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INTERNATIONAL NEWS | Advocates in Philippines Lobbying for Family Planning Policies Despite Opposition From Catholic Leaders

INTERNATIONAL NEWS | Advocates in Philippines Lobbying for Family Planning Policies Despite Opposition From Catholic Leaders
[June 23, 2008]

"[P]rominent forces" are publicly discussing the benefits of family planning in the Philippines, where for centuries the Roman Catholic Church has "exerted its influence" like it has in few other countries, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the Journal, family planning advocates have "existed for years on the fringes of society," but an increasing number of advocates are now urging the government to implement family planning policies to address the country's economic problems and slow its population growth.

Former Filipino President Joseph Estrada -- a 71-year-old former actor who was overthrown in a church-backed coup in 2001 -- is traveling the country encouraging people to use condoms to prevent unintended pregnancies. In addition, advocates have discussed family planning on television talk shows and in opinion pieces in local newspapers. "It is time for the Philippines' Catholic Church hierarchy to be more understanding and tolerant, as in other Catholic countries, so that the government is not impeded from providing strong family planning advice," Ernesto Pernia, an economics professor at the University of the Philippines, said.

Some family planning advocates say the country should implement policies such as those adopted in China, Indonesia and Thailand, which have been effective in slowing population growth by focusing on the health benefits of having fewer children or on economic reasons for having fewer children. Pedro Quitorio, spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, has argued that the Philippines has lower incomes because of corruption and a lack of economic planning rather than overpopulation and a lack of family planning policies. According to the Journal, the country's population has increased from 77 million to 90 million since 2001, and the "baby boom" is increasing the country's dependence on foreign imports.

According to the Journal, Filipino President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is "devoutly Catholic," said she agrees that the government should do more to provide family planning services but that efforts should appeal to Catholic sensibilities. Arroyo said such an approach would be a "better argument to an ordinary Filipino family" than an approach that focuses on the economic benefits of slowing the country's population growth (Hookway, Wall Street Journal, 6/20).