Sunday, April 23, 2017
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The Chosen People

EVERY NOW and then I find myself invited by various groups—civic, business, or academic—to give talks or briefings on the state of the Philippine economy. More often than not, particularly during the last decade or so, these talks would inevitably be burdened with bad economic news rather than brightened by tidings of joyful ones. Even with the usual “hope springs eternal” or the wistful stock praise of the “resilience of the Filipino” to end such talks on a positive note, the overall picture could not shake the reality from the minds of the audiences that things weren’t going as well as they should.

I would thus end some of these briefings with a rhetorical question, “I suppose you are now all sufficiently depressed?” and proceed with the somewhat tongue-in-cheek statement that there was really nothing to worry about since little of what I had said during the talk had to do with the “real” economic strategy of the Philippines. Noticing the audiences’ immediate surprised and quizzical look, I would then proceed to say that the “real economic strategy of the Philippines is to populate the rest of the world”—and we would all have a good laugh to lighten things up.

But is this really just a laughing matter? Maybe, not entirely.

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Consider that, according to some researches, “in order for a culture to maintain itself for more than 25 years, there must be a fertility rate of 2.11 children per family. With anything less, the culture will decline. Historically, no culture has ever reversed a 1.9 fertility rate.”

The 2011 fertility rate estimate for Spain is 1.47, Italy 1.39, UK 1.91, France 1.96 and Germany 1.41, to name a select few. The average fertility rate of all Western Europe is about 1.5. In short, these nations are either on are perilously close to what population experts call an irreversible demographic decline. To put it more starkly, for example, by 2020 (or just nine years from now) more than half of all births in a country like, say, the Netherlands (1.66 fertility rate) will be of non-European Dutch origin. Furthermore, with the birth rate dropping below replacement, the population of such countries ages and the problems facing an aging population are numerous and startling enough to deserve a separate treatise.

Western Europe is not the only one experiencing this phenomenon. The US fertility rate is, at 2.0, just below replacement and Japan is at a worrisome level of 1.2. For Japan, this means a population decline of about 60 million in the next 30 years and an aging population that will have one out of every five Japanese at least 70 years old by 2020.

However, with the exception of Japan, the overall populations of the above-mentioned countries are not declining. The overwhelming reason for that is immigration (to which Japan is by comparison with others, still somewhat resistant). Guess who comprise one of the larger immigrant populations. Yes, dear—Filipinos!

With a 2011 fertility rate of 3.2, we are nowhere close to demographic doomsday. And we all know that the Philippines’ main industry is the production and export of Filipinos. Estimates of the number of Filipinos overseas come close to 10 million, not counting TNTs (Tago nang Tago) or illegal immigrants. This is more than the population of Sweden. Add to this the fact that about 3,800 Filipinos daily or about 1.4 million yearly leave as OFWs and you’ll know why many get the sense that Filipinos are everywhere. Great masses of Filipinos cover the entire park of Central Hong Kong and the famed Spanish steps in Rome every Sunday. About 30 percent of all seafaring ships’ manpower are Filipino seamen.

Even I sensed this omnipresence early on when, as a then World Bank loan officer (in 1978) on a mission visit to Yemen, a country I knew little about at the time, I learned to my surprise that the power plants, airport, hospitals and hotels were run by Filipinos. A year later, during a visit to Oman, I was invited to dinner by a minister who proudly asked his two kids to recite English poems. They did—with an Ilonggo accent! Their “nanny” was from Aklan and she passed on to them not only the accent but also appreciation of aswangs and adobo. Well, you know the saying, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”—and there are thousands of cradles worldwide being rocked by Filipino hands.

Now we have begun to creep into the world’s bloodlines. The 2010 World Series winning pitcher Tim Lincecum, 2011 best supporting actress Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld, head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat, and R&B star Bruno Mars are all Fil-Ams. It may only be a matter of time before nearly every race on earth has some Filipino blood.

The icing on the cake is that just about every major Catholic church, particularly in predominantly Christian Europe, Hong Kong and the Middle East would be almost empty without devout Filipinos. Perhaps, after several more years of wandering in our self-inflicted political-economic desert, we may yet emerge to find ourselves as actually, The Chosen People.

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Roberto F. de Ocampo is a former finance secretary and was Finance Minister of the Year in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

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