BARRING any significant policy initiatives to curb the country’s population growth rate, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III will bow out of Malacañang in 2016 with a hugely problematic legacy – 8 million Filipino babies born during his term, and as many more mouths to feed.

That means, an average of 1.3 million babies born for every year that he will serve as president, or 111,111 babies a month, or 3,704 babies a day, or 154 babies hour on the hour.

The possibility of the Philippines’ population growing from 94.9 million this year to 103.2 million in 2016 – or an annual growth rate of 1.7 percent – poses serious policy implications on the economy, environment, and social services.

This figure —103.2 million Filipinos in 2016—is based on the recently released 2011 State of World Population report by the United Nation Population Fund (UNPF). The report launched a fortnight ago in cities across the globe had rightly forecast that by end-October 2011, the world population would have risen to 7 billion, a gigantic spike from less than a century ago. The UNPF estimates that the figure will climb faster to 8 billion in 2025, and on to 10 billion in 2100.

Asia, the world’s largest continent, is said to be home to almost two-thirds of the world population; China alone, the most populous nation, accounts for 1.35 billion, followed by India, 1.24 billion. Nearly all subsequent growth in the total number of people in the world will unfold in these countries and other developing nations, because the population in many affluent countries has somehow stabilized.

The situation calls attention to what the Aquino administration plans to do or not do. Should it choose to ignore the problem and not enact any measures to manage population growth, the Philippines is likely to add 25.3 mi1lion people more to the world population by 2025 and 330.5 million more by 2100.

With over a million new babies born in the country each year, there are a million more Filipinos to feed, house, educate, and heal and keep healthy, every year. The presidents who will come after Aquino are sure to inherit the aggravation of having to serve more people with severely strained resources.

After Indonesia, the Philippines is the second fastest growing population in Southeast Asia, and the 12th in the world. Better performing economies like Malaysia and Thailand have bigger land areas but also population growth rates lower than that of the Philippines’.

Dr. Ernesto Pernia, economics professor at the University of the Philippines and a panelist at the launch of the 2011 State of World’s Population Report, laments the Philippine situation. “The country is already way behind its neighboring countries, particularly Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam” but which also “have faster falling fertility rates and higher investment rates that go well with faster GDP (gross domestic product) growth and poverty reduction.”

To make matters worse, Pernia notes that by UNPF estimates, even poorer nations such as Cambodia and Laos could leave the Philippines behind in the next few years.

Indeed, according to the UNPF, increasing population means less land and water available for every person. And poorer nations, including the Philippines, will most likely suffer the most as they could not compete as well with the more affluent countries.

The Philippines is considered to be a less developed country. It ranks 44th in terms of global gross domestic product valued at $199.59 million, according to World Bank data.

Yet apart from simply rising numbers, inequality is the more important issue that underpins fast population growth rates, says the UNPF. “It is not a matter of space. The population question is one of human equity and opportunity,” said Ugochi Daniels, country representative of the UNPFA.

Prof. Solita Monsod, former economic planning secretary, who summarized the UNPF report, highlighted seven economic opportunities, which the Philippines and the world must focus on in addressing this population problem. These are:

  • Empowering women and girls who can accelerate progress on all fronts;
  • Reducing poverty and inequality, which could help slow down population growth and vice versa;
  • Empowering young people with economic opportunities and new technologies;
  • Improving education, particularly sexuality education, to ensure every child is wanted and every childbirth is safe;
  • Developing programs to sustain the Earth’s resources;
  • Promoting the health and productivity of world’s older people to mitigate challenges of ageing population; and
  • Developing a sustainable planning for cities.

Representatives of the academe and civil society groups forged a consensus at the launch to prod President Aquino to certify the reproductive health bill as a national emergency measure.

Princess Nemenzo said the President must use his political power to the extent of pushing his political party – the Liberal Party – to approve the bill in the Congress.

Another panelist, Dr. Junice Melgar of Likhaan, a national women’s health organization, said the country’s health system is in despair. She calls for the government to increase and subsidize access to skilled professionals and health facilities of poor citizens. –PCIJ, November 2011

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