SCOPE: Philippines must tackle its exploding population: economists

MANILA, Jan. 11 Kyodo

Economists have urged the Philippine government and the Catholic Church to map out a common plan to curb the country’s galloping population, saying the country’s 2.36 percent annual birth rate continues to trap millions of Filipinos in poverty.

”The country would benefit if church and state were to arrive at an entente on this critical issue — an understanding on the need for a sound national population policy,” 22 economists at the University of the Philippines said in a recent paper.

The analysis, titled Population and Poverty: The Real Score, stressed the urgent need to confront the ”development challenge” pose by a rapidly growing population.

”It is time” the Catholic Church hierarchy and other religious groups take ”a more tolerant and humane position on the need for a state-supported population policy backed by a responsive family planning program,” the economists said.

The Philippine population is growing at the rate of 2.36 percent a year, which is faster than its Southeast Asian neighbors.

When President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ends her term in 2010, the population will swell to 93 million, according to government projections and this year, the population is expected to top 85 million.

The Philippines’ population growth rate was similar to Thailand and Indonesia in the early 1970s, but now Thailand’s population growth rate is down to 1.4 percent and Indonesia’s to 1.5 percent.

The poverty incidence in the Philippines remains high at 40 percent, while the poverty incidence in Thailand is down to 9.8 percent and in Indonesia to 18.2 percent.

In Southeast Asia, the Asian Development Bank said the Philippines not only has one of the highest population growth rates, but also had the second highest number of total births per year in 1995-2000, about four times those in Malaysia and twice those in Thailand.

”The annual additional of 1.6 million people places heavy burdens on social and physical infrastructure,” said the Manila-based bank in a report.

”Without corrective action to rebalance population growth against limited resources, prospects are complicated for moving out of poverty the 40 percent of Filipinos living on $2 or less a day,” the bank warned.

ADB studies show that 32 million Filipinos are poor or living on

$2 or less a day. Many of these poor are found in the southern Philippine Mindanao Islands where most of the country’s 3.9 million Muslim Filipinos live and in the Bicol region in the eastern Philippines.

”The overall poverty situation in the Philippines is severe,” the ADB said. ”The economy’s modest growth is insufficient to provide opportunities for all those looking for work.”

In the Philippines, where 81 percent of the people are Roman Catholics, religious beliefs play a vital role in crafting population policy.

The church — which labels the rapid population growth a ”non-problem” — disallows the use of contraceptives and has campaigned hard against efforts to promote birth control devices and techniques.

And from fear of incurring the wrath of the influential church, officials and politicians skirt population-control issue and promote only ”natural” methods that are known to be less effective than contraceptives.

Indeed, the government failure to implement a consistent, clear and solid program to curb its population growth over the years has hampered efforts to stamp out poverty.

The trend has negative impacts on healthcare, education, housing services, the environment and agricultural productivity and the management of the country’s natural resources, says the Commission on Population in another report.

Extreme poverty forces many of the poor in the countryside to migrate to urban areas in search of a better life.

The cash-strapped Philippines has few jobs to offer, causing a double-digit unemployment rate — the highest among Southeast Asian countries and about eight million Filipinos have left the country to work abroad, making the Philippines the second largest labor-exporter in the world, after Mexico.

For the period 1991-2000, the commission report says ”more than half the poorest families experienced a reduction in income, (while) about a third experienced an increase in their working hours.”

By 2010, the Arroyo administration hopes to attain a birth growth rate of 1.9 percent and reduce poverty rate by 20 percent.

But the economists dismissed the government targets, saying it ”would not be feasible, given the historical growth rates of population and the economy.”

COPYRIGHT 2005 Kyodo News International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

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