The Corner

Re: Population Growth in the Philippines

Andrew, you take issue with my “rhetorical flourishes,” namely my use of the words “imposed” and “coercive” to describe the proposed legislation in the Philippines. A widely agreed upon definition of coercion is “to compel by force intimidation, or authority, especially without regard for individual desire or volition.” Considering the violations of individual liberty scattered throughout this bill, coercion seems to be a most accurate description.

I thank you for taking time to actually read through some sections of the bill — something I’m afraid many Filipinos have yet to do themselves. And since you’re keen on quoting sections of this proposed bill, I’ll take the liberty of playing from your playbook.

As a principle of “responsible parenthood,” section 20 states that “the state shall assist couples, parents and individuals to achieve their desired family size within the context of responsible parenthood for sustainable development and encourage them to have two children as the ideal family size. Attaining the ideal family size is neither mandatory nor compulsory. No punitive Action shall be imposed on parents having more than two children.”

Such language places two opposing expectations on the state. The state is required to assist couples in achieving “their desired family size” but also “to encourage them to have two children as the ideal family size.” This is self-conflicting language that will yield messy and incoherent implementation.

Although section 20 provides that “attaining the ideal family size is neither mandatory nor compulsory” and that “no punitive action shall be imposed on parents having more than two children,” this is, in effect, a two-child policy. Although there will be no penalties for failure to comply, there will be an expectation, promulgated through teaching programs sponsored by this bill, that this is the “right” family size and that to have more than two children is to be “irresponsible.” Social shame, peer pressure, and official state teaching bring into question the voluntariness with which Filipino citizens can comply with this law. Legally, the section might not be compulsory, but socially and politically it will have a coercive effect.

Then, there’s the issue of sexual education in the classroom. I’m all in favor of knowledge-based approaches to sexual education — a curriculum that teaches young people to make responsible, future-minded decisions and encourages the development of self-control. Research in the United States has indicated that the most successful programs in sex education combine both character-development skills and scientific data, while focusing the students on future-minded goals (such as marriage and child-rearing). I do, however, believe that this bill’s mandated reproductive-health curriculum undermines the rights of parents to be the primary educators of their children. This sexual education program is a state developed program that will be mandated for implementation in both public and private schools, not simply state schools. This is a direct violation of the Philippines constitution, which recognizes the “complementary roles of private and public institutions.”

As for the issue of mandating a “certificate of compliance” in order to obtain a marriage license, one might want to revisit Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which the Philippines is a signatory:#more# “(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” This is more than just the so-called nanny state outlining necessary rules and regulations — this is a direct violation of established freedoms and norms as outlined in widely recognized and agreed-upon international law. I have my suspicions that your inclinations might be different if this was an example of the government adding more regulation to, say, obtaining a business license.

And yes, there is the abortion issue. As you correctly noted, Section 3 (13) of the bill states that “this act recognizes that abortion is illegal and punishable by law.” Nonetheless, this bill provides the framework for the eventual recognition of abortion as a human right. The carelessly crafted language of the bill uses the terms “reproductive health care” and “reproductive health care services” interchangeably. There is, however, a distinction made between the two in international law — namely that “reproductive health care” does not include abortion and “reproductive health care services” or simply “reproductive health services” does include abortion. It is highly likely that an activist judge in the Philippines would find grounds here to overturn the current illegalization of abortion.

Also of note are the unmentioned violations of freedom of conscience and religion that are peppered throughout this bill. The bill requires that all reproductive-health workers “provide information and educate” and “render medical services” consistent with the new provisions in this bill. Similar to recently passed health-care legislation in the United States, this bill does not include measures that protect conscientious objections for health-care workers or institutions that refuse to provide certain services due to religious or cultural beliefs and practices. In addition, the health-care workers that receive this new training will receive a 10 percent honorarium to incentivize them to buy into the new programs.

In your response to my initial article, you claim that “what is happening in the Philippines is that a democratically elected legislature is, well, legislating.” Perhaps this is the case, but the impetus seems to be something other than concerns about population growth. There is strong evidence to suggest that this bill is a project of American social engineering abroad. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has visited the Philippines multiple times in the past two years and has remarked that U.S. funding agencies would be at their disposal if this bill is passed. And, apparently USAID has already jumped the gun, as the Philippines is now papered with ads in local bus stations, billboards, etc. promoting the new sexual-education program that is supposedly yet to be debated or designed by the Filipinos legislating this bill.

Simply legislating? I don’t think so. There are nice incentives to look forward to if this bill is passed. “Responsible parenthood” doesn’t seem to be the issue here, but rather the lack of responsible governance.

Christopher White is international director of operations for the World Youth Alliance.

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