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Population growth and universal right to family planning

(Speech delivered at the "World Population Day 2008 Forum on Population and the Millennium Development Goals," EDSA Shangri-La Plaza, Mandaluyong City, July 11, 2008.)

By former President FIDEL VALDEZ RAMOS, Chairman, Ramos Peace and Development Foundation (RPDEV) and Boao Forum for Asia (BFA); and Eminent Person of the Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc.

"I AM honored to be counted among this group of champions and advocates of the universal right to family planning — and I am delighted to add my welcome to those already offered here to leaders of the United Nations Philippine Country Team, the diplomatic community, the donor agencies, civil society sectors, national and local government agencies, private business, academe, media, the youth, and especially the women.

Family Planning as a universal right of humankind is an urgent call we all must heed.

Some of the senior citizens among you may recall that, when I threw my hat into the electoral campaign for the Presidency in 1991, I was often described by nonbelievers as the "candidate of the Protestants." Those who objected to my avowed platform on population and on reproductive health and family planning described my proposals as reflecting my religious faith. Such a religious background as mine indeed risked the loss of countless numbers of votes from among a predominantly Catholic electorate."

President of all the people

"When I took my Oath of Office on 30 June 1992, I declared that I was not a Protestant President, but the President of the Philippines – who happened to be a Protestant in faith and upbringing – and the President of all Filipinos consisting of Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Aglipayans, Iglesia ni Kristo, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Mormons, the many other Christian charismatic denominations, etc., and our indigenous peoples – Lumads, Katutubos, Cordillerans, Aetas, Manobos, Mangyans, among others, who practise their respective ancestral spiritist traditions – in a country of diverse faiths and beliefs.

I have always believed that religion should guide us to do the right and moral thing, but that — as leaders regardless of our religious beliefs – we must always seek the greater good of all our people.

Convinced of our people’s political maturity and their aspirations for a higher quality of life, I dared face the disapproval of the majority Church when I embarked on a pro-active family planning policy as part of my vision for a better future for Filipinos. Even now, I look back to that policy decision with the same degree of commitment and pride.

While President, I encouraged Government’s participation in critical international conferences, notably the September 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo; the March 1995 World Summit for Social Development (WSSD) in Copenhagen; and the September 1995 Beijing Summit on Women.

During my time, Government committed itself to upholding the Plan of Action of these international accords, and consistently implemented productive supporting programs among our families and communities.

And now, almost 15 years since the ICPD, the WSSD, and the Beijing Summit, we have yet to see a determined, coherent, and consistent propeople policy in reproductive health and family planning in our country."

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The Arroyo administration’s population and family planning policy

"At her own inauguration in January 2001, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared her main goal to be a "Philippines without poverty in 10 years’ time." This is, of course, a worthy goal – a dream shared by millions of Filipinos.

But, sad to say, it is much easier said than done. Eradicating poverty from among our people would take many years of sustained economic growth and social justice. Our 1997 "Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Law" (R.A. 8425) reflected this reality. It is true that, since 2001, the economy has to a limited extent recovered from the counterproductive years of the Estrada presidency.

In a series of columns for the Manila Bulletin last December 2006, I called for "Back to Basics: A Rational Population Policy," in which I frankly stated that: "The Arroyo Administration’s population policy has generally been described as ‘flipflopping,’ perhaps due to unwarranted subservience to the Catholic Church, in particular to its group of powerful bishops. To prove this point, let us carefully study the 2004 U.N. Human Development Report (HDN).

"Even a cursory examination of the U.N. findings obtained from deep research and reports of memberstates, indicate that: (1) the predominantly Catholic countries – from Ireland down to Mexico – enjoy ‘high human development’ while maintaining very low population growth rates and fertility rates, and (2) the Philippines stands out as a predominantly Catholic country with a low Human Development Index (HDI) rank [#83] that does not reflect our true potential, but instead finds itself in the same league as Bangladesh, an impoverished country [HDI rank — #138], onehalf the size of the Philippines with almost twice our population. The correlation of the level of development and population growth/fertility rates is indeed too evident to be ignored!! Of course, other factors impact on the HDI rankings such as governance, corruption, endemic diseases like HIV/AIDS – and surely, this is where church authorities should focus upon, instead of serving to curtail the modern and preferred methods of family planning in advanced countries.

"Inexplicably, the Arroyo Government has declared that funding from the U.N. will be used to promote only natural methods of family planning under its official slogan being propagated as ‘responsible parenthood.’ (Note: This is a distortion of the ‘responsible parenthood’ concept of the ICPD.) Indeed, the Arroyo policy of ‘responsible parenthood’ is not only misleading, but a major reversal of the commitments of the Philippine Government and civil society at the Cairo Summit regarding the intimate interlinking of population policy, long-term sustainable development, and carrying capacity of the environment.""

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Cold statistics and trends: Population, poverty, food and health

"In 2007, GDP growth may have actually reached as high as 7 percent – the highest in three decades. But, despite this record growth, poverty incidence still remains high. Take the Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey finding that, during the first quarter of 2008, 2out-of-5 Filipino families – a total of 7.1 million families – considered themselves poor in terms of food. Due to the surge in the prices of oil, transport, food and other basic commodities, this number will almost certainly rise – thus, worsening mass poverty.

To ease poverty incidence and sustain economic growth, most countries must now undertake a closely inter-related cluster of policy reforms – and population moderation must be one such crucial policy.

Studies done here and around the world confirm the enduring link between family size and poverty. In our country, the most intense phase of this research was done during the 1960s and 1980s. A common conclusion was that "rapid population growth was more likely to hinder than to foster economic development."

A recent study by the Asian Development Bank showed that only 23.8 percent of Filipinos families with 4 children are poor, compared with 48.7 percent of families with 7 children. The poverty gap and the severity of deprivation in basic needs further worsen as family size increases.

If the population growth factor is so crucial to development, why then have we been neglecting or muddling the issue of population moderation and correct family planning?

According to a 2006 study done jointly by the U.P. Population Institute and the Alan Guttmacher Institute reported on 13 August 2007 by PCIJ’s Jaileen Jimeno, "ignorance of family planning methods leads to 6in10 Filipino women having an unintended pregnancy at some point in their lives. This figure translates into a total of 1.43 million unintended pregnancies yearly."

As of August 2007, our population stands at some 88.6 million and still counting. Our population growth rate – among the highest in the world – translates to three babies being born every minute. And many of these babies are unintended – mistimed – or even unwanted.

UNICEF estimates that 225 Filipino children die daily because of poverty-related diseases. As for maternal death rates, the Family Planning Survey estimates them at 162 deaths for every 100,000 live births. This translates to 10 mothers dying each day because of pregnancy and childbirthrelated complications.

At midpoint in our Millennium Development Goals, the Asian Development Bank states our country will not meet its target of reducing maternal mortality rate to 52 deaths per 100,000 live births. Yet, experts claim that 99 percent of maternal deaths could be prevented."

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The issue of contraception

"Now let me turn, briefly, to the crisis in our country’s subsidized contraceptive supply – 80 percent of which we have lost since 2003.

We used to get donations for contraception under a program of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Since 1970, USAID had been allocating to the Philippines an average of 17 million USD a year to help along our family planning program. Of that amount, some 3 million USD was allotted for contraceptives, which our family planning providers then gave away for free.

Unfortunately, USAID’s contraceptive program has been phased-out, with the last shipment of donations in-kind delivered last 2003. Now, Government has adopted a program of "Contraceptive Self-Reliance" — mainly by mobilizing domestic capacity to carry out the delivery of family planning services.

Malaca–ang has also begun urging local government units (LGUs) to invest in family planning commodities, as well as to encourage private providers and the commercial sector to provide such "self-reliant" support.

not all LGUs could afford to finance their contraceptive selfreliance programs. Until now, the DOH is faced with the quandary of deciding which provinces, cities, and towns should have priority – or how to divide the diminishing pie into equitable shares. Let us hope the most deserving LGUs get access to the fund before 2008 is over."

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Government’s weak response to our reproductive health crisis

"The Government’s family planning program reflects the gross inefficiency of the weak Philippine State. Even President Arroyo initially issued confusing statements on her Government’s family planning policy. Oddly, she has rejected Government’s purchase of contraceptive supplies, and has also passed on the responsibility of family planning programs, particularly regarding maternal and youth reproductive health, to local governments.

PGMA’s ambiguousness has hurt the cause of proper family planning in this country. DOH Administrative Order 125, sad to say, requires public health workers to promote natural family planning as "the only acceptable mode of birth control." Under the guise of "responsible parenthood," mothers’ lives and health, together with those of their babies, are now being put at risk for political expediency and religious traditionalism.

Yet, are we not a nation of diverse faiths and beliefs? Any Philippine President must represent the interest and welfare of Filipinos – regardless of what religion he or she may profess. The President must be the leader of all the people – and not just of the majority."

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Champions of correct family planning

"Present in this audience are concerned and responsible individuals representing three generations and a multitude of ethical beliefs and religious backgrounds – but who are united in a common selfless, visionary cause for the greater good.

Let me mention the names, among others, of such "eminents" as Juan Flavier, Mercedes Concepcion, Alberto Romualdez, Jimmy Galvez-Tan, Ernesto Pernia, Cesar Virata, Felipe Medalla, Aurora Silayan-Go, Leticia Ramos-Shahani, Tomas Osias, Washington Sycip, Cecille Joaquin-Yasay, Arsenio Balisacan, Ben de Leon, and Carmencita Salas – whose late husband, Rafael "Paeng" Salas, was the first Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund with the rank of U.N. Undersecretary-General, and whose life work made population and food a global concern.

I urge all our younger people here to derive inspiration from these pioneers of population moderation in our country and in the world – and to draw strength from their dedication.

The advocacy of correct family planning in this our beloved, but disunited, country continues to be marked by frustration and heartbreak. But, as responsible Filipinos, we cannot – we should not – lose hope that reform will eventually happen."

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Closing message

"Today, we are in a race against time – to save as many Filipino lives and futures as we can. So, we – particularly the younger ones – must not give up the fight, neither succumb to pressures, to politics, to temporary set-backs, to our own fears.

I urge the representatives of Government present to help dismantle the bureaucratic barriers that prevent Filipinos from exercising their universal right to make informed choices about a better future for their families and the quality of their lives.

I ask our donor community to continue supporting the correct population and development programs – to enable our service providers in Government and in civil society to build up their capacity to deliver better social services.

call on leaders of media to reinforce the voice of millions of Filipinos clamoring for their right to reproductive health be heard.

I urge our family planning champions to continue challenging the obstructionist status quo – and to serve as channels for change at the community and national levels.

May we always be the consistent and rational voice of the Filipino family.

Thank you and Mabuhay – Best wishes to all!"

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