‘Archaic arguments’in RH debate

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I applaud my friend Prof. Raul C. Pangalangan for his Publisher’s Note titled “Anti-RH, anti-poor and anti-women” (Inquirer, 12/8/12) which, it is hoped, would help push the passage of the reproductive health (RH) bill. However, I think it was unnecessary and probably counterproductive to contrapose the rights-based and the “population control” strands vis-à-vis the RH bill. To begin with, what he  calls “population control” is precisely the phrase used by those who oppose the RH bill by trying to denigrate it as coercive. Contemporary, level-headed economists refer to the economic approach as “population policy” or “population management,” of which RH is a key policy instrument.

More importantly, linking the economic strand to archaic arguments of the “distribution of the pie,” corruption and “two hands to work versus one mouth to feed” angles is also off. Those are hardly now the lingo of economists. The late economist Colin Clark (1905-1989), who at some stage in his career is said to have served as adviser to the Vatican, was among those who marshaled those arguments. Among Filipinos, Dr. Bernardo Villegas continues to advance them.

Population management, almost by definition, aims to balance population with the capacity of the economy and environment. And any thinking person cannot and would not object to such an idea. Seen in this context, the rights-based and economic arguments for RH are actually mutually supportive. For after all, the economy comprises households besides business firms and the government. The rights-based approach mandates that poor households, in particular, be capacitated by the government “to choose freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children” so that they can live dignified and fulfilling lives. Which implies that they can become productive members of the labor force, thereby benefiting firms, as well as avail themselves of gains from economic development. Moreover, parents, particularly mothers, are eased of the burden of child-bearing and -care, enabling them to be gainfully employed. Such is the virtuous circle that has occurred among our Asian neighbors.

To paraphrase the 30 UP economists’ Talk of the Town piece (“Population, poverty, politics and RH bill,” Inquirer, 7/29/12), RH or family planning is a win-win solution as it enhances the well-being of parents, especially women and children, and benefits the economy and the environment as well.

—ERNESTO M. PERNIA,

UP School of Economics,

Diliman, Quezon City

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