Philippines Debate 2-Child Policy

MANILA, Philippines — A government bill seeking to limit families in the Philippines to two children has Church officials worried. They fear Asia’s only predominantly Catholic country will follow the draconian policies of Communist China.

To limit families requires either contraception or abortion — or, more likely, both. The Church insists that marital acts be unitive and open to life. 

In fact, limiting families is the thrust of the bill being considered by the House of Representatives. Known as the “Responsible Parenthood and Population Management Act of 2005” or House Bill (HB) 3773, the proposal would make available the full range of family-planning methods, from surgical methods to “modern contraceptive devices.”

Proponents of HB 3773 hope that debate on the bill will be scheduled before the Holy Week break, followed by a plenary vote. The bill would then go to the Senate and, if it passes, eventually to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Pro-lifers hope Arroyo would veto the bill, although the author of the bill, Rep. Edcel Lagman, contends she never categorically stated that.

Many parts of the bill, which utilizes euphemistic language such as “reproductive health” and “sustainable development” that is common to U.N. population documents, are particularly troubling. For example, the Church may be held liable for refusing to offer contraceptive methods to employees, and Catholic doctors may be jailed for refusing to perform or refer female patients for tubal ligations.

As well, families with two children or fewer would receive preference in college scholarship grants; strict sanctions would be implemented for refusal to perform sterilization on abused minors; and mandatory sex education would be taught to students beginning in fifth grade.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Sacred Scripture and the Church’s traditional practice see in large families a sign of God’s blessing and the parents’ generosity. Couples who discover that they are sterile suffer greatly” (No. 2373-2374).

Contraception works against the self-giving love of marriage, says the Catechism: “The innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality” (No. 2370).

The Numbers Game

According to Lagman, the bill is needed because “population and poverty are intertwined in a vicious cycle.” Lagman said that according to the Philippines’ National Statistics Office, the population growth rate stands at 2.36. He also said that the National Demographic and Health Survey put the country’s total fertility rate in 2003 at 3.5.

Filipino pro-life groups, however, deny the bill’s assertion that the country is overpopulated.

Rene Bullecer, director of Human Life International Philippines, pointed out that the Central Intelligence Agency, which publishes the  World Factbook ( had different numbers; the CIA pegged the Philippines’ population growth rate in 2005 at 1.84 and total fertility rate at 3.16.

“All these data are not true; they are doctored,” said Bullecer, who added that the reason for the country’s poverty is not population.

Pro-life groups also point out that some contraceptive methods, such as the birth-control pill, not only prevent conception but also in some cases can cause an early abortion of a newly conceived embryo. Abortion is illegal in the Philippines.

Regarding natural family planning, which the Church allows as a form of birth regulation for just reasons, Lagman, who says he is a practicing Catholic, said, “The Roman Catholic Church can continue with its teachings. The state is going to promote all these methods, and it is the freedom of the couples to choose which method” to use.

But in Section 16 covering prohibited acts, the bill grants little latitude for Catholics to refuse to take part in the push for contraceptive services. The bill specifically penalizes “any public official at both the national and local levels with power and authority over any subordinate who shall prohibit or intentionally restrict the delivery of legal and medically safe reproductive health care services.”

It also prohibits any health care provider from refusing “to extend quality health care services and information on account of the person’s marital status, gender or sexual orientation, age, religion, personal circumstances and nature of work; provided that all conscientious objections of health care service providers based on ethical and religious grounds shall be respected; provided however, that the conscientious objector shall immediately refer the person seeking such care and services to another health care service provider within the same facility or one which is conveniently accessible.”


The bill also prohibits the refusal to perform voluntary sterilization on “abused minors as certified by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and pregnant minors;” in such cases, it states, “no prior parental consent shall be necessary.”

The provision for mandatory sex education means that students as young as 10 will be taught reproductive and sexual rights and the use and application of modern contraception and “safe sex” methods.

Commenting on this provision, Manila Mayor Lito Atienza said in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “Can you imagine sex education in Grade 5? I don’t want my children to go down that dark path. We will be creating a generation of sex maniacs.”

The founder of Pro-Life Philippines, Atienza also said the government should not interfere in family planning because “the answer to the country’s economic problem is good governance, not population control.”

Good Shepherd Sister Mary Pilar Verzosa, head of Pro-Life Philippines, said in an article posted on the organization’s website that the bill “violates the freedom of religious belief since it mandates health service providers to implement procedures contrary to their religious beliefs and penalizes them if they refuse.”

She added, “It will corrupt the youth through mandatory sex education that emphasizes contraception and population control, and further reduces the time allotment for more relevant subjects, worsening the already ineffective education system.”

Bullecer expressed concern that the bill has gained strength in the House of Representatives. He told the Register that “out of 224 congressmen, only 40 are solid pro-lifers.”

Added Bullecer, “It is safe to say that out of 10 Filipinos, only three know about this bill.”

Morality ‘Ignored’

In his speech “Evangelium Vitae and the Churches in Asia,” delivered at the International Congress on Bioethics 2005, Philippine Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi of Caceres, Naga City, said, “These measures towards population management of course call into debate several issues. … But clearly, the primary issue unavoidably emerging from all these, but unfortunately being ignored by proponents of birth control, revolves around the morality of all the methods they have proposed to achieve population management.”


Maria Caulfield, who was born

in the Philippines, is based

in Wallingford, Connecticut.