Stop debating the RH bill; improve science & higher education

by Flor Lacanilao
Retired professor of marine science
UP Diliman

All problems addressed in the RH bill can be solved better by improved science and higher education. Proof to this statement can be accessed freely and read carefully from the scientific and social science literature. There are many of them in the last 2 decades. Search with Advanced Google Scholar. 

Choose only those from properly published authors and studies -- that is, following internationally accepted criteria -- taken seriously by international experts. Start with the articles cited in any of these posts:

Improving higher education and science is not debatable; just put the right people in charge (how to select them, see Crucial role of S&T, education in dev’t, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 21 July 2011). They have the technical expertise to understand scientific advisers -- or correctly interpret research information -- for lasting solutions to problems. 

However, "A chief scientific adviser is no substitute for a ruling elite that is actually engaged with science and engineering"  (read What matters for science is who runs the country, Nature, 30 August 2012). 

A sad example on failure to understand information -- based on evidenced and verifiable -- is seen in a recent Senate hearing, where senators grilled the Neda chief on population and economics (see Neda chief clarifies population terms PDI, 28 Aug 2012). Note that NEDA chief Arsenio Balisacan, a former dean of UP School of Economics, is one of the country's top social scientists.

Failing to grasp, or to accept, said properly published authors or studies is the main reason why the RH bill debate has been going on in circles, for so many (over 10?) years now. 

Let the pros and the cons continue debating the RH bill issues at their own expense, time, and forums. Enough has been said -- yet without any useful conclusion -- on government time.  Congress should vote now, it does not really matter one way of the other, and save money for the country's other urgent needs.

Besides, many studies report that "Voluntary family-planning programs" have shown sustained declines in fertility and population growth across Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America (see attachment). This kind of non-government voluntary programs have also shown a cost-effective approach to reducing population pressures, stimulating economic growth, improving health, and enhancing human freedom. 

All of them will enable the Philippines to adapt to and survive the devastating disasters of climate change, which have started hitting us.

=End of Flor Lacanilao's article

As a comment on Flor Lacanilao's article above, I am adding the following.

Excerpts from 

by John Bongaarts and Steven Sinding

"Family-planning programs are most effective where socioeconomic conditions are improving. In particular, education of girls is a powerful driver of fertility decline because educated women have lower than average desired family size (in part because the opportunity costs of childbearing are higher for these women) and are more capable of overcoming obstacles to use of family planning (27, 28). However, educated women must have access to contraception to implement their reproductive preferences efficiently. Family planning and socioeconomic development operate synergistically. In addition to the commitment to family planning, the fertility difference between Bangladesh and Pakistan is also attributable to higher investments in education, especially girls’ education, in the 1980s and 1990s in Bangladesh."
There is a landmark paper by Lant H. Pritchett, “Desired fertility and the impact of population policies” in 1994 where he concluded that
“desired levels of fertility account for ninety percent of differences across countries in total fertility rates. Reducing the demand for children – for instance by giving girls more education – is vastly more important to reducing fertility than providing more contraceptives or family planning services.”
Pritchett did add at the end of the paper:
“…even if contraceptive access has a small effect on ferdlity, this is certainly no reason for govemments to limit the availability of contraception, and there may yet be valid reasons for a subsidy. Just because family planning is of marginal relevance for population change does not mean it does not have other beneficial impacts. Moreover, a reduction in the focus of family planning programs on population growth will allow greater attentiveness in the design of contraceptive supply to other considerations, such as child and matemal health, the timing of first births, and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases….”
And lastly, here is part of a comment submitted by Shareen Joshi, who is one of the researchers in the Matlab study, to a blog discussion in a World Bank forum:
"Finally, going back to this issue of "unmet need".... I agree with Lant Pritchett that we should stop trying to quantify the need for contraception this way. But by that same logic, we should also stop trying to quantify "desired fertility" (a variable featured prominently in writings by economists, including Pritchett's hugely famous 1994 paper)! Asking a woman her "ideal" number of children is just as complicated as asking her about her need for contraception. Neither question is answered objectively. Responses to both are colored by social norms, preferences of a spouse, past fertility history, and the broader socio-economic environment. So just like you can't use "unmet need" to justify family-planning programs, we shouldn't use "desired fertility" to justify their omission from the policy agenda. Again, the rationale for FP programs should simply be that that they (a) expand people's choices and give them greater control of their fertility; and (b) they are one more investment in female human capital. Lets not worry about unmet need, desired fertility, or ideal fertility!"
With these, we need to remind ourselves of a law that already exists in the Philippines (R.A. 9710: Magna Carta of Women). Here is section 17 of this law (taken from

Section 17. Women's Right to Health. - (a) Comprehensive Health Services. - The State shall, at all times, provide for a comprehensive, culture-sensitive, and gender-responsive health services and programs covering all stages of a woman's life cycle and which addresses the major causes of women's mortality and morbidity:Provided, That in the provision for comprehensive health services, due respect shall be accorded to women's religious convictions, the rights of the spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions, and the demands of responsible parenthood, and the right of women to protection from hazardous drugs, devices, interventions, and substances.
Access to the following services shall be ensured:

(1) Maternal care to include pre- and post-natal services to address pregnancy and infant health and nutrition;
(2) Promotion of breastfeeding;
(3) Responsible, ethical, legal, safe, and effective methods of family planning;
(4) Family and State collaboration in youth sexuality education and health services without prejudice to the primary right and duty of parents to educate their children;
(5) Prevention and management of reproductive tract infections, including sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and AIDS;
(6) Prevention and management of reproductive tract cancers like breast and cervical cancers, and other gynecological conditions and disorders;
(7) Prevention of abortion and management of pregnancy-related complications;
(8) In cases of violence against women and children, women and children victims and survivors shall be provided with comprehensive health services that include psychosocial, therapeutic, medical, and legal interventions and assistance towards healing, recovery, and empowerment;
(9) Prevention and management of infertility and sexual dysfunction pursuant to ethical norms and medical standards;
(10) Care of the elderly women beyond their child-bearing years; and
(11) Management, treatment, and intervention of mental health problems of women and girls. In addition, healthy lifestyle activities are encouraged and promoted through programs and projects as strategies in the prevention of diseases.

(b) Comprehensive Health Information and Education. - The State shall provide women in all sectors with appropriate, timely, complete, and accurate information and education on all the above-stated aspects of women's health in government education and training programs, with due regard to the following:

(1) The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth and the development of moral character and the right of children to be brought up in an atmosphere of morality and rectitude for the enrichment and strengthening of character;
(2) The formation of a person's sexuality that affirms human dignity; and
(3) Ethical, legal, safe, and effective family planning methods including fertility awareness.


  1. From

    House drafting new RH bill

    "Instead of a bill that "promotes" the use of contraceptives nationwide, the bill will turn into a "poverty measure" that will make "available" contraceptives only to the poorest of the poor.

    "Basically, what's being opposed by the Catholic bishops is not the use of contraceptives per se. It's the provision that mandates the government to promote and finance contraceptives. The problem is that is the heart of the RH bill... We will turn the RH bill into a poverty measure. Promotion of contraceptives will be limited to the poorest of the poor identified by the Department of Social Welfare and Development," Gonzales told reporters on the sidelines of the House plenary on Monday, September 3."


    With RA 9710, the executive department does not need an RH bill to make the above happen.

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