ARMED with placards and pro-life passion, UST students and professors joined the 10,000-strong rally in Liwasang Bonifacio, Taft Avenue, Manila last March 4 to oppose a House of Representatives bill to control population growth and a Department of Health campaign to limit fertility by contraception.

The rally was the biggest yet to be held in Metro Manila to oppose the new Congress’s attempts to revive bills for population control and child sex education. Thomasians, headed by Fr. Ramon Salibay, O.P. of the Center for Campus Ministry and Prof. Pablito Baybado of the Center for Contextualized Theology, joined the rally’s call to reject the new population-control initiatives.

The initiatives are summed up in House Bill 3773, the consolidated version of several bills passed by the Committee on Women chaired by Rep. Josefina Joson. The bill includes the controversial two-children policy, mandatory sex education and ‘contraceptive application” from grade five, and voluntary sterilization and contraception without parental consent for minors, and without partner consent for the married.

“This bill discriminates against large families and will deprive third children of the benefit of scholarships even if they deserved it,” said Parañaque Rep. Eduardo Zialcita during the rally. “If you have more than two children, you will get no incentives.”

Speakers in the rally also attacked the Department of Health program, Ligtas Buntis, saying that it presents pregnancy as a disease that should be treated with contraceptives. They said the program takes off from other anti-diseases projects such as Ligtas Tigdas.

Pro-life groups said the bill merely revives the discredited overpopulation myth and promotes abortifacient contraceptives in the guise of taking care of the health of mothers. They cited the second public hearing on the bill last Feb. 1 when its authors claimed that life does not begin at fertilization.

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But Rep. Edcel Lagman, a co-author of HB 3773, said population control is needed to stem overpopulation. He added the bill merely provides family planning services to couples.

But critics said the bill promotes contraceptive-use based on the mistaken notion that the country has too many births.

“The Philippines has a population density of (over) 200 per square kilometer, while progressive Hong Kong has (over) 5,000,” Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, chairman of Pro-Life Philippines, told the Varsitarian. “Definitely we are overcrowded in some areas like Metro Manila due to loss of opportunities in the provinces, but we are not and will not become overpopulated.”

In its primer, the Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines says that both the UN and the National Statistics Office project that the population growth rate of the country will drop to 0.92 % within two decades or three, when the population peaks at around 100 million. After this follows population decline due to falling fertility rates.

“When falling fertility rates continues, it will have negative implications like aging population and loss of labor force,” says Quezon City Rep. Vincent “Bingbong” Crisologo. “In Australia and Europe where there are negative population growth rates due to a prevailing contraceptive mentality, couples are already being encouraged to have more and more children.”

The bill’s mandatory sex education from grade five to fourth-year high school, which includes “the use and application” of artificial contraceptives, has also been questioned.

“It is sex miseducation to tell children to use contraceptives, instead of training them the proper values to abstain before marriage,” Atienza, an Architecture alumnus of UST, told the press. “Contraceptives do fail and cannot safeguard against unplanned pregnancy and AIDS. Abstinence does.”

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The speakers branded the bill as “anti-family” for its provisions against reproductive partnership between couples, where requirements for partner consent to obtain “reproductive health services” would be proscribed.

“Why this bill was forwarded to the Committee on Women and not the Committee on Health, when reproduction is not only a women’s issue and the issue of contraceptives concern health, is suspect,” said Zialcita.

“The truth is, the bill destroys women’s health as hormonal contraceptives (pills, injectibles) are proven to be carcinogenic,” Atty. Jo Aurea Imbong of the Abay Pamilya Party List told the Varsitarian.

Attended by the Kababaihan ng Maynila, public and Catholic schools in Manila, the Bangsamoro Muslim community, and several other government and non-government delegations, the rally was part of the series of protests that began in Cebu and Mindanao. Similar protests in Luneta and different municipalities are scheduled to follow, organizers said.

Meanwhile, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Committee on Public Affairs, stressed that the Church is against any type of coercion on birth regulation in the forum, ‘Di Ligtas ang Ligtas Buntis, held last March 9 at the UST Central Seminary chapel.

“The church is against coercion or pressuring couples to limit or increase the number of their children,” Bishop Iñiguez said. “It’s the couples, not the government or the Church, who should decide.”

The participants, including council members of Kapwa Ku Solidarity, later signed a position paper against HB 3773. With reports from R. M. M. Forto


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