Bernardo M. Villegas
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A Young and Growing Population (Part 2)

          By some measures (such as the Purchasing Power Parity approach to GDP), China has already surpassed the U.S. in absolute amount of GDP, although it still has a much lower GDP per capita.  Some forecasters, however, are predicting that China will be Number One even in GDP per capita in the not too distant future because its growth rate is twice or more than that of the U.S.  This reminds me of the years when I was studying in the U.S. in the 1960s when there were many books and articles predicting that Japan would surpass the U.S. in economic might before the last century was over.  There were also a lot of talks about “Japan Number One.”  The prediction never came true for one simple reason:  the Japanese stopped producing babies.  They were among the first ones to commit demographic suicide.  The problems of Japan are well known today:  a rapidly ageing population and a shrinking labor force that is putting a great strain on the economy.  In fact, in recent years, Japanese policy has had to reconsider its anti-immigration stance and is now open to more foreign workers (including Filipinos and Filipinas) especially in the health and caregiving sectors. 

         China may never become Number One for the same reason.  As the New York Times article pointed out, “The declining population could create an even greater burden on China’s economy and its labor force.  With fewer workers in the future, the government could struggle to pay for a population that is growing older and living longer.  Many compare China’s demographic crisis to the one that stalled Japan’s economic boom in the 1990s. Some experts believe the population has already started shrinking.  In a recent paper, Dr. YI and Su Jian, economists at Peking University, argued that the population contracted in 2018, the first year it has done so since the famines of l961 and 1962 induced by the Great Leap Forward, Mao’s industrialization campaign.  The researchers said inaccurate census estimates had obscured the actual population and fertility rates…’It can be seen that 2018 is a historic turning point in China’s population,’ Dr. Yi wrote in an email.   ‘China’s population has begun to decline and is rapidly ageing.  Its economic vitality is waning.”

         We should be grateful that in the midst of a region where a demographic crisis is the rule (all our Northeast Asian neighbors are facing the same problem as China and Japan), our country’s population continues to grow, although at a decelerating rate. Forecasts made by demographers contained in Wikipedia indicate that the population of the Philippines is expected to grow by 1,594,000 in 2019 and reach 109,703,000 in 2020.  Migration (including immigration and emigration) decreases population by 130,000 yearly.  On average there are 2,430,720 live births and 713,327 deaths in the Philippines annually.  The rate of natural increase is approximately 1.59 percent per year.  The population density has changed from 159.0 in 1960 to 351.9 in 2017.  In the next thirty years or so, total Philippine population should reach 109,703,000 by 2020 and should increase to 151,203,000 people by year 2050.  By then the fertility rate will be at 2.1 per fertile woman, at which time the total population will peak.  That means that total population will not go much beyond the 150 million level which will imply a population density of 507 people per square kilometer, slightly below today’s population density of South Korea of 526 people per square kilometer.  South Korea today is a First World country and has much less natural resources than the Philippines.

         From the sad experiences of our neighboring Asian countries in population control (which include Thailand that is growing old before becoming rich), we have to be very careful about how we implement the existing Reproductive Health Law.  The focus should be in spending more resources on quality education, especially at the basic education level, instead of birth control.  A contraceptive mentality should not be encouraged especially in the rural and agricultural sectors where the average age of a farmer is already close to 60 years.  The family of a farmer would be greatly prejudiced if there are attempts to reduce the number of children to less than 3 per household because of the necessarily labor intensive cultivation practices due to the underdeveloped nature of our agricultural sector, long neglected by the State and only recently the focus of improved infrastructures and other support services.  It must be pointed out that 75 per cent of households below the poverty line are in the rural and agricultural sectors.  These can hardly afford to have very low fertility rates.

         This is not to say that there should be no efforts to help the urban poor (especially those in the most depressed areas) to limit the size of their respective families.  Married couples among the urban poor should be helped to limit the number of children whom they cannot afford to support.  This education in family planning should, however, be in accord with their respective religious beliefs.  It is a fact that the Supreme Moral Authority of the religion to which the majority of Filipinos belong, the Roman Catholic faith, considers artificial contraceptives as intrinsically evil.  It is beside the point that some who consider themselves as Roman Catholics do not abide with this moral teaching of their religious leaders.  State officials still have to respect the freedom of conscience of those Filipino citizens who accept the teaching about the moral evil of condoms, birth control pills, IUDs and so forth.  Every effort must be exerted to help the law-abiding Catholics who are constrained to limit the size of their families for serious economic reasons to practise what is known as natural family planning, which has been scientifically proven time and again to be highly effective.   Even in these cases, however,  care should be taken that as the country evolves from a low middle income to high middle income and finally to high-income status, families who benefit from the over-all economic progress of the Philippines in the next decades or so are able discard a contraceptive mentality which could have been fostered under economically trying times but can become a serious liability  as the country attains First World status.  We should learn from those countries who have committed demographic suicide because of a contraceptive mentality that was nurtured by the State, especially among educated women like in Singapore.   For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.