The National Statistics Office released earlier this month the results of the 2010 Census of Population and Housing. The figures were made official by President Benigno Aquino III through Proclamation 362, which he signed last March 30. The census, conducted from May 14 to June 17, 2010 with May 1, 2010 as reference date, show that there were 92,337,852 Filipinos during the study period.
NSO noted in a press statement that the Philippine population increased by 15.83 million from its 2000 total of 76.51 million. The agency added that this translates to a population growth rate (PGR) of 1.9 percent from 2000 to 2010. This figure is nominally lower than the 2.34 percent population growth rate recorded from 1990 to 2000.
For the twenty year period between 1990 and 2010, the population grew by 2.12 percent. Prior to 2010, the last census was done in 2007. It placed the national population at 88,566,732 with a growth rate of 2.04 percent from 2000.
The conduct of a national census is governed by Batas Pambansa Blg. 72 and Commonwealth Act 591. The Philippine Star’s Iris Gonzales reported two years ago that “about 58,000 enumerators, 11,500 team supervisors, 3,300 census area supervisors, and 2,800 assistant census area supervisors” will be involved in the 2010 census. A total budget of P2.16 billion had been allotted for the entire project.
Does the lower PGR mean that the long-pending reproductive health bill isn’t needed anymore? In her 2008 State of the Nation Address (SONA), then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo noted that the 2.04 percent growth rate recorded in the 2007 census was achieved by her administration “by promoting natural family planning and female education.”
And in a statement that must have slighted former President Fidel Ramos who is present during that SONA, Arroyo added that the said PGR is lower than “the 2.36 (PGR recorded) in the 1990s, when artificial birth control was pushed.” Arroyo lamented that “long years of pushing contraceptives made it synonymous to family planning.” She (wrongly) declared: “Informed choice should mean letting more couples, who are mostly Catholics, know about natural family planning.”
It will be presumptuous for groups and individuals opposed to the Reproductive Health (RH) bill to cite the lower PGR (as of 2010) as a sign that the said measure is no longer needed. Although the 1.9 percent PGR recorded in 2010 is lower relative to previous censuses, it is still the second highest in the whole Southeast Asia. Timor Leste’s PGR of 1.96% may be higher than the Philippines, but that country has a population of just a little over a million, according to the US Central Intelligence Agency’s 2012 World Fact Book.
There are several factors that may have contributed to the continuing nominal decline of the national population growth. In response to Arroyo’s 2008 SONA, Dr. Grace Cruz from the University of the Philippines Population Institute clarified that population growth has slowed down “not through natural family planning but due to lower fertility and higher use of contraceptives.”
It is safe to assume that more and more women are taking it upon themselves to use birth control methods despite strong pressure from the Catholic Church against contraceptives because they are aware of the economic hardships they will have endure because of an unplanned pregnancy. Some may even be inclined to practice abstinence or delay marriage plans altogether.
Ramon San Pascual, outgoing director of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), stressed in a statement that the Philippines can achieve a lower birth rate if not for the absence of a comprehensive national RH policy. San Pascual, who will soon lead the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians for Population and Development in Bangkok, Thailand, also reiterated that 33 percent of total pregnancies among Filipino women are either mistimed or unplanned.
Further aggravating the situation, according to him, is the lack of access to family planning education and services by the poor. In declaring the need to improve maternal health as one of its eight-point Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations noted: “Giving birth is especially risky in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where most women deliver without skilled care.”
For his part, Benjamin de Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development (The Forum), echoed San Pascual’s appeal for Filipinos not to regard the census figures as plain statistics. “We should look beyond the numbers and think about what this means in terms of provision of services. Each year, 1.7 million more Filipinos will demand and deserve basic services of food, shelter, health and education to name a few,” De Leon expounded.
He cited as an example the lingering shortage of classrooms and other school essentials in public education institutions around the country. “Education and access to health are connected,” De Leon pointed out. The results obtained from censuses is said to be important because it will be used by the government in policy making. If that is truly the case, then lawmakers should take due notice and pass the RH bill.