RP population hits 88.57M;
anti-contraceptive policy blamed
THE population of the Philippines reached 88.57 million at a census in August last year, up from 76.5 million in 2000, and NEDA chief Augusto Santos says population growth policies need to be reviewed.
However, the government is unlikely to switch to promoting artificial birth control, experts said.
The Philippines has one of the highest population growth rates in the region, with at least three babies born every minute. The growth dilutes economic gains and the country does not produce enough rice locally to feed its people.
'The population is increasing and it means that government has to more vigorously implement its population policy, which is responsible parenthood and the advocacy for natural family planning,' Santos said.
'I think the population commission will have to review its policies,' he added. 'We really need greater efforts. It means we have to work harder to make the economy function more properly and more smoothly.'
At least one-third of the people are poor and the number of poor is growing faster than the population.
Last month, government data showed that 28 million people, about a third of the population, were subsisting on less than P40 per day in 2006, up 16 percent from 2003.
But Santos said artificial birth control remained a sensitive issue.
In a nod to the Catholic Church, the government emphasizes natural family planning over artificial methods, and experts said there was not likely to be any change in this in the immediate future.
President Arroyo, who came to power in 2001 with the backing of the church, has consistently emphasized natural family planning. Government booklets on responsible parenting make no mention of condoms, pills or intra-uterine devices.
'She has made it very clear she will not purchase contraceptives, she will not promote any other method except what the church approves and she has very strong links with the most conservative elements of the church,' said Dr. Alberto Romualdez, a former health secretary.
Still, the National Statistics Office said the annual population growth rate was 2.04 percent between 2000 and 2007.
Although that fell short of the aim of bringing the growth rate below 2 percent, it was a drop from the average annual growth of 2.34 percent between 1990 and 2000, officials said.
Romualdez said it was not good enough.
'For me, 2.04 percent is well within the normal variation of population growth rates with or without intervention by government. For me, 2.04 means that the government has not done anything.'
Other experts, however, said it was a beginning.
'I think it is a significant drop,' said Benjamin de Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc.
'But I still have to see in this administration a policy that informs people of the need to space their children, the need to plan their families.'
According to the United Nations Population Fund, the average population growth rate in Asia is 1.1 percent.
Solita Monsod, UP professor of economics, said the problem did not lie with the church.
She said most Filipinos want to regulate their families, and providing access to information and funding for civil service groups involved in family planning was key.
'Survey after survey has shown that when it comes to family planning, the church does not make a difference,' Monsod said.'The people don’t have access. Give them what they want and then the population problem will take care of itself.' -- Reuters