by Rene Espelata Bartolo
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of three columns on population written by award-winning Rene B. Bartolo. The articles, first published in Bartolo’s Richochet column in The Mindanao Times, the city’s oldest newspaper, won first prize in the POPDev Media Awards bestowed by the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development, for three consecutive years, installing the columnist in the hall of fame.] On Friday, the Archdiocese of Jaro in Iloilo, initiated a march-rally to “denounce” the Reproductive Health and Population Development Act of 2008, which is now undergoing debate in Congress. Television images showed students of Catholic schools in the city, elderly men and women apparently belonging to lay organizations in the church, being led by nuns and priests. The marchers waved banners, placards, and posters. But the predominant posters were those that said: “No to abortion!” The Reproductive Health Act, or the Lagman Bill, is not about abortion; it does not countenance or promote abortion. In fact, it upholds and reinforces the law which declares abortion illegal in the Philippines. Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, who filed a counterpart proposal, Senate Bill 40, clarified last week: “I would like to explain…it (the bill) does not propose, it does not encourage abortion. The institutional opposition has been focused wrongly, intentionally or unwittingly on the issue of abortion. The bill is not encouraging abortion. It is against abortion.” So why the posters that bind and knot abortion to the proposed Reproductive Health Law? I am a Catholic, but I watched the television images with discomfiture and dismay. As a journalist, I considered the message in the posters unfair, a disinformation. For reasons only the bishops understand, the Catholic Church in the Philippines has consistently closed its eyes to the ever-growing population problem of the country. The official tally of the National Statistics Office (NSO) places the Philippine population at 88,574,614 Filipinos as of August 1, 2007, with a population growth rate of 2.1 percent, one of the highest in the world. Of the 15 most populous countries of the world, the Philippines ranks 12, despite our relatively small size. Every minute, four babies are added to the population. But the bishops do not consider urgent the population problem. In fact, they do not consider it a problem at all. One lawmaker allied to the Church even proclaimed recently that a population of 88 million is nothing to worry about because “even the small island of Bohol can accommodate 88 million.” Proponents of population management argue that a surge in population means a corresponding increase in poverty, crime, and environmental degradation. The bishops do not believe this. In a statement early this month, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, speaking for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said: “The Church maintains that the country’s poverty does not lie in the increase of its population; poverty is the result of mismanagement of the national economy.” To be continued.