MANILA— President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said it was "high time" to review government's family planning program, positing that the country's large population has affected effective enforcement of COVID-19 protocols, especially in urban areas.
Duterte said for guidelines such as physical distancing to limit COVID-19 transmission, authorities "cannot insist" for instance that only one person occupy a 3-person public vehicle because the fare would be too expensive.
"But you know we pass it on to the next generation, sobra talaga (it is really excessive). It’s high time we review," he said in a speech during the inauguration of transportation projects at the Dumaguete-Sibulan Airport in Negros Oriental.
"And maski sabihin mo social distancing, paglabas pa lang ng tao ng bahay niya hirap na siya, he can hardly have the space to move around. So hindi naman sa kukulangin tayo ng tao but sana we can match the family planning of the government at least with our GDP."
(And even if you say social distancing, people will find it difficult right after stepping out of their house, he can hardly have the space to move around. I don't want us to fall short of people, but I hope we can match the family planning of the government at least with our GDP.)
The Philippines saw its worst post-war economic slump last year, when a nationwide quarantine to prevent COVID-19 transmission left businesses struggling and millions jobless.
Cases have seen a spike recently, with authorities citing poor compliance with health protocol as a cause for the virus spread a year into the pandemic.
Duterte urged the public to wear anti-virus masks and face shields "at the very least."
"But other [rules], especially social distancing, I don't think we can force our people really to—because it is impossible," he said.
"There are too many Filipinos in the urban areas than in the rural areas and second, which is really the farthest of reason is that we have not been able to implement the family planning program."
Video courtesy of PTV
Even before the pandemic, the government was already trying to temper population numbers. At the turn of the millennium, the country had a population of 76 million, but by 2015 it had grown almost one-quarter to 100 million, representing average annual population growth of 1.6 per cent – the highest in Southeast Asia.
The landmark passage in 2012 of the Reproductive Health Law, which introduced a more comprehensive national family planning program, was aimed at slowing the birth rate.
A year after the law was passed, the modern contraceptive prevalence rate was at 38 per cent, up from 34 per cent in 2008, and by 2017 – the last year for which statistics are available – the rate had only slightly improved to 40 per cent.
However, the extended lockdown measures are reversing the small strides the country of 110 million people has made.
The Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) said the COVID-19 crisis "worsened" the difficulty of availing family planning services, which are "very crucial in mitigating cases of early pregnancies."
Births among girls ages 15 years old and below has increased consistently since 2011, with 1 out of every 10 pregnancies in the Philippines recorded among teenagers, the POPCOM said.
- With a report from the South China Morning post