Population and sustainable development experts warn that the Philippine population could reach levels that will prevent the country from ever breaking free from a cycle of poverty.
"We need to lower birth rates to 2.2 percent, which is just the sustainable replacement rate," Malcolm Potts from the Bixby Center for Population, Health and Sustainability, told IRIN, warning that at current fertility rates of 3.03 percent, the Philippine population of 94 million could reach 150 million in just 10 years.
Citing Department of Health studies indicating that women in the poorest quintile have 5.9 children while those in the richest quintile have 1.9 children, Potts said, "It's very simple; poor people cannot separate sex from child-bearing. We must give the poor access to family planning and contraception to give them choices."
The Guttmacher Institute, a US-based reproductive health think-tank, released a study in 2009 showing that 35 percent of poor Filipino women aged 15-49 accounted for 53 percent of the unmet need for contraception.
Highest unemployment rate
The Philippines has the highest unemployment rate in the Southeast Asian region at 8 percent compared with Indonesia at 7.9 percent, Vietnam at 4.6 percent, Malaysia at 3.7 percent and Thailand at 1.5 percent.
According to the World Bank, poverty incidence rose from 30 percent in 2003 to 32.9 percent in 2006.
"Having fewer children will allow the poor to invest more in education and health for their children to improve their lives when they grow up," Ernesto Pernia, a professor at the University of the Philippines School of Economics said, citing the correlation between family size and poverty incidence.
Urgent need for legislation
There is no national legislation on the standardization of budgets for family planning and reproductive healthcare services for the poor.
The Reproductive Health Bill aims to address this by providing a full range of contraceptive options, including the pill and condoms, as well as natural birth-control methods.
However, the bill is staunchly opposed by the influential Catholic Church that only approves of natural family planning methods requiring periodic abstinence.
The Bill has been wildly debated for the past 15 years.
"Natural family planning, also known as the rhythm method, has never played a role in fertility decline in any country, whether Catholic or not," Potts said.
Martha Campbell, president of Ventures Strategies for Health and Development, which studies reproductive healthcare strategies for developing countries said, "Other Catholic countries like Mexico and Brazil have already decided that the Vatican doesn't need to step into their reproductive lives. The Philippines is the only remaining country where the Catholic Church has a stranglehold on women's health."
"Population growth is a public welfare issue that affects the poorest of the poor. Other poverty containment efforts will never be sufficient until we can curb population growth," said Congresswoman Kaka Bag-ao of the Akbayan Citizen's Action Party, which is pushing for the passage of the Bill.
On 8 December, the UN Population Fund and the International Council on Management of Population Programmes (ICOMP) will hold a regional consultation on family planning in Bangkok.
The goal of the three-day meeting is to gain support from governments and civil societies to prioritize family planning programmes and increase investments in family planning to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and particularly, universal access to reproductive health.
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