With about a month to go before the national and local elections, the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) strongly advocates for the next administration’s continuity of the country’s family planning program, as more Filipinos in recent years appreciate its concept and embrace its benefits.

Responsible parenthood/reproductive health, as well as family planning, have benefitted Filipino families’ development and wellbeing. POPCOM strongly pushes for their inclusion in the agenda of the next set of elected government officials. POPCOM FILE PHOTO

The agency noted the current strong patronage of 8.1 million Filipino couples, partners and individuals in terms of family planning practice and usage, with a brisk uptake during President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s tenure. According to the Department of Health (DOH)’s Field Health Services Information System (FHSIS), the figure is 2 million more, or about 25% higher, than in 2016 when the Chief Executive assumed office.

Likewise, POPCOM disclosed that the past six years saw the mainstream implementation of Republic Act 10354, or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Law, which helped boost the total number of those availing of family planning services by 30% since its passage a decade ago in 2012.

In terms of modern contraceptive method utilization, the latest FHSIS annual data from health centers and health facilities nationwide revealed that pills remained as the most preferred by some 3.2 million Filipino women in 2020, which had an additional 1 million adherents from 2016. Implants also had a significant increase in acceptors: from 103,000 to 474,000 in the span of those years. Same was true for injectables: from 959,000 to 1.6 million. For males, within that period, about 400,000 resorted to condoms—up from 270,000.

More to be done: Undersecretary for Population and Development (POPDEV) Dr. Juan Antonio Perez III discussed these statistics in a recent briefing with officials of the United Nations Population Fund, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and DOH.  There, he revealed POPCOM’s achievements for 2021, where it was able to reach 1,151,643, or 96%, of couples and individuals from a total target of 1.2 million through various RPRH/FP demand-generation activities.

As such, he is batting for the uninterrupted transition of the successful RPRH/FP efforts into the next government: “We have seen their positive effects on Filipino families’ lives, especially during the pandemic. Their anxieties about having another mouth to feed and bring up in an environment of economic uncertainty were eased, as POPCOM’s partnership with local government units was even heightened with a ‘more than business-as-usual’ approach. We complemented their prudence by meeting them where they are, and when they needed services and commodities the most.”

With greater impact of the pandemic among families who are poor and with large family sizes and among densely populated communities, POPCOM, NEDA and the DOH advocated for the inclusion of the national family planning program as a key strategy in recovering from the Covid-19 public health crisis.

Despite the program’s accomplishments, Dr. Perez said that much more needs to be done in terms of POPDEV policies to be mainstreamed in the national government’s programs, including a “national living wage” in the light of the current administration’s approach to the pandemic. Apart from family planning, pressing concerns on demographic vulnerabilities and migration in urban areas surfaced at the height of the health emergency, which prompted President Duterte to check on efforts to ease population numbers in high-density barangays nationwide.

He revealed that POPCOM has provided questions to the Commission on Elections for candidates running for national offices to learn about their plans on RPRH and POPDEV, which he hoped would be addressed in the next set of debates and interviews:

“Currently, 2/3 of our population enjoy only about 35% of the dividends of our national economy. We want to know our candidates’ plans about decongesting the National Capital Region (NCR), Central Luzon and CALABARZON, which hold 39% of the entire country’s population, while partaking in the benefits of 65% of the national economy. This will be key in developing regions outside of the three, particularly those beyond Southern Tagalog, which are left behind in terms of progress.”

Addressing issues: The POPCOM chief also would like to generate conversations about food security, particularly in view of large families, as well as revitalizing the local economy and bringing its benefits down to the level of individuals. Moreover, he urges candidates to provide their suggestions regarding economic inequality across the archipelago, including their take on institutionalizing “living wages” that will allow families to be financially secure and make investments for their future, while easing inequality of daily wages in the majority of regions which causes congestion in NCR.

All these discussions and exchange of ideas among those seeking public office, according to him, will give a bigger picture on their development agenda, and how they place RPRH, family planning and ultimately POPDEV among their priorities, which will ultimately impact the nation’s families in the immediate future and the coming years.

“The key to success in any undertaking is continuity. With the right leaders hopefully elected by our countrymen, Filipino families will continue to be empowered, as well as reap the positive outcomes of the RPRH Law, family planning and POPDEV policies that uphold their wellbeing and welfare,” Dr. Perez concluded.  ###