Missing the point-A A +A
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
WHAT side seems to be missing the point on the country's growing population and poverty? At seven billion global population, Sen. Vicente Sotto early this year expected that Senate RH bill debates would be on "population management."
Well, Sotto and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile -- both RH bill oppositionists -- were wrong. RH bill co-sponsor Senator Pia Cayetano conceded the phrase "Population and Development" in the measure's title and replaced it with "Responsible Parenthood."
But is the deletion a concession or a mere euphemism that basically says the same thing? That is, population control but tagged differently with an innocuous label?
After all, PNoy argued in his State of the Nation Address hoped that the "Responsible Parenthood" measure would finally solve the backlog in the country's public school system, implying that the backlog is due to the large number of kids, not due to the lack of investments on our school system.
In fact, a recent study by a multinational financial services firm, HSBC, says the Philippines, a middle-income country with about 26 percent of its population living below the poverty line, will be the 16th largest economy in the world by 2050. The study's fearless forecast is that the Philippines will have outperformed all of its Southeast Asian neighbors, including Singapore.
However, Dr. Ernesto M. Pernia, an economics professor from the University of the Philippines and a former Asian Development Bank economist, qualified that forecast. A growing population can serve as an advantage for an economy only if it meets the quality of labor required by businesses.
The problem with the Philippines, insists Prof. Pernia, is that its population growth is driven by poor households who cannot afford to provide education and other basic needs for their children.
Consequently, he says, these children grow up finding difficulty in getting jobs and end up being poor themselves. This trend leads to the problem of inter-generational poverty.
Prof. Pernia criticized the HSBC study as shoddy. "It seems that HSBC, in drawing its conclusion, just considered the size of the population, completely ignoring the fact that for a labor force to become an asset, it must be educated."
Will the P3 billion to be allotted to buy contraceptives, among other things, be better invested in ensuring that no Filipino kids are left behind in their education? Pernia says policymakers should acknowledge that resources-both of private households and the government-are just not enough to educate all Filipino children.
This point, according to Pernia, is substantiated both by the significant number of out-of-school youths who belong to households that cannot support them, and the insufficiency of public schools, classrooms, and other facilities needed to provide good quality education to all the country's school-aged children.
In other words, if I have to interpret what the former ADB economist says, Filipinos cannot have their reproductive cake and expect it to eat too. It's a triage, choose education and sacrifice reproductive health services, or vice versa.
That's the whole point. Pernia added that hindering our economic growth is the lack of investments, which he says would need an educated workforce as an incentive to invest in the Philippines.
But if education is prioritized, will Filipinos breed like rabbits, as many people contend? Maybe not, according to the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey. Most women who need contraceptives are aware of the available methods, know where to obtain them, and can afford to buy them.
If anything else then, the point is that we can have our state-sponsored education and non-state reproductive health services after all.
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Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on September 19, 2012.