07:41 GMT19 April 2021
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    The Southeast Asian nation has a population of over 110 million; it has more than tripled over the past 50 years. The boom has been attributed to declining mortality, the lack of effective family planning programmes, high levels of poverty, and a resistance to contraception from the country’s influential Catholic Church.

    Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has asked for a review of the country’s family planning programme, saying that the nation’s population growth has made it next to impossible to observe coronavirus-related social distancing guidelines.

    “Wear face mask, face shield for protection. But social distancing, I do not think we can force our people really to [observe it], because it’s impossible, there are too many Filipinos in the urban areas,” Duterte said, speaking at an event inaugurating development projects in the province of Negros Oriental on Thursday.

    “Social distancing…when somebody goes out of the house, you can hardly have the space to move around,” the president added.

    “Our population is 110 million. I hope we can do something about it. I won’t be around then and will be freed of that worry. But you know, we will have to pass it to the next generation. It is really excessive. It’s high time we review,” Duterte said.

    The president expressed hope that the government could at least match family planning programmes with the country’s GDP.

    The Philippines’ Commission on Population and Development expects the country’s population to hit 110.8 million by the end of 2021, with growth recently exacerbated by a spike in “quarantine babies” caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the associated lockdowns and other restrictions.

    Duterte signed an executive order to improve family planning process in 2017, providing some 6 million women with free access to contraceptives. These measures faced resistance from the country’s Catholic Church.

    In his remarks Thursday, the president complained about the Church’s obstinacy. “You’ll distribute contraceptives, but the Church objects to that. It’s not because I want to fight the Church…But it’s something to do with the higher policy of family planning,” Duterte said.

    The Philippines has been hard hit by the coronavirus and the associated lockdowns and general drop in economic activity, with the pandemic throwing over 4.5 million people out of work and forcing families to hunker down in cramped quarters to observe World Health Organisation-mandated guidelines. In his remarks Thursday, Duterte promised that the economy would be reopened soon.

    “I have to reopen the economy. I have given a timetable, just weeks. We cannot be forever under strict quarantine protocol because people are getting hungry. They have to work, to eat, to survive,” he said, pointing to the need to accelerate vaccinations.

    The Philippines has reported a total of about 607,000 cases of coronavirus and 12,608 deaths over the past year. During the same period, the country has observed a spike in suicides, murders, domestic abuse and other crimes.

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