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.  

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