Sunday, June 30, 2013

Connecting The Dots

The rainy season is here, and much has been written about how a couple of relatively mild thunderstorms over the past few weeks resulted in flooding and subsequent traffic tie ups in Metro-Manila.

Solving this perennial problem requires finding the cause. But there are so many interrelated factors, it's impossible to say that any one of them by itself is source. For example, careless disposal of garbage by thousands of squatters into the creeks and esteros (estuaries)  adjacent to their residences is a big headache. And these homes which are mainly shanties are themselves so numerous and built so close to the edge of the waterways (some even in them on stilts), they impede the natural flow of the water and often wind up destroyed by resulting floods. Efforts to resettle these people to safer and more habitable locations have not been successful because  either many of them, for various reasons return to the flood prone sites, or other "informal settlers" (the politically correct phrase) move in and take their places there.

Underlying this and other predicaments in this country is the overarching problem of overpopulation  which is linked as both a cause and effect of poverty, resulting socioeconomic inequality, lack of upward mobility opportunities, and crime. These problems are also tied in with widespread lack of resources for the  public education system which is in turn burdened by overcrowded classrooms and students who can't concentrate or drop out due to hunger or leave school to help support their families. As a result thousands in the rural areas who legitimately can't find jobs,  as well as those who just don't want to remain farmers, relocate to the cities especially to Metro-Manila. In these urban settings, the  best they can usually hope for is menial employment such as joining the ranks of street and sidewalk vendors who are already so numerous in some parts of Metro-Manila that pedestrians can't even pass. Obviously it's almost impossible to make a decent living this way, so these people just become part of the faceless urban poor. 

These are just a few of the population-related issues that stand in the way of progress for the Philippines.  Encouragingly, Congress recently passed the Reproductive Health Act to facilitate access to contraceptives by the poor.  This was no mean feat in light of decades of opposition from the well-entrenched Catholic Church, in particular the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.  However, implementation of this legislation has been challenged by groups fronting for the CBCP  (which would likely just as soon keep the populace pregnant and barefoot) and at present is hung up in the Supreme Court for final adjudication.  One can only hope that the decision  will be in favor of implementation.

Assuming that will happen contrary to the RH bill's detractors, it's highly unlikely that  the government would embark on a compulsory population control program. For one thing, given the local culture, such a policy would be unenforceable anyway.  But one reason that the RH bill finally passed is that a large majority of Filipinos (especially and significantly  8 out 10 teenagers) supported it along with the opportunity to practice family planning.  So left to their own (artificial birth control) devices and hopefully  with a growing awareness of the link between having large families and hardship, those who are entering their reproductive years  will voluntarily have fewer children than their forebears.

A reduction in population won't solve all the country's problems such as personal and family narcissism which stand in the way of national unity. But fewer people competing for finite natural and man-made resources will increase the chances of a better life for all.  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

An Affordable Health Care Plan for Expats

As I have discussed in previous posts, an important step to living comfortably in the Philippines is obtaining a good health insurance policy . There are various private sources that offer coverage such as Blue Cross of the Philippines. But  these policies can be quite expensive and come  with various exclusions such as limiting coverage for  elderly policyholders to inpatient treatment leaving those seniors requiring outpatient services out in the cold.    

Enter the  government sponsored health insurance plan, Philhealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corporation). I heard of this service a few years ago but assumed that it was only available for Philippine citizens. However, I recently learned that foreign permanent residents can also enroll. Importantly, while many (most?) Philhealth members are employees working in the public and private sector and are covered under their employers,  coverage such as for self employed or non-working individuals is also available.

Premiums for private individuals are quite reasonable: PH450 per quarter, and unlike with most private insurers, there is no coverage discrimination against seniors. However, there is a waiting period of three consecutive  quarters before new members can become fully eligible for full Philhealth benefits and only if the premiums are paid on time during that interval. 

After signing up with Philhealth, it takes about a month for an applicant to receive his or her Personal Identification Number. At that point the enrollee must then go to a Philhealth branch to authenticate the membership and to make the first premium payment.(These offices are conveniently located throughout Metro-Manila and the rest of the country as well.) After that, the premiums also can be remitted at other various payment centers. 

For further information, click here, or call (02)441-7444.