30 July 2006

Population, development and the conflicted individual

ON THE whole, it was a good idea that I managed to attend, even if partly, yesterday's Bicol Regional Symposium Population and Development at the Arrupe Convention Hall in Ateneo de Naga University in spite of our jarring trip to Manila and back, courtesy of the Camarines Sur section of Quirino (now Rolando Andaya) Highway.

The exchanges in the morning, limited as they were by time constraints, illustrate the conflicts Catholic Filipinos face in regard to family planning.

Anjo Llorin, formerly with Ateneo de Naga and now working with the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines, asked if his working with FPOP is a sin, in the context of a provision in the Vatican II document prescribing that sons and daughters of the church may not undertake blameworthy methods of birth control. Bernadette Gumba, chair of the social science department of the Ateneo College of Arts and Sciences, highlighted the gender issue attending the debate, anchored on a woman's choice by virtue of her reproductive rights.

What I found extremely interesting is the fact that progressive elements of the Catholic Church, represented by Fr. John Carroll of the Ateneo de Manila University who was one of the panelists, agree with what experts have been saying: the country's rapid population growth has a negative impact on economic growth, more so among the poor. Dr. Alejandro Herrin of the UP School of Economics essentially said the same thing in his presentation, among other key messages. I also recalled Fr. Carroll went as far as agreeing that sex education should be discussed in schools, but not at the elementary level.

The problems starts with how this is reconciled with Church teachings at the operational level. Although I did not hear Fr. Peter Pojol's piece in the afternoon session, the way he responded to a query from the representative of the Population Commission Regional Office on the concept of informed choice made me very uneasy. Using killing and Internet pornography as analogies ("Do we now teach killing in the classroom?"), which to me did not make practical sense, it was the force of dogma being brought to bear on government efforts to precisely address our rapidly growing population. It is the same narrow perspective that has effectively killed an effort to educate public school students on the perils of increased sexual activity at an early age, which Solita Monsod railed about.

(Which led me to think, and this is not to disrespect Dr. Herrin who I found very authoritative and incisive on the subject, and straightforward too when called for, like the way he handled the unfortunate question on the OFW phenomenon of that Ateneo de Naga economist: Wouldn't Mareng Winnie have lent to a more balanced panel and a more colorful and engaging discussion that would have benefited the audience?)

What I am hopeful about is the presence of more reasoned voices like Fr. Carroll's, which need to reverberate more loudly both within the Church leadership and among its faithful. "Unfortunately, (the) Church has been more active in opposing contraception by political means than in forming consciences of its people or providing them with a choice. As a result, it is experiencing the worst of two worlds: it is blamed for the 'population problem,' and many of its people use methods not approved by it, including abortion."

And he probably is pointing us the way: through an involved Catholic Church focused on the education of couples; the strengthening of natural family planning (NFP, which the church-sanctioned alternative) at all levels; and openness to government assistance.


cla llorin said...

Anjo works for the Well-Family Midwife Clinic Partnerships Foundation, Inc. (www.wfmc.com.ph)not with FPOP.

Willy B. Prilles, Jr. said...

Thanks for pointing out that misattribution. Maybe that's the reason why the FPOP representative in our sectoral workshop with the senior citizens federation in Naga seemed lost when I inquired about Anjo.:)

Anyhow, I stand corrected.

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