A number of arguments for and against the Reproductive Health bill have been posited and the debates have been mostly emotional, with the Senate seemingly succeeding in derailing the passage of the measure. The Catholic Church has taken the lead in opposing the passage of the bill into law, claiming that certain provisions are against Church teachings. The Church has even broadly defined abortion to include the use of condoms and other common contraceptives. It has mislabeled the RH bill as promoting abortion notwithstanding specific provisions to the contrary.
Those opposed to the RH bill argue that we do not need measures to curtail population growth because we are not really overpopulated. In fact, a number of global economists look favorably at the Philippines because of its young and growing population. They claim that the demand for goods that these young Filipinos need will spur the growth of the Philippine economy. The opponents also mention the situation in Japan and other developed western nations that have had low population growth for decades now and thus face a graying population which the working class may eventually have difficulty supporting. But isn’t this akin to our current situation, where the productive working class is unable to support the unproductive sectors of our population?
Depending on one’s values, many cynically prefer the status quo but without admitting that their position is founded on their own vested and selfish interests. From a selfish affluent Filipino family’s standpoint, why curtail population growth when this provides an adequate supply of cheap and qualified maids, drivers and other members of the labor force? And since the poor are unable to afford sending their children to good but expensive schools, the children of the affluent families gain a real and distinct advantage in receiving much better education, which gives them better and improved chances of landing good-paying jobs.
Since population growth is highest among the poor, this vicious chain of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer will be perpetuated. Access to contraceptives is denied only the very poor and uneducated in the country; it has never been a problem for the rich and a large part of the middle class. Thus, making contraceptives more accessible will not redound much to the benefit of these groups in our society. The RH bill, providing for better and easier access to contraceptives and pushing for responsible parenthood, is pro-poor and pro-development and will at least afford the poor the opportunity to better manage the size of their families. Access to a better life is a paramount right of every individual, and it is the government’s duty to make this possible.
People can be an asset or a liability. If they are educated, skilled and possess the right attitude and values, they are an asset. The challenge now is: How do we increase the number of Filipinos who can be assets to the country? How do we create the environment and circumstances that will enable us to achieve this? In relation to the RH bill, will its passage into law and the enforcement of its provisions contribute to or hamper the achievement of this environment? The answer is obvious.
The ideal situation is, of course, one where there are both good quantity and good quality of Filipinos. However, blocking the RH bill’s passage and keeping the status quo will not make this possible. The government’s current resources are not enough to take care of the poor and give them opportunities to pull themselves out of the quagmire of continuing poverty.
Let’s look at our neighbors. Thailand, which had a population of 54.6 million compared to our 60.7 million in 1990, now has only 65.5 million compared to our 92.3 million. Thailand’s population grew by 20 percent, and ours by a whopping 52 percent! Its per capita GDP is $9,400, which is more than double our $4,100. There are, of course, other factors involved, but to a great extent, Thailand’s growth and development are attributable to the lower growth in its population. The empirical evidence on the high population growth of developing economies hampering their economic growth and development is so undisputable that the opponents of the RH bill resort to emotion and religion, and, to some extent, disinformation, to defend their position.
Undeniably, the chances of improvement in the quality of life of the greater mass of Filipinos will be better if the RH bill is passed. It is high time we set aside our personal beliefs as to God’s mandate for us to “go forth and multiply,” looked squarely into the face of reality, and stopped being hypocritical. Surely, the majority of the millions who hear Catholic Masses every Sunday use contraceptives one way or another, particularly those with less than four children. If this were not so, then the average size of the Filipino family would have remained the same—around nine children, as was the case in the families of both my parents during their time.
For the Catholic Church to hear the wish and sentiment of its flock, perhaps for the coming two Sundays, those who support the RH bill should hear Mass on Saturday instead. With the resulting “empty” Sundays, perhaps the Church will wake up to reality and listen to its people, and cease opposing the passage of the RH bill into law.