Bernardo M. Villegas
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Population Statistics Are Being Doctored

          I am glad that Dr. Jose S. Sandejas, former Commissioner of the Population Commission, has a Ph.D. in Engineering and is steeped in mathematical and statistical sciences.  Unlike some of our ignorant journalists or commentators who talk about an exploding population, he cannot be fooled by the statistical abacadabra being performed by some people in the National Statistical Coordination Board.  He recently wrote a letter to the Chairman of the NSCB expressing his surprise that in projecting population data from the 2000 census, some of the statisticians in the NSCB single-handedly added 146,582 babies to the actual number recorded in the 2000 census.  The flimsy excuse given in a technical note, hidden in very small letters, is that they assumed that the Philippine population pyramid should continue to be "pyramid-like" (instead of an inverted pyramid).  In fact, if they had not added the 146,582 babies to the data for the year 2000, the Philippine demographic data would no longer conform with the classic form a pyramid.  It would start to show the makings of an inverted pyramid which now characterizes aging countries like Japan, Spain, Italy and South Korea.

          As a long-term student of Philippine demography, I had always suspected some doctoring of population data by birth-control pushers.  When the United Nations Population Commission was already reporting Philippine population growth rate of anywhere from 1.6 to 1.8% annually, the neo-Malthusians continued to report a growth rate of 2.3%.  Only when some of us insisted that the growth rate had already decelerated did the government demographers start to report a rate of less than 2.0%.    That is why Dr. Sandejas has all the right to question the scientific validity of the unwarranted adding of 9% more babies to the actual data the 2000 Census arrived at.  The net effect of the arbitrary addition is to inflate the population growth rate (PGR) and the total fertility rate (TFR) by some 9% more than the actual figure measured in the 2000 Census.  The TFR for the year 2000 should have been reported as only 2.7 babies per woman, already dangerously close to zero population growth rate.  The inflated figures that some gullible journalists unwittingly accept can mislead economic and social planners, including legislators who are pushing the RH Bill and other population control measures based on wrong and even deliberately doctored data.

          In a letter to Mr. Vicente Paterno, Chair of the Joint Steering Committee of the BBC-MAP-MBC-PCPD, Dr. Sandejas presented the following views which reflect a more objective assessment of the so-called population bomb in the Philippines (I have elaborated on the points raised by Dr. Sandejas):

          1)  Contrary to the common-sense view that the Philippine population is still exploding (seemingly supported by  the common sight of overcrowded slum districts in the Metro Manila area), the Philippines' National Statistical Coordination Board in its website, quotes the Philippine Population Growth Rate (PPGR) for the year 2010 to be at the low level of only 1.82% per annum (vs. the 2.36% during the census year 2000, which figure is often still used to justify the view that PGR is "exploding."

          2) Equally worrisome is the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), the average number of children per woman, quoted by NSCB for the year 2010 at only 2.96 births per woman.  This represents a big decline from the 2000 figure of 3.41 births per woman.  This big drop in the TFR is quite palpable.  All around us, we see young couples having fewer children than their elders (even in informal dweller areas), with many young couples saying that they plan on having no more than 2 or 3 children (or much less than their elders who had 4 to 6 children per family).  In fact, in 1975 the TFR was 6 children per fertile woman.  This decline in fertility has happened without aggressive population control campaigns.  The main factors for the decrease in fertility are urbanization, later marriages, and increased education of women.

          3) The above-quoted figures from the NSCB are already indicative of a non-exploding population growth.  These quoted figures, however, would be even lower if the NCSB did not "adjust" (in blunter language "doctor") the number of births upwards by almost 9% of the actual reported figures.  NCSB had not been making these adjustments, or at least they were not footnoted, earlier than the year 2000.

          4) If the NSCB figures were not to be adjusted (unadjusted figures are also shown in their website), the TFR for 2000 would only be at 2.7 children per woman; which, if extrapolated to 2010, will show a TFR of only 2.32 children per woman (vs. the TFR for 2010 of 2.96 in the NSCB website); and extrapolated further to the year 2016 would show a TFR of less than 2.1 children per woman. This shows that the Philippines is already following the path of the aging countries whose TFR had much earlier dropped below the 2.1 replacement level, and are still dropping.

          5) Since the PGR is clearly dropping from year to year, it is not correct to use 2.4% as a constant growth rate for the 7 years from 2000 to 2007.  If this technically more correct approach is used, the PGR for 2010 would only be 1.69% instead of the 1.82% quoted in the NSCB website.

          6) The statistical trends established above clearly show that the Philippine population is no longer exploding but is following the trend observed in other countries, both rich and poor, where family attitudes have tended towards smaller family sizes resulting to graying/aging populations.

          Dr. Sandejas concludes that the Philippines does not need a policy on family planning which will tend to slow down PGR even more rapidly.  The Philippines can reap a demographic dividend if we can slow down or reverse the declining PGR or TFR.  The Government's role is to assist parents to educate and nurture the youth leaders so that they can be more productive citizens in the future.  I hope that some of our media people will stop their hysterical cries about the Philippine population bomb.  They have unfortunately been victims of "doctors of statistics."  For comments, my email address is bvillegas@uap.edu.ph.