That’s 105 million, projected to be the Philippines’ population by the end of 2017. I had to check on the internet when we turned a nice round figure of 100 million. It was in 2014.
The 105-million figure was the focus of local World Population Day activities last Tuesday, and the number is intended to alert, maybe even alarm, people. There were other numbers floated around, summarized in a nice “Fast Facts” column in the Inquirer on Tuesday. Ranked by population, we are the 13th largest in the world, and second in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Total fertility rate is 2.88, or the average number of children each woman will have in her lifetime, down from 3.05 in 2010-2015 and 5.46 in 1975-1980.
There were figures on percentages of particular age groups, which I will have to correct. A figure of 41 percent was given for the population group aged 25-29 years. Actually, 41 percent is the figure for our population aged 20 and below. Add on those aged 21-25 and that figure goes to 53 percent.
But numbers can numb, especially in a country like our own where numerical literacy is low. The percentages especially blur. I would prefer to just say more than half of the population is aged below 25. We are a country of very young people.
Instead of “population,” let’s think of people, especially the young. The other week in UP Diliman I thanked several hundred parents of incoming freshmen for entrusting to the university the nation’s most precious treasures. Later, addressing the freshmen themselves, I repeated the description, warning them not to let the description go to their heads.
Precisely because people are our greatest resources, the more people we have, the greater our responsibilities as a nation. Sadly, we think of our people resources mainly as exports, rejoicing at the foreign exchange they bring in and never mind that the money comes from their having to care for the world’s children and elderly, sacrificing our own kids and lolos and lolas.
We move from population to people, and to families. Ideally, as we are constantly reminded by love songs and love stories and movies and teleseryes, families are built on love. Ideal, idealized: Two people, after college, meet at work, fall in love, marry, have kids, and make good money so the kids can go to the best schools and finish college and begin another cycle of life.
The realities are harsher and more painful. Pardon another statistic here: The 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey reports that one out of every 10 female adolescents, aged 15-19, has already begun motherhood. We’re not even talking about girls in high school or college, but girls who have to drop out, or are expelled. Many of these girls are unmarried, but their plight may not be that much better than those who are forced into
marriages that become loveless very quickly.
But that’s the minority, you might argue. And indeed they are, but the “one in ten” statistic is deceptive. We’re talking of some 200,000 babies born each year to teenage mothers who quickly discover that the love songs and love stories are illusions.
Moving on, seeing the 105-million figure, I thought of what that would mean for UP. There are some 70,000 urban poor living within our 500-hectare campus in Diliman, where you find the kind of childhood malnutrition that we associate with remote rural areas: thin hair that looks like it’s bleached, perpetually runny noses, bellies bloated from worms. I’ve learned, when trying to guess their ages, to add years, knowing how widespread stunting is.
I need not run through the litany of problems in the communities, including drugs. I will admit frustration, and shame, because there’s so little we are able to do even as we lecture in our classrooms about poverty and development and social justice.
I’m accused of coddling the “squatters” when I argue that the settlers should stay unless they have assured relocation. We’ve been on the waiting list for relocation sites for years but in the latest round, we found ourselves taken out again. City officials are almost apologetic: UP Diliman’s informal settlers are of low priority compared to those around rivers and other waterways. We have to wait and, in the meantime, the communities’ officials help me in trying to explain to the urban dwellers that it would be to their own advantage to prevent new settlers from coming in. Our security-guard agencies are penalized for each additional “illegal structure” we find, but the problem isn’t so much structures as the natural population increase among the people already there.
After each visit to the communities, I ask myself: Why can’t the government bite the bullet and provide affordable housing once and for all? You postpone, and the challenges grow. The 105 million, we are told, will be 125 million in 2030.
And the national treasures of UP Diliman?
We take in about one of every six who take the UP College Admissions Test. We can’t take more than 15,000 each year, not with the budgets we have.
There’s an even more competitive exam: the UP Kindergarten Admissions Test to get into the UP Integrated School in Diliman. We can take in only 100 each year, and for the last exam there were 1,500 applicants.
Each year I have to send out dozens of letters of regrets to parents appealing for reconsideration for college, for kindergarten… and for preschool, which we also have in UP Diliman. I tried to console one parent, saying they could apply for nursery again next year. And she argued: “But my daughter will be 2 years old by then!”
Expect two million births this year, to parents who recognize the importance of early childhood education. Look at the number of nurseries and preschools that have sprouted even in
middle- and low-income neighborhoods. Parents will pay through their nose to give their kids a fighting chance, sights set on one of the government’s science high schools and, later, UP, or one of the better private or state schools.
After all the efforts to get their students the best education, it takes so little for many of our families to see their dreams shattered. I’m thinking of the never-ending appeals I receive for delayed tuition payments. Many will take out interest-free loans from UP, only to seek deferment on payments.
I think, too, of students going on leave because of family emergencies, usually an illness. Or a pregnancy, and not necessarily the student’s. I have never forgotten one stark letter:
“My mother just had another baby, and she’s 41.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.