By Jess Diaz
The Church and the State need not collide on the issue of population control, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the principal authors of the Reproductive Health Bill, said yesterday.
“The Catholic Church can continue to preach natural family planning methods, while the State advocates without bias both the natural and modern methods to afford women and couples the freedom of informed choice,” he said.
“It is important to underscore that the natural and modern methods of family planning have a common principal objective, which is to prevent unwanted pregnancies,” he said.
Lagman pointed out that the rice crisis and the reduction of only 0.30 percent in the country’s population growth rate seven years after the 2000 census recorded a 2.34 growth rate should prompt Congress to enact a law “responsibly mitigating the population problem.”
“Although the population growth rate has started to decline, population size is still increasing. This is due to a demographic condition called population momentum, which refers to the percentage of the population who will eventually reach reproductive age, bear children and contribute significantly to population size,” he stressed.
He noted that there is a big number of young people capable of bearing children.
Earlier, Lagman said President Arroyo now appears open to family planning and population management, a program that her government has refused to undertake due to opposition from Catholic bishops.
He said an indication of such openness is the President’s decision not to veto the Congress-approved P2-billion population management fund in the P1.227-trillion 2008 budget.
It was Lagman who included the P2-billion population management fund in the 2008 budget. He is the first appropriations committee chairman in the post martial law Congress to take the initiative to allot a huge amount of taxpayers’ money for population control.
He said population explosion is as much to blame as dwindling agricultural land for the rice crisis.
Under the 2008 Appropriations Law or the national budget, P1.2 billion of the P2-billion population control fund would be used for the procurement of “reproductive health commodities.”
Such products would include “modern natural and artificial family planning devices, which are medically and legally permissible, for free distribution to poor family planning acceptors.”
The remaining P800 million would be used to educate people on the need for family planning and how to plan their families using both natural and artificial means.
Based on the most recent census conducted by the National Statistics Office, Lagman estimates that the country’s annual population growth rate is 2.3 percent.
But according to Sorsogon Rep. Salvador Escudero III, who is a former agriculture secretary, a population watchdog based in Washington DC has calculated that the Philippine population grows by 2.6 percent a year. This figure includes poor families not covered by official surveys.
The official growth rate of 2.3 percent means that 2.1 million Filipinos would compete with the current 91 million for rice and other food products next year.
At that rate, there will be 94 million Filipinos to feed in 2010, 103 million in 2015, 111.8 million in 2020, and 120.2 in 2025.
The Arroyo government is trying to bring down the population growth rate to 1.9 percent.
Lagman said while the government is trying to solve the rice crisis from the perspective of production, or the supply side, it should simultaneously tackle the burgeoning population issue, or the demand side.