The Philippine population reached 100 million in 2014, and is projected to reach 101.6 million this year. The projection is based on an annual growth rate of 2.1%, which, while lower than the 2.42% rate from 1990 to 1995, is still the highest in the Southeast Asian region.
Population growth rate was 1.9% in Cambodia, 1.6% in Malaysia, 1% in Vietnam and Indonesia, and 0.4% in Thailand, according to Rosalinda Marcelino, Population Commission director for Metro Manila.
During the public hearings on the Reproductive Health Bill, Marcelino also told the House Committee on Population that the population would continue to grow for the next 50 years even if couples were to limit the number of their children to two each, because the population is predominantly young. Some 35% of Filipinos are below 15 years old, while 15% are 15 to 24 years old.
“…More than 50% of [Filipinos] are young and, in due time, would become parents. And even if each couple would only have two children, our population will still continue to grow in the next 50 years,” Marcelino said.
We’re witnessing that process at work, five years since Benigno Aquino III was elected to the Presidency, and three years after the passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (Republic Act 10354), which between 2011 and 2012 divided many Filipinos as well as politicians into opposing camps.
A politician he was critical of was “the best argument for birth control” for Arsenio H. Lacson, mayor of Manila from 1952 to 1962, but there have always been other justifications for the supposed need to manage population growth.
The most persistent is that low fertility rates (the average number of children women give birth to) and the ensuing decrease in population growth would reduce poverty.
In 2011, proponents of what was to become Republic Act 10354 (The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 which consolidated Senate Bill 2865 and House Bill 4244) focused on that claim during their campaign for the passage of the Act.
They argued that high population growth rates exacerbate poverty, and that there is more poverty among big families.
In addition, families with fewer children can better provide for the education, health, nutrition and other needs of each child, since whatever income they earn can be divided among fewer individuals.
Moreover, lack of information about family planning methods rather than a desire for more children accounts for the failure among the poorest families to regulate births. The use of contraception methods will also lower the number of abortions, which even in Catholic Philippines is often the last resort in addressing unwanted pregnancies.
There was nothing new in these arguments.
Almost all have been raised in other countries with high incidences of poverty.
But a million people still add daily to the population of India, which, because of its high population growth, was the poster boy of the family planning campaigns of the 1960s that were mostly orchestrated by the international finance institutions — which, it was argued then, were meant to halt citizen demands for radical change in poor societies.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) took exception to the population equals poverty argument.
Against the argument that a lower population growth rate would reduce poverty, the CBCP argued that “Our own government statistical office has concluded that there is no overpopulation in the Philippines but only the over-concentration of population in a number of urban centers.
“Despite other findings to the contrary, we must also consider the findings of a significant group of renowned economic scholars, including economic Nobel laureates, who have found no direct correlation between population and poverty.
“In fact, many Filipino scholars have concluded that population is not the cause of our poverty. The causes of our poverty are: flawed philosophies of development, misguided economic policies, greed, corruption, social inequities, lack of access to education, poor economic and social services, poor infrastructures, etc. World organizations estimate that in our country more than P400 billion pesos are lost yearly to corruption. The conclusion is unavoidable: for our country to escape from poverty, we have to address the real causes of poverty and not population.”
CBCP opposition was generally ascribed to doctrinal reasons, but there is some truth to the assertion that no correlation has been established between high population growth rates and poverty incidence.
The Republic of South Africa, for example, has lowered its previously high population growth rate, but is still hounded by poverty.
In addition, the fact that low population growth rates — even zero population growth — characterize developed countries suggests that development is the long-term solution to overpopulation.
The Philippines can arguably support a population of 200 million — but only if the structural causes of poverty were addressed.
Among these is the grossly unequal distribution of wealth, in which the 25 wealthiest individuals appropriate the equivalent of the incomes of 70 million Filipinos.
IBON Databank also points out that while the wealth of the richest Filipinos tripled during the last five years, there are more poor Filipinos (25.8% of the population) during the same period. Addressing this inequity as part of a total approach to development could eventually stabilize the population growth rate.
The solutions to Philippine poverty are fairly well known, but unlikely to be adopted by a political class that is hardly committed to the authentic transformation of Philippine society from one in which economic growth benefits only a handful of families to one in which economic development would benefit the majority.
In the Philippine context, the key solutions include the outright abolition of the land tenancy system and the adoption of a policy of nationalist industrialization (meaning industrialization by Filipinos).
We all know how the archaic, grossly inefficient and unjust tenancy system has persisted, primarily because the attempts at so-called land reform have been deliberately riddled with loopholes by the landlord-dominated Congress, while the former has been dismissed as “old hat” despite its being the road to development of such countries as Japan, Korea, and China.
Authentic development would reduce population growth without the need for the adoption of policies that in countries such as ours have been contentious and divisive — and which are not likely to work in the long term, there being a correlation between high population growth rates and underdevelopment.
Poverty is the cause of overpopulation, rather than its result. Even the most well-intentioned among us may be missing the point about the link between population and poverty.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.
Published in Business World
August 13, 2015