“Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, and improve maternal health,” these are the four major concerns that the Valenzuela City Government seeks to address through its comprehensive Population Management Program.
These concerns are global, being five of the eight (8) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight (8) time-bound, concrete and specific targets aimed at significantly eradicating poverty by the year 2015. Five years to the moment of judgement, Valenzuela City sustains its commitment in attaining them by continually aligning the City Development Agenda to the MDG indicators in the aim of serving its constituencies better, and to lay a stronghold foundation towards a sustainable development.
While there are noble efforts exerted to uplift the living condition and to change the future of people around the world, there is one major setback—the global population is constantly growing rapidly, more so, in poorest regions and countries such as the Philippines.
The Population Management Program is one of the many programs of Valenzuela City that are geared towards the promotion of the people’s welfare and the reinstatement of their dignity. Its primary objective is to assist couples in managing the ideal family size within the framework of responsible parenthood. “We believe that if we could properly promote responsible parenthood, then these five MDG indicators could be satisfactorily achieved,” Program Head, Dr. Annabelle Fajardo said.
The program is not aimed at preventing births, but in properly managing it in relation to other factors, such as economics and physical conditions, paving a way to a more conscientious and idyllic society with more nurtured communities of joyful children, women and families. Though, it is acknowledged that the real long-term effects of the program could be fully-felt in the distant future; since the program has been robustly upheld in 2007, infant and maternal mortalities are significantly low, helping achieve MDG numbers 4 and 5, respectively, which is to reduce child mortality and to improve maternal health.
The City Government has varying budget for Population Management Program yearly, but for the year 2011, PhP 8 Million has been allocated. More than half of which will go on advocacy and information campaigns and activities, and free goods for those who avail of surgical procedures. It is not enough if not for partner NGOs, such as the Marie Stopes Ligation Clinic, Friendly Care Foundation, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), DKT Philippines, and the Foundation for Adolescent Development, Inc. (FAD), among others, which either donate free commodities, facilitate free surgical procedures or assist in information dissemination.
Because of this, the City is able to meet the ceiling of the National Government to make 12% of women of reproductive age, 15-49 years old, benefit from the Population Management Program. Currently, the Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) of Valenzuela is at 104.3%, a far cry compared to other LGUs, which barely reach 50%, considering that the figure involves couples who voluntary, and not forced to, practice available family planning methods.
The program is cascaded down to the communities through 145 volunteer Barangay Population Managers (BPM). They conduct lectures on family planning. All medically safe and legally acceptable methods of family planning services are being advocated and made readily available, both modern and natural methods, for client’s understanding and eventual choice. Couples may choose which method they will use in accordance with their family and ethical values, and religious belief. “We maintain the informed and independent choice principle in implementing the program. We campaign for responsible parenthood, but we do not intervene with the couples’ or anyone’s choice on how to exercise it,” Dr. Fajardo said. “It is the couple’s mutual decision that prevails whichever method they want to employ in planning their family. Some are even firm on not using any method at all, but we respect it.”
Population Commission (PopCom) National Capital Region (NCR) Director Rosalinda Marcelino lauds Valenzuela City Population Management Program, saying “its effort to disseminate information directly to its target clients through the BPMs is a big factor in the effectiveness of the program. There are at least two other cities with the same population management model, but Valenzuela has the most number of volunteers who are equipped with training vital to their role as liaisons to the clients; while other cities do not have family planning services at all.”
The program also covers adolescent health and youth development, organizational capacity building and training support, and the integration of social welfare and health development programs. “We distribute contraceptives and natural family planning kits (specifically, the cycle beads made from recycled papers, made by the women of Sto. Rosario Credit Cooperative of Barangay Maysan, Valenzuela City), facilitates free surgical procedures like vasectomy and bilateral tubal ligation (BTL), but we are far beyond that already,” Dr. Fajardo expounds.
Through the City’s Population Welfare and Health Development Council, in coordination with the City Planning Office, personnel are currently making rounds in the city to conduct a demographic survey, which not just focuses plainly on family planning, but shall be used also in maternal and child health, educational, and employment data gathering tool to be able to collect reliable data for the use of other agencies, such as out-of-school youth, senior citizens, and disability figures. The data to be gathered shall enable the City Government to realign its programs for specific sector.
The City has erratic population growth pattern, but actual birth records reveal significant decline in annual births. From 2006, annual births in the City are, on the average, around 8,000 compared to more than 10,000 in 2001. The biggest chunk of this, around 65-70%, are first and second time births, which are not the target of family planning measures of the city. “We are keeping an eye on the third time and up births, which is now constantly at around 30% of annual births,” Dr. Fajardo explained. “Those are the births that should be managed and we can brag, based on the figure, our Population Management Program is effective.”
When asked about the program, City Mayor Sherwin T. Gatchalian speaks of it as “our commitment to addressing the responsibility to grant our children the rights to be born in an environment that would nurture them and would allowed them to grow and develop in dignity, protected from threats to their well-being, such illness, deprivation due to loss of parents, specifically, a mother; illiteracy, and the societal and physical restraints of poverty.”
The dismal concerns related to poverty, according to him, are without doubt not going to be addressed properly with the lingering concerns of population growth, but would also be aggravated by the resulting scarcity of resources. The unmanaged rise in population requires extreme re-evaluation of basic social welfare services programs to augment with the rising number of recipients. “I think that the citizenry also hold responsibility to the goal of reducing poverty and in providing a better future to the next generation,” he concluded.