Bernardo M. Villegas
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Rebalancing Strategy
published: Mar 31, 2017

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RH Bill Is Not Pro-Life

           It is not my usual practice to debate with specific individuals or groups about the issues I address in my columns.  I am making an exception this time, as some might already have inferred from the title of this commentary.  Recently, some faculty members of the De La Salle University declared publicly that they support the RH Bill and asserted categorically that "the RH Bill Is Pro-Life."  As an alumnus of De La Salle University, having spent  my formative years in both  high school and college in this prestigious university, I would like to engage in a friendly dialogue with my fellow La Sallites by stating that there are provisions of the RH Bill that are clearly anti-life.

          Let me start, however, with the truths contained in their declaration on which we agree.  There is no question that "the right to life is a fundamental Christian tenet that finds full meaning when combined with the inherent rights of humans to a decent, safe, and productive existence as well as to an all-round development."  It is also true that "part of a meaningful celebration of life itself is the affirmation of the inherent moral standing of every human being...The ability to make moral judgments...requires knowledge and information, and for those living in materially constrained  circumstances, requires further support from society.  The capacity to provide that support now rests with the State and its instrumentalities."  As one of those who drafted the 1987 Constitution, I could not agree more that the Constitution declares as illegal abortion and, by implication, the sale and promotion of abortifacient birth control technologies.  At the practical level, it is also laudable that the La Salle professors opine that "a health worker cannot be compelled by the state to disseminate artificial contraceptives, or parents may pull their children out of sex education classes."  All these truths stand, whether or not there is an RH Bill.

          What I find faulty in their reasoning is the unscientific statement that Philippine poverty can be attributed to the large size of the population in general or to the large sizes of the households in the 7th to the 10th decile groups in particular. I have spent at least the last forty years of my professional life as an economist gathering evidences from the studies of leading economists in the  world, a number of them Nobel laureates, that demonstrate convincingly that population growth is a very positive stimulus to economic progress and human development when accompanied by intelligent economic policies and good governance.  Among these great minds are Simon Kuznets, Michael Spence, Colin Clark, Julian Simon, and Mahbub ul Haq (the Pakistani economist who developed the Human Development Index).  The De La Salle professors have misdiagnosed the roots of Philippine poverty.  More than a quarter of our population are living in dehumanizing poverty, not because there are too many Filipinos, but because our leaders had followed for almost three decades an economic strategy that was completely biased against rural and agricultural development.  It is no coincidence that 75 percent of the poor in the Philippine are in the countryside.  Added to this error in economic strategy is the sheer waste of resources (about P400 billion yearly according to studies of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank) due to both private sector and government corruption.  It is terribly unfair to blame the babies being born for the sins of dishonest executives and public officials.

          Thanks to the limited use of artificial contraceptives, especially among the 7th to the 10th decile income groups, the Philippines is still enjoying the demographic dividend which is a distinct advantage in a global economy where all of the developed countries are gradually being wiped out of this planet because of very low fertility rates.  What Julian Simon wrote in his famous book "The Ultimate Resource" is especially applicable to our country.  If the Philippines is now entering a "sweet spot", to use the words of our top government officials, it is because we are among the countries in the developing world that are still enjoying a growing and young population.  The RH Bill is anti-life because it is founded on the assumption that the poor should be encouraged to have fewer children because society in general and the State in particular are unable to help them maintain their large family sizes because of the failure to provide the countryside with the infrastructures needed by the farmers to make a decent living.  In fact, it is the height of folly to convince a farmer (whose average age is now about 57) to have a small family size when his only resource to eke out a meager livelihood is what is contributed by the hands available in a large family.  Other societal failures that cannot be blamed on the birth of babies are the lack of access to credit by the poor, the low quality of basic education, policy biases in favor of large businesses against the small and medium-scale enterprises, and the continuing waste of resources through corruption at the lower levels of the government bureaucracy.       The statement of the De La Salle professors also makes the usual mistake of assuming that it is the availability of condoms and pills that will address directly the problem of women dying at childbirth (some 4,500 women every year).  There is absolutely no factual evidence that these are cases of unwanted pregnancies.  In fact, the very concept of "unwanted pregnancy" as a general phenomenon among the poor has been challenged by very scientific studies in the U.S., such as those of Lant Pritchett of Harvard University.  It is more sensible to address the problem of maternal mortality by providing more maternity clinics and other facilities needed by mothers from the lower-income groups.   Public and private funds that would otherwise be allocated to the purchase of artificial contraceptives are more productively used to assist mothers of poor households have a safe delivery. 

          Finally, considering that the signatories are teaching in a Catholic university, I find it disconcerting that their declaration smacks of religious indifferentism.  Respecting the religious views of others in a pluralistic society is not equivalent to being silent about your own convictions.  Unless these professors have already made up their minds that they will not listen to the ordinary teaching authority of the Church, an obligation common to all Catholic faithful, they should also have made it clear that in the same way that they are strongly against abortion, they also oppose artificial contraception.  The teaching on the intrinsic evil of artificial contraception binds the consciences of all Catholics who want to remain faithful to all teachings of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church on all matters touching on morals and dogma.  A Catholic in good standing cannot be nitpicking and claim that he will only adhere to those teachings on morals that have been declared ex cathedra.   For comments, my email address is