BARELY a month left in the campaign, reproductive health issues have yet to figure prominently in the platforms of candidates running for public office in the coming May elections.

Population watchdogs attribute this apparent reluctance among candidates to include population and family planning in their platforms to their fear of losing in the elections if they antagonize certain influential sectors like the Catholic Church, which has time and again opposed alternative family planning methods other than the natural one.

But the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation (PLCPD) said such indecision is baseless, citing the recent Pulse Asia Ulat ng Bayan Survey showing nearly eight out of 10 or 76 percent of Filipinos placing considerable importance on family planning as an election issue.

Importance of Inclusion of Family Planning in Candidate's Platform

The March 2007 survey also revealed that one in every two Filipinos (52 percent) actually think that candidates who will support family planning will help them win in the elections. Forty-four percent of respondents likewise think that the Church must not involve itself in the issue compared to 33 percent who say otherwise.

Pulse Asia further reported that most Filipinos (92 percent) believe that planning is important in one’s family and nine out of 10 Filipinos think that the government must finance modern methods of family planning, including the use of pills, condoms, and uterine devices, ligation and vasectomy.

PLCPD and other reproductive-health advocacy NGOs, which gathered together in a forum the other day in Manila, a city known for its controversial policies against artificial birth control methods (see the PCIJ story, In Manila, Pills and Condoms Go Underground), are therefore challenging candidates to support family planning and reproductive health issues by including these in their platforms.

The country’s current population is pegged at 83.7 million, with an annual growth rate of 2.36, the highest in Asia. (Read PLCPD’s “Population and Reproductive Health, What Every Candidate Must Know“)

In 2004, the Philippines was ranked as the 12th most populated country in the world by the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau. The group said Philippines is expected to remain in the 12th until 2050. Metro Manila alone was reported to be among the world’s most populous urban agglomerations.

According to Maricar Laigo Vallido of the Philippine NGO Council on Population, Health and Welfare, hundreds of babies are being born every minute. But most women refuse to resort to artificial means of family planning due to the lack of information and education.

Apparently, studies show that women are not receiving appropriate information about their reproductive health rights.

But one of the speakers, Manila Vice Mayor and mayoralty candidate Danny Lacuna said artificial methods such as the use of condom can create health problems, emphasizing that “the natural way of birth control will give dignity to the Filipina and using contraceptives can degrade her dignity.”

Ramon San Pascual of the PLCPD argued that what’s immoral is to have a woman give birth to children she cannot support.

Kalayaan Pulido-Constantino of Abanse! Pinay added that the “dignity of women” is hinged on how they handle decisions on family planning, based on their perception and rights. She also explained that not all women are capable of using natural methods as these depend on one’s menstrual cycle. “The natural method is only effective to women who have 26 to 32 days of menstrual cycle. The alternative option would be to use modern contraceptives,” Constantino said.

The groups called on Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, Lacuna, and other candidates of the city to launch programs and educational campaigns on family planning, and to open the people’s minds on the use of modern family planning methods.

“It’s about time to accept the other methods of family planning to prevent overpopulation and poverty in the country,” the groups said. “Let’s give modern methods of family planning a chance.”

Ma. Roma Marqueses of St. Scholastica’s College is currently doing her internship with the PCIJ.

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