By yearend 105.75 million Filipinos will be inhabiting the country, making it the 13th biggest in the world and the second largest in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations after Indonesia’s more than 260 million.
Per the Population Commission (PopCom), there will be 3.22 births per minute this year and, despite a declining growth rate, the population is now adding an estimated two million people a year, or much higher than the annual increase of 1.6 million from 2010 to 2015.
By 2030 our population is estimated to reach 125.4 million.
The population breached the 100-million mark in 2014 even when the annual growth rate had slowed to 2.1 percent from 2.4 percent in the 1990s. Still, it remained the highest in Asean. (The rate was 1.9 percent in Cambodia, 1.6 percent in Malaysia, 1 percent in Vietnam and Indonesia, and 0.4 percent in Thailand.)
What is dismaying about the latest figure is that the poor account for a major segment of the population, according to PopCom deputy executive director Lolito Tacardon, who noted that women from poor communities were giving birth to an average of five children, compared to an average of two children for women from higher-income brackets.
Experts argue that poverty is a major cause of high population growth; they point to the fact that the poor have much bigger families than those with higher incomes. Latest government data indicate that poverty incidence throughout the country averaged 21.6 percent in 2015. Among the nine sectors surveyed by the government, farmers, fishers and children belonging to poor families (or those with income below the official poverty threshold) posted the highest poverty incidences at 34.3 percent, 34 percent and 31.4 percent, respectively. These consistently registered as the three sectors with the highest poverty incidence in the 2006, 2009 and 2012 official surveys.
Teenage pregnancy, another contributor to population growth, can also be traced to poverty, as many teenage mothers are from poor families with no access to education and public health service. Klaus Beck, country representative of the United Nations Population Fund, has earlier warned that teenage pregnancy remained an urgent concern in the Philippines, the only country in the Asia-Pacific region where the number of teenage mothers rose over the last two decades.
Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority for 2016 showed that one in 10 women of child-bearing age was a teenager, while an earlier study noted that one in 10 Filipino women aged 15 to 19 was already a mother or pregnant with her first child.
PopCom estimated that this year there would be 27.29 million women of reproductive age (or those between 15 and 49 years old). Of these, adolescent girls aged 10 to 19 years old will account for 10.08 million, more than 200,000 of whom are projected to give birth in 2017. The figures for women of reproductive age and adolescent girls continue to be the highest numbers on record, PopCom has pointed out.
At the end of the day, this size of a population can be alarming or not, depending on the capacity of the government and the private sector to provide services to its people and to generate enough jobs to keep people out of poverty.
The Duterte administration seems to be aware of the link between poverty and population explosion, as indicated by the fact that poverty alleviation — or bringing down the poverty rate from 25 percent to about 14 percent at the end of its term in 2022—is at the centerpiece of its governance program.
Of course, the government can in the meantime partner with the private sector in undertaking action on responsible parenthood and family planning despite the temporary restraining order that the Supreme Court continues to impose on certain contraceptives, thus hindering the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law. For instance, the government can easily work on improving the access of Filipinos, especially those in the poor sector, to other family planning services at public and private health centers.
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