At Large

Who doesn’t want children?

If a Filipino Catholic bishop is to be believed, it is the “will of God” for the number of Filipinos to grow because it’s all part of the Divine Plan.

As reported by Inquirer correspondent Jonas Cabiles Soltes, Daet Bishop Gilbert Garcera in an interview before the New Year said he believes that it is “God’s plan for Filipinos to be caregivers to aging nations whose populations had become stagnant.” Filipino women, the bishop added, “would make ‘good wives’ for foreigners in countries that have low population growth.”


In other words, Bishop Garcera believes that “God’s plan” for Filipinos is to be the world’s nannies and caregivers and for Filipino women to be “suitable mates” for presumably lonely and aging foreign men. And to this end, we should continue having babies.

Pardon me, but haven’t we heard this before? I thought such stupid opinions had gone the way of hot pandesal and beepers, but apparently, many Filipinos, including not a few bishops, still hold true to them.


Overpopulation, Bishop Garcera added, has been “advantageous” to the Philippines and “to the world” because it means more overseas workers and migrants could send remittances back home while “taking care of aging people abroad and spreading the Christian faith.”

I don’t know if by this his understanding of God is a cross between an illegal recruiter and a zealous proselytizer.

But as a woman, I find it personally offensive that such a personage sees women as nothing more than “wombs for rent” whose progeny would “repopulate the world.”

* * *

“WHO doesn’t want children?” responded Health Undersecretary Janette Garin at Tuesday’s “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel” when asked about the news that the Philippine population is expected to reach 100 million before the year ends.

Honestly, Garin said, “I don’t know if I should be happy or sad [about the news].” Although she was a representative of Iloilo (a seat her husband now occupies) before her appointment to the Department of Health, Janette grew up in Leyte. She had rushed to her hometown upon hearing news of the devastation wrought by Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” but even before she could make it to her family home, so many other people in need—her relatives, her neighbors—came to her asking for help and assistance. “I looked around and saw the utter destruction of the place,” she recalled, “and I wondered how we could help lift them out of that miserable situation.” The same feeling, it seems, sometimes overwhelms her when thinking about the challenge of a rapidly growing population.

“It would be happy news if the babies are being born to comfortable families,” she told the media gathering. “But the bad news is that the population increase is taking place among the poorest families, with women having to bear unwanted pregnancies.”


* * *

THIS may be the reason that Garin, as well as the DOH and Health Secretary Enrique Ona, is cosponsoring the 7th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights to be held on Jan. 21-24 at the Philippine International Convention Center.

The conference is expected to gather some 3,000 delegates from around the world, but mainly from the Asia and Pacific region, to discuss issues that have to do with reproductive and sexual health and rights, including those of young people.

Indeed, the conference proper will be preceded by a daylong Youth Conference meant to give greater focus to the needs, views and actions of young people in the region.

“We need to be respectful of the rights of young people,” noted Jeross Aguilar, chair of the conference’s youth steering committee. To Deedee Siytangco of the Bulletin, who expressed alarm at the growing number of young people having “premarital sex,” Aguilar replied that the answer lies in educating the youth, “giving them the right information and advice on appropriate behaviors.”

“Ignorance is no longer an excuse,” Aguilar added, while Pilar Ramos-Jimenez, who chairs the conference’s scientific committee, reminded the journalists present that there are numerous initiatives led and conceptualized by young people but which don’t get sufficient media attention.

How to prevent “early sexual encounters” (apparently the preferred term these days, since “two single 50-year-olds having sex can be considered as engaging in premarital sex”)? Apart from education, said Aguilar and Garin, “parents should stop living in denial, and talk to their children as honestly and frankly as they could” about sexuality, bodily integrity, relationships and personal values.

* * *

THE conference, noted Eden Divinagracia, its convener and also executive director of the Philippine NGO Council on Population, Health and Welfare, follows the track established by the groundbreaking 1991 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, where the term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” first gained international recognition. In a way, this year’s conference is also a summing up, as we observe the 20th anniversary of the Cairo conference and draw near to the time of reckoning on the successes (or failures) of the Millennium Development Goals.

Aside from activists, physicians, academics, researchers and young people, the conference is also expected to draw representatives of government, including United Nations agencies and international bodies, who will be held to the commitments they make at the end of the deliberations. Let’s cross our fingers that the future of the world’s most populous continent will be decided with all due consideration, compassion, passion, respect and resolve.

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TAGS: children, Daet Bishop Gilbert Garcera, Filipino children, Health Undersecretary Janette Garin, Millennium Development Goals, New Year, overpopulation, supertyphoon ‘yolanda’
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