MANILA, Philippines—Economists of the University of the Philippines, including three former socioeconomic planning secretaries, Wednesday backed the reproductive health (RH) bill pending in Congress and said its critics were erroneous in claiming that it was pro-abortion and anti-life.
In a five-page position paper read by Ernesto Pernia and signed by him and 26 others, the professors of the UP School of Economics said that after a "studious reading," they found the measure to be pro-poor and "authentically" pro-life and pro-family.
"We strongly support the RH bill and urge the national leadership to be fully and unequivocally behind it," they said, citing the measure’s main thrust of enabling 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 economists urged Congress to prioritize the passage of the RH bill. They called on the Arroyo administration to adopt a strong population control policy to show its seriousness in addressing poverty.
"An unambiguous and consistent national population policy is long overdue in our country… Caught between a ‘hard’ Church and a ‘soft’ State are the overwhelming majority of Filipinos who affirm the importance of helping women and couples control the size of their families," they said.
They added that the Philippines was one of the few countries left that could not promote the use of artificial contraception because of opposition from the Catholic Church.
The position paper was written based on researches done by the economists, including former Socioeconomic Planning Secretaries Dante Canlas, Felipe Medalla and Solita Monsod, former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, former Asian Development Bank economist Ernesto Pernia and former Philippine Stock Exchange president Cayetano Paderanga.
The economists said population growth and poverty were highly correlated, and cited a study showing that of the poor families in the Philippines, only 10 percent had only one child, while 57 percent had nine or more children.
"There is evidence that the poor prefer smaller families, except that they are unable to achieve their preference. On the average, among the poorest 10 percent of women of reproductive age, 44 percent of pregnancies are unwanted," they said.
The economists said the large occurrence of unwanted pregnancies only proved there was an unmet need for family planning services by the government.
In the latest poverty incidence report by the National Statistical Coordination Board, the number of poor Filipinos increased to 33 percent of the population in 2006 from 30.4 percent in 2003.
Not only does a weak population control policy aggravate poverty, it also contributes to a higher rate of maternal mortality, the economists said.
Unwanted pregnancies jeopardize the health of mothers, they said.
According to the economists, 162 of every 100,000 live births in the Philippines lead to the death of the mother during delivery.
This had kept the country off-track to meet the target of reducing the number to 52 for every 100,000 by 2015, as promised under the Millennium Development Goals, they said.
"Espousing ‘natural family planning only’ reflects a lack of seriousness in pursuing long-term economic development and poverty reduction," the economists said.
They said couples able to plan their families were more able to financially support the education and health-maintenance needs of their children, while bigger families were more likely to rely on public schools and hospitals.
"In short, in a situation where government is already hard pressed in financing even the most basic items of public spending, having no national population policy is tantamount to burying one’s head in the sand," the economists said.
Under the RH bill, or House Bill No. 16, funds should be allocated for the purpose of promoting various forms of family planning, including the use of contraception.
The bill, authored by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, requires local government units to allocate 10 percent of the internal revenue allotment of local development projects on reproductive health care services.
It also seeks to encourage the limitation of the number of children to two per family. Children from these families shall be given preference in the grant of scholarships at the tertiary level.
The economists, however, said the provision of the bill encouraging the limit of the number of children to two per family might be difficult to defend, because the "ideal" family size was subjective.
The other economists who contributed to the position paper were Stella Alabastro-Quimbo, Maria Joy Abrenica, Ruperto Alonzo, Agustin Arcenas, Arsenio Balisacan, Joseph Capuno, Ramon Clarete, Rolando Danao, Emmanuel de Dios, Aleli dela Paz-Kraft, Emmanuel Esguerra, Raul Fabella, Maria Socorro Gochoco-Bautista, Teresa Ho, Maria Nimfa Mendoza, Toby Melissa Monsod, Fidelina Natividad-Carlos, Gerardo Sicat, Orville Solon, Edita Tan and Gwendolyn Tecson. – Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 14, 2008