Duterte blames Philippine Church for rapid population rise

Catholic opposition to family planning is main reason for high fertility rate, he says
Duterte blames Philippine Church for rapid population rise

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has told Catholic health care workers to resign if they cannot implement the country's reproductive health law due to their faith. (Photo courtesy of Presidential Communications Office)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has blamed the Catholic Church for the rapid growth in the country's population in recent years.

The Philippines is the 13th most populous country in the world, between Mexico and Ethiopia, with a growth rate of 1.72 percent between 2010 and 2015.

It is the second most populous country in Southeast Asia behind Indonesia and has the highest population-growth rate in the region.

The United Nations estimates the country's population currently stands at 108.11 million.

"We are the fastest growing population and I squarely blame the Catholic Church," said Duterte, adding that church leaders "are the only ones against family planning."

"They think that spewing out human beings by the millions is a gift from God," said the president in an interview aired over the weekend.

Father Melvin Castro, former head of the Catholic bishops’ commission on family and life, said Duterte's pronouncement was "unfortunate."

The priest maintained that "it is morally unacceptable to use contraceptives," adding that to distribute them "would be complicit to the action."

Father Castro was reacting to Duterte calling on Catholic health workers to resign if they can not implement the country's reproductive health (RH) law due to their faith.

"You are not performing? You are not following government policy? It gets into your religious beliefs? Then step down. Leave the government," said the president.

But the priest said the right to conscientious objection is "enshrined even in the RH Law.

In July 2014, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines released what it described as a "pastoral guide" on the implementation of the RH law.

The bishops said a health care worker who objects on religious or moral grounds to providing artificial contraceptives to a patient is not liable under the law.

The bishops said even those working in government hospitals and health care providers cannot be forced to follow the provisions of the law.

The law, signed by former president Benigno Aquino in December 2012, provides improved public access to natural and artificial family planning options, better maternal care and youth education.

Church leaders staunchly opposed the passage of the law, describing it as anti-life and anti-family for promoting the use contraceptives.

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