When research is ignored
When a foreign colleague wrote me, several weeks ago, asking for stories to help her write a book on the impact of quality-of-life research on policy-making, I mused to myself that I could tell her much more about the non-impact of research.
I put off responding for a while, because I wanted to cite instances where research was given a chance to do some good—and I did find some examples, and passed them on—but now the latest calamity that has just befallen Luzon reminds me of what ultimately became my worst frustration: the 1976-78 study on Population, Resources, Environment and the Philippine Future (PREPF).
The PREPF study took 1975 as baseline, and made projections for the year 2000, which in those days seemed so very far away. It was called “perspective planning,” which was fashionable in many countries.
PREPF was done by a three-institution consortium: the Development Academy of the Philippines, the UP School of Economics, and the UP Population Institute. I headed the DAP and UPSE teams; National Scientist Mercedes Concepcion was the UPPI leader. PREPF had funding from the Population Center Foundation, the National Science Development Board, the National Economic and Development Authority, and the Commission on Population.
It had dozens of social scientists, whose 111 technical papers and notes dealt with various dimensions of the population, natural resources and energy, water and air adequacy, health and nutrition, education, and equitable sharing of income. The 222-page book “Probing Our Futures: The Philippines 2000 A.D.,” jointly published by DAP, UPSE, and UPPI in 1980, is a summary.
The main policy message of PREPF was quite simple: Slow down the growth of the population, before it overwhelms the country’s resources and environment. The researchers delved, not into how to control the population, but into accurately quantifying and exposing the dire consequences of excessive numbers of people.
We all knew “the rule of 69”: any number growing at a compound annual rate of R percent will double in T = 69/R years. How convenient it was for us that the population growth rate was then close to 3 percent per year, because 69 divided by 3 is exactly equal to 23 years.
Simply supplying such technical data was, unfortunately, not enough to spur the government and the various concerned public institutions to take the policy actions leading to a serious program of family planning. And so, to this day, the Philippines still has too many people, too few trees, and too little of all the other natural, and unrenewable, resources that it needs.
Part of the problem was, and still is, politicians’ fear of antagonizing the Catholic Church; it is saddening that there are Filipinos who cultivate this fear. SWS has done so many opinion polls, into the 21st century, showing the non-existence of a Catholic vote at either national or local level. With these polls, family planning advocates have been hoping to weaken the resistance to reforms allowing government health facilities to provide family planning services to the people. This is an ongoing battle.
In 1975, the Philippines with 44 million people was the 18th most populous country in the world; and Thailand, close behind with 43 million, was the 19th. Now, in 2020, 45 years later, the Philippines with 110 million has risen to the rank of 13th in the world, while Thailand with only 70 million is the 20th. The economic pressure on the Philippines relative to Thailand is obviously tremendous.
Thailand is appropriately grateful to its famous family planning activist, Mr. Mechai Viravaidya, affectionately known as “Mr. Condom,” for his great service to the country. Where are the Filipino Mechais?
Or will Filipinos only obey a draconian one-child policy patterned after that of the leader’s favorite friend?