Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dick Pascual’s column cuts into heart of population issue: Ph growth rate has declined from 2.34 percent in 1990-2000 to 1.9 percent in 2000-2010, as per NSO statistics. If so, why is Aquino administration still pushing the RH bill, to point of dividing the nation and sapping precious energies that ought to address our gargantuan problems, e.g., climate change and rehab of devastated areas?

Star columnist Dick Pascual, my early editor at Inquirer, has this fantastic gift for cutting into the heart of an issue and putting it in such simple manner that its clarity actually stuns. In his column today Dick cited actual statistics from the National Statistics Office that showed that Philippine population growth rate slid down from 2.34 percent in 1990-2000 to 1.9 percent in 2000-2010; on the other hand, the latest UN report places Ph population growth at only 1.8 percent.  

These are actual statistics one can't quarrel with.  The question is, given these stats, why is the Aquino administration pushing the RH bill to the point of dividing the nation and sapping so much energies that ought to be devoted to the terrifying problems of climate change and the gargantuan demands of rehabilitation? Is it because this administration’s under the dictates of a foreign ideology that makes compliance with certain conditions (such as limiting population) the quid pro quo for funding under the Millennium Development Goals? What about the tremendous pressures from gigantic pharmaceutical companies that manufacture contraceptives and other birth control devices?


Dick Pascual cited various periodicals from around the world that spoke of the dire effects of the aging populations vs. the ticking time bomb of falling birth rates in the more advanced  countries, such as China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea here in Asia, as well as in America and in Europe, such as in Spain, Greece, Germany, Italy, etc.

The problem, as Pascual cited in Andrew Loh's article last Sept. 11, 2011, appears to be most severe in Singapore, where former PM Lee Kuan Yew again raised---almost 30 years later---the worrisome problem of falling birth rates, ironically, following his government’s “aggressive and highly successful anti-birth campaigns in the 1970s." As the article said, “This is set against the backdrop of an even grimmer statistic---Singapore’s present fertility rate of 1.15, one of the lowest in the world.” 

Despite all inducements to have more babies, the city state's population has stagnated, to the point where foreign workers have to be imported to sustain the labor force needed (studies have shown that Singapore needs six million people to run the country efficiently, but the population is only about four million. Today it campaigns actively for college students from Ph to spend their fourth year working there).


The same problem is true in China where the 30-year old one-child policy is back-firing as the population ages. In Europe and in America, the graying population cannot sustain the economy and the No.1 problem is preventing the collapse of the social security system and stretching retirement benefits.

 As the Wall Street Journal put it, “The math is simple. Birth rates have fallen so far and so fast that the thinning ranks of the young can no longer support the burgeoning numbers of retirees in country after country. Greece and Spain are already going over a demographic cliff.” WSJ traced the problem, at root, to the “birth dearth” and the “strange barrenness of this generation,” which, in turn, are traceable to “delayed marriages, wealth, divorce, legalized abortion and accessible contraception.”

Do all these methods of controlling population sound familiar? Indeed, this is what one hears in certain sectors of our media nowadays that try to sound “liberated,” as well as in the halls of our Congress. But we should learn from the examples of countries that are now having problems with their labor force and the economy.


Pro-RH solons in the House, where this bill will undergo a period of amendment in the next few days, argue that our galloping population growth is hampering our economic progress, but the statistics show actual decline in growth. The pro-RH representatives also argue that we have a population explosion, but they know that in their own provinces there is no such thing; in fact, in many parts of Mindanao and the Visayas one can drive for two hours and hardly meet any people or run into settlements. 

It is only Luzon---and its cities for that matter---which seem to be bursting at the seams. Why? Because opportunities for work and employment are found mainly in the so-called Luzon corridor that runs from Dagupan to Lucena. It is a question of poor national allocation of resources.

I once had a driver whose family lived in Romblon; because of the separation he always felt miserable. It got to a point where I gave him money to go home and get a job there so they could all be together. After two months he was back---no work opportunities in my province, he said. This is true of so many places in the country.

The overpopulation in the cities strains all facilities---work, schools, health, etc., so that indeed mothers have to die at childbirth because of poor maternal care and many children grow up without ever seeing a doctor. Distribute the national resources well and we can set up health centers and schools, as well as training centers for our young labor force---which is the true asset of our country and the envy of many other countries. 


Our pro-RH legislators want to inculcate a contraceptive mentality---distribute condoms and other contraceptives to prevent teen-age pregnancies. But Thailand did that and it became the AIDS capital of Asia. The way to tackle teen-age pregnancies is to give better access to education and training for our young people---so that they can get better employment opportunities and not have to plunge into early marriages or live-ins. It's when they don’t do anything with their lives that problems begin---teen-age marriages they're not ready for, pregnancies, drugs, thievery, etc.

I once had a young house-help named Marie whom I sent to Punlaan School for a year's training in cooking, as she had a knack for it. On a vacation she went home to Sorsogon and found all her high school contemporaries married with already so many kids, and their equally youthful husbands or partners were struggling for work. 

I always like to point to South Korea as example. Decades back SK had the same problem---how to handle the burgeoning of the population. Its leaders rightly realized that economic progress would be the more meaningful solution. And indeed, as the economy began to boom, many Korean couples engaged in multiple family businesses---and the birth rate dropped. In fact today SK's problem is its graying population.


We should learn from the lessons of other countries, WHICH HAVE TRIED TO MONKEY AROUND WITH POPULATION CONTROL TO THEIR DETRIMENT.  Pro-RH people do not want to use the term "population control," but the fact is that that’s what they seek to impose; and the Department of Health and local government agencies have been implementing policies in this direction for some time now, though quietly.  The RH bill only seeks to legalize these policies so that they could be implemented widely and openly.

Let’s open our eyes to the problems of other countries which made the wrong moves. As the Wall Street Journal puts it, "the problem with the Philippines is not overpopulation.  It is too few growth opportunities.”  Let’s allocate our resources to real growth opportunities for our people's benefit.

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