The Corner

Population Growth in the Philippines: Problem or Potential?

In one week, a population-control bill in the Philippines is likely to be passed that supports coercive government-funded family-planning initiatives for demographically targeted populations. If passed, one year or even one generation from now, the root problems that this bill seeks to address will still exist. In fact, they’re likely to be exaggerated.

“The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011,” as this bill is officially titled, is in essence an attempt to curb the growing population of the Philippines through a variety of measures — most notably, a new sexual-education program, greater access and distribution of contraceptives, and eventually, government-funded abortion. This past week the bill made its way out of a plenary session and is now on the fast track to becoming law.

At present, the population of the Philippines is estimated to be over 92 million making it the world’s twelfth most populous country. Fertile women in the Philippines have, on average, 3.1 babies each — a stark contrast to neighboring Singapore, which had an all-time low average of 1.16 in 2010. Given its size and increasing growth, the needs of the Philippines are vast — education, health care, and better sanitation to name a few. But is population growth really the root cause of these problems and needs? History seems to indicate otherwise.

During the 20th century many Asian countries tried to implement population-control measures in an effort to eradicate poverty and better control limited resources. Countries such as China, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea — all thriving economic powerhouses — are now reporting sub–population replacement rates and are unsure of how they are going to be able to replace themselves.

In contrast, Hong Kong — one of the world’s densest populations — has become one of the hallmarks of Asian economic success. In the middle of the 20th century, the future for Hong Kong seemed dismal. Food and clean water were in short supply, jobless rates were high, and its growing population seemed unstoppable. However, rather than imposing population control measures on its citizens, the Hong Kong government realized that population equals potential. By providing the right conditions — access to education, health care, food and water, and a realization that the best investment to be made was in its people — Hong Kong created one of the most robust and thriving economies in the world today.

The mid-1950’s demographic situation of Hong Kong is comparable to the Philippines today. Section three of their proposed bill states that “the limited resources of the country cannot be suffered to be spread so thinly to service a burgeoning multitude that makes the allocations grossly inadequate and effectively meaningless.” Not only does this “guiding principle” fail to recognize that the greatest natural resource of the Philippines is human potential and ingenuity, it neglects the real needs of the country.

After World War II, the Philippines adopted a number of anti-market and protectionist economic policies that have resulted in these less than favorable conditions. As a result, roads were left unfinished and irrigation systems never built, and the poor conditions of seaports and airports crippled one of the nation’s best natural industries, agriculture. Most hurt by this environment were small-scale family farmers. In the provinces where they lived, schools were never built, hospitals and health-care facilities were poorly constructed and the means to access them were limited. Filipino lawmakers have tried to argue that population control will solve the nation’s poverty problems, but countless statistics and studies have proven that this just isn’t so. It is improved working conditions, quality schools, skilled birth attendants, and health-care facilities that will solve a number of the nation’s problems — maternal health, education, and employment among them.

The current bill in the Philippines aims to provide a roadmap for “responsible parenthood.” The solutions presented to achieve this are a state recommended family size of two children per couple, mandatory government family-planning certification in order to receive a marriage license, and mandatory sexual education in all schools. This bill, in effect, focuses on what will go on in schools before the schools or the roads that lead to them are even built. Rather than looking internally to see what it can do to promote the family and improve their current working and living conditions, the Filipino government would seemingly rather penalize the family unit itself for the nation’s economic ills.

On February 3, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore marked the beginning of the Chinese New Year by urging his citizens to have more children: “We also need Singaporeans to produce enough babies to replace ourselves, and that has proved extremely challenging.” In addition, the PM noted that additional children bring “more joy” to families. The Philippines would do well to heed Mr. Loong’s advice. Not only will they find more joy, but also, like their neighbors in Hong Kong and Singapore, they’re likely to find prosperity.

Christopher White is international director of operations for the World Youth Alliance.


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