Saturday, August 15, 2015

Filipino poverty and population

The Philippine population reached 100 million in 2014, and is projected to reach 101.6 million this year. The projection is based on an annual growth rate of 2.1%, which, while lower than the 2.42% rate from 1990 to 1995, is still the highest in the Southeast Asian region. Population growth rate was 1.9% in Cambodia, 1.6% in Malaysia, 1% in Vietnam and Indonesia, and 0.4% in Thailand, according to Rosalinda Marcelino, Population Commission director for Metro Manila. During the public hearings on the Reproductive Health Bill, Marcelino also told the House Committee on Population that the population would continue to grow for the next 50 years even if couples were to limit the number of their children to two each, because the population is predominantly young. Some 35% of Filipinos are below 15 years old, while 15% are 15 to 24 years old. “…More than 50% of [Filipinos] are young and, in due time, would become parents. And even if each couple would only have two children, our population will still continue to grow in the next 50 years,” Marcelino said.

For many politicians such figures are “the best argument for birth control”. They argued that high population growth rates exacerbate poverty, and that there is more poverty among big families. In addition, families with fewer children can better provide for the education, health, nutrition and other needs of each child, since whatever income they earn can be divided among fewer individuals. There was nothing new in these arguments. Almost all have been raised in other countries with high incidences of poverty.

Against the argument that a lower population growth rate would reduce poverty is that the causes of poverty are: flawed philosophies of development, misguided economic policies, greed, corruption, social inequities, lack of access to education, poor economic and social services, poor infrastructures, etc. The conclusion is unavoidable: to escape from poverty, we have to address the real causes of poverty and not population. South Africa, for example, has lowered its previously high population growth rate, but is still hounded by poverty.

The Philippines can arguably support a population of 200 million — but only if the structural causes of poverty were addressed. Among these is the grossly unequal distribution of wealth, in which the 25 wealthiest individuals appropriate the equivalent of the incomes of 70 million Filipinos. IBON Databank also points out that while the wealth of the richest Filipinos tripled during the last five years, there are more poor Filipinos (25.8% of the population) during the same period. The solutions to Philippine poverty are fairly well known, but unlikely to be adopted by a political class that is hardly committed to the authentic transformation of Philippine society from one in which economic growth benefits only a handful of families to one in which economic development would benefit the majority. In the Philippine context, a key solution include the outright abolition of the land tenancy system. The archaic, grossly inefficient and unjust tenancy system has persisted, primarily because the attempts at so-called land reform have been deliberately riddled with loopholes by the landlord-dominated Congress.

Poverty is the cause of overpopulation, rather than its result.

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