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August 11, 2004

Slowing Growth

Filipino Congressional Delegation Seeks Guidance on Nation’s High Population Growth

Members of the Filipino House of Representatives (l to r): Gilbert C. Remulla, Darlene R. Antonino-Custodio and J.R. Nereus O. Acosta

The Philippines has one the fastest growing populations in the world. By 2033, the nation’s current population of 84 million is expected to double to 168 million.

 “Many mouths to feed,” said Dr. J.R. Nereus O. Acosta, a member of the Philippines House of Representatives. Since his election in 1995, he has worked to address the population issue in the Philippines, which he and his colleagues see an underlying source of many the nations’ economic and social problems. Dr. Acosta and two fellow representatives came to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to take part in a weeklong seminar sponsored by the School’s Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health. The seminar, which was attended by legislators from several nations, provided training and leadership on a range of development issues, including HIV, population growth and human rights.

The Filipino delegation believes new legislation is the key to slowing the nation’s population growth. They say laws are needed to codify health policies for educating the public and for providing resources and access to reproductive health services. “Proper legislation would institutionalize hopefully, population policies. As of the moment, population policies really vary from administration to administration,” explained Congresswoman Darlene R. Antonino-Custodio. “If we can find ways to provide couples or families with services in order for them to stay within their desired number of children, then you can address a lot of the population growth and a lot of the social problems that come with a family you can’t feed,” she added.

According to Congresswoman Antonino-Custodio, population growth is fueling the growing disparity between the rich and poor in the Philippines, as many in the middle class leave for better opportunities in other countries. In addition, she says that the nation is among the world’s leading suppliers of labor, which means that many Filipino children are left in the care of grandparents and other relatives while their parents seek work abroad.

Since the late 1980s, the Filipino Congress has tried unsuccessfully to enact reproductive health legislation. Congressman Acosta says the issue faces long-standing and stiff political opposition, particularly from the leadership of the Catholic Church. Catholics make up nearly 83 percent of the Philippines’ population.

Congressman Gilbert C. Remulla, another member of the Filipino delegation, sees many parallels to the politics in the United States and ideological disputes between Democrats and Republicans. As part of their visit, he and his fellow delegates met with U.S. lawmakers and staff members from both parties.

Congressman Remulla believes that the Parliamentarians seminar, as well as learning about the concerns of delegates from other countries, provided him with fresh insights to his own country’s problems. “For me it was a way to re-analyze the whole problem and for us to be given new ways to look at, to tackle and attack the problem,” said Remulla. In particular, the delegates learned the importance of “framing” the issues and discussions for the constituents back home and to develop new ways to get their message across more effectively. “We’re here because we’re facing very difficult straights in each of our countries,” said Congressman Acosta.—Tim Parsons