Friday, May 4, 2012

Of Pipe Dreams and Alarming Demographic Trends

Newspapers in the Philippines abound with fine columnists.  One such journalist is  Conrado Banal whose commentaries appear in the "Philippine Daily Inquirer" business section.  Mr. Banal has his ear to the ground and is  authoritative regarding the topics about which he writes. In his April 18 column "High Economic Gloat", he expresses guarded optimism regarding the basis for the optimism expressed by two government officials in the matter of the Philippines economic growth, which they believe will take off if the country merges its manpower of 45 million young people who will turn 22 in 2018 and ready to start their careers, with the capital and technology furnished by other member countries of  the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN). This potential serendipitous confluence of economic sectors is referred to as a "sweet spot". And although he believes that the theory has merit, Mr. Banal's rightly placed concern is that this opportunity accelerated development for the Philippines won't come to fruition if the country fails to invest in infrastructure and education.

But there is the elephant in the middle of the living room (or perhaps I should say bedroom) that could spray a trunkful  of cold water on this plan and which neither Mr. Banal nor the two officials mention: The Philippines' natural resources and economy are already  being strained by overpopulation. And the above referenced 45 million youth who happen to constitute about half the total number of people in this country are a ticking time bomb. This is because that although in a few years, they will become economically productive, there's something else that they will be producing:


Think about it. One source places the fertility rate of Filipinas at 3.19 as of 2011 .  So even just half of these young people start having families about the time that they enter the labor force six years from now, they will add another 66 million to the population in the course of their reproductive years.

But wait. Some of their contemporaries are not even holding off until then to have kids.  According to the Philippine Star, the Philippines has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Southeast Asia: 53 for every 1,000 Filipinas ages 1519. One consequence of giving birth at this age is that it usually scuttles the mother's education and job opportunities. This is one reason that passage by Congress of the Reproductive Health Act bill which has been hanging fire for about four years and would facilitate family planning, especially easier access to contraceptives for the poor,  is so desperately needed.

At present, OFWs (Overseas Filipinos Workers) are propping up the local economy including the favorable rate of currency exchange with their remittances  from almost every corner of the globe back home to their families.  Yet this does nothing to address the issue of overpopulation here. For the same reason, it may just be magical thinking for the Philippines to pin its hopes on an ephemeral "sweet spot" from ASEAN.

The Philippines can neither continue to keep shoving off its hopes and dreams for a better society by relying on other countries to carry the country's economy.  Nor can it keep kicking the the population issue down the road for future generations to solve. For if the people do not shed their fatalistic mentality and fail to tackle these matters immediately, how can the Philippines expect to even have a future?


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