Bernardo M. Villegas
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Supreme Court Averts Ageing Crisis

           Thanks to the Supreme Court decision removing many of the anti-life provisions in the RH Law, the Philippines will avoid falling into the demographic trap that has already victimized such emerging markets as Thailand, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China and Russia.  According to a recent study of Moody’s Investors Service, countries with rapidly ageing populations will require dramatic policy changes over a short period.  These are the countries in which at least 7 percent of the population is aged 65 years old or higher.  Among the “super-aged” are Germany, Japan and Italy in which more than 20 percent of their populations are composed of the elderly.  By next year, two more countries will join this super-aged group, Finland and Greece.

           Ageing countries will encounter economic difficulties on two fronts.  On the demand side, they will increasingly be unattractive for investors because of shrinking domestic markets.  In fact, one of the most obvious consequences of the Great Recession, when export markets dried up, is the serious difficulty that countries with small domestic markets, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, have faced in attaining high GDP growth.  The developing countries with large domestic markets, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, have outperformed the smaller economies in the last five to seven years.  On the supply side, ageing countries will be facing serious labor shortages.  Even Thailand, that is far from being a developed country, is already short of as many as a million workers for their agricultural and industrial sectors.  Among the emerging markets like Thailand that have embraced population control programs aggressively in the last century, the rate of ageing is considerably more rapid than in some of the developed economies, according to the report of Moody’s.  There are expected to be two working adults for every adult over 65 in developed countries   and four working adults for every adult over 65 in the developing world by 2050.  Health and pension systems will be under tremendous pressure in these countries.

          The Philippines is among only 23 countries out of a total of 112 nations surveyed by Moody’s that are exempted from the problem of ageing plaguing much of the world. An ageing population is one in which at least 7 percent of the population is aged 65 years old or over.  The report showed the elderly in the Philippines is estimated to be around 4.1 percent of total population by 2015.  This will grow to 4.9 percent by 2020; 5.6 percent by 2015 and 6.3 percent by 2030.  These profiles will guarantee robust consumer demands and ample supply of manpower that can make possible GDP growth rates of 7 percent or more for the next twenty years.  In contrast, the unprecedented pace of ageing in such countries as Bulgaria, Croatia, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden will have a significant negative effect on economic growth over the next two decades.

          We are fortunate that our Supreme Court saw through the real intent of the RH Law that purported to be a “reproductive health” measure but was really a population control legislation.  As explained  in the “Pastoral Guidance on the Implementation of the Reproductive Health Law” issued by CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas last July 7, 2014, “The Supreme Court points out that the whole idea of contraception (as the means to control population growth) runs through the RH Law.  It is in fact the governing and overarching principle of the RH Law.  Other provisions such as the skilled birth attendance, maternal care including pre- and post-natal service, prevention and management of sexually related diseases and sicknesses are already provided for in the Magna Carta for Women.  In rendering its decision in the Imbong case, the Court affirms the principles of ‘no-abortion’ and ‘no-coercion’ in the adoption of any family planning method.”

          Moody’s optimistic view about the demographic future of the Philippines in the next two decades can be realised because the Government will face serious difficulties in promoting a contraceptive mentality, which has been the major cause of the rapid ageing in the countries cited above.  This is so because the Supreme Court has invalidated two related provisions in the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the RH Law for inserting the modifier ‘primarily’ in the definitions of “abortifacient” and “contraceptive.”  The Court notes that the word “primarily” (which is not found in the RH Law itself) would have led to the surreptitious introduction of drugs and devices that, though primarily not abortifacient, were also abortifacient in use and in effect. The Court clarifies that, consistent with the no-abortion spirit of the RH Law, even contraceptives that have no such primary intention, but have the secondary effect of destroying the fetus or preventing nidation (attaching of the fertilised egg to the uterine wall), should be considered as abortifacients and are, therefore, banned. Since many contraceptive devices have these secondary effects, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to ban them, limiting the spread of contraception and slowing down the decline in the Total Fertility Rate in the country.  Future generations will have much to thank the present Supreme Court for sparing them the ill effects of the demographic winter that has gripped practically the whole of Europe and Northeast Asia. For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.