Zero Population Growth - Philippines

by Manuel Gallego III
24 November 2002

"After two years of concentrated effort, we have concluded that, in the long run, no substantial benefits will result from further growth of the Nation's population, rather that the gradual stabilization of our population through voluntary means would contribute significantly to the Nation's ability to solve its problems. We have looked for, and have not found, any convincing economic argument for continued population growth. The health of our country does not depend on it, nor does the vitality of business nor the welfare of the average person."

John D. Rockefeller
Third Chairman
Commission on Population Growth
and the American Future
Letter of Transmittal
March 27, 1972

“Later, Longer, Fewer”

Slogan of the Initial Population Control Program of China advocating (a) delayed marriage and delayed child bearing, (b) longer periods between births and (c) fewer and healthier births—eventually evolving into China’s 'One-Child Policy'

Global Population Crisis
The United Nations has determined October 12, 1999 as the day on which the world’s population reached 6 billion people. At a glance, this figure may not appear significant. However, considering worldwide population as recently as the 1920s was only 2 billion, the tripling of global population in less than 80 years is frightening by any measure.

For the first time in human history, the human species has arrived at a crossroads of survival of a livable life over the entire world. One path of the crossroads leads to the continued depletion of resources, pollution and reduction of the ability to meet basic human needs. The other path leads to an improved way of life where population sizes are in balance with the sustainable supply of resources. Since the Agricultural Revolution, we have taken for granted that the vast resources of the earth will never run out. They are running out! We have reached a global “crunch” in which our population is rapidly increasing while our basic natural resources for survival are declining. Similarly, many of our renewable resources are being used faster than they can restore themselves.

In response to this ongoing population crisis, people in some countries have voluntarily and purposefully reduced their population growth rates. Unfortunately, they represent a small minority of the global citizenry that have awakened to the imperative of Zero Population Growth or ZPG. Moreover, developing countries, which can least afford to ignore population explosion, are the ones that exhibit the least potential for ZPG; whereas, more affluent industrialized countries are well on their way towards achieving ZPG. This is illustrated in Graph 1 below.

The population crisis is a global challenge. However, the problem is likely to be addressed from two distinct perspectives. Analogous to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the perspective of a developed nation is one of the “self-actualized” individual; whereas, the perspective of a developing nation is one of the “economic” man. As such, while the developed nation may contemplate the esoteric aspects of ZPG (e.g., sustainable balance between production and consumption, conservation of wildlife habitat), the developing nation is wont to take stock of “more fundamental” considerations resulting from ZPG (e.g., improvement of basic economic indicators, alleviation of poverty).

Dominant School of Thought
Table 1 below compares certain basic demographic data of the Philippines with that of Japan and the United Kingdom (“UK”), which were chosen for a variety of illustration purposes. Observe that the comparable population density of the Philippines and the UK is a stark contrast to the disparity of their respective GDP per capita. In a sense, the individual person in the United Kingdom is, on average, 24 times more affluent than the individual person in the Philippines. Further, while Japan’s population density is significantly higher than that of the Philippines, the individual person in Japan is, on average, 37 times more affluent than the individual person in the Philippines. As such, it would appear that population or population density per se does not determine the affluence or poverty level of a particular country.

In the foreword of the Population Policy for South Africa, April 1998, Geraldine J. Fraser-Moleketi, Minister of Welfare and Population Development, states:

“Our country is one of the few countries in the world where the fertility rate has been significantly reduced while the majority of the population has remained poor, which contradicts the belief that the majority of our people are poor because they have too many children.”

The observations derived from Table 1 and the above statement represent a dominant school of thought, which suggests that mitigating population growth in and of itself does not alleviate poverty. Unfortunately, while such school of thought is arguably correct in every respect, the same has diminished the emphasis to mitigate population growth as one of the critical elements in alleviating poverty—particularly with respect to developing economies. In the case of developed economies, which generally exhibit low or even negative population growth rates, such de-emphasis on mitigating population growth, as one of several means of alleviating poverty, would appear appropriate. However, in the case of developing economies like the Philippines, which generally exhibit alarmingly high population growth rates (from the least educated sectors of society), mitigating population growth, among other factors, should be at the forefront of poverty alleviation. Even the above statement of South Africa’s Minister of Welfare and Population Development, while supporting the said school of thought, is indeed a tacit admission that most other countries that have mitigated population growth have resulted in the reduction of poverty.

Projecting the Future Graph 2 below illustrates the Gross Domestic Product (GDP, Current Prices in US$) of the Philippines, the UK and Japan from 1970 to 2001 (actual figures from the World Economic Outlook Database of the International Monetary Fund) and from 2002 to 2050 (projected figures based on the 10-year average GDP growth rates, Constant Prices, of the respective countries taken from the same database). Observe that while the Philippines starts from a much lower economic base, the Philippine GDP increases 510% over a period of 50 years. This is in contrast with the UK GDP and the Japan GDP, which start from much higher bases but increase only 357% and 171%, respectively, over the same 50 year period. See Table 2 below.

Graph 2

Graph 3 below illustrates the population of the Philippines, the UK and Japan from 2001 to 2050 as forecasted by the U.S. Census Bureau. As expected of a developed economy, the population of the UK remains relatively constant over the next 50 years. Similarly, the population of Japan remains relatively constant over the next 25 years but actually decreases substantially during the latter half of the 50-year period. On the other hand, as expected of a developing economy, the population of the Philippines is almost doubled over the next 50 years. See Table 3 below.

Graph 3

Graph 4 below derives the GDP per Capita (Constant Prices in US$) from Graph 2 and Graph 3 for the period 2001 to 2050. Observe that while the Philippines has the highest percentage increase in GDP in Table 2 (510% increase from 2001 to 2050), the corresponding percentage increase in GDP per Capita in Table 4 (274% increase from 2001 to 2050) is almost cut in half. This is due to the Philippine population almost doubling during the 50-year period. On the other hand, due to the relatively constant population of the UK during the same period, the UK’s GDP and GDP per Capita increase at roughly the same rate. In the case of Japan, because of the substantial decrease in population after 50 years, Japan’s percentage increase of GDP per Capita in Table 4 (214%) substantially exceeds the percentage increase of GDP in Table 2 (171%).

Graph 4

In the case of the Philippines, assume that instead of the status quo projection of 154 million Filipinos by the year 2050, the Philippine Government successfully implements a ZPG program, resulting in a relatively constant population of approximately 100 million from 2016 onwards. Predictably, the GDP per Capita by year 2050 would improve from US$2,773 with a population of 154 million to US$4,288 with a population of 100 million (“ZPG Base Case”)—a substantial feat by any measure.

Less obvious is the positive economic ripple effect associated with a successful ZPG program, which is brought about by the increase in productivity of a population that is less poor. For example, a less educated low-income couple, which would have had say four (4) children in the absence of a ZPG program, would have been persuaded to have only one (1) child in the presence of a ZPG program. As such, the couple’s meager income would have had substantially more impact on their single child in terms of providing better nutrition and education, among other benefits. Ultimately, the probability of the single child becoming a productive citizen would be higher than the probability of four (4) children from the same couple becoming productive citizens. As such, it would be reasonable to impute some premium to the projected Philippine annual GDP growth rate of say (a) one-half percent starting in 2016 (“ZPG Conservative Ripple Effect”) and (b) one percent starting in 2016 (“ZPG Aggressive Ripple Effect”).

Graph 5 below illustrates four Philippine scenarios of GDP per Capita growth:

Graph 5

In effect, a successful ZPG program is likely to significantly improve the Philippine economy through a decrease in population growth and an increase in population productivity over time. Alongside such economic leaps brought about by ZPG, the Country’s probability and frequency of success in the ever-pressing war against poverty will also be enhanced.

As a reality check, the most optimistic scenario, which provides a Philippine GDP per Capita of US$6,006 in 2050 is roughly equal to the global GDP per Capita today (2001). In other words, the Philippines can aspire to have a GDP per Capita comparable to (hopefully better than) the global GDP per Capita in a span of 50 years, provided the Philippine Government undertakes a serious ZPG program today.

ZPG Philippines
While there are infinite details associated with the implementation of a successful ZPG program, the following provides a framework based on reasonably accepted population growth mitigating practices. It is noteworthy to point out that there are groups that either partially or completely reject (a) the notion of a global population crisis and/or (b) the concept of mitigating population growth; therefore, such groups would predictably reject (a) any need for a ZPG program and/or (b) reject in part or in whole the framework provided herein.

Respect for Human Dignity
Foremost in the implementation of a ZPG program should be the dignity, autonomy and personal freedom of every individual, mindful of such ethical issues as possible coercion, effects upon children, arguable unfairness and other risks to human dignity. For example, in certain ZPG programs in South America, forced sterilization appears to be the most prevalent offense against human rights. In the Philippines today, where abortion is illegal, an estimated 400,000 abortions per year occur in unlicensed abortion clinics and an estimated 80,000 women per year end up in hospitals with medical problems as a result thereof. In the course of implementing a ZPG program and regardless of how well such program is managed, horror stories about forced sterilization will spread (some true and others false). Abortion will remain illegal, particularly in light of the powerful influence of the Roman Catholic Church, and probably just as many Filipinas as before will find ways to have an abortion anyway. These sad realities against humanity cannot be avoided, even with the best funded and most professionally run ZPG program. However, further delays in ending population explosion in the Philippines are bound to exacerbate the Country’s morally deficient and poverty stricken situation. In essence, achieving Philippine ZPG as soon as humanely possible has become no less than an ethical imperative of the first order.

Family Planning and Reproductive Health Services
For starters, ZPG Philippines should provide for family planning and reproductive health services. A broad-based approach to reproductive health should be emphasized. This would entail extensive nationwide training of field workers (emphasizing the use of female staff to meet the cultural preference of women being served by women), setting-up of local level clinics, supply of safe and effective contraceptives, increase in maternal and child health services, extension of services into urban poor and rural areas, deployment of mobile sterilization teams, and public education and marketing—see Information, Education and Communication below.

Specific direct measures of family planning should be applied on a voluntary and informed consent basis. These would include choices among a wide range of birth-control methods (natural and artificial) accompanied by the counseling of women and couples about the proper use of methods and alternative choices (if a method is unsatisfactory), sterilization (surgical and chemical) available to both men and women, improved quality of care (i.e., sanitary conditions, adequate pre and post operative care by medical professionals in the fields of obstetrics or gynecology), and client-centered services.

Specific indirect measures of family planning would comprise of including husbands in the process of family planning decision-making, improving communication between spouses, reducing infant and child mortality, increasing the legal age for marriage, encouraging breastfeeding, restricting the use of child labor, mandating school attendance, increasing schooling and the quality of literacy, improving women’s educational and employment opportunities plus other reforms to hasten gender equity.

According to the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which was held in September 1994 in Cairo, Egypt, “Government goals for family planning should be defined in terms of unmet needs for information and services. Demographic goals, while legitimately the subject of government development strategies, should not be imposed on family-planning providers in the form of targets or quotas for the recruitment of clients.” As such, while conventional means of demographic measurements cannot be ignored, it is important that other more holistic accountability standards are set forth in implementing family planning and health reproductive services.

Family planning and health reproductive services have been established in the Philippines for a number of decades. However, these services and programs have been perfunctory at best, receiving sporadic emphasis every now and then. To succeed, family planning and health reproductive services and programs require national focus and multi-sectoral support.

At this time, Congresswoman Bellaflor J. Angara-Castillo, Lone District, Province of Aurora, together with several of her colleagues in the Lower House have proposed House Bill No. 4110 or “The Reproductive Health Care Act of 2002,” which seeks to improve the health and well-being of Filipinos by upholding the Filipinos’ right to reproductive health care and self-determination. The Reproductive Health Care Act could serve as the foundation of a Philippine ZPG program and may indeed be one of the most relevant pending laws in the Philippines today. Ironically, instead of the welcome attention and credit it deserves, The Reproductive Health Care Act has become embroiled in an unproductive moralist debate revolving around the issue of human conception.

Information, Education and Communication (“IEC”)
IEC are critical for sustainable human development and pave the way for attitudinal and behavioral change (i.e., manifestations of a successful ZPG program). Indeed, this begins with the recognition that decisions must be made freely, responsibly and in an informed manner, on the number and spacing of children and in all other aspects of daily life, including sexual and reproductive behavior. Greater public knowledge and commitment in an already democratic Philippine setting should create a climate conducive to responsible and informed decisions and behavior. Most importantly, they also pave the way for democratic public discussion and thereby make possible strong political commitment and popular support for sustained ZPG efforts at the local and national levels.

Effective IEC activities include a range of communication channels, from the most intimate levels of interpersonal communication to formal school curricula, from traditional folk arts to modern mass entertainment, and from seminars for local community leaders to coverage of global issues by the national and international news media. Multi-channel approaches are usually more effective than any single communication channel. All these channels of communication have an important role to play in promoting an understanding of the interrelationships between population and sustainable development. Schools and religious institutions, taking into account their values and teachings, are important vehicles for instilling gender sensitivity, respect, tolerance and equity, family responsibility and other important attitudes at all ages. Non-formal education on population and sustainable development issues may also be conveyed through the workplace, health facilities, trade unions, community centers, youth groups, religious institutions, women's organizations and other non-governmental organizations. Such issues may also be included in more structured adult education, vocational training and literacy programs, particularly for women. These networks are critical to reaching the entire population, especially men, adolescents and young couples. Legislators, teachers, religious and other community leaders, traditional healers, health professionals, parents and older relatives are influential in forming public opinion and should be consulted during the preparation of information, education and communication activities. All of forms of media, particularly role models in the local entertainment industry, also offer many potentially powerful tools in promoting national ZPG objectives.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (“MADD”), the Milk Mustache Mania, and the Anti-Smoking Campaign in the United States are real life examples of effective and sustained information, education and communication campaigns. After more than twenty years, MADD is stronger than ever in advocating solutions to the problems of drunk driving and underage drinking. Similarly, the Anti-Smoking Campaign, which has taken root on many fronts, continues to aggressively discourage smoking, particularly by teenagers, young adults and the less educated sectors of the United States. Through the use of celebrities, the Milk Mustache Mania has encouraged milk drinking. Today, for the first time in six years, milk drinking among teenagers in the United States has increased. According to a new report by the National Family Opinion’s Share of Intake Panel (SIP), while soft drinks remain the most dominant beverage among teenagers, 13 to 17 years of age, new data indicates that some teens are beginning to trade in their sodas for milk. These are but some examples of successful IEC campaigns that would surely present excellent case studies for an effective “ZPG Philippines” campaign.

Incentive System
Hardly anything speaks louder in a developing economy than economic incentives. Consequently, a successful ZPG program in the Philippines would necessarily require hard numbers to achieve a critical mass of support—“money where your mouth is” in a manner of speaking. Examples of such economic incentives include:

Reversal of tax deduction for children. Under the Internal Revenue Code of the Philippines, a family is allowed to impute certain tax deductions for as many as four (4) children. In effect, the existing income tax scheme in the Country acts as an incentive that encourages higher fertility rates. While some may argue that the elimination of tax deductions for children (i.e., P8,000.00 per child per income year, not exceeding four (4) children) is not enough incentive to make a difference, more important is the consistent application of ZPG mechanisms wherever possible to instill ZPG objectives in the mindset of the general population. Given that (a) only a small minority Filipino families actually file income tax returns and (b) it is precisely this minority (i.e., more educated and duly employed sector of Philippine society) that is likely to have less children, such reversal of tax deduction for children may serve less to reduce fertility rates of a minority sector that already has lower fertility rates compared to the rest of the Country and more as a potent gesture of a serious Philippine ZPG program.

Elimination of welfare benefits for families with more than one child. One example of such welfare benefit is “free” public education, which is available today up to the high school level to all Filipino families at a nominal cost. Typically, it is the lower economic strata of Philippine society, which is also the sector that on average has more children per family, that avails of “free” public education. As such, eliminating “free” public education as well as other welfare benefits for families with more than one child would constitute another strong incentive to limit the number of children per family to no more than one.

Under this example, the already meager resources of the Philippine Government ought to be spread less thinly and, therefore, provide better welfare services to those citizens who have acted in a socially responsible manner.

Free powdered milk and free college education for each family having only one child. A legally married mother and father who agree to have a tubal ligation and vasectomy, respectively, or some other approved form of sterilization upon or after the birth of the firstborn could be entitled to the following:

  • free 2.5 kilogram per month allocation of powdered milk for infants from the completion of the parent’s sterilization until the 2nd birthday of such firstborn; provided that such free allocation of powdered milk shall cease on the 2nd birthday of such firstborn; and,
  • free college education (degrees to be specified) at any one of the University of the Philippines campuses; provided that such free college education shall be rescinded if such firstborn does not pass the University of the Philippines college entrance examination.

The foregoing incentive system can be applied prospectively. Assuming a legislative act launches a “ZPG Philippines Program” with the appropriate government funding and multi-sectoral integration, legally married couples without children can henceforth voluntarily face certain critical decisions that will gravely affect the future of their firstborn. If such couples commit to have only one child by agreeing to be sterilized after the birth of the firstborn, then they will have improved the probability of a brighter future for themselves, their only child and the Philippine Nation as a whole. On the other hand, if such couples choose to ignore the incentive system, then they will have foregone a unique opportunity to enhance the quality of life of their immediate family and their Country.

A critical component of the foregoing incentive system is verifying that a couple is indeed legally married and has had no children other than a firstborn. In other words, a man or woman who has had a child or children outside his or her legal marriage would not qualify to avail of the incentives. While there are documents that can prove a legal marriage (albeit easily subject to falsification), it appears more difficult for a couple to establish the fact of having a single legitimate child. The point is, for effective implementation, adequate emphasis must be given to the verification of the factual circumstances of a couple availing of incentives—lest the system be abused by creative cheaters.

Tax deduction allowance for institutions with ZPG programs. While the foregoing incentive system contemplates individual family incentives, limited tax deduction allowances should also be granted to institutions that assume an active role in supporting ZPG. For example, private enterprises that establish ongoing ZPG programs for employees should be allowed to deduct for tax purposes a certain level of expenses directly related to such ZPG programs.

Compulsory sterilization and elimination of voting rights of parents of street children. While this example hardly qualifies as an incentive and may indeed be branded an outright violation of human rights, consider the following statistics on street children in the Philippines:

  • There are 50,000 to 70,000 street children in Manila. Action International Ministries
  • There are an estimated 1,200,000 street children in the Philippines. Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), 1991 Jubilee Action, 1992
  • It is estimated that there are 1.5 million street children working as pickpockets, beggars, drug traffickers and prostitutes. End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT)

In fact, the “economic integration” of street children in the Philippines is so pervasive that certain families relish the idea of having more children to “augment” the family income. Indeed, there are families who welcome the birth of baby girls in the hope that such girls would, sooner than later, prostitute themselves to alleviate the poverty stricken state of the family. As such, it would seem pale in comparison to “violate” the human rights of the parents of street children by way of compulsory sterilization and elimination of voting rights than to have the same mindless parents propagate more street children, whose earthly lives are virtually doomed from the moment of conception.

Multi-Sectoral Integration
Macroeconomic and sectoral policies rarely give due attention to ZPG considerations. Explicitly integrating ZPG components into multi-sectoral economic and development strategies will both speed up the pace of sustainable development and poverty alleviation and contribute to the achievement of ZPG objectives and an improved quality of life of the Philippine population. Such multi-sectoral integration of ZPG (a) will require the cooperative efforts of the Philippine Government, private businesses, trade associations, non-governmental organizations, religious orders, local communities, youth groups and international donors and (b) should broadly encompass the long-term sustainability of production and consumption relating to all economic activities including industry, energy, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, transport, tourism and infrastructure. To the extent sound ecological resource use and minimizing waste are slowly making inroads into the national psyche, so should ZPG pervade and eventually be assimilated by all sectors of Philippine society.

Focus on Preemptive Measures Applied to High Population Growth Sectors
Rather than a reactive “hit or miss” approach to an audience, a successful ZPG program should be preemptive and be targeted towards the appropriate parties. From the outset, family planning and reproductive health services, information, education and communication campaigns, and incentives should be focused on high population growth sectors such as the rural and urban poor and the adolescent, teen-age and young adult population. In this regard, a sound ZPG program must either establish and/or build on an accurate demographics and services database, which shall be a critical tool in continually assessing and addressing the ZPG challenge with the appropriate focus and intensity.

The diagram below encapsulates the key components and the targeted results of ZPG Philippines.

The Role of the Roman Catholic Church
Over eighty percent of Filipinos are Roman Catholics; therefore, the Roman Catholic Church and its teachings pervade virtually every aspect of the National psyche. The Roman Catholic Church (the “Church”) espouses only natural methods for birth control. Indeed, the Church is clear that the use of any artificial means of birth control is immoral. Predictably, the Church has wielded its substantial influence to weaken political and financial support for family planning programs that use artificial means of birth control. At a more grievous and subliminal realm, particularly in the minds of the less educated sectors of society, the Church has successfully equated the use of artificial means of birth control to the act of abortion.

Due to the severe trend of overpopulation in the Philippines (caused in part by the teachings of the Church), a ZPG program without the inclusion of artificial birth control methods will not be adequate, much less successful. On the other hand, a comprehensive ZPG program suited for the Philippines, which necessitates the inclusion of artificial birth control methods, will go directly against a particular moral stance of the Church. Further, given the political reality that national leaders and politicians in the Philippines have little chance of success without the support of, much less with resistance from, the Church, who in their right mind would champion an adequate ZPG program and risk being demonized by the Church?

Surely, no less than a Galileo. The sooner political leadership is resigned to excommunication (virtual or actual) by the Church for espousing a complete ZPG program, the better the chances of (a) success of ZPG Philippines and (b) extricating the Nation from the rut of poverty.

Having drawn the “battle line” for the satisfaction of the moralists, perhaps the pragmatists, including those in the Philippine Roman Catholic Church, could “agree to disagree” on the inclusion of artificial birth control in a ZPG program. As such, the entire Nation, including the Church, can focus and progress on the broader goals and the many other non-controversial components of ZPG. In the absence of some workable truce with the Church on the issue of artificial birth control, any progress achieved under ZPG Philippines will only be countermanded by the Church.

In the same way the Church has (a) retracted a few hundred years too late the excommunication of Galileo for opposing Its view that the earth (instead of the sun) is the center of the solar system and (b) acknowledged a few million massacred Jews too late Its moral passivity during the Holocaust, the Church will probably soften Its stance on many contemporary issues including married priests, women priests and, maybe even, artificial birth control—in a few hundred years when global population explosion would have wrought unimaginable poverty and moral decay. The Philippines need not be held moral hostage by the Church for so long.

“In 1979, after years of encouraging reproduction, the Chinese government implemented a policy known today as the “One-Child Policy” (not to be confused with the “One-China Policy,” which advocates the reunification of Taiwan with Mainland China). The policy has at times been praised as an effective tool for ensuring that China will be able to continue to support its large population and at times reviled as a tool for human rights abuses and female infanticide.”

While the above quotation encapsulates the fine line between the good and evil traits associated with China’s “One-Child Policy,” such simplistic dichotomy fails to do justice to the far-reaching benefits of a holistic ZPG national policy framework, especially for struggling third-world economies like the Philippines. It merely portrays a double-edge sword that paralyzes leaders and legislators from taking a constructive stance on what is inappropriately touted as a highly polarized issue. “ZPG Philippines” need not be contemplated as good or evil but as (a) responsible policy befitting a member of the global community and (b) necessary policy to combat widespread poverty in the Nation.

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