Finally, the demographic tipping point | Inquirer Opinion
On The Move

Finally, the demographic tipping point

In the last half-century, the Philippines has faced a daunting challenge: a population explosion unmatched in Southeast Asia. Starting at 36 million in 1968, the population has surged to a staggering 118 million in 2023, straining the country’s resources to their limits. Scientific assessments indicate that the biocapacity required per capita is 1.1 global hectares, while the Philippines operates at 0.6, resulting in a deficit of 0.5 hectares, equivalent to 55 million hectares—a stark illustration of the nation’s overburdened state.

The repercussions of this overpopulation are pervasive, impacting vital sectors such as agriculture (rice, sugar, and fish), as well as essential services like energy, water, housing, health care, education, and infrastructure. While poor governance marked by political dynasties, a lack of long-term strategy, bureaucratic inefficiency, and institutional corruption contribute significantly to these challenges, none are as fundamental as the glaring imbalance between population growth and available resources.

As late as 2019, the usual lament about the burgeoning Philippine population was being repeated by the Philippine Statistical Authority: a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report noted that with some 108 million people in 2019, the Philippines was the 13th most populous country in the world. The population continues to increase, with three babies born per minute. It was also one of the youngest countries, with 52 percent of the total population below 24 years old (30 percent are 10-24 years old).


The UNFPA, the Population Commission (PopCom), and the National Economic and Development Authority were worried that the demographic window of opportunity was closing fast. Can the Philippines reap the demographic dividend? Will we actualize the economic growth potential that results from households having fewer children but more productive young people with better health, better education, and decent jobs who can save and invest?


In 2020, the tune was changing. The PopCom reported that the Philippines recorded its lowest number of births in 34 years, with only 1,516,042 registered births. This was accompanied by a 13-percent decrease in the number of adolescent births, the sharpest decline since 2003. Further, Filipinos using birth control in 2020 totaled 8,085,000, an increase of 6 percent from 2019.

This unexpected, critical turnaround has caught the attention of the world. Dubbed a “population puzzle,” this trend was tackled in a CNA Insider video, “Philippines Successfully Lowers Birth Rate: Will It Stay or Rebound?” Likewise, the roundtable “Pagpipigil sa Pangigigil?” subtitled “PH logs slowest population growth in 75 years” also featured this topic.

The fertility rate in the Philippines has plummeted to 1.9, even below the replacement rate. This decline, remarkable and unexpected, hints at a potential tipping point in the nation’s demographic landscape. The catalyst for this change can be traced to the implementation of the reproductive health law, championed during the tenure of President Benigno Aquino III and effectively executed by the Duterte administration.

This controversial law has since taken deep roots, focusing on reproductive health education and providing operational resources for family planning, enabling Filipinos to take charge of their family size. Despite decades of failed governmental attempts to curb population growth, it appears that the pandemic’s shock, which plunged an additional four million Filipinos into poverty, acted as a wake-up call. The realization that large families perpetuate poverty has driven a significant shift in family planning decisions.

The reproductive health law has become the linchpin in this transformation, empowering families to plan effectively. This shift in mindset is the most crucial emerging trend that holds the promise of lifting Filipinos out of widespread poverty and steering the country toward tangible and sustainable national development. Moreover, this positive change is expected to extend its influence in other “mind shift” areas, such as the wider adoption of science and technology in local problem-solving. Local governments, from cities to barangays, can leverage these technologies to enhance the responsiveness of public services to the needs of their constituents.

The Philippines stands at a crossroads where the unexpected decline in the fertility rate, fueled by the reproductive health law and catalyzed by the shocks of the pandemic, holds the potential to reshape the nation’s trajectory. As Filipinos take control of their family planning decisions, the ripple effects of this demographic shift promise not only to uplift individuals from poverty but also to pave the way for a more sustainable and prosperous future. Some sectors are already warning of a Filipino aging population like Japan’s, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves and savor this demographic tipping point.



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