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Speaking the truth in Manila: An insider’s view of population control

An economist by training, Antonio De Los Reyes served from 1978-1982 in several different population control organizations in the Philippines. During that time he witnessed the way incentives and targets in population control lead to widespread coerced contraception and sterilization. De Los Reyes relates succinctly how the government and ruling classes of the Philippines have adopted population control, preferring to eliminate the poor rather than make the hard decisions which would result in a more economically just society. In closing he pleads with the people of the United States to cease funding population control programs abroad.

De Los Reyes is currently the National President of the Council of Philippine Laity, an organization known by its Filipino acronym, LIECO. De Los Reyes spoke with Steven Mosher, Executive Director of the Population Research Institute, in Manila on 19 January.

Q. Please tell us the history of your involvement in population matters.

A. During 1978-79 I was a consultant for the Population and Development Center, formerly the Population Center Foundation. At that time, I assisted in formulating policies and in management development, which are my fields. In 1981 I was appointed the Executive Director of the Commission on Population, which is the government agency that coordinates and executes the population policy of the nation. I served for slightly over a year until I made a public statement that infants and children were the lowest priority in the social development program of the country. At that time, we were still under the Marcos administration. [This public statement] caused me to be relieved from my job. I appealed to the judicial system, and I was reinstated in 1986.

By that time, I had already realized that [population control] was all a big hoax. I refused to be returned to the position. Instead, I slowly joined the pro-life movement.

Q. You said you gradually realized that all of this was a big hoax. What do you mean by a hoax?

A. It is the wrong solution to the wrong problem. First of all, the population controllers claim that the problem is the size [and growth] of the population. In the Philippines, this is not the problem. It is not a problem of size because Japan is double our size, and they have a quality of life and standard of living that far surpass ours. It is not growth because [in the l960’s] we had our highest rate of growth, and we were also experiencing our highest levels of economic development. This Western approach to development is actually perverting almost all of the economic principles that I know.

I began to realize this just before I took over [the Commission on Population]. The whole population problem was reviewed, and during the course of the review, I realized it employed certain questionable practices.

For instance, there was no doubt [the Commission was] imposing targets for service delivery. There were even motivators for the clinic workers and the health workers who were based in the rural centers. [These rural centers] were the delivery system of this whole program. The motivators for the acceptance of family planning methods were the outreach workers which included the non-medical and some paramedical. All of this was knit into a quantified target system. Their budgets were assessed on the basis of how they complied with or even surpassed these targets.

At that time, I was not involved in the moral issues. Yet I already had doubts about the propositions that the population [control] establishments was making about the idea of size.

It was very clear to me that once you got out of Metro Manila the density was the stark opposite of what it is in Metro Manila. The question, I thought, was absolutely not size. It was the inequitable distribution of settlements and the inequitable distribution of the control of wealth. Being an economist, I was very conscious of the radical differences in the distribution of wealth among the people.

Q. Is it true that the Philippines has one of the most inequitable income distributions of any country?

A. Oh yes. We have something like 400 families owning 50% of our wealth. This is a disgrace. This is not even economically viable. And the bottom line is that 17% [of the population] owns 78% of the wealth and 83% end up owning 22%. This is a disgrace. This is not…human. It is absolutely exploitation.

Now, the government, of course, tries to disguise this, but it is so apparent. Any president [in the Philippines] can not win without these 400 families backing [him]. One wonders if the economic problem causes the political problem or vice versa. But it is certainly a syndrome that just keeps feeding on itself. I am afraid it is getting worse.

Q. You mentioned targets. What do you see as some of the dangers of setting targets for the acceptance of birth control methods?

A. If there are people whose budgets depend on meeting the targets, they will undertake any means to achieve this end. It is a survival issue for the bureaucracy. And the bureaucracy, as I think you know, feeds on itself. It is self perpetrating. So they will tend to do anything they want in order to meet these targets.

I am aware of this because I was a part of this effort. For instance, the sterilization program was not only a system that was fueled by quantified targets but incentives as well, I witnessed weekends where we had 300 woman who were persuaded to have tubal ligations, The doctor would line them up in a health center, work on them as fast as he could, and go home making about 150,000 pesos that weekend. He would be paid something like 500 pesos [per tubal ligation]. The nurses and paramedics also had a share of the pie and so did the patients. It was obviously a coercive program.

Q. They were setting targets in family planning programs in the Philippines?

A. Yes. I was a part of that. We were the ones planning the operations programs. We did the targets. We did it very efficiently. We trained our field supervisors. We got them to study the environment and develop strategies. In a national conference, we even developed a strategy of how to reach our audience or our target market. We called on them at pre-school.

Q. At the preschool level? You mean children three and four years old?

A. Yes. The Philippines has been a training ground for population education. We have many Filipinos who are now doing this professionally for other population programs worldwide.

I did a study in Bangladesh for one of the international funding agencies. In the mid l980’s, they decided to give $l00 million for sterilization [by means of] tubal ligation. They would give all kinds of incentives. So targets, let alone incentives, are powerful, very coercive instruments, Now, if you couple this with user incentives or acceptor incentives [this becomes] dynamite in first, perverting values and secondly, in creating artificial demands. In economics, this becomes an infringement to the free flow of ideas, values and behavior.

This is what has happened in the Philippines. We just let them sneak in with a lot of propaganda, with a lot of contraceptives, with a great deal of performance incentives. The National Population Program had the most elaborate personnel network. In 1981 we had approximately 50,000 so-called volunteer agents. They were not volunteers. They were given livelihood incentives.

Q. Their pay was in part based on meeting targets?

A. Exactly. They were given insurance coverage. They were not paid, but they were given indirect remuneration through livelihood projects. They would be the first beneficiaries of livelihood projects which we know at that time were virtually dole outs. They were supported by a full-time field personnel base of about 3,000 workers [who] were fully paid by local governments as well as national programs.

The other very clear anomaly in the population program is that it is a major governmental program. The government claim of non-coercion is belied by the fact that the government itself pushes it. Any kind of government intervention into what ought to be a free play of human values and human decisions [is coercion].

Q. Governments have often been unable to resist coercion.

A. That is the point. The decision to bear children and to build a family must reside with individuals. The 1987 Philippine Constitution changed this.

Originally, the Marco’s Constitution of 1973 contained a general provision [stating] that the government should manage the levels of population. But we changed the Philippine Constitution in 1987 whereby each family was given the right to determine its own size and to determine the number of children. This right resides with the couple.

Q. Despite this constitutional change the government still interferes in the reproductive lives of families?

A. Not only that. In 20 years of martial law, the average budgetary appropriation for population was 200 million pesos per year. After the Marco’s administration, despite this constitutional change, it increased to one billion pesos per year. This was under the new administration. Now it is hitting two billion. It is in fact accelerating despite the constitutional change.

Q. Two billion pesos is a lot of money. Do you think this money could be better spent?

A. Most certainly. It should be spent restoring the livelihood of the people, restoring agricultural activity, restoring the ability of people to grow their own food, and restoring the ability of people to organize themselves into productive cooperatives. This is where the money should go.

Now, there is another dimension of this that is absolutely shocking. The population establishment was granted 100 million dollars from a consortium led by AID and, I am sure, the World Bank. Did you know that the Presidential Commission to Fight Poverty had a budget of zero?

This is an absolute disgrace. This simply nullifies all the statements by the government that they are pro-poor. It is the same old approach of propaganda and slogans saying “we are for the poor.” The government has funds meant for the livelihood of the poor, but the money is given to the political machinery.

Q. You mean that government funds intended to help the poor never actually reach them?

A. Never. The government says it believes in the trickle-down approach but we know this never works. The government has been concentrating on industrial and trade development.

I know as an economist that there are only two principle sources of revenue for Philippine economy — banking and trade. Neither, however, builds a solid economic foundation. We have rendered our agricultural base completely captive to colonial and external markets [so that we become] subject to the domination of the major economic powers. This leaves us completely vulnerable economically and is probably why we can’t unshackle ourselves from this condition [of believing] we must control our population.

The [controlling of our population] is an absolute myth. The Philippines has a population of only 65 million people.

Q. You mean the population density in the Philippines is not high compared to other Asian countries?

A. Absolutely. We have a lot of resources, and I believe that we should have more people so we can develop these resources. However, we do not have the political will or the political understanding. Our economists are mere apologists for Western economics. Our nationalistic economists have been suppressed and labeled communist.

I am certain that the government can no longer solve the problem because it is creating other problems. For instance, the government’s inability to enforce peace and order causes government to be alienated from the [people]. How can a country follow a government it does not believe in?

Q. The population control movement, led by US AID and the United Nations Population Fund, justifies its continued intervention into the cultures of undeveloped countries by saying “we are just responding to a huge unmet need for contraceptive services? Do you think that this huge unmet need exists? If it does, where does it come from? Is it simply e creation of their propaganda?

A. It is a perversion, and a misinterpretation of a need. The people are saying they would like to be able to control their lives. They would like to be able to have the economic power and an education which would enable them to control and plan their own lives.

They are not saying that they want to have fewer children. They want to have a more equitable share of the resources in order to have some degree of freedom and power. They want to give their families a good economic base and a good education.

The Filipino government interprets this as the people wanting to contracept. If you match the actual performance of the family planning program to the “demand” that the population establishment claims, the demand docs not exist.

In 1968, the population growth rate was 2.5%. Today, it is still 2.5%. The contraceptive prevalence rate in 1968, when the government began this program, was 30%. After billions of pesos and tens of millions of dollars which have been dumped into the family planning program, the increase is barely 10%. It went from 30% to 40%.

It is a waste of resources. It will continue to be a waste of resources because almost everything that was claimed as acceptance is simple recurrent costs such as pills, IUD’s, and injections. You can see that if you analyze the acceptance patterns. You will see that natural family planning still has a good chunk, maybe 25%.

People don’t like these devices because they go against the grain of our culture. The Philippines is largely rural. They want children because this is their only source of social security. Due to the very flimsy economic powers, they need children, and they love children.

We are a pro-life people. The governments of the United States and other Western countries seem to think we should be like them, but we do not want to be like them,

Q. Western nations want to remake the Philippines in the image of Hollywood or Manhattan?

A. Yes, that is right. They bombard the media with all kinds of Western images and so forth. You know this might sound like a contradiction, but what is saving the Filipino people from being brainwashed is our poverty. We can’t listen to [the government’s propaganda] because it is not speaking in terms we understand.

I am not talking about Metro Manila or the urban areas. I am talking about the rural places. In these areas, the people do DOI understand what [the government is saying]. For this reason, these programs are unable to capture the spirit of the Philippines.

The government probably has made inroads into the [people’s] behavior. But I sincerely think that once we expose all of these things to people, they will understand that they are being manipulated. The people are not stupid, and they have had enough of it.

Q. Targets in other countries have led to coercion. They have certainly led to coercion in China where government officials, anxious to meet targets, have forcibly aborted and sterilized many women. Have targets led to coercion in the Philippines? Are you aware of instances of coercion?

A. Sure. We have instances where young women who have not even had children were led to sterilization clinics. We have instances where both husband and wife were sterilized.

Q. You do not need to sterilize both husband and wife to ensure they do not have children. Why did they do it?

A. You do it because you get more money when you do it. It is another statistic you tack onto the report which gets presented to the congress in order for you to get your allocations. By doing this and reporting it to your mayor, you can get more money from the national population budget. You sterilize both husband and wife because you want to be the number — one performer among the full-time outreach workers.

Targets, quotas and incentives have always led to coercion. A government message is already coercive. It does not sell Coke or milk. The government should never go into an area of private enterprise. It should never go into an area that is better left both morally and constitutionally to the free market. The government is contradicting its own economic principles. This is a pattern.

The people of the establishment not only manipulate population and family planning but they also manipulate elections and the market. The government is very manipulative.

Q. In the United States the origins of the population control movement are clearly racist. The haves are trying to keep the numbers of the have-nots down because they are afraid of political instability. What do you think? You have worked with representatives of the population control movement for years. What do you think their motivations are?

A. The [movement’s] thinking goes something like this. There is a lot of poverty. Therefore, to lessen poverty we must reduce the number of poor people. They are not concerned about the rich.

They believe that the problem is the ignorant, powerless people who are seen as a menace to society. Well, then let’s have less of [the poor]. Why? Because the poor are infringing on [certain individuals’] enjoyment of economic power. The poor are a potential threat to the political control [of these individuals]. The poor are a nuisance to the economic system because they do not actually contribute to economic wellbeing due to the fact that they are powerless.

Q. Do you think population controllers feel any sense of guilt or remorse when their programs cause abuses?

A. I really don’t know absolutely. The [population movement] thinks they are doing a noble thing.

Q. Certainly the origins of the movement were not noble. Of course the human mind has an infinite capacity to justify what it does in noble sounding explanations.

A. I feel that it is a new form of racism. I believe it is economically very Marxist. It is a tax struggle where the rich do not want to eradicate the poor, but they want to control the poor by having fewer of them.

It is good to have the poor because they are good slaves, but there cannot be too many of them. If there are too many of them, the government will have to be faced with more problems. Why do I have to care for babies? They are not mine. Why do I have to give money for the schooling of people who I did not bring into the world? I am not my brother’s keeper .… I just don’t want to have to care and be responsible for these people.

Q. With their tremendous resources, population controllers not only create a constituency within the countries in which they are active, they also try to co-opt people with pro-life sentiments. I was told by Dr. Rene Bullecer in Cebu that he had four times been offered large grants for his AIDS education projects as long as he would promote safe sex and the use of condoms. He has been offered millions of dollars if he would only dilute his message that abstinence and chastity offer the only real protection against AIDS.

A. We have Natural Family Planning groups here that have already been co-opted. The strategy is very transparent. [NFP groups are told by the organization that is trying to co-opt them that] they are not against what the NFP groups are doing. They just want these groups to give people a range of choices. If the NFP groups do this, then they will become qualified for funding programs.

[For instance], they are using this approach on professional groups and on NGOs .… It is a very volatile strategy. It is very tempting.

Q. And human nature is weak. The American people fund these programs, although most are not aware how their money is used. What would you say to the American people about these population programs? Could the money be better spent? Should population control funding be reduced? Could it be spent in other areas?

A. Population funding should be totally eliminated from the budgets of Western governments.

Please give us an opportunity to determine our own future. We are not like you. We live in a different environment.

We know many of you don’t know that the money you pay as taxes are going into these perverted programs that want to control the lives of innocent poor people, that want to subvert their values, and that want to keep us enthralled, enslaved to your business control over seas. We ask you to just get out of this because this is not merely a matter of economics. It also concerns the morals and the very spirit of many people of the Philippines, as well as many people in the Third World.

We also ask you to ask your leaders to stop trying to control us economically, because this will alienate us and other people of the Third World from you, who are our friends.

We make a distinction between you and your government. Please also make this distinction for us. Please examine whether your governments do what you really want. —PRI—

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