"The fact of the matter is that this country is on a treadmill: It is running just to be able to remain in the same place."
Some Filipino economists speak of a demographic sweet spot when speaking or writing about this country’s demographic situation. They are the economists who believe that economic policy-making should have no population policy component and that the makers of this country’s economic policies should leave population-related issues to married couples’ consciences and religious beliefs.
As proofs that Philippine demographics are in a sweet spot, the no-population-policy economists point to this country’s ability to supply the world with millions of land-based and sea-based workers, to achieve the no.1 position in the world BPO (business process outsourcing) industry and to send professionals and managers to other countries. That would not be possible, they contend, if this country had been maintaining a population management - they bristle at the word “control” - policy.
In accordance with their strong abhorrence of population-related economic policymaking, they have involved themselves in the campaign against the full implementation of the Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenthood Act of 2012. Because of their alliance with the Catholic Church, the RH Act has not been implemented by hospitals and medical practitioners out of fear of Catholic Church retribution, even when job security is not an issue.
Yet, the RH Act does not provide for any kind of compulsion on the part of married couples; it simply helps them practice responsible parenthood by providing them with information about preventing unwanted pregnancies.
Largely as a result of the inadequate implementation of the RH Act, the Philippines still has one of the highest annual birth rates in this part of the world - close to 2 percent per 100,000 persons - and the Philippines’ population has passed the 110 million mark. The Philippines is now the second most populous member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The fact of the matter is that this country is on a treadmill: It is running just to be able to remain in the same place. With the Philippine economy growing annually at less than 7 percent, the government’s finances are truly stretched. This can be seen in the social sector of the economy. PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corporation) is hard put to meet the demand on its resources, government health care employees are not paid promised salaries, the backlog of school buildings remains huge, the Philippines ranks low in international educational achievement rankings, infant malnutrition is widespread and there is no credible government low-cost program no matter where one turns, one sees inadequacy and insufficiency. One just tries to make ends meet. And the worst news of all is that if the pre-pandemic situation goes unchanged, with GDP (gross domestic product) continuing to grow annually at 6 percent to 7 percent and the population increasing at the current rate, this country’s economic prospects will remain modest and unexciting.
Whatever deficiencies and inequalities existed before the onset of the pandemic has been highlighted and exacerbated during its prevalence. Millions of Filipinos are thrown out of jobs and needing ayuda. Tens of thousands of businesses, mainly MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) shuttered, most of them probably permanently. Community infection is greatest among the neighborhoods of low-income families and informal settlers. And, worst of all, those infected with COVID-19 from the lower income groups are placed at the end of the line for hospital beds and vaccine doses.
The pandemic has hit this country hardest in its highly urbanized parts, where the possibilities for social distancing and isolation are least. This has to be the reason why the health authorities have had to maintain the longest uninterrupted lockdown in the world.
Is the demographic sweet spot of the no-population-policy economists still sweet? I think not.