Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

Philippines RH Act: Rx for controversy
Diatribe by Philippines' President turns back the clock

Appendix "A"

Philippines population control and management policies

Establishment of POPCOM

In 1967, President Ferdinand Marcos joined other world leaders in adding his signature to a Declaration on Population that had been made the previous year by representatives of 12 countries (often incorrectly cited in Philippines government documents as "the UN Declaration on Population").1 Two years later, Executive Order 171 established the Commission on Population (POPCOM), and in 1970 Executive Order 233 empowered POPCOM to direct a national population programme.2

The Population Act

The Population Act [RA 6365] passed in 1971 made family planning part of a strategy for national development. Subsequent Presidential Decrees required increased participation of public and private sectors, private organizations and individuals in the population programme.3

Under President Corazon Aquino (1986 to 1992) the family planning element of the programme was transferred to the Department of Health, where it became part of a five year health plan for improvements in health, nutrition and family planning. According to the Philippines National Statistics Office, the strong influence of the Catholic Church undermined political and financial support for family planning, so that the focus of the health policy was on maternal and child health, not on fertility reduction.4

The Population Management Program

The Ramos administration launched the Philippine Population Management Program (PPMP) in 1993. This was modified in 1999, incorporating "responsible parenthood" as a central theme.3 During the Philippines 12th Congress (2001-2004) policymakers and politicians began to focus on "reproductive health."5

Responsible Parenthood and Family Planning Program

In 2006 the President ordered the Department of Health, POPCOM and local governments to direct and implement the Responsible Parenthood and Family Planning Program.

The Responsible Parenthood and Natural Family Planning Program's primary policy objective is to promote natural family planning, birth spacing (three years birth spacing) and breastfeeding which are good for the health of the mother, child, family, and community. While LGUs can promote artificial family planning because of local autonomy, the national government advocates natural family planning.3

Population policy effectiveness and outcomes

The population of the Philippines grew steadily from about 27million in 1960 to over 100 million in 2018. Starting from similar populations in 1960, Thailand, Myanmar and South Korea now have much lower populations (Figure 1).

Philippines Population
Figure 1.  Source: World Development Indicators (2019 Jul 10)

However, from about 1984, the rate of population growth in the Philippines and these countries decreased (See Figure 2). Moreover, the decrease in the Philippines growth rate remained comparatively steady, and was consistent with the decrease in population growth rate worldwide (See Figure 3).

Philippines Population Rate Increase
Figure 2Rate of population growth from 1960.
 Source: World Development Indicators (2019 Jul 10)

Philippines Rate of Population Increase
Figure 3Rate of population growth from 1960
Source: World Development Indicators (2019 Jul 10)

From 2000 to 2017 the Philippines' birth rate (per 1,000 people) remained consistently higher than that of Thailand, Myanmar and South Korea, but maintained a downward trend consistent with those countries until 2008, when it returned to a level slightly higher than five years earlier (Figure 4). 

The downward trend resumed, so that by 2017 the Philippines' birth rate had fallen about 15% in 17 years (Figure 5).  This was only about half the reduction reported in Myanmar and Thailand over the same period; the drop in South Korea's birth rate was far more dramatic.  However, the 17 year reduction in the Philippines' birth rate was actually higher than the reduction in the global birthrate .

Philippines' Birth Rate
Figure 5Birth Rates: 2000 and 2017
Source: World Development Indicators (2019 Jul 10)

A paper published in 2003 claimed that the population program was "ineffectual," the result of "inadequate institutional and financial support."6 Nonetheless, the fertility rate in the Philippines was halved between 1973 and 2013.7

Collateral outcomes

If the Philippines population management policies and programmes have had no measurable impact on population growth, they have produced one notable outcome. The notion that the government should manage population growth and instruct the population in fertility control and "responsible parenthood" has become part of the normal social, political and health care landscape in the Philippines. Moreover, an infrastructure of familiar government ministries, offices and officials has been established throughout the country to give effect to government policies.

Influence of the Catholic Church

Over 80% of Filipinos are Catholic, so it is not surprising to encounter assertions that population management infrastructure and operations "largely reflect the Catholic Church's position on family planning which emphasizes responsible parenting, informed choice, respect for life and birth spacing."8 The Catholic bishops of the country have been accused of opposing and hampering population management and fertility reduction policies.9  On the other hand, Church officials have sometimes suggested or encouraged "Church-government collaborative partnerships" involving "principled collaboration" by the Church.10  One such partnership was formalized.11

Certainly, the Catholic bishops have forbidden Catholic hospitals to "provide facilities and services for induced abortion, contraceptive sterilization, or the administration of artificial contraceptives," and insisted that admitting privileges are conditional on adherence to this policy. Members of Catholic religious orders may administer or work in non-Catholic hospitals where such services are provided only if their presence is not exploited to create a public impression that they approve of them, and they do not participate in them. The bishops have advised Catholics working in hospitals where contraceptive sterilization is offered to notify management in writing "of their conscientious refusal to directly participate in such procedures."12

However, this is not the whole story.

Surgical sterilization excepted, the forms of birth control that are legal in the Philippines do not have to be provided through hospitals. Government health care facilities (including hospitals) outnumber privately controlled facilities (including hospitals) by a 10-1 margin.13 This enormous practical advantage appears to be reflected in statistics about birth control practices.

Over 25 years ago a survey of women aged 15 to 49 found that over 96% were familiar with one or more methods of family planning, including modern contraceptive methods, and that over 90 percent knew where to obtain the pill, 80 percent the IUD, condom and female sterilization, and 70 percent male sterilization. Of the married women surveyed, 40% were practising some form of birth control, most often dispensed by government sources. Only 7% were using methods accepted by Catholic teaching,14 and of the non-users, less than 5% were "opposed to family planning or cited religion as a reason for not using contraception."15

From 1992 to 2003, 70% of contraceptives used were obtained from government sources.16 In 2002 over 57% of those using birth control were using modern contraceptives.17 By 2017, about 67% of Filipinos using some form of birth control were using modern methods disapproved by the Catholic Church.18

Ten years ago, a prominent Filipino politician offered the following summary of the political relevance of Catholic teaching on contraception even then:

He cites recent surveys showing majority of Catholics favoring a reproductive health law, requiring government to teach family planning to the youth, and the government distributing legal contraceptives like condoms, pills and IUDs. Religion, says Lagman, ranks only 9th out of 10 reasons why women do not use contraception. That a Catholic can still be a good Catholic and use family planning methods outside the only church-approved natural family planning methods has been expressed by a number of faculty and staff members of the Catholic institution Ateneo de Manila University, a position also held by University of the Philippines academicians. Lagman is himself a Catholic, and goes to mass when he can.18

If the Catholic Church has enjoyed a privileged position with respect to Philippines government policies in family planning, and if the Church has hampered government efforts to control fertility and reduce the population, it seems, nonetheless, to have been ineffective in convincing most Filipinos to adhere to Church teaching on contraception and sterilization, and it has not prevented a reduction in the Philippines' population growth or birth rate over time.


1.    Ayala T, Caradon L. Declaration on Population: The World Leaders Statement. Studies in Family Planning [Internet]. 1968 Jan;1(26): 1-3. DOI: <10.2307/1965194>. (Cited 2019 Sep 14).

2.    National Statistics Office (NSO) [Philippines] and Macro International Inc. (MI). National Demographic Survey, 1993 [Internet]. 1994, May. 300 p. [NDS 1993]  (Cited 2019 Sep 14). 

3.    Commission on Population Pilippines, POPCOM: About Us: History [Internet]. [POPCOM] (Cited 2019 Sep 14).

4.    NDS 1993, supra note 2 at p. 5-6.

5.    Republic of the Philippines, Senate Economic Planning Office Policy Brief, Promoting Reproductive Health: A Unified Strategy to Achieve the MDGs [Internet]. (2009 Jul) [Senate Brief 229] at p. 6. (Cited 2019 Sep 14).

6.    Herrin A,  Orbeta Jr A, Acejo I, Cuenca J, del Prado F. An Evaluation of the Philippine Population Management Program (PPMP) [Internet]. Makati City: Philippine Institute for Development Studies; Discussion Papers Series No. 2003-18. 2003 Dec. 59 p.  [Herrin et al] at p. 4.  (Cited 2019 Sep 14).

7.    Republic of the Philippines, Commission on Population Philippines, The Philippine Population Management Program Directional Plan 2017-2022 [Internet] (Mandaluyong City, Philippines) [PPM 2017] at p. 17, Figure 8.  (Cited 2019-09-14)

8.   Senate Brief 2009, supra note 5 at p. 3.

9.    Herrin A. Lack of Consensus Characterizes Philippine Population Policy [Internet]. Makati City: Philippine Institute for Development Studies; Policy Notes, No. 2003-03 2003 Jun. 4 p.  [Herrin] at p. 4. (Cited 2019 Sep 14).

10.    Ledesma AJ. Natural Family Planning- A Pastoral Approach [Internet]. Landas. 2003;17(1) 126-133.  (Cited 2019 Sep 14).

11.    Memorandum of Agreement among the Family Life Apostolate of the Lingayen-Dagupan Archdiocese, the Kapihan sa Kumbento, and the Province of Pangasinan, with the concurrence of Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz of the Lingayen-Dagupan Archdiocese. Cited in Herrin, supra note 8.

12.    Alberto TV. Moral Norms for Catholic Hospitals and Catholics in Health Services [Internet]. 1973 Dec 8. CBCP Online  Manila, Philippines: Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.  (Cited 2019 Sep 14).

A section of the posted document appears to be missing. According to a copy formerly posted at Moral Norms <> the full text about religious orders working in non-Catholic hospitals should read: "Religious may not continue to administer and/or work in a hospital which exploits their presence to create in the mind of the public the impression that they approve of immoral procedures being followed in the hospital. If this impression can be avoided, they may continue in the hospital, but they may not be directly involved in any of those procedures. "

13.  Republic of the Philippines, Department of Health, National Health Facility Registry v2.0: Philippine Health Facility Status [Internet]. (Cited 2019 Sep 14).

14.  NDS 1993, supra note 2 at p. 39-43.

15.  NDS 1993, supra note 2 at p. 54.

16.  Herrin et al, supra note 6 at  p. 7.

17.  Herrin et al, supra note 6 at p. 8

18.  PPMP 2017, supra note 7 at p. 32, Table 15.  According to the table, 54.9% of Filipinos were using some form of birth control  36.8% were using modern birth control methods clearly disapproved of by the Catholic Church.  The "traditional"  methods include both coitus interruptus and periodic abstinence, but the table does not distinguish between the former (disapproved by the Catholic Church) and the latter.

19.  Torrevilas DM. Lagman's commitment to reproductive health. [Internet] The Philippine Star (philstarGlobal). 2009 Feb 28. (Cited 2019 Sep 14).

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