Friday, August 08, 2008

Rhythm Method, Out of Sync

Over coffee, a childhood buddy told me why his organization turned down a substantial grant from a Pharmaceutical company. He belongs to a Filipino Roman Catholic lay community that has branched out into building homes for impoverished countrymen. They declined money that could have provided shelter for dozens of families because the Pharma manufactured abortion pills. This ran contrary to the Roman Catholic stance against contraception.

This brought to mind a battle waged by a former Philippine president against omnipotent bishops.

Fidel Ramos was elected president in 1992 and one of his priorities was to improve his fellow Filipinos’ economic lot. He knew that integral to promoting prosperity was curbing population growth. At this time, annual population growth was 2.3 %, the average family had 5 children and agricultural growth was only 1 %. (Asiaweek in National Center for Biotechnology Information Database).

With a total land area roughly the size of Italy divvied up into 7,107 islands, the Philippines was a pretty crowded place with a density of 202 persons per square kilometer and growing. The population was expected to swell to 75 million by the turn of the century. Such rapid growth coupled with gross inequity left millions vulnerable, especially women and children. And in fast bourgeoning urban areas, unemployment was on the rise due to the migration of struggling rural folk. It was pretty obvious that overpopulation had to be addressed (Integration in NCBI Database).

Ramos sought to solve the problem by promoting family planning policies that encouraged the use of contraceptives as well as the only RC-sanctioned birth control means, the rhythm method. Family planning funding was increased five-fold, with the number of social workers multiplying from 200 to 8000.

However in 1994, the largest protest since the 1986 “People Power” uprising was led by Cardinal Sin and former president Corazon Aquino to stop Ramos’ efforts. The crowd protested the "cultural dictatorship," which promoted abortion, homosexuality, lesbianism, sexual perversion, condoms, and artificial contraception. The movement also criticized an 85 page draft action plan for the International Conference on Population and Development scheduled for later that year. Cardinal Sin even accused President Clinton of promoting worldwide abortion (Asiaweek in NCBI Database).

Ramos, the only non-Roman Catholic president of the Republic, had challenged the Church's positions on contraception and abortion. He faced Goliath. In a state that was 85% Roman Catholic, the bishops controlled the masses and government. It is ironic that less than a decade earlier, Ramos and Sin had been allies in overthrowing the Marcos regime.

It turns out that the debate continues. ABS-CBN New Online reports that just a week ago, Ramos

… lashed out at President Arroyo for her government's supposedly ineffective family planning program.

Speaking during the World Population Day forum in Mandaluyong City Friday, Ramos said Mrs. Arroyo's "ambiguousness" and her alleged subservience to the Catholic church have restrained the implementation of an effective family planning program in the country.

Ramos pointed out that as fuel and food costs climb precipitously and mass poverty worsens, the population problem issue must be addressed by those in power. He was quoted as remarking that

…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.

Sadly, Philippine leaders kowtow to the princes of Rome.

Since Ramos’ term, the Philippine population has exploded to a staggering 88.6 million, one of the highest in the world. The small country is projected to have 100 million citizens by 2015. The National Statistical Coordination Board reports that in 2006, poverty incidence for families increased to 26.9%. The same year, a third of Filipinos lived below the poverty line. Fifteen percent – over 13 million people - live on less than a dollar a day (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific). explains why the Philippine bishops and the Roman Catholic Church condemns the use of contraception that could easily lift millions upon millions of hungry and poor individuals out of misery worldwide:

Contraception is wrong because it’s a deliberate violation of the design God built into the human race, often referred to as "natural law." The natural law purpose of sex is procreation. The pleasure that sexual intercourse provides is an additional blessing from God, intended to offer the possibility of new life while strengthening the bond of intimacy, respect, and love between husband and wife. The loving environment this bond creates is the perfect setting for nurturing children.

But sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation. God’s gift of the sex act, along with its pleasure and intimacy, must not be abused by deliberately frustrating its natural end—procreation.

Is it natural at all to allow hundreds of millions of children to be born into lives of poverty and deprivation? Into lives with little hope and no future?

Photo by Jan Pleiter


Noel E. Bordador said...

Hi there Erwin!

Great blogs!

As a former Roman Catholic who had been at odds (still is at odds) with some of its moral teaching, nevertheless I would not altogether dismissed the argument against contraception and abortion.

However, I am not appealing on the grounds of natural law.

My argument is based on social justice, i.e., the use of contraception and abortion, on a social policy level, as a means to control the population among the poor. Your questions were "Is it natural at all to allow hundreds of millions of children to be born into lives of poverty and deprivation? Into lives with little hope and no future?" I don't think that anyone with a social conscience would ever want a child to be born into poverty and deprivation.

The problem of poverty in the Philippines lies not with overpopulation, but with the unjust distribution of resources. The rich minority control most of the resources, while the majority lives in poverty. The problem of poverty also stems from governmental corruption and mismanagement and unfair distribution of resources. I think it an oversimplification to state that overpopulation is the cause of poverty. There are other countries with a high density population but are not poor- Hong Kong, South Korea, Britain etc. The latter has three times the population of Ghana and eighty one times the per capita GDP.

I was told that in the 1950s and 60s, the Philippines was the envy of many countries of Asia. We once had economic ascendancy, we were not THIS poor, we were not THIS corrupt. What happened?

I am very much opposed to the use of contraception and abortion as a way to limit the population of the poor Third World and developing countries while the rich, affluent First World countries disproportionately and unjustly use most of the world's resources.

I work among the poor in the United States. The other day, I spent hours in a Welfare office in Brooklyn. There were many people, almost 99.9% there were people of color. What was sad was that there were also many children in that office who were born in poverty, and it is a sad, humiliating and dehumanizing thing especially for these children to witness their parents beg for money. There have been horrendous calls in the past to sterilize poor mothers in the country. Yet I know also that the cause of poverty is the inequitable distribution of resources in this country. The poor should not be blamed for the economic ills of the country and the world...

Two cents of a simple priest who almost know nothing- Noel+

Anonymous said...

He's just saying that one of the factors to why the country is suffering is because of the massive population.
You do have a point though, there is an unequal distribution of resources. But thing is, Philippines is such a tiny country and has one of the biggest populations in the world.
One of the things we can do to improve people's lives in our country is to curb the population growth so that we can take care of those already alive. All the riches of the world put together cannot undo the suffering, hunger and abuse the children have experienced. Why let more children suffer? Shouldn't we take care of the ones we already have before bringing more of them into this world?