Three “Inevitables”

by Juan L. Mercado

In 2010, Benigno  Aquino,  Salvador Escudero,  Gilberto Teoodoro or  Manuel  Villar  may  be  President.  Whoever  is  elected  will inherit,  from outgoing (hopefully) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, three  “inevitables”: death,  taxes – and nearly  92 million Filipinos. Populationwise, we’d be 20 Singapores.

Rewind to 1940. The census, that year, informed President Manuel Quezon: there were almost 20 million Filipinos.  Quezon’s successor, next year, will have five times that pre-World War II headcount.

Fast forward to 2016. Noynoy, Chiz, Gibo or Manny will step down from Malacanang. (“What about me?”, asks Erap, shackled  by plunder and murder charges.)  He will also pass on three “inevitables”: death, taxes — and probably  101.6 million Filipinos. We’d equal eight Cambodias then.That’s a given. Population growth has a momentum that ignores presidents, or bishops. Not “all thy piety nor wit  shall…cancel half a line,”  Omar Khayam wrote.

Consider the “youth bulge”. Majority of Filipinos are young.  With hormones in overdrive, many start families early,  despite marriage codes that jack up minimum age.  They tarry in reproductive yearslonger. Family planning services are patchy.

Other Asian nations have completed their “demographic transition”. That’s when death and birth rates drop, and population stabilizes at lower levels.  Have we even started?

The “Asean Twins” offer a case study. Thailand and the Philippines had, in the 1970s, almost identical demographic and economic profiles. Thailand adopted a population policy… We waffled.  

Today, there are almost 64 million Thais.  Contrast that with 88.5 million Filipinos,  our delayed 2007 census tallied. A bogged down demographic transition added 24.5 million Filipinos more. That’s almost one Malaysia.

The bitter debate over the Reproductive Health bills, meanwhile,  continues. Ironically, both sides agree on key points.

All concur that the cascade of  wizened ill-nourished babies,  into city slums or rural hovels, short of food, medicine, clean water, etc. is a scandal.  This can not continue. Otherwise, we forfeit all claims to being a humane society.

Shrill advocates or opponents of RH bills blur the fact that government and church agree on responsible parenthood. The Catholic Bishops’ 2nd Plenary Council, for example, taught:  Parents should “beget only those children they can raise up in a truly human and Christian way. The decision on number of children rests solely with parents.”

“It is legitimate for government to orient the demography of population,” the Catholic catechism says.  It can do so by information, but not by coercion or “means contrary to moral law.”

All recoil from abortion.  Yet, “nearly half a million Filipinas opted for underground abortions,in 2000,” notes Dr. Mary Racelis formerly of Unicef.  Illegal  clinics and hilots ply their sub-rosa trade.

Are abortions up to 700,000 today? No one really knows. But all agree women must be helped to become informed and speak for themselves. Continued neglect would “abet the terrible reality of abortion as the only viable choice open to poor Filipino women.”

Both sides agree that families should be educated,  including natural family planning methods. Almost a third (27%) of women in the poorest fifth of population want to limit their families,

But they lack access to information and services. These are essential if couples are to make family size decisions  responsibly and freely, Pope John Paul II stressed. A  “bahala na” attitude spills into unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

Children are denied support to realize their God-given potentials.

Bucking artificial contraception is not enough,  says the new book: “Natural Family Planning”.  Practical programs, must replace acrimony, so family needs of people, specially the neediest, are met.

The  Research Institute for Mindanao Culture and Science Foundation, based at Xavier University, and Philippine Center for Population and Development, drew up this 163 page study. It examines experience in “frontier”   Mindanao dioceses – Ipil, Cagayan de Oro, Isabela (Basilan) Digos and Cotabato.  Other “traditional” dioceses, Capiz and Jaro among them, are analyzing the impact.

Real life experiences in scavenger areas like Payatas or rural settings as in Ipil are the book’s anchor. This compendium  is a proactive response, wrote then CBCP president Angel Lagdaemo in the foreword.  It is relevant for all diocesan “Family and Life” commissions.

“There is  need for pastoral prudence,” Cagayan  de Oro’s  Archbishop Antonio Ledesma writes. But we must  give an effective answer to the stark realities of unwanted pregnancies, abortions and use of contraceptives…That  (calls for) some pastoral  innovation. Duc in altum (“Launch into the deep”.)

Cagayan has an all NFP program in key parishes. It’s programs incorporate the improved Standard Days Method, which CBCP accepts.  Only parishes that volunteer may join.  No funds from government or foreign agencies are used. Contraceptives are excluded.

Ledesma urges an “inclusive approach” by openness to government support for NFP programs. “Some look at the risks involved,” he wrote. “I look at the hope. “

Isn’t  that lifted  from  St. James letter of AD 50?. If you say to the needy “go in peace, keep warm and eat well”, but do not give  them  help, “of  what use is it? “  Ask Noynoy,  Chiz,  Gibo or Manny..All right. Ask Erap too.

(E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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