss this form of “European exceptionalism.” According to Fukuyama, dating the rise of the modern family is a bit tricky.

Karl Marx associated it with the rise of the bourgeois class during the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the Communist Manifesto Marx claimed that the bourgeoisie “has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced family relation to a mere money relation.”

For his part, Max Weber felt that the rise of individualism came about through the Protestant Reformation with its emphasis on personal salvation and the Enlightenment with its emphasis on individual rights and secular humanism. This would date the existence of modern families to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

If Weber and Marx are correct then the collapse of traditional societies, which were based on extensive ties of kinship, restrictions on market transactions and individual social mobility due to informal social norms grounded in tradition, religion, and charisma, and the transition into modern societies which are based on individualism, meritocracy, egalitarianism and rational-legal forms of authority is only but a few centuries old.

The french historian Marc Bloch however believes that the rise of feudalism in the ninth and tenth centuries was in part a way of coping with the decline of kinship based tribal societies in Europe. According to Bloch, “Neither the state nor the family any longer provided adequate protection…Everywhere the weak man felt the need to be sheltered by someone more powerful.” This dates the birth of the modern family much sooner.

But it was actually around the sixth century, when the Catholic church, confronted with the marriage practices of newly converted Germanic tribes that had toppled the Roman empire, introduced changes to them. These tribal practices included marriage to cousins or close kin, the levirate or marriage to widows of deceased relatives, adoption and divorce. The church instituted edicts that forbade concubinage and promoted marriage as an indissoluble, monogamous and lifelong bond.

The reason according to Jack Goody was not theological but material in nature. Goody labels the marriage practices banned by the church “strategies of heirship” whereby kinship groups maintained control of property. At a time when the average life expectancy was less than thirty-five, the likelihood that a couple produced a male heir who survived into adulthood was quite low.

At that time the church encouraged donations of land and property to itself. Accordingly, women were allowed to own property to prevent their deceased husbands’ inheritance from reverting back to the family group in the absence of an heir. Thus, women’s rights to own and bequeth property was an unintented consequence of this teaching which profited the church largely. By the end of the seventh century, one-third of all productive land in France fell into the hands of ecclesiastical estates.

So there you have it. The rise of individualism, women’s rights and the modern society in Western Europe which is blamed for the demise of the traditional family originated from church law back in the sixth century. If it was motivated by material interests to outlaw old forms of marriage back then, it might be similarly motivated today in seeking to discourage new forms of family planning to prevent its flock from shrinking.

Fertile Ground

Finally with regard to the argument that the promotion of modern forms of contraception will lead to an irreversible decline of population and economic stagnation, I would offer the following chart taken from a study by Mikko Mryskyla of the University of Pennsylvania published in the science journal Nature back in 2009.

It shows two snapshots of cross-country fertility rates recorded in 1975 and 2005 on the vertical axis plotted against human development scores on the horizontal. Back in the twentieth century, you could be forgiven for thinking that the downward trend would have no end as countries that grew richer exhibited lower fertility rates. This is clearly shown by the 1975 scatter plot (in blue).

Here in the twenty-first century, that pattern has clearly been reversed with countries exhibiting advanced levels of human development recording a recovery (see the red scatter plot) of their fertility rates compared to previous levels set in 1975 (HDI or the human development indicator on the horizontal axis is a composite index of health, education and income levels).

The way that these countries have reversed the downward trend and produced the J-curve observed in 2005 has been by promoting a number of family friendly policies which include generous maternity/paternity leave allowances, free or subsidized childcare and pre-schools, pre- and post-partum care to mothers and newborns, and flexible working hours, to name a few.

Myrskyla has since then studied the relationship between happiness and fertility using data from the World Values Survey and has concluded that having children is “a long-term investment in well-being.” In the short-run however the data shows that having more kids poses challenges to happiness (less time for personal needs and interests). The policies mentioned help to counter that and allow families cope better with raising kids.

With such policies in place, these countries have seen their fertility rates rising above the demographic point of no return (of around 1.5 births per woman) to near replacement levels (around 2.1 bpw). Given that this field of policy research and development is still in its “infancy” (pardon the pun), we can expect to see more countries joining them and hopefully see fertility rates in rich countries reach replacement levels in the near future.

So to the doubters out there who still feel that modern family planning is anti-family, perhaps they need to brush up on their reading of events, both past and present.

Doing Family Planning in a Pluralist World

Sometimes, the discourse surrounding the reproductive health debate in the Philippines sounds more like it was lifted out of the Middle Ages.

Case in point was the exchange recently held in the Senate between Sen Juan Ponce Enrile and both Pia Cayetano and Miriam Santiago, joint authors of the reproductive health bill in the Senate. Enrile, the former defense secretary who served as the chief architect of Martial Law under Pres Marcos which gave rise to the country’s first population management policy in the 1970s and 80s is now casting the proposed bill on responsible parenthood as a sinister plot on the part of the state to dictate to particularly poor households the number of children they are to have. He said,

What reason can we morally advance to justify the idea embedded in the recesses of Senate Bill No. 2865 to accomplish the sustained and deliberate reduction of the size of Filipino families, especially the poor and marginalized, through birth control in the guise of adopting a reproductive health policy for this country?

The Senate President evidently believes that when the law becomes operationalized, the government will engage in interventions over and beyond what is explicitly stated in the bill, which is to provide couples with informed choice and access to different forms of family planning and reproductive health. He likens the intrusiveness of the State under this imagined scenario to the very heavy handed attempts at social engineering by Fascist dictators, when he argued,

If we condemn the idea of euthanasia that renders mercy killing in the guise of (being merciful) to a needy human being, if we condemn eugenics that advocates selective breeding in the guise of improving hereditary qualities, if we condemn the idea behind the act of Adolf Hitler in exterminating Jews in Europe in the guise of preserving the superiority of the Aryan race, if we condemn the idea behind the killing fields of Pol Pot in Cambodia in the guise of reforming the social ills of his country, and if we condemn the mass graves of Saddam Hussein in Iraq where he buried his political enemies in the guise of maintaining law and order in his country—what reason can we morally advance to justify (the bill)?

The claim of a clandestine agenda behind the bill sounds as though it was made by some crackpot, not by one of the highest officials of the land and one of its legal luminaries. One wonders however whether Enrile truly believes in the competency of the State to: (a) hatch such an elaborate plan, and (b) competently carry it out.

I mean, if even under an authoritarian regime, the government with a more restrictive population management and control policy was not able to effectively implement its policy then, why would it be able to hatch such a devious and deliberate plan today and be able to get away with it?

The simple fact of the matter is, the global consensus that formed around population policy since the 1970s has tended to focus on choice and the ability of couples to decide in a well-informed manner how many children they want to have and stick to such a decision. It is no longer about achieving some pre-determined “optimal size” of the household. And this basic tenet is what the current RH bill embodies.

Under such a framework, the State becomes less intrusive and in fact merely acts as a guarantor and facilitator of last resort to a household of its capacity to make such an all-important decision. Under the current situation, the default “choice” of most couples is the natural family planning method, for the simple reason that they do not have the means to choose otherwise.

This in a way creates a bias in favor of the Catholic Church’s position. In a pluralistic world where even Catholics should be allowed to make a conscious decision about such personal and intimate affairs, such a bias is really untenable. What the RH bill would in effect do is shift the default setting to a more neutral position: one where all the safe and reliable methods are made available and where choice is not restricted.

Given the cultural preference already exhibited by Filipinos for larger families (when compared to other countries, while controlling for income and other variables), such a light-handed approach would only influence those who might have exceeded what they deem their (higher) limit for child rearing. This is demonstrated by a number of cases reported by the media where other family planning options are only considered by poor households primarily the womenfolk when they have given birth to upwards of eight children when six was their desired number.

In other words, through early interventions, what the RH bill is most likely to do is help these families achieve their desired family size which is usually in the order of four, five or six members, rather than force them to limit their household to three or four members.

Now in a pluralist world, such an outcome is perfectly acceptable.

Predicting the coming labour shortage

When will the Philippines reach its tipping point?

Suck! That was the sound of jobs and investments being plucked out of the West and sunk into China. That was then.

As the world economy gradually recovered from the global financial crisis in 2010, there was talk of the People’s Republic finally having reached a tipping point that would see it transitioning from being a predominantly labour-surplus economy to one that suffers from labour-shortages.

Last week as the Benign One appealed to employers to give modest pay increases as a way of quieting labour groups following the May Day celebrations, authorities in China were for the first time entertaining the possibility of allowing their currency the Renminbi to appreciate to increase worker purchasing power and tamp down inflation.

Wages as a share of GDP in the People’s Republic had peaked in 1985 at 57% and then dropped to 37% in 2007 (making it one of the most capitalist big economies of the world). They are expected to rise steadily from now on. By 2020, a dramatically different picture will emerge. The words ‘cheap labour’ and ‘China’ may not hold together for very long; good news to the Western world which has been suffering enormous trade deficits with this manufacturing powerhouse from the East.

The shift from a predominantly young to an increasingly aging work force is the result of family planning policies instituted in the early-80s with the famously draconian one child policy enforced in urban centres being the most prominent among them. As the number of jobs available continues to outstrip their capacity to fill them, the Chinese communist party has increasingly allowed unions to exert their bargaining power in several sectors of the economy to prevent social unrest.

Today rising wage inflation and a demographic transition have some talking of a significant slow down in growth of the world’s second largest economy (from the 10 to 12 per cent experienced in the last decade to 7 or 8 per cent). Chinese wages are going to rise significantly over the course of the next decade. This will cause it to shift from an export driven economy to one that is mostly consumption driven.

The Philippine case for a tipping point

Because of the uneven distribution of human capital in the Philippines, comparatively higher wages and skills shortages in some areas exist alongside a substantial labour surplus. There are patches of skills shortage while large swathes of the populace are unable to find employment.

The record of job generation over the last twenty years has not been all that bad though. As I previously stated (in a piece entitled Jobless Growth: Fallacies part 2 posted last year in this space but no longer available): nearly twelve and a half million net new jobs were created compared to twenty five million in the US which has close to four times our population.

This led me about a year ago (in another piece entitled The Coming Labour Shortage posted in this space but no longer available) to predict when the country might approach a tipping point of its own. Using modest economic growth figures and a steady slowing of growth in the labour force (which have been observed over the past two decades) my optimistic forecast was for our transition to a labour shortage situation to begin as early as 2015/16.

The more realistic scenario I came up with is for the two to be in balance around 2020/21. Beyond that I predict that labour demand will outstrip supply (see graph right). Incidentally, the value of labour supply that I predicted for 2009 was off by 30 thousand from the actual growth that was recorded (it sounds big, but it represents only one tenth of one percent margin).

Had we consistently adopted a set of sound family planning policies as late as the 1990s, we would have seen a more balanced labour market. Unfortunately, reproductive health and family planning have not found traction in our country. It would be good if our leaders started focusing on the big picture rather than the daily to-ing and fro-ing over who wins in the daily 24 hour news cycle. I would much rather prefer a discussion about how to hasten the day when we no longer need to export our work force.

The good news is that even under the “do-nothing” scenario, we seem to be heading for a tipping point within a decade. The bad news is that this might lead us to think that we can sit back and literally, “do nothing.” A complacent administration might be content with maintaining current policy settings and engaging in populist rhetoric to gain short-term political wins. Unfortunately, this is too often the case.

As I mentioned last week in a three part series on the eve of the anniversary of his election into office, the presidency of the benevolent one has so far suffered from a lack of strategic focus. I laid out a case for the following:

As a result, the public that voted him into office has been experiencing what social scientists call cognitive dissonance or noise created by a deficit between what they were made to believe would come to them and what they ultimately experienced after buying into his candidacy.

The Employment Plan

The Employment Plan 2010-2016 released a few weeks ago aimed to create a net increase of one million jobs per year. It was a carbon copy of the past administration’s often missed policy goals. Unfortunately, we do not yet have a Freedom of Information Act that would allow us to scrutinize in minute detail the manner by which the government came up with this figure.

Is it plucked from thin air? Is it just one of those “stretch targets” as I suspect it is? Do they have detailed industry, occupational and regional breakdowns of these projections? If so, is there a coherent strategy for building the skills base in the right areas to avoid serious skills shortages as is already apparent in some occupations?

There is an oversupply of college educated graduates and not enough vocationally trained ones. The K-12 expansion of basic education hopes to address this imbalance by introducing school based training in the trade occupations by 2015-16. The lessons from advanced economies tell us that such training has to be continued by employers through an apprenticeship or on-the-job training program supported by the government.

Meanwhile programs to reduce school attrition like the cash payments to poor parents need to be put in place so that more and more primary students stay in school and are able to acquire enough skills to be gainfully employed. The upgrade of teachers, educational facilities and resources also requires funding. The role of former state polytechnics to provide a pathway from vocational education into higher education has to be defined.

Not enough energy has been spent explaining what these reforms would mean. Instead the president has been parrying allegations about his poor work ethic. Ten to twenty years from now, this will all seem so petty and meaningless. Today however it is on top of the agenda.

The year 2020 might seem so very far away, but it isn’t really. It is less than two presidential terms away. In the final analysis, if the Philippines were to follow in the footsteps of its East Asian counterparts in reaching a tipping point by then, it will only be because its leaders were willing to do the heavy lifting today.

Facts vs Myths on Population, Family Planning, and Reproductive Heath

By Mulat Pinoy

Myth #1: Contraceptives cause abortion. Life begins at fertilization, so contraceptives kill children. (pp. 2-3) FACT: Contraceptives DO NOT cause abortion. Research has shown that the use of contraceptives prevents up to 112 million abortions each year and reduces abortion by 85%.

Myth #2: Contraceptives are dangerous to health and cause cancer. (pp. 4-5) FACT: Contraceptives DO NOT cause cancer, have been proven safe worldwide, and even lower cancer risk.

Myth #3: Mandatory sex education and contraceptives will destroy the family, compromise morality, increase promiscuity and promote HIV infections. (p. 6) FACT: MAJORITY of studies prove that age-appropriate sex education and contraceptive provision REDUCE sexually transmitted infections, DO NOT cause promiscuity, and even DELAY sexual experiences among youth.

Myth #4: Family Planning using artificial methods is against Filipino culture. (p. 7) FACT: National surveys show that majority of Filipinos believe that family planning using modern and artificial methods is important. Many of them prefer smaller family sizes.

Myth#5: NaturalFamilyPlanning(NFP)isthemosteffectiveandsafefamilyplanningmethod,isfree,andis the only program that should be supported by the government. (pp. 8-9) FACT: Both NFP and modern methods are needed to effectively and safely address maternal health, family planning, and sustainable development.

Myth #6: There is no link between population and poverty. Corruption is the sole cause of poverty. (pp. 10-13) FACT: There is a proven, strong link between poverty, rapid population growth, & large unplanned family sizes.

Myth#7: The Philippines has enough resources to meet a larger population. (pp. 14-17) FACT: The Philippines will not develop sustainably unless it slows its rapidly growing population

Myth #8: Highly populated countries like India and China are successful because of their large populations, while other countries are experiencing a “demographic winter.” (pp. 18-20) FACT: India and China have been trying to reduce population growth and family sizes for decades, and their growth is due to improving productivity of their citizens. The Philippines is 100 years away from a “demographic winter,” and even with lowered population growth and fertility rates, will already reach 160 million in 2060. Without this, the Philippines may have an unsustainable population of 240 million people.

Myth #9: Family planning through modern contraceptives is against the Constitution (p. 21-22) FACT: The Philippine Constitution and Philippine commitments to international agreements allow family planning and the use of modern methods.

Myth #10: Islam, Christianity and other major religions forbid contraception. (pp. 23-28) FACT: Islam, most Christian denominations, and other major religions allow couples to use modern and natural methods to plan their families. The governments of Catholic countries have accepted family planning policies with State provision of modern and natural family planning methods.

This is just a snippet.  For the entire book please download: Get Real: Facts v. Myths on Population, Family Planning and Reproductive Heath (PDF).  Also available on Scribd.

Courtesy, Mulat Pinoy.


The Politics of Reform

Like mother like son?

The Asia Sentinel at the end of last week posted a piece entitled The Philippines’ Tentative President. It makes the point that as he enters his ninth month in office P-Noy has yet to demonstrate that “he has the will to use his popularity and the size of his mandate to make tough decisions.”

Such a piece is timely as we approach the 25th anniversary of the first people power revolution of 1986, as comparisons are now being drawn between the president and his mother. She was generally regarded as a weak leader although the generals who served under her embattled presidency and helped her stare down numerous coup attempts would challenge such a view.

Be that as it may, the Sentinel piece highlights the fact that with his penchant for posing as the “nice guy” P-Noy risks being perceived as a do-nothing president unwilling to roll-up his sleaves and tackle reforms that would pit him against very powerful interests.

His stance towards the issue of family planning is illustrative of this point. After promising support for the passage of the Reproductive Health or RH Bill that has languished in Congress for the last 13 years, his spokesman announced early this month that it would not be listed among the priority measures he would endorse to Congress on the 28th of February.

His intention as explained by Palace spokesman Lacierda is to introduce a new draft bill maybe later in the year following extensive consultations with the Catholic hierarchy. This of course assumes that the current RH Bill making its way through the plenary sessions of Congress will not pass. His refusal to meet with adherents of the bill further cements the view that he has closed off all access for those seeking reform to himself.

Indeed the vascillation of Aquino-II in the RH Bill can be likened to that of Aquino-I in the enactment of the CARL (or Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law). Just as Aquino-I allowed for the watering down of the bill that sought to address the issue of asset inequality (CARL), Aquino-II seems to have acceeded to the more conservative and powerful interests in the country to water down a bill seeking to address the issue of human capital inequality (RH Bill).

The saying, “what are we in power for” which symbolizes the politics of corruption and collusion in this country went to the root of P-Noy’s popularity. The country in the last election was craving for more honest leadership. When it comes to honesty in government, none can come close to the Aquino brand.

Just as Aquino-I allowed for the watering down of the bill that sought to address the issue of asset inequality (CARL), Aquino-II seems to have acceeded to the more conservative and powerful interests in the country to water down a bill seeking to address the issue of human capital inequality (RH Bill).

But to run an honest government is not the sole purpose of the reform-minded leader. The point of power is to wield it to do “some good”, namely to restructure incentives that currently align themselves to bring about perverse outcomes. Currently, in the debate over reproductive health, the Catholic Church as a corporate entity wants to preserve its monopoly of ideas when it comes to the issue of family planning.

The current structure of incentives makes it impractical or improbable for poor couples to make the best informed decision with regard to the size of their family and to stick to that decision. Studies have shown that particularly in poor families the gap between the size that they want (small) and the size that they actually end up with (large) is significant given the present levels of support available to them in this regard.

The bishops with their vast resources have issued veiled threats against the president on the eve of the EDSA-1 commemorations against changing the status quo. Having blocked the enactment of the RH Bill for so long, they want to see a version that agrees with their views. In the president they seem to have found a willing accomplice.

In engaging in the politics of reform, there were so many possibilities open to a president with exceedingly high popularity ratings. He could have set the agenda by opening a debate over reproductive health. He could have led the debate by using his office as a bully pulpit from which to educate the public with respect to the issues. He could have leveraged the sizable majority that supports the bill and could have built alliances to act as a counter-weight to the vested interests (the Artists for the RH Bill being one of the potential members of such an alliance).

Instead the president has chosen to remain within the fold of the dominant bloc. The thing about dominant groups is that they are often in the minority. Their ability to concentrate power to themselves comes from their ability to mobilize resources to help their cause compared to the majority that are often inchoate and disorganized.

The only way to move from a closed society to an open one is to democratize access to information and power. A bill which seeks to improve access to information and empower individual households among the poorest especially with respect to family planning and parenthood deserves to be prioritized. The advocates of it deserve a seat at the table.

Rather than closing off access to his office, the president should guarantee it. Only in this manner will policy development be allowed to proceed in a rational and considered manner. Only in this manner will the politics of reform be given new life.

Reproductive Health: Lessons from Bangladesh

The first time a coherent population policy framework linked to family planning was adopted in the Philippines was during martial law. In 1968, contraception adoption in the Philippines (measured by the ratio of married women aged 15-49 who practice or whose sexual partner practices any form of contraception) was 15%*. By 1986, that ratio went up to 44%. The average number of births per woman during this 18 year period declined from 6.45 to 4.66.

The Aquino administration upon assuming office in 1986 and heavily influenced by the Catholic bishops of the Philippines abolished the population commission set up by Marcos. Over two years, the prevalence of contraception went down to 36%. Since then it has steadily risen to just over 50% where it stood in 2008. The number of births per woman went down to 3.08 (forty years for it to halve!).

During this time, something remarkable happened in Bangladesh. With the adoption of some sensible population and health policies, they have been able to increase contraceptive prevalence from 27% in 1986 (when records were first kept) to 53% in 2008. Similarly, the number of births per woman went down from 5.4 to 2.3 in that same period. It took them just over two decades to halve their fertility rate to roughly equal the replacement rate (meaning that over the coming years their population will remain stable).

This is remarkable given that the per capita GDP (adjusted for purchasing power) in Bangladesh was in 2008 only about a third of the Philippines ($1,350 v $3,690). For those that argue that a change in fertility is affected by income, this might seem puzzling. Of course in general higher income levels lead to smaller families as demonstrated by the fact that fertility rates for both countries have been declining as incomes have risen. But policies aimed at providing options to families also play a determining role.

Continuity and stability of policy framework

Consider the different policies adopted by these two countries. I have already mentioned the almost stop-and-go nature of population planning and policy in the Philippines. In Bangladesh, they have sustained their policy framework close to forty years and have already graduated into second generation policies.

The first phase of their population policy lasted just over twenty years, from 1973 to 1996.  This phase focused on implementing programs aimed at reducing the population growth rate. These programs were centered on providing maternal and child health care services through home visitations, expanding the availability of contraceptives, multi-sectoral collaboration and encouraging the adoption of family planning services.

It took Bangladesh half the time it took the Philippines to halve its fertility rate. This is despite the fact that Bangladeshis are poorer on average than their Filipino counterparts.

The second phase began in 1997 and continues until the present. It has been more focused on integrating family planning services into a broader set of health programs affecting a wider target group.  From just focusing on reproductive and infant health it became concerned with the control of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. From being home-based, the services concentrated on clinics to deliver a broad range of services.

The results speak for themselves. One area in which such programs have been effective has been in reducing adolescent fertility. In Bangladesh, the number of adolescents giving birth has gone down from 114 (per one thousand women) to just 70.5 in a span of just ten years (from 1998 to 2008).  In contrast the figure for the Philippines has hardly moved in that time moving from 47 down to 44.

This reduction in adolescent fertility might have helped Bangladesh increase the participation of women in school. In 1990, the ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary education for Bangladesh was at 75%. By 2006, this rose to 105%. It went from 99% to 102% for the Philippines.

As a result of their integration of maternal and child health services, Bangladesh saw a reduction in the cases of infant mortality and a rise in immunization rates of infants. In 1986, infant mortality in Bangladesh was at 111 (per 1,000 live births), more than twice that of the Philippines which was at 50. By 2008, it was down to 43 for the former, while for the latter it had declined to 27. In 1986 immunization of children (between 12 and 23 months) was at a mere 3% in Bangladesh compared to 51% for the Philippines. By 2008, it rose to 89% for the former compared to 92% for the latter.

Lessons and assignments

As Father Joaquin Bernas, SJ wrote in his column for today’s Inquirer, the merits of the current RH bill must be debated on the basis of whether or not the use of state power to influence the behavior of the populace serves the public good and whether it is exercised in a reasonable manner, not coercive or oppressive.

These statistics demonstrate that the adoption of some kind of reproductive health service is defensible from a public benefit point of view. Whether the use of the public purse in providing “safe, effective and legal methods, whether the natural, or artificial that are registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Department of Health (DoH)” (notice how the wording avoids the use of prescriptive terms such as pill, intra-uterine device (IUD), injectables, condoms, ligation, vasectomy) is reasonable depends on the specific measures in the bill.

One of these provisions has to do with the way employers include such services as part of their worker’s entitlements. For Father Bernas, the specifics of the policy are worth debating, but not the policy aims. For him, you don’t “burn down an entire house to make lechon.” In other words, if there are certain objectionable parts to the Reproductive Health Bill, then these provisions should be revised, but that should not alter the need to have this all important bill passed.

The case of Bangladesh clearly demonstrates how a sustained implementation of an integrated health, family planning and population policy has had a massive positive impact on the welfare of its citizens within a generation. It should serve as a reminder to our politicians that a far-sighted policy outlook is needed in dealing with this issue.

For too long, the country has gone without a legal framework for determining its reproductive health policies. It is about time that our leaders and the public at large take a look at the proposals embodied in the reproductive health bill. Above the shrill cries of those who seem to be stuck over worries that this will lead to population control (a hangover from the 1970s’ debate) on the one hand, and on the other hand those who see in the bill a path towards the legalization of abortion, our leaders need to chart a sensible path based on reason and common sense.

* This and all other statistics cited in this article come from the World Development Indicators taken from the World Bank and available on Google’s public data explorer.

why family planning should be part of cash transfer program

Good news: 2 in every 1,000 previously poor Filipino families have risen above poverty from 2006 to 2009.

Bad news: the total number of poor Filipinos rose by almost a million in the same period.

According to the latest poverty statistics released by the National Statistical Coordination Board, poverty incidence among families (or the ratio of poor families against total number of families) in the Philippines dipped slightly to 20.9 percent in 2009, from 21.1 percent in 2006.

The number of poor families, on the other hand, rose by 185,000, totaling 3.86 million; in 2006, the magnitude of poor families was 3.67 million.

The numbers may seem contradictory, but they are actually not, government statisticians say.

What the figures mean is that, while some families were able to improve their lot and rise above the poverty line, the ranks of the poor continues to swell because the total number of Filipino families increased.

Read more at Newbreak

Anti-RH Bill Catholics Harass RH Bill Supporters

This one from Filipino Free Thinkers:

The Filipino Freethinkers and the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines went to the Manila Cathedral where an anti-RH bill discernment mass was supposed to be held. Representatives from these two organizations wanted to hear the reasons that would be given in the lecture as to why the CBCP was against the RH bill.

Unfortunately, they were denied entry from the chapel for wearing Damaso-printed shirts, which these organizations have worn to express their disagreement with the CBCP’s position. However, they were told that the organizers would consider letting them inside after the ongoing mass ends.

Afterbeing denied entry to the Manila Cathedral, the RH Bill supporters decided to wait outside the church for the mass to end. Several pro-life supporters handed FF and DSWP members Anti-RH Bill leaflets which had misleading information, including the claim that condoms caused cancer.

Congress needs to put this law to a vote. It is the only way to move forward instead of just talking about it.

Noy lauded for remaining firm on RH Bill support

Noy lauded for remaining firm on RH Bill support
By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star

House Minority Leader and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said Mr. Aquino “needs to be complemented and supported for standing firm against the Catholic hierarchy in his advocacy for responsible parenthood and contraceptive use based on freedom of informed choice.”

Curiously though, a prominent member of the House minority bloc, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is against the RH Bill and has co-authored a pro-life measure to protect the rights of the unborn.

“The steadfast position of the President on voluntary family planning is an unequivocal endorsement for the enactment of a comprehensive and nationwide statute on reproductive health and population development,” Lagman said.