The National Statistics Office reported that the Philippines has a population of 88,574,614 (2007), making it one of the 12th populous countries in the world (United Nations Population Fund, 2001). The growth can be attributed to the advancement of healthcare. After World War II, better health services were offered, especially with the development of drugs and more sophisticated medical equipments. In a study conducted by Ronald Dolan (1991), it is reported that life expectancy has increased from 51.2 years in 1960 to 69 years for women and 63 years for men in 1990. Moreover, infant mortality was 101 per 1,000 in 1950 and had dropped to 51.6 per 1,000 in 1989.
In a National Statistics Office (NSO) report in 2006, however, it is said that there has been a decline from “2.34% [of the population growth] during 1990-200 period to around 1% during the 2030-2040 period.” Nonetheless, NSO still say that the population will continue to increase to a yearly growth of 1.95% from 2005-2010 (Doming, 2006).
The galloping growth will place the country in an alarming note, which may result to a scarcity in resources, especially on food and water. Senator Edgardo Angara, a former Agriculture secretary, has expressed his concern on this rapid population increase. In his address to the Junior Chamber International in Cebu City, Angara pointed out that the country can only accommodate 15 million people in terms of sustaining a decent life (Cueto, 2010). He further stated that “beyond 115 million, we might not be able to carry on the business of the government as well as the business of living.”
In a Catholic-dominated Philippines, the Church still holds a significant voice. Although family planning (FP) program began in the 1970s, implementation has been erratic especially with the constant interference of the Church in the government’s health projects. This intervention has prevented many Filipinos from seeking advice on FP methods. If access to these programs does not increase, the number will keep on growing to 141.7 million in 30 years time (Ericta, 2006).
This paper will discuss on the status of FP programs in the Philippines and why it has been unsuccessful in its implementation. It will also talk about reasons why condom use approach is an effective FP method and how it can be introduced to a culturally Catholic country as a means of peace initiative in the growing issue of overpopulation.
The Catholic Church in the Philippines
Roman Catholicism was introduced in the country with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet in 1521 at the port of Cebu. At that time, most societies, except that of the sultanates in Mindanao and Sulu archipelago, were fairly small and without a centralized authority. This gave the Spaniards an opportunity to penetrate mass conversion among locals. Moreover, the adaptation of Catholicism into local context allowed natives to be more open with the new religion. For example, ritual offerings for the departed maintain a cosmological balance in this and the after lives. In the Catholic context, this local belief perfectly fits into the Christian calendar of All Soul’s Day where two separate perspectives created a surprising and accepted conclusion (Russell, 1999). Furthermore, friars used visual communications through theatrical presentations to convey stories and messages from the Bible. The most popular of which is the re-enactment of the passion of the Christ during Holy Week, which is still very evident today.
By the 19th century, Catholicism has been established in the Philippines. Locals warmly accepted the new religion despite the abuses of Church officials. Likewise, the Church took control all matters in the land. De la Costa (as cited on www.economicexpert.com), stated that the power-sharing between the two institutions was set in the Patronato Real de las Indias, an agreement given by the Spanish monarchy to the Church to be responsible in “promoting, maintaining, and defending the Roman Catholic religion in… all Spanish dominions overseas.” The authority given by the Crown allowed Church officials to manipulate fundamental affairs in the country. Interestingly enough, Francisco states that even with the exploitations of the Church, revolutionary and nationalist movements, especially independence from Spain, were rooted from popular Catholicism.
The coming of the Americans changed the situation of Catholicism in the country. Francisco further discloses that the new colonizers set “a different reading and tradition of Christianity in the Protestant Churches.” One of which was the establishment of public schools, under the guise of the separation of the state and the church. However, the Catholic Church quickly adapted to the new regime. They also established schools rooted under Catholic values, integrating it to the civilian set up. Additionally, locals were encouraged to join the clergy, thereby making the unit dominantly Filipino. Furthermore, in the late 1930s until 1950s, small and influential Catholic group members stood up and fought significant land issues, which created a re-connection between the public and the Church. This, consequently, secured the Spanish legacy in the Philippines and the continuous support of the people to the Church.
The Catholic Church and the State
The idea of the separation of the Church and the State came from the Americans, from Thomas Jefferson’s statement on the “high wall of separation… between church and state.” The 1987 Philippine Constitution states that “the separation of the Church and State shall be inviolable.” In layman’s term, there is no link between the two institutions; that one cannot and should not interfere with the other on purely secular matters and vice versa.
In the Philippine setting, however, the debate between the division of the State and the Church has always been controversial. The Church asserts to uphold the moral duty of its people; while the State claims to protect its people. The former argues their involvement with State affairs is due to their “prophetic role to play vis-à-vis the powers of society (Zialcita, 2010),” which includes politics and government policies. Interestingly enough, the Church played a significant role in Philippine history. Perhaps the most significant was the 1986 Yellow Revolution, a series of non-violent and prayerful mass demonstrations that befall the 20-year authoritarian regime of former president Ferdinand Marcos. The First Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) Revolution was strongly called upon by Cardinal Jaime Sin over an announcement via Radio Veritas. Sin maximized the airwaves and urged people to head to EDSA to give emotional support, food and other supplies to leaders who rebelled against the dictatorship. The appeal was overwhelmingly well-attended that the mood was more festive, bringing families together. Veritas, meanwhile, became the main communication vehicle in informing the public of government troop movements and relaying requests of dry goods. Fifteen years later, the Church supported the four-day mass demonstrations held in the same stretch that overthrew another president, Joseph Estrada.
Such strong socio-political affiliation between the two parties unofficially allowed the Church to be strong advocates in governmental policies. Being the only religion in the world to have a seat in the United Nations (UN), the Church has maximized their position in pressing policies and their advocacies. In the case of the Philippines, they have been strongly opposing against the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill which has finally reached the Legislative House for debate.
The Church and the proposed Reproductive Health Bill
The Philippines is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have a comprehensive RH care law. Being a predominantly Catholic country, and considering the role of the Church in the society, the Church has abhorred the use of other forms of contraceptives except abstinence and natural family planning (NFP). With this stance, the country’s population soared and it has one of the fastest growing in the world.
The Church promotes abstinence and NFP as a suitable method of population control. The total prohibition of artificial birth control technique is aligned to Pope Pius XI’s Castī Connūbiī , which stressed the sanctity of marriage, the prohibition of artificial birth control, and the reaffirmation of the prohibition on abortion. The papal encyclical also stressed the authority of Church doctrines on morality, and advocated governments to follow the lead of the Church. This was further backed up in 1968 with the issuance of Human Vitae, which constitutes the present day policy of the Church. Then again, the issue of population in the country keeps rising and Filipinos are more inclined in supporting the proposed RH Bill.
In 1994, the country was one of the signatories to the concept of RH and reproductive rights in the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt. The Philippine Church reacted negatively on this step by burning the document and declaring it as an “agreement with the devil (Tulali, 2009).” On one side, the public’s responses are more “for” the proposed bill. In a poll conducted by Pulse Asia in 2008, 63% of the respondents support the bill, 8% opposed to it, while the remaining are undecided. Supporters cite poverty cause by unplanned pregnancies and its linkage to overpopulation as one of their main reasons why they are for the proposed bill (Author Unknown, 2009). It is reported that 27% of the population live below poverty line (Dumlao, 2008). Accordingly, by reducing population, the quality of life would be improved. Furthermore, the bill, though it does not support abortion, will help prevent illegal abortion and will give women better access to FP resources. Data show that among 500,000 women that have abortions each year due to unintended pregnancies, 80,000 end up in hospital care due to complications. (Author Unknown, 2009).
A Decent Life?
According to the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), 36% of one in three births are either unwanted (16%) or mistimed (20%). In most cases, women considered terminating or attempted to stop the pregnancy (Juarez, Cabigon and Singh, 2005). In a further statistics done by the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) in 1998 with women who were not using FP methods, it was reported that 20% of married Filipino women “do not want any more children or want to wait at least two years before having another child.”
However, even with this fact, the Church and its allies “do not subscribe to this idea of an ‘unmet need’ and instead blame moral decay and the ‘proliferation of contraceptives’ for promiscuity, abortions and illegitimate births (Sison, 2003).” It is said that politicians who support the Church are hanging on to cling to power. They are afraid to loose the Church’s support and its flock.
In 2003, President Gloria Arroyo publicly confessed that she used oral pills in her early marriage. However, she issued Administrative Order Number 125 recognizing only NFP as the “acceptable mode of birth control”, refusing to set aside funds to government health agencies, much more projects on FP and RH. For the president to promote only NFP is undemocratic, unconstitutional, discriminatory, and immoral.
The president violates the 1987 Philippine Constitution, Article 15, Section 3.4 which states for “families or family association to participate in the planning and implementation and programs that affect them.” The call on other methods of RH has been going on for years yet the voice of the people, especially of women, are being unheard. The president’s declaration of NFP method breaches the said Article, and she has relatively discriminated opinions of other religions and a particular group of people – women.
Women are among the marginalized groups in the world. Limiting them from choosing a suitable NFP method denies them of what is constitutionally given to them. Article II Section 11 supports women’s issues by stating that “the State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect of human rights.”
In addition, for the president to incline a policy in favor of the Church discriminates other religions in the country. She is, regardless of religious background, the president of the people. She is to serve the people and not to an institution. Her pronouncement leaning towards the Church’s stand violates to the Constitution since it excludes other citizens such as the Muslims, other Christian denominations, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and other forms of religions in the country.
According to Sison, the Church argues that alternative FP methods promote moral decay and the “‘proliferation of contraceptives’ for promiscuity, abortions and illegitimate births;” citing injustice and inequality rather than population as responsible for hunger in larger and poor families. Yet is it not morally right for a country to allow to increase its number when basic human needs are not addressed? Is it morally acceptable for a family to keep on growing when they don’t have space in their “under the bridge” house; and unsure of sending five kids to school, more so feeding them? Where does morality draw the line in such instances? With our unpaid international debts, the government cannot provide social security to each citizen; and the Church cannot accommodate and support the basic needs of 80 million of its followers.
The Church promotes only NFP as its method of FP. They, thus, support that human fertility has its cycle. NFP then can be paralleled to responsible parenting and citizenship. Tulali presses that giving citizens other alternatives to FP is logical and moral since its usage “produces [more benefits] without desecrating the reasoning of the moral theologian.” Sex is not only an act of procreation but an act of bonding and fortifying unions and relationships.
What can be done?
No matter how much the Church presses its arguments on artificial forms of contraception, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, couples do whatever they want behind closed doors, whether aware or unaware of NFP. The fact is our country has a poor accessibility to RH.
Being one of the signatories in the 1994 Cairo Convention and Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the government has an obligation to the international community and its people to ensure that women be given appropriate and equal health care measures and services including FP. No matter what the Church says, constitutionally speaking, the State is responsible to and for its people. Moreover, the government should maximize the situation now that the public is open in changing the phase of poverty and overpopulation.
Giving the population more options to FP does not equate eradicating abstinence or NFP. That option will still be available for those who are comfortable and confident in that method. But other techniques should also be made accessible to those who are not comfortable with NFP. After all, one-size-fits-it-all is not suitable to and for everyone.
Uganda has been practicing the ABC method as part of their RH rights: (A)bstain, (B)e faithful, (C)ondom-use. It must be noted that Uganda is dominantly Christian and is a conservative country. However, there are a number of issues that the Philippines is ahead than Uganda. For one, homosexuals are not allowed in their society while, ironically enough, it is accepted in the Philippines. Yet the Ugandan government recognized the need to address the different issues that surround population growth and HIV and AIDS. To cover up population control and the macho culture, the Ugandan government introduced condom-use to limit the spread of HIV and AIDS. I believe this is something the Philippines can copy from them. Data indicates that there is an alarming growth of HIV and AIDS cases in the Philippines. UNAIDS reported that an estimated number of 12,000 Filipinos were HIV positive in 2005. Some of the reasons claimed are lack of information on RH; and the taboo public discussion of sex, something of an unwritten law in the Catholic society.
The Philippine government responded positively on the issue of HIV and AIDS. Last February 14, 2010, the Department of Health distributed condoms as a safe sex campaign. Like Uganda, the government can bend to the HIV and AIDS “excuse” to induce condom-use, and to promote safe sex and education to the public.
Hollywood movies dominate the Filipino movie theaters. In a subtle way, Filipinos imitate western culture. Schultz and Lavenda (1990) in the article Culture and the Human Condition state that “Culture is not reinvented by each generation; rather… [it is] learn[ed]… from other members of the social groups… although… later mod[ified]…. culture is shared as well as learned.” In people’s daily interaction, they learn from each other. From learning each other, they imitate ways and means, sometimes throwing away the bad habits and retaining the good ones, or at times copying the more rational practices from other cultures.
In 1990s, Uganda’s HIV cases dropped dramatically. Although the result cannot be attributed to one single factor, the frank and honest discussion initiated by the government to address this issue also tapped the concern on population. President Yoweri Museveni encouraged all stakeholders – churches, schools and villages – in the country to cooperate in the campaign for behavior change on sexual attitudes.
In Brazil and Jamaica, on the other hand, the ABC (C standing for Condoms and Contraception) approach are linked with HIV and AIDS prevention and unintended pregnancies. This may be a similar case in the Philippines. It is said that 35% reported cases of the epidemic “involved overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and/or their spouse (de la Cruz, 2008)”. The argument pressed by condom-use supporters is that a married wo/man can be faithful to his/her partner yet the other engages in extra marital affairs. Condom use protects partners from infecting the other of the risks of HIV and AIDS (especially if one is infected and has not yet been diagnosed); and allows a married woman to plan childbearing as well as protect her unborn child from passing the virus from a husband who may have other sexual partners. In addition, for a young woman who opts to abstain until marriage, she needs proper guidance on sex education. As this issue is not opened in the homes, the Philippine government can integrate sex education starting third or fourth year in high school. I worked in a health communications NGO in Uganda. Every month, I answered hundreds of letters from adolescents seeking for advise on sexuality, and sexual and reproductive health and development. The organization I was involved with still is a powerful media for adolescents to address the different issues about growing up. In any case, knowledge is power! Furthermore, a young woman who chooses to abstain before marriage might want to prefer C approach to plan her family. After all, she knows what’s best for her.
The ABC approach on reproductive health issues, especially C technique, does not equate in promoting immoral acts. An honest discussion will open the minds of the public on the real issues on overpopulation and its consequences. In my opinion, after a number of surveys and studies done over the years, the mere fact that the Filipinos, especially women, want other options apart from NFP, is a big indicator that they are ready and willing for the new FP and RH culture and rights. Educating the public about the ABC (especially on condom use) allows them to be empowered and protected not only from unintended pregnancies but against sexually transmitted diseases too.
Having lived and worked in Africa, I have seen that condom use is the most effective tool. In my opinion, a person might have abstained before marriage but is HIV+ due to either blood transfusion or mother-to-child transmission. The only way s/he can protect her partner is through the use of condom. Moreover, a wife may be faithful to her husband but her partner might be having other relations. If she uses contraceptives, she may not get pregnant but she might get the virus. Thus, condoms will protect her, as well as her unborn child, from acquiring the virus. If in any case a child is conceived from an HIV+ parent, the unborn child can be spared from acquiring the virus with proper guidance from counselors during and after pregnancy. In other words, condom use hits two birds in one stone namely: population control, and the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Hence, I believe the government should seriously consider in approving the RH bill into a law to give women more options, and to empower and protect their RH rights through these options.