Statement of the Catholic Bishops
on Public Policy regarding Population Growth Control
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines have been invited to join the government-created Population Commission. This invitation on the part of our government affords us the occasion for setting down our reflections on an important matter affecting the welfare of our country. We present these reflections with the hope that they will serve as bases for a dialogue that will involve all responsible sectors of our country.
With our government, we can not help but be concerned about the demographic problems of our country; Vatican II and Pope Paul’s encyclicals have committed us to them. We are concerned with the socioeconomic conditions of our people, yes; we too are concerned with material values. But beyond these, there are basic human values at stake, affecting the more intimate aspects of the manner of married life of Filipinos. The latter are the object of our deeper concern.
In a matter of such serious implications, we see an opportunity given to all to exercise candor and trust, a readiness to lay open all relevant facts – even what might be termed political realities, whether national or international in scope.
First, we hold with the statement of heads of States, among whom President Marcos was a signatory, that the demographic factor is a principal element in long-range national planning. Population growth, as a problem, can be understood only in the context of the pace of national development. It is therefore the total effort at national development that must serve as an indispensable framework of reference for demographic studies.
We suggest that studies be undertaken not merely on the national, but on the regional and provincial levels, too. For our part, we propose to contribute to studies made on the diocesan level. Only then can we begin to understand the options that are open to us, and the extent of the price we may be obliged to pay to solve these demographic problems.
All sectors of our people must be drawn into involvement, if but through open discussion. Open discussion and wide exchange of views are necessary to form convictions in the minds of our people, and to create a heart for action. Without them, we can not hope to achieve true collaboration, and the most elaborate programs will not find acceptance.
Of urgent need for critical examination are the premises basic to the formulation of population policies and programs. Thus, all are agreed as to the existence of demographic problems. But is there a consensus as to the true dimensions of these problems? The actual rate of growth of population must be seen in the context of the measures of development needed, of those actually being undertaken, and of those within our true potential to undertake.
Our last two Presidents, Messrs. Macapagal and Marcos, rightly set the emphasis on positive development measures: on education and food production, as against “negative checks”. And indeed, unexpected strides in the rate of food production have checked that sense of defeatism that was beginning to paralyze the national will to outdo itself.
It may still be true, however, that to achieve adequate national development or to maintain it, some measures may be necessary to bring population growth-rate under control. We therefore recognize the need for a government Commission on Population. This Commission embodies the distinctive effort of public authority to come to grips with our demographic problems.
If the collaboration of all is crucial in this effort, equally crucial is the type of collaboration that each responsible sector is to render. In a matter as serious as that of population control, where rights of persons are directly affected, the proper – and finally more effective – type of collaboration is that which preserves a clear distinction of roles of collaborating parties.
It is the competence of government to undertake necessary macro-measures of population control. To name a few: the concerted effort of state and society to raise the minimum age of marriage, or to delay it through social, economic or juridical means; the integration of sex education in all levels of formal education; a system of pensions for old age to minimize dependence on children for security; the expansion of recreational facilities; the control of internal migration. But of great significance is the power of the sheer process of modernization, such as the rise in educational and economic levels to effect, in the long run, rapid decline in fertility.
Direct Fertility Control
When we deal with micro-measures of fertility control, however, the role of government is subsidiary. There are involved here those basic rights of spouse which both the United Nations and Vatican II insisted as setting limits to what the government can do. One such right is the right to determine the size of one’s family.
Measures that directly touch upon personal fertility control are so deeply woven with fundamental views on sexual anthropology, and are so far reaching in their effects upon sexual mores and the character of marriage as an institution, that they are best left to the initiative of appropriate private agencies, those of a humanitarian or religious character. The role of government must be merely supportive.
It will be a mistake for the government itself to actively undertake, or rely principally on the promotion of family planning services, as a measure of population control. The objectives of public population policy and of the family planning movement are not identical. Family planning aims at family welfare, while public population policy aims at family limitation.
Hence, the current controversy among qualified observers as to the effectiveness of present family planning programs as a principal means of population control. “They have yet to prove their effectiveness in achieving substantial fertility decline in areas of mass poverty and illiteracy” such as ours.
We must recognize that family planning can be effective in reducing population growth-rate only to the extent that it resolutely restricts its objective to a reduced number of children as normative for the population, and eventually includes abortion and masked infanticide as necessary components of its program.
For, unless these are included, “it is doubtful that family planning programs are conducted at present, can even significantly reduce population growth-rates during at least the remainder of this century.” Thus, the considered view of experts. Is this the price our people must pay?
As far as personal fertility control is concerned, the deeper need is for the cultivation of a sense of responsibility in parenthood. Family planning may be undertaken by couples for various reasons; but not all those reasons will necessarily stem from a sense of responsibility.
We suggest that the true, and in the long run the most solidly effective basis for programs that look to micro-measures of fertility control, is Education – not Health as is misconceived elsewhere; and that the true infrastructure for such programs is not constituted by technicians or trained personnel, but by citizens brought to maturity in their sexual personality through education; and that the more effective promoters of such programs would be select married couples rather than medical personnel, operating in the environment of marriage counselling rather than of clinical examination.
Obviously, Education is not to be confused with mere information, nor with propaganda, nor with motivational exploitation. Obviously too, it must be accepted as a long process that alone can guarantee authentically free and personal decisions.
In all this process, technology plays a large part. But its role is not determining; technology does not dispense us from the need for educational efforts to humanize the instinctive forces within us.
Finally, a supporting climate must be created. Our government can extend more decisive cooperation with citizen groups in clearing our atmosphere of its eroticism; it can be more uncompromising in enforcing dispensation of contraceptives exclusively under medical prescription.
There is no doubt that availability of funds plays a large role in the formulation of policies. When funds are short, the temptation is strong to adopt short-cut and impact programs. When confronting the over-riding problem of national development we can not afford to overlook the extensive amounts of money lost to government through corrupt practices and irresponsible administration of public money. Our people will find it difficult to take the Commission on Population seriously as long as the government takes no decisive and unrelenting steps to salvage those amounts for purposes of positive measures of development.
External aid presents a peculiar difficulty. It arises from the right of those who grant aid to determine the purposes of such aid. Thus, aid may be granted selectively, to promote family planning as a principal instrument for population control. In a matter that affects their lives so intimately, our people have the right to be informed of the terms under which aid is offered to our country. Furthermore, due to the inherently restrictive character of external aids, it is part of wise administration to exclude representatives of grantors from active participation in the formulation of population policies and programs. To accept aid for the sake of the aid, far from promoting, actually arrests, the development of a people.
In the formulation of a public policy on population control, let us not forget that the decisions we make must be our own, and that they must therefore arise from our own reflections. We must then make use, above all, of our own experts. We must learn to trust their judgments, particularly in matters, e.g. economic and social, where conclusions are often open to dispute. We must be convinced that our own people can make creative, not merely imitative, contributions towards solving demographic problems. This is an indispensable element in any program of national development.
As much as possible, each major decision must be supported by a carefully prepared scientific base. Merely by way of illustration, it is not clear whether the media of communications effectively produce convictions or merely determine the climate of discussion; whether the target of population for the Philippines ought to be a segment of the already married such as post-partum cases, or the about-to-be-married. As to educated forecasts, there may perhaps be need of “some sense of humility about the ease of predicting great events, on which the record is not without blemish.”
Legal measures or social services that are aimed at discouraging rather than encouraging births, are admissible, provided they do not penalize innocent children in lieu of irresponsible parents, or place undue burdens on the already under-privileged.
In conclusion, let us recall that population control is not absolute and ultimate value to which all else must be sacrificed. It is not achieved by a simplistic solution: it is the result rather of a combination of various efforts – economic, legal, social, medical. But whatever the measures, there is an indispensable need for a discipline of the spirit.
We look to our leaders in all sectors of our society to exercise leadership in self-discipline, too: in thrift and sober consumption, in dedication to their tasks and readiness to serve.
We need too, to dissipate all climate of fear, or panic, or impatience. We must approach alternatives approaches with optimism, not cynicism. For the more serious the problem, the greater the need for calm and sobriety. Only thus will we be able to come to decisions that are truly free.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.) +MARIANO G. GAVIOLA, D.D.
Titular Bishop of Girba
July 4, 1969
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Statement of the Catholic Bishops on Public Policy regarding Population Growth Control