The conflict in Mindanao from the perspective of Malthusian theory

There’s a joke that Muslims here like to tell, to which Muslims and Christians alike laugh at. It’s this- Muslim men could have as many as four wives max and still be legit by standards of their religion and law. Beyond that, however, they said they’d have become Christians. I hurt my stomach the first time I was told this. I couldn’t stop laughing.

In a way, this joke summarizes the complicated relationship between Muslims and Christians in the region particularly as you move further south where it’s more visible. If certain Muslims have taken arms to defend their sociopolitical and cultural survival in a country of 80-90% Catholic largely mainstreamed into the globalized economy and with that it’s sociopolitical and cultural ethic and, for some other groups, to defend at whatever cost the dictates of their conscience, there is or was, following the rule in physics, also the corresponding movement from Christians in the region- the Ilaga.

The Ilaga, the most notorious among the Christian vigilante groups, was reported to have been organized by seven local Christian politicians (“Magnificent Seven”) who were bent upon preserving their respective power and expanding them further by infiltrating and dominating areas traditionally controlled by Muslims. It was reported also that the Ilaga was supported by some influential Christian capitalists and logging magnates. The Ilaga group was the most feared to many Muslims primarily because of what its members did to their victims, like carving out ears, slashing nipples, plucking out eyes, and marking bodies with cross.

Yasmin Busran-Lao, Human Development, Economic and Social Costs, and Spillovers of Conflict: The Case of the Province of Lanao del Sur, background paper submitted to the Human Development Network Foundation, Inc. for the Philippine Human Development Report 2005

That dark period in the region’s history is apparently an experience that people here Muslim and Christian alike do not want to forget hence is passed on to younger generations in the form of stories which in turn may explain why there is still such vigilance, in their unconscious, between the two (which only a few have truly transcended the ones who are free to “cross over” invisible yet palpable boundaries such that we hear for instance Muslims protecting their Christian neighbors when armed fellow Muslims raid villages). Such stories were given as part of the orientation I had about the region. I was not yet five days old in the area. I was, what? can you spell that out please, because, for the life of me, I haven’t heard the word until then (I guess the reason is, I was schooled abroad).

Nothing apparently is what it seems. To truly understand the situation in Mindanao, ML or not, one must approach the subject with humility and in the calm or neutral spirit of scientific inquiry ie. if one is a Muslim, to be ready to accept that Muslims or certain Muslims are culpable and if one is a Christian, to be ready to accept that Christians or certain Christians have also had a hand, and, for both, in accepting that, to be open to the fact of our shared humanity which is that there is only one earth, one Philippines. How the planet, the country should be divided up for each and every human being should be done through intelligent and peaceful means (otherwise we have not really transformed from our ape past). Then again the rhetoric of ‘One Philippines’ need to be unpacked.

In one of the community discussions, somebody mentioned about population growth and population control as a related issue. Oh? I said in surprise. But it was obvious although not readily perceived. Filipino Catholics make up 80-90% of the country’s total population, and what is the total population? 100M. This means Catholics, whatever the ethnicity, greatly outnumber Muslims whatever their ethnicity. Such is true in the region. In other words, the droves of non-Muslims in continuous migration to Mindanao in search for land and greener pasture just by their sheer number easily overpower the original settlers hence easily impose their politics and culture on the “new land.” Now, population control. Catholics/Christians, since they make up much of the population, should share the bulk of the responsibility for birth control (the most rational, strategic, and intelligent means to population control (hence adequate space and quality of life for all)). That is equity. But the funny thing is, they are the ones, the Church leaders at least, who cite religious teaching as justification for disallowing Catholics to openly subscribe to a civic responsibility.

Without any checks, population would theoretically grow at an exponential rate, rapidly exceeding its ability to produce resources to support itself (Thomas Malthus).

I remember another joke about the root cause of this world’s problems, which is that, if it’s not economic, it must be sex. This brings us back to the joke about the wife taking.

Still on the Philippine RH Bill debate: confession, sons, foreplay, balls, one

The confession by Senator Sotto implicates seven points on reproductive rights and health:

First, his voice (and experience) is not representative of the 80M men and women in this country. I do sympathize with him (and his wife), now that I know about what happened, but. The Senate should not be treated as an expanded shrink’s office where the added feature is an audience of 80M people (not to mention international audience). It should not be where unresolved deep-seated issues in Senators’private lives are confessed. In practice, there’s no stopping the good Senators to tell their personal stories. And so it is up to self-regulation: Am I using the Senate floor and time (which is paid for by the people) for my own motives and agenda? Are my words (on my duty time as Senator) the voice of the people (who elected and are paying me)? We talk of institutional reforms in the sectors and the Senate should be included. A good start is going back to what ‘Senate’ means. In ancient Rome (or was it Greece?) where the Senate had taken form, it essentially means apolitical, a place in which public issues are intelligently discussed, political meanderings shunned. The Philippine Senate should amidst corruption and deteriorating values be a rock on which what is good and true and worth following in the Filipino is preserved and built on. It should stop being a marketplace of short-sighted hagglers.

Second, the good Senator said he had always wanted a son. Isn’t that what everybody else in the world wants? Death to daughters, good life to sons. (And who is there to defend the father, but the daughter?) In his confession, perhaps he wasn’t aware that these words revealed a lot – too much of the traditional views that have and continue to hurt the human female.

Third, we see at play here the real world connection of quality of information to the attainment of reproductive health and rights. Men and women can effectively decide to the extent that the information they get is fact-based, relevant to their situation, cost-effective, and timely. There are medical practitioners and there are medical practitioners. In fact, doctors (those who’ve lost the values promoted by their profession) will advise their pregnant clients to go under the knife when in fact there’s no clinical reason to do so (apart from for instance parents wanting to have more control over the birth dates of their child), because now caesarian section is just like any normal medical procedure wherein risks can be managed by the practitioner (more so if the client is healthy). In this sense there’s not much difference between giving birth naturally and artificially only that the latter is far more expensive (and profitable to the practitioner). My point is, when facts point to the effectiveness of contraceptives to be 95%, that one mishap (part of the 5%) may be the exception rather than the rule which is why to prevent adverse situations researchers in contraceptive development recommend that contraceptives be prescribed on a user-to-user basis after he or she has undergone some form of medical assessment (which is why in contraceptive use it is critical to establish an effective doctor-client relationship). My initial reactions to the Senator’s story were, who was it who said that the mishap was because of the contraceptive, the medical practitioner? How so? What was the health status of the user before or on initial use – was she compatible with that particular pill? If not, did the user provide feedback and seek alternatives from the medical practitioner? Was there monitoring of initial use from the medical practitioner? These are the information left out of the good Senator’s confession. When information given is partial (as with an incomplete road sign), either because of ignorance of consequences or purposefully done, men and women can’t be expected to make good decisions.

Fourth, we also see at play in the information exchange (above) the power play between the dispenser and recipient of the information. The dispenser of information regarding contraceptives is an expert (e.g. medical practitioners) or someone who is trusted (e.g. barangay official, friend, Senator). Men and women put their faith on the information given – fact or not, complete or not – because it is expert advise. In the relationship, as with trust-based relationships, the potential of abuse – taking advantage of the seeker’s shallow or incomplete knowledge of the thing – by the expert/one who is in possession of the facts is not far from plausible. The tragic thing is, if such abuse is played out in the Senate, what hope is there in villages where often “experts” can say the earth is flat and the poor villagers (only having completed two years of elementary education and nothing of intellectual exposure) will go to the extent of cutting their throats when the “fact” is contradicted.

Fifth, the talk on reproductive health in this country has been too focused on women. We forget that men and the LGBT community come with reproductive systems too. Framed within gender equality arguments, this reinforces the belief and attitude that women are Eve – the cause of the fall of men. We who are Catholics forget that there is the other woman – of the new time (New Testament) – Mary, who as the dogma goes was taken on equal footing with her God-Son in the work of redeeming the world, thus redeeming the fallen Eve in Mary. If God can put a woman of earthen origin on equal footing with His/Her Son, who are we Catholics not to do the same on earth for all women? The tragic thing is, we’ve gotten ourselves stuck in the humiliation and faults of Eve, long after God and heaven have moved on. In reproductive health issues, it is often that the finger is pointed at the woman – it is she to be ligated, put on pills, etc. as if the “problem” of ‘high fertility’ is entirely her fault (faulting one or the other to have high fertility doesn’t make sense). There are few good men who volunteer to be vasectomized. What then can we describe the feelings of women over ligation? In my time facilitating reproductive health discussions between men and women, I find that men suffer their own deep-seated issues concerning their reproductive system (not to mention sexuality). They are constrained by societal norms from bringing these out in the open and because these remain unresolved these (naturally) seek outlet and one is through projection of these onto their women partners in particular and women in general, as if the women are the problem. As with poverty, the cycle is pernicious – Philippine society restricts men into a certain image-men close in on/fail to discover their real selves-men take their issues out on women-women are abused and looked down on-etc. In the end, everyone – men and women – loses out.

At the global scale, the continuing bias against women is reiterated in the research and production of contraceptives which largely have in mind women as users. What’s keeping us from massive research on producing contraceptives for men as well? How come such research has not been as quick as those done for contraceptives targeting women?

Sixth, while reproductive health is both a woman’s and man’s issue the national debate starkly reveals the dearth of women’s voices/participation in an issue that significantly affects them (because family planning is largely placed on their shoulders). While it is good and refreshing to listen to men dissecting (coldly, to my observation) women-also issues such as birth control, their voices do not necessarily reflect the minds of women. I – and the rest of us surely – would also like to listen to what women have to say on the issue. Not just from one or two women but at least 70% of women in this country. The debate has been going on without reference to solid research on Filipino women’s views and experiences of reproductive health. Arguments in the past 15 years are largely biased on personal and incomplete views of politicians. Because it is politically-charged, exchanges had become cocky and amnesiac such as the most recent one – “is population control good for the economy and how?” I empathize with NEDA Chief Balisacan because I imagined that his silence in the face of this question to him was not because of the absence of intelligent things to say rather I imagined that he struggled internally to keep a smile on while imploding with disbelief – god, how many Chiefs had gone ahead of me and still this is the question? Resounding evidence the world over says yes it is – just look at the economies of world powers – and it is now up to the Senate to, as what my professor in undergrad law bellowed to a male classmate, “stand up and have the balls” to make the goddamn decision for the Philippines. Fifteen years are plenty time doing foreplay. If the decision was made then this generation will have been now reaping some benefits but if the decision is made after another 15 years it will be the 10th generation who will benefit and by then do we even know that given the changing climate now the earth as we know now will be the same in that time?

Seventh, population control (as just one of the components of reproductive health) is to developing countries as what carbon emission reduction is to developed countries. Each refuses to budge. But each knows that not to budge is a decision made toward a bleak future for all. As Northern countries “pressure” their Southern counterparts toward embracing population control in RH, they need to also think about their responsibility over global carbon emission and its limiting effects on struggling countries. The UN has introduced good terms in its current development assistance framework – One; Equity. In this sense, the pressure is also on Northern countries to be models of the change we all want to see in our world.

On economic growth and social reforms as population growth control measures

I understand why GMA isn’t for the RH Bill. I think religion if it comes in at all as her reason would only place second. She is an economist and I think economics is behind her top reason. How? Karl Marx contends that population growth is the result of poverty, resource depletion, pollution and other social negativities and the corollary of it is if people are treated justly and exploitation and oppression eliminated population growth will slow down. On another note, economist Julian Simon insists that population growth is actually beneficial because more people means larger markets, more workers, and so efficiencies of scale. In other words, level up GDP growth rate to 100x that of population’s. Having an undergrad in economics myself I totally agree with these.


There are three basic assumptions made when doing economic calculations: one people are rational beings, two, there is perfect information (i.e. the right information is available to the producer or consumer whenever it is needed) and three, there are no fortuitious events. In reality, irrational behavior is the rule rather than the exception and information is withheld, distorted, late, imperfect. My point is, if only the assumptions hold true in the real world – here in the country – we should’ve surpassed Singapore in economic stature yesterday. All Filipinos should’ve been affluent, supposedly happy, and sophisticated in both tastes and knowledge. Population should’ve started to decline with everyone having on their own volition the happy and bright idea to just have one or two children (I’ve this theory based on observation that the happier you are – from having say a million peso savings stashed in the bank or in short the future’s more secure because of it – and the nicer your home environment the lesser your desire for a larger number of children (unless you’re into using children to make a political statement). Filipinos joke about couples in areas without electricity – and there are many areas still (I’ve slept in these areas because of work and god I spent nights wondering how families there can live without electricity – who had nothing to do beyond 6 PM after they had dinner but turn in early and make babies. We laugh at it but it’s true, and unjust in the sense that we who have the best in life define what good and bad is for these people but forgot that basic things such as electricity are not enjoyed by these families. I bet if they had electricity they’d spend more time reading than on baby making).

It was in 2000 when this country supposedly had attained the “Philippines 2000” developed economy/country status. We didn’t. What happened? Information needed by decision-makers didn’t arrive on time or if it did it was the wrong one. Everybody wanted the big slice of the pie and no one’s giving in. People taking to the streets for EDSA II or was it III? Decentralization which was thought to be the means to move the growth agenda forward on the ground turned out for the most part a playground of colonialism in new forms. Having decreased poverty incidence in one area, there seems to pop out ten times that number in other areas and so on. Things that were identified as belonging to the control group turned out not. And while backs are turned to the experiment, it’s the population that has leap-frogged leaving behind the economy which for its part managed to crawl up by some inches.

China took a more stringent measure, putting in place the controversial one-child policy at the same time working out its economy by quantum leaps. The controversial policy aside, the point is the Chinese government recognized that in order for it to make headway in economic progress it has to “lighten the load” that a large population bears on its economy / resources.

On the social side, specifically social reforms, the speed at which LGUs are taking to attain to cite one example 100% universal health insurance coverage is indicative of the dire consequences of allowing population to grow at an unsustainable rate. If economic growth rates persistently do not meet desired levels (despite direct measures to amp it up) we should suspect that other things are at play.

GRDP Region 8.

Like an overloaded vehicle going uphill, it can’t go as fast relative to another which has kept its load within limit or even lesser. Something has got to give (I heard this term from a consultant and loved it at once). And what has to give considering the country’s slowness to institute reforms (economic, political, social) is population growth rate. Unless it’s the economy you want to put on birth control. The road that we would want to take is one toward an economic growth rate that would catapult this country into a developed country and while at it a manageable population growth rate. Let the good Bishops stay where they are if they wish – after all poverty is one of their vows (although what poverty in there really means is poverty of spirit).