The population of the Philippines is expected to breach the 100 million mark by the third or fourth quarter of 2014. This assessment was reportedly issued by Philippine Populations Commission (Popcom) executive director Dr Juan Antonio Perez to which Malacanang has provided a positive spin…
“It is both a challenge and an opportunity because people are the most important resource. That is our balanced view of the situation,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said on the state-run DZRB Radyo ng Bayan yesterday.
According to Coloma, the 2011-2016 Philippine Development Plan (PDP) formulated by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) is “geared for inclusive growth, to make sure all Filipinos benefit from any improvements in the country’s economy” stressing that “a large part of the budget for 2014 was geared towards social protection and social welfare and development.” Perez, for his part noted that with population growth in the Philippines galloping along at a two percent clip every year, “the Philippines needs to “maintain a gross domestic product of more than four per cent to keep pace with employment.”
Already, the Philippines is woefully reliant on overseas employment to prop up more than ten percent of the national output as domestic production alone has long failed to add sufficient value to the national economy. As a result of this dependence, a large component of the Philippine economy has remained largely accounted for by mere consumption. To compound this further, the devastation left by super-typhoon Haiyan (a.k.a. Yolanda) has left “one of the most profound resettlement crises in decades”. Already, survivors have taken to settling and rebuilding the vast slums in Leyte that have been at the root of the humanitarian crisis to begin with.
The concern for officials locally and in Manila is that these re-sprouting slum neighborhoods will turn into permanent solutions for survivors. The officials have drawn up vague plans to eventually relocate entire coastal neighborhoods further inland, where they will be less prone to disaster, but the idea faces many obstacles, and would require the government to buy land, change laws and convince residents – many of them fishermen – to move to areas where they’d have to find new jobs.
Indeed, the Philippines’ huge population is proving to be more a liability than the “asset” Coloma claims it is. Considering that even in the best of times, the country already struggles to productively employ its lot, the prospects for the barely-literate survivors of Haiyan are bleak at best.
The increasing loudness with which Philippines’ population bomb ticks comes after a landmark “reproductive health” legislation was passed in 2012. Touted as the “Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012” the supposedly “landmark” bill, the whole point of which was originally to curb further growth of the country’s already massive population, has been watered down in favour of nebulous notions of health and women’s issues. At one point over the period when Congress deliberated on the merits of the proposed law, a clause stipulating Filipino women’s legal access to “safe and satisfying sex” was a subject of hot debate (pardon the pun).
Looking to Iran as a case study of real resolve to curb population growth provides some valuable lessons. After the overthrow of the secular government by Islamists in 1979, Iran’s new spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini saw a large population and continued procreation to further increase its size as a means to meet his goals of building an “Islamic generation” and breed “soldiers for Islam”. The results were dramatic. By 1988, Iran’s population was 55 million and growing at over 3 percent annually. By then too, Iran’s economy was faltering and overpopulation was starting to be seen as a roadblock to national development.
Indeed, it was Khomeini himself who eventually went on to re-open the issue of birth control in 1989. Rather than shroud the program in sugarcoated words, Khomeini kept it real.
Receptive to the nation’s problems, Ayatollah Khomeini reopened dialogue on the subject of birth control. By December 1989, Iran had revived its national family planning program.
Its principal goals encourage women to wait three to four years between pregnancies, discourage childbearing for women younger than 18 or older than 35 — and limit family size to three children.
In May 1993, the Iranian government passed a national family planning law that effectively encouraged couples to have fewer children — by restricting maternity leave benefits after three children.
Religious leaders have become involved with the crusade for smaller families, citing them as a social responsibility in their weekly sermons.
They also have issued fatwas, religious edicts with the strength of court orders, that permit and encourage the use of all types of contraception.
These include permanent male and female sterilization — a first among Muslim countries. Birth control, including the provision of condoms, pills and sterilization, is free.
Touting every additional Filipino born as an “asset” at a time when a doctrine of “inclusive growth” has proven to be no more than a pipe dream is without a doubt an irresponsible position the Philippine government has taken. The numbers tell a different story. With every new warm body added to the ballooning workforce of Filipinos, incremental problems mount. The only value proposition the Philippines has so far pitched to the global community is as a source of cheap labour and a vast market — read dumping ground — for the rich world’s manufactured goods. As far as real added value, the Philippines has thus far little to contribute beyond that.
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