Bernardo M. Villegas
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Demographic Dividend of the Philippines (Part 2)

             Like any other modernizing society, the Philippines has seen its fertility rate declining from 6.4 children per fertile woman in 1969 to 2.1 children in 2022, according to data from the Philippines Statistical Authority.  Growth rate of population which used to be more than 3 % per annum in the past has slowed down to 1.36% in 2022.  The reasons range from difficulties in housing, later marriages, greater availability of contraceptives and increased participation of women in the labor force.  As mentioned in a previous article in this series, it is estimated that the total population of the Philippines may reach a maximum of a little over 150 million in 2075 and may start to decline thereafter.  Will the Philippines face the same fate as other developed countries today that are suffering from rapid depopulation and ageing?  Will future Governments have to follow the examples of countries like Japan, South Korea, Spain, Italy and other countries suffering from a demographic crisis in fighting against all odds to encourage married couples to have more children by providing them all types of economic incentives?

            Countries like Singapore, South Korea, Japan and others in the European Union have not been very successful in reversing the fertility decline through economic incentives.  Neither is China succeeding in convincing married couples to abandon the one-child policy that it sometimes brutally enforced in the past.  If we want to avoid facing a demographic crisis in the future, we have to realize that the motivation to have children in a country that has reached upper-middle income or high-income status has little to do with economic factors.  It may be true that very poor families think of children as economic assets.  Once dehumanizing poverty is eradicated in a country, the desire to have children is more related to cultural and spiritual reasons that have to do with the joys  and rewards of family life.  Not all the economic incentives given by the State will work if married couples consider having children as an unbearable burden that prevents them from fulfilling their personal goals of human fulfillment or success.  Couples must be convinced that “the family is the place where they discover the beauty of authentic human values.”  This conviction may be due to the culture of a certain society that recognizes the value of having children to human happiness.   To avoid a demographic crisis in the future, we must constantly foster these cultural and/or religious beliefs, counteracting the trends towards secularization, materialism, and consumerism that have been common in many industrialized and modern societies.

            For this reason, I will summarize here some ideas contained in the readings provided to married couples who in many parts of the Christian world participate in what are called “Family Enrichment” program or as they are called in the Philippines “EDUCHILD” (Educational Programs for the Upbringing of Children).  The ideas contained here are contained in a series of articles entitled “Growth: A Family Project” that can be found in the website www.opusdei.org.  To counteract any tendency to look at the family as a primary means of self-gratification, even applying cost-benefit analysis to the question of whether to have children or not, the first principle in this Family Project is phrased as follows: “Giving our best in the home means giving everything.”  It is obvious that we have not chosen our family members, but God has.  He counted not only on the virtues of the members of our family but also on their defects in order to help us attain the fullness of Christian life.   As Pope Francis said in a Homily on July 6, 2015, “In the family--of this we are all witnesses—miracles are worked with what there is, with what we are, with what one has at hand.  Often times it is not the ideal, it is not what we dreamed of, nor what ‘should be’ “ 

            All the members of the family—grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren—are expected to give the best of themselves at every moment, with God’s help, in order to impart a Christian tone to the family.  As have been experienced by those already in their senior years, parents also grow with their children, and with the passage of the years family roles can interchange.  The one who guided others before is now the one guided.  I have seen this happening with those of us who belong to the baby boomer generation and are already in our seventies or eighties.  I have seen many of my contemporaries ceding the responsibility of leading their respective families to their children or even grandchildren.  And for those who suffer to one degree or another from Alzheimer disease, it is obvious who are leading whom within a family.  We Filipinos (together with numerous Asians) are convinced that the home formed by everyone is much more than the primary resource for the basic necessities of nutrition, warmth and clothing.  Along with all those comforts, the family is the place where we discover the beauty of authentic human values; of self-control and respect, so necessary for inter-personal relationships; of responsibility, loyalty and a spirt of service.   All these values—which are disappearing in societies that adapt anti-family and anti-marriage policies like absolute divorce, abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage—are forged in a slow fire that requires a simple but strong sense of belonging:  the awareness of not having been simply “thrown” into the world, but “welcomed” from the start into a small portion of the world, not made of soil but of affection, a family,.

            No person enters the world by accident:  each is of great value, is worth everything.  Even someone who perhaps has not known his or her parents or was adopted by a family.  That is the reason why our very own Constitution mandates that the State must protect the life of the unborn “from the moment of conception.”  Even those born as a result of rape.  The future child deserves to be part of a family.  As St. Josemaria Escriva wrote:  “Each soul is a wonderful treasure; every human being is unique and irreplaceable. Every single person is worth all the blood of Christ.”  As St. John Paul lI wrote in Letter to Families, much is owed to parents, whether biological or not: “I was an unborn child, and you welcomed me by letting me be born; I was an abandoned child, and you became my family; I was an orphan, and you adopted me and raised me as one of your own children.”

            Mothers have a special role in the human development of their children.  A few weeks after their child’s birth, mothers already can distinguish the features of their child’s temperament:  the tone of their cry, of their sleep, of their hunger…Then comes the first smile:  the birth, as it were, of their personality, and at the same time one of the first perceptible signs of the imitation so pronounced in children, who are struck by all they see.  Parents are for a child a source of security, as can be observed in the eloquent gesture of a child embracing the mother’s or father’s legs at the approach of stranger.  From this safe haven, a child learns to move about, to explore the world, and to open up to others.  The harmonious development of a child’s personality requires that from the first moment children know that they are loved in the family, so they in turn may love others.  Affection and attentive care, which includes fostering the fortitude needed to restrain the selfishness to which we are all prone, help children to perceive their own value and that of other people.  Children will have the self-esteem that will enable them to love, to get out of themselves only if they experience the strong and tender love of their parents.

            In the family, a woman discovers that her qualities as a mother are irreplaceable.  The effort to be faithful to God in her mission will prompt her to create a welcoming environment that is apt for personal growth, for affection and respect, for sacrifice and self-giving. In the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, “Women are called to bring to the family, to society and to the Church, characteristics which are their own and which they alone can give:  their gentle warmth and untiring generosity, their love for detail, their quick-wittedness and intuition, their simple and deep piety, their constancy.”  This unique role that the mother plays in the building of what can be called a “bright and cheerful home,” may explain why there are so many talented and educated Filipinas who opt not to reach the summit of their respective careers, often surpassing less talented men.  They selflessly sacrifice the prestige and honor of becoming CEOs and top professionals because of the priority they assign to their role as mothers.  Some feminists may disagree with this observation but I have seen so many cases of mothers (including my own) who opt not to use their education and talents to rise to the top of their respective professions, even if they can easily outdo male colleagues, because of their decision to devote more of their time to the care of their children and the home.

            This is not to say that the father does not have also an indispensable role as the guide for his children.  He should help them grow, play with them, and let each one develop their way of being.  A Christian father knows that his family will always be his “main business,” in which he achieves his true self-fulfillment.  He should take care not to fall into “professionalitis.”  He should be on guard against an overly intense and stressful involvement in the practice of his profession or running of his business that could cloud over more valuable duties and responsibilities in the family.  Such exaggerated devotion to professional and business success, at the cost of family time, could even lead to psychological problems and resentment for his family responsibilities.

            Both parents should know how important it is for them to be close to their children.  Their absence causes so many problems.  They need to always foster the pride of passing on to their children their heart’s wisdom, in the words or Pope Francis during an audience on January 28, 2015.  In a “bright and cheerful home,”  the father experiences and gives his paternity, and the mother her maternity, complementary and irreplaceable qualities capable of filling the heart.  And if God does not send them children, they can exercise a spiritual paternity and maternity with other members of their family and with friends.

            It is said that the generation of the centennials (those born after 2000) are afraid of entering into a marriage covenant.  They are afraid of a Yes that is forever, because they fear making a mistake.  But it is an even greater mistake to remain at the threshold of the love to which every heart is called.  Therefore, a person’s heart needs to mature, to grow, so as to love steadily and strongly.  We need parents from whom children can learn how to care together for this love.  We need homes that produce the best citizens, prepared to sacrifice themselves for the common good, workers who are honest in what belongs to themselves and to others, enthusiastic teachers, noble politicians, just lawyers, self-sacrificing doctors.  It will be in the warmth of these homes that new mothers and fathers will grow up who will be faithful and because of their happy experience with their own parents will not be afraid to have children of their own.  There is no other way to guarantee the continuing growth of a population in a society that is increasingly marked by hedonism, consumerism and materialism.  To be continued.