The needs of the Philippine people are many, including decent education, health care and jobs. But overpopulation helps keep them ensnared in a poverty trap. Family planning, contraception and sex education would improve their prospects of escaping it, not to mention the benefits to women's health amid an unacceptable rate of pregnancy-related deaths and life-threatening abortions.
Until now the teachings of the dominant Catholic Church have prevailed in part because birth control measures would depend on government money. Lawmakers have been afraid to defy the bishops by approving new laws. As a result, legislation for birth control funding has languished in congress for more than a decade, while the population remained one of Asia's fastest growing. Those days appear numbered now that the Senate and the House of Representatives have both passed legislation, albeit different versions, that will have to be reconciled before President Benigno Aquino, a strong supporter, can sign it.
The church argues that the money should be spent on education and better health care. But it would take much bigger sums to ease the strains of population growth on those services. The church, of course, can still teach against contraception among the country's 76 million Catholics - 82 per cent of the population. Indeed, senior clerics have threatened lawmakers with excommunication if they voted for it. But some clerics have said this is unwise, given that two recent polls both found support for the legislation running at about 70 per cent.
Politicians' fear of the bishops has been understandable, given their part in mobilising support for the 1986 "people's power" revolt that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos and in the overthrow of president Joseph Estrada in 2001.
The bishops claim support for birth control will lead to legislation sanctioning divorce, euthanasia, abortion, gay marriages and sex education. If they oppose birth control, access to proper sex education would appear a sound idea.