Population management is a key spatial strategy but religion is in the way Population management is a key spatial strategy but religion is in the way

Poring over national policies and strategies impacting on the country’s spatial structure and strategies and similar plans of countries worldwide, I realized that no matter how good the spatial framework is made but if population management is not part of the plan, unchecked population increase will continue to exert pressure on the land and resources.

Population management in the country continues to be among the unresolved national issues partly because it has become a religious issue with government, supposedly without religious affiliation, aligning itself with a particular religion. Philippine officials of the religion have issued an ultimatum, obey or go to hell. Hearing this, national legislators, mostly of this Church, threw the reproductive health bill away as if children caught with their hands in the cookie jar. But public officials are duty bound to rouse themselves to take pulse of the broader national conscience and base their deliberations on this. This is democracy. The country after all does not only consist of a hundred or so legislators and a thousand or so of this Church’ officials but of 80M Filipinos of different beliefs, religious, cultural, and personal. Imposition of what is allegedly good for Philippine society by the privileged few is not democracy regardless of the hype that it is so.

The other reason for why population management remains unresolved is the silence of civil society not only in the matter but in other national and local concerns as well. From observation, the following are why many are kept from exercising their political rights (and duties):

One, within communities or groups of debate and discussion, say among friends, colleagues, and neighbors, the need to go with the popular point of view prevails regardless of whether someone or others in the group hold opposite or different views. Within a community, those with opposite or different views feel compelled, I believe, through conscious or subliminal dictates of the negative interpretation of Filipino values of “hiya”, “pakikisama”, and “paggalang”. In the Filipino culture, the reference point is always the other, and the self is effaced (as opposed to the Western’s primal regard of the self). The average Filipino would rather rein in the true dictates of mind and thought from community knowledge just to “keep the peace” in the community. And this is where trouble sets in. By “keeping the peace”, individuals and groups fail to broaden community knowledge hence perpetuate one-sided views. By “keeping the peace” individuals discount their own capacities to make meaning of the world, violating their beings to the extent that, like the abused, the psychological make up is altered and what is abusive is thought of as normal, even comfortable. Interestingly, I’ve observed that this need is relaxed among groups who are, as locals say, in the grip of San Miguel (alcohol). Inebriated and mental inhibitors relaxed, discussions of national interest are openly taken up to heated levels, which is why the daily news is replete with deaths during such gatherings, as when one fires his gun or some other handy weapon at another drinking partner who persists on his opinion. Or, on busy highways, one fires his gun at another motorist because they’re bumper to bumper. Such violence are symptoms of repressed expression and in the face of differences inability to keep an open mind, focus on the issue, negotiate, and arrive at a common ground.

The shutting up of national government in a very public and significant matter to “keep the peace” with a single institution or few individuals negates the foundation of democratic governance (i.e. of, by, and for the people). Instead of expanding the knowledge base in the matter, national government has shoved the reproductive health bill under “more important national issues” but repressed expression comes out in another and rather aggressive ways such as in the dramatic tone and gestures of national costume-clad senators (there’s something off and eerie in dressing up in national costume to prosecute a colleague) in the ongoing impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona. But for how long before the truth slaps them on the face? The streets, ironically of wealthy cities, are littered and growing with children – urchins, exploited, uneducated, homeless, without shelter – and more in the countryside while the officials of this Church snore in comfort, ensconced around imposing inaccessible walls, and on waking “walk” through the streets in their tinted inaccessible SUVs. God, they can’t even bring themselves to (literally) embrace the third sex and call them their sisters (in Christ). They have become part of the exploitative system. To me, this is the real blasphemy today (instead of that CCP art exhibition incident). (Buddhist monks make real their vow of poverty, their residences in villages are the poorest looking and designed to not keep away anyone who wants to seek their guidance or assistance and everyday they reach out, walking in pairs, to individual families in order to bless and provide guidance. Barring religious ties, and if redemption is based on deeds alone (“what you do unto others”) I think the Buddhist monks would’ve gone “through the eye of the needle quicker because they are unburdened with possessions”. And why did Jesus said these then? I think He saw through all the futures and provided His audience then the synthesis for basic Christian attitude and practice relevant for all time and place.)

In the Bible, for Catholics, there are shown several incidents when Jesus showed what it means to “render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s and to the Church what is the Church'”. First there was Mary and Joseph traveling across the desert to take part in the national census, as decreed by the government. Then the presentation of Jesus at the temple, as required by the Jewish Church. If Jesus, Mary and Joseph were haughty individuals they’d have scoffed at the requirements of mortals. But they didn’t. They were aware that the motive behind the census was not altogether good as it was to account for every male being in light of the emperor’s obsessive fear for his throne, but they went ahead and got counted. The rabbis were exactly not best friends with Jesus as He was more in the company of tax collectors, but He went ahead and subjected Himself to their rules (which are often the subject in His parables, for their rigidity and focus on technicalities). Even at His trial, He subjected Himself to and obeyed the judgment of men in government. I mean, being God, He could’ve easily dumped them all to hell. My point here is, in the scheme of things each has a unique role to play. Government, the Church, the citizen, the believer. The example of Jesus tells Catholics to fulfil their duties as citizens (to the government and as part of government) and believers (to the Church and as part of the Church), and between the government and the Church, for them to know the boundaries that separate them (which implies open, honest and constant dialogue) and so fulfil their unique roles.

Two, there are I surmise only a few NGOs and people’s organizations out of thousands in this country that truly represent the voice and mind of their base in the political process (if they did ‘a vibrant civil society’ ought to have been a reality years ago), because they too, unfortunately, are riddled with internal politics that are not necessarily facilitative of the development of the common tao.

Three, low functional literacy to the extent that the common tao is swayed over easily to “greener” fields simply because of the carrot or some other visibly flashy come-on. The ultimate aim of learning ABC and 123 is for the learner to relate with, understand and make sense of the world and in doing so improve his or her life, others’, the country’s, present and future. To fulfil its functionality, education compels one toward transformation (always for the better) and transformed, to invite others on that path, in an ever growing circle of (societal) positive change. In practical terms, the functionally literate Filipino is like the chef who, given several variations of the same dish, is able to discern in each dish the textures and flavors separately and wholly and what ingredient is missing, overused, or underused and decide which dish is better or best. When I was in the Women’s Health and Safe Motherhood Project, I was struck by the irony of the presence of health centers and health personnel within the hierarchy of settlements – provincial to barangay – yet the settlement residents did not know about ‘women’s health’ and ‘safe motherhood’. One way to see the situation is from the supply side (i.e. failure of health personnel to reach out to and educate locals), but it could also be viewed from the demand side, or the extent locals reach out to health centers and personnel to demand for (better) product and service, the positive rendition of “pakikialam”.

Killing the unborn is when, knowing one has conceived, one uses the pill anyway. Or, when the female foetus is aborted because males are preferred and vice versa. Population management is neither and shouldn’t be these, but in the scheme of things, about responsibility and duty. Responsibility, in that what one brings into the world are the number of children one is able to provide for the best. Duty, in that in the broader context of national development this paves the way to a better life and future for all (as citizens’ share to scarce national resources improves because there’s more to go around relative to number of recipients or users, etc.). It is not about which side is right and which is wrong. It is about understanding the issue in the context of broader realities and timeframes. Jesus did not answer questions with yes or no nor pronounce judgment on who’s right and not, such as when He was asked if it was the parents’ sin that caused a person’s sickness and He replied that it was what came out of a person’s mouth that harms the person or when He challenged the crowd who was about to stone a prostitute that “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. His replies and parables brought into public consciousness the intricacies, paradoxes, and struggles of human life, its redemptive quality and not its condemnation. If condemnation is the rule, then it means half the world who are on safe population control methods are bad and will go to hell. Or, that those who sinned the first time are already cast into hell. But I don’t believe that. Philippine officials in the Church should return to the basic teachings of humility, compassion, and wisdom “not of this earth” (in other words, moving beyond technicalities), if it is to fulfil their role as good shepherds. They should be cranky old men only in the privacy of their rooms.

Of course it would be naive to say that by passing the reproductive health bill into law or when population management is made a national policy Filipino families and couples will automatically plan for the number of their children. It would take hard work to educate the whole country of its merits and time for Filipinos, entrenched in deep beliefs in the matter, to absorb, filter, and imbibe the desired attitude. Given the length of time to have Filipinos convinced, the right time to start the process would be now. Now, when the population is still at 80M.

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