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Population Growth Threatens Philippines

May 3, 1990

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The population is growing so fast it threatens to overwhelm the economy, but the Philippine government, demographers and Roman Catholic Church can’t agree on what to do about it.

An official survey conducted in 1988 found the Philippines to be the 14th most populous country in the world and the eighth in Asia.

Its population grew from 7.64 million in 1903 to 19 million in 1948, then more than doubled in two decades to 48.1 million in 1980, when the last census was taken, the government report said. A new census is to be taken this month.

Official projections put the number of Filipinos at 75 milllion to 80 million in the year 2000, or 10 times the number a century ago.

President Corazon Aquino has called for a program to make sure the population increase, now about 2.4 percent a year, will not ″outstrip our other resources and annul what gains we make every year.″

Government population-control programs have stalled since the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos fled and Mrs. Aquino gained power in 1986, with strong support from the Catholic hierarchy.

Critics say there is little evidence of an effective program or the political will to forge one.

Local governments also have been lax because large populations mean more economic aid from Manila. Virtually all birth control programs, such as distribution of condoms, are financed by foreign governments or the United Nations.

Population growth has declined from a peak of more than 3 percent annually in the 1950s, but Filipinos still multiply faster than the people of more prosperous nations of Southeast Asia. The rate is a full percentage point above Thailand and about 0.1 percent ahead of Malaysia.

Nearly four of 10 Filipinos are under age 15, which strains educational, health and other public services.

Officials and demographers say most Filipinos in the rural areas, where nearly 48 percent of the people live, prefer large families to provide cheap farm labor. High infant mortality also encourages having more children.

Awareness of birth control methods is more widespread, but the number of couples using them dropped from 45 percent in 1986 to 36 in 1988, according to a survey by the Population Institute at the University of the Philippines.

Lack of complete information and the strong male dominance in Philippine society are major reasons women avoid contraceptives, officials say.

Despite growing awareness of the risks of overpopulation, critics say there is no consensus of the government, church and demographers on how to avoid it.

Mamita Pardo de Tavera, secretary of social welfare and head of the Population Commission, disputes the idea that a large population must be a national burden.

She takes a dual approach: educating the public about contraception and encouraging ″population development,″ or integration of government aid projects for the poor.

Those who disagree say the central task is to reduce the number of births.

″You cannot have development unless you have a more manageable population, in terms of size, growth and composition,″ said Corazon Raymundo, director of the university Population Institute.

A major factor in the population debate has been the Roman Catholic hierarchy, including Cardinal Jaime Sin, archbishop of Manila, who has great influence in the Aquino administration.

″We believe government should create job opportunities, develop natural resources, harness all these things for the sake of the people who are living now, not take measures to cut down population,″ said Monsignor Cesar Pagulayan, spokesman of the Family Life Apostolate of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

Mercedes Concepcion, former dean of the Population Institute, said the clergy had become aggressive in discouraging use of contraceptives.

She said some members of Congress recognize the population problem, but ″have been silenced by the fact that the cardinal has been very active in threatening them with hell fire and brimstone . .. if they do something, particularly in terms of legislation.″

″Since there is no signal from the top,″ meaning Mrs. Aquino, ″they know they will be by themselves only, unprotected,″ Mrs. Concepcion told an interviewer.

The change in government in February 1986 created a new set of policy makers ″who have to be conditioned to the situation,″ she said. ″It’s a massive training again.″

Mrs. Pardo de Tavera said the government program had been misunderstood.

″We are a pluralistic society and we have to give people choices, not only in the method but in the approaches,″ she said. ″We have to go beyond methods. We have to go to the values, education, other factors besides fertility.″

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