"Is the Philippines overpopulated?" Senator Vicente "Tito" Sotto asked, as he scoffed at the need for a Reproductive Health (RH) Bill which he claimed was a population control measure.
The National Statistics Office pegged the Philippine population at 92.34 million in 2010, up from 88.57 million in in 2007.
In a privilege speech Wednesday, however, Sotto said RH advocates' claims that the Philippines needs an RH bill to control the booming population "lack bases and are weakly founded."
Sotto pointed to data which show a drop in fertility rates to 3.19 births per woman in 2011 from 3.48 in 2000.
"Napakalaki ng ibinaba nito mula sa 7 noong 1960 (This is a significant decline from 7 in 1960)," Sotto said.
He added that population growth decreased to 1.9 percent in 2010, noting that this is lower than 2.07 percent in 1948.
Experts have also stressed that areas in the Philippines remain thinly populated, even as the number of persons in urban areas grow, Sotto said.
"Wala po itong kinalaman sa pagtaas o pagbaba ng fertility rate sa bansa (This is not related to the rise or fall in the country's fertility rates)," he added.
Quoting economist Bernardo Villegas, Sotto instead attributed the problem of overly populated areas in the country to "at least three decades of erroneous policy of utterly neglecting countryside and rural development."
Sotto went on to say that controlling the Philippine population may even be detrimental as will weaken the country's workforce.
He urged the government "learn from the mistakes of other countries" which he claimed now experience the negative effects of an "aging population."
This is due to these countries' "aggressive campaign to control the population and their support for contraceptive use," he said.
As for the RH bill in the Philippines, Sotto said: "[A]ng kalalabasan ay ang paggamit ng birth control bilang instrumento para paliitin ang populasyon (The outcome will be the use of birth control as an instrument to lower the population)."
"[H]indi tayo makabubuo ng ang isang situwasyon kung saan tatapyasin ang laki ng mga pamilya nang hindi pinaliliit ang populasyon ng bansa (We cannot create a situation where the size of the family is reduced without reducing the country's population)," Sotto added.
A group advocating the RH bill, however, noted that the controversial measure is not put forward as a population control measure.
"Kung liliit man po ang populasyon, ito po ay epekto lamang ng kagustuhan ng bawat pamilya na magpasyang maliit lamang ang gusto nilang pamilya (Any decrease in population will be due to individual families' choice to limit their family size)," Ernesto Almocera, Jr., director for Advocacy and Policy Development at the Philippine Legislators' Committee for Population and Development, Inc., said.
"What the bill aims to address is the unmet need for contraceptives and family planning supply," he added.
Almocera also hit Sotto's statement that the RH Bill is unnecessary since current laws do not rob families of "freedom of choice" when it comes to family planning.
"Women and families may have the freedom to choose but their choice may not be informed," Almocera said.
"Ang pinakamahihirap na kababaihan po ay hindi naaabot ng kasalukuyang programa sa family planning (The poorest women are not reached by current government family planning programs)," he added.
Commenting on Sotto's claims that the RH bill will encourage abortion, Almocera said: "The RH bill will effectively inhibit the prevalence of abortion by reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies."
This, as Almocera admitted that the Rh bill has provisions on abortion, noting however that there are "only to manage the complications resulting from abortion."
"Besides, the bill clearly states that abortion will remain illegal and punishable by law," Almocera said.
Reelectionist Antonio "Sonny" Trillanes IV became the last senator-elect to have his arms raised by poll officials after the May 13 elections.