‘All population statistics wrong, except mine’

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THAT WAS what the economist Dr. Bernardo Villegas was saying in effect when he claimed, in an article in the Manila Bulletin last Sept. 19, that Philippine “population statistics are being doctored.” He had it reprinted in this newspaper a few days later with the headline, “The Philippine population is not exploding.” His article is a perfect illustration of dogmatism: “If the facts don’t fit my theory, they’re wrong facts.”

It is sad to read a renowned Filipino academic like Villegas stooping to vulgar name-calling by branding those arguing that we have an unbridled population growth as “ignorant,” “hysterical” and “gullible.” I hope he doesn’t use these terms to describe President Aquino, who very boldly has declared his support for an aggressive population-control program.

That we have a population problem is hardly based on ignorance. There is an unmistakable consensus among economists that a major factor why our nation remains poor is its uncontrolled population growth. This was a major point of the World Bank’s report on our country released last month, and reported in this column last week. It was made by a team of 24 economists who came from nearly all continents.

A study released last year by the Asian Development Bank, “Poverty in the Philippines: Causes, Constraints, and Opportunities,” had the same conclusion: “Population growth remains rapid by Asian standards and has decreased slowly compared to other countries over the last three decades.” It advised: “Population management will be critical for an effective poverty-reduction strategy.”

I suggest that Villegas read such studies as Mapa, D. and A. Balisacan (2004), “Quantifying the Impact of Population on Economic Growth and Poverty: The Philippines in an East Asian Context,” and Orbeta, A. (2005), “Poverty, Vulnerability and Family Size: Evidence from the Philippines.”

The 2004 study dramatically demonstrated that if the Philippines had a lower population growth rate at the level of Thailand’s from 1975-2000, the average income per capita in 2000 would have been $4,839, or four times more than the actual $1,030, and 3.6 million Filipinos would have been brought out of poverty. Those are millions of souls who wouldn’t have lived a life of hell on earth if only we had a population management program.

What does Villegas present to counter these conclusions? Well, his “suspicions.” “I had always suspected some doctoring of population data by birth-control pushers,” he wrote.
Worse though, he presents arguments based on such an appalling misreading of data, that I respectfully but strongly suggest—and this is no sarcasm, but Christian advice—that he go to an ophthalmologist. He wrote: “The National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) quotes the Philippine Population Growth Rate for the year 2010 to be at the low level of only 1.82 percent per annum (vs. the 2.36 percent during the census year 2000, which figure is often still used to justify the view that PGR is ‘exploding.’).”

That is totally false. As Socio-economic Planning Secretary Cayetano Paderanga quite patiently explained to him, the 1.82 percent rate is a projection, not an actual figure, and not for 2010. It is the projected average annual rate for the coming years 2010-2015, which Paderanga said should be “interpreted with caution” as these are based on debatable assumptions.

On the other hand, the 2.36 percent figure is not for the year 2000, but the actual annual growth rate between 1995 and 2000, which of course can only lead to the conclusion of an impoverishing population growth. It is shocking that Villegas is totally oblivious of the fact that even a 1.8 percent projected population growth rate for the Philippines for 2010-2015 is really high. The average for East Asia is 0.8 percent.

It gets worse. To claim that Philippine population statistics have been maliciously altered (“doctored,” as he says), Villegas invokes the letter of Dr. Jose Sandejas to the NSCB, who claimed that its 2000 population figure of 76,650,659 was “padded” by 146,582.

There’s no typo there, and Villegas amazingly does not see the arithmetic that the 146,482 addition is an insignificant 0.19 percent of the population figure he questions. (He wrote that 146,482 is 9 percent of 76.6 million!) Furthermore, Paderanga had also explained to Villegas that 146,482 was added to the July 2000 population figure as a projection from the actual May 2000 census survey. This figure was arrived at by an inter-agency committee of the country’s best demographers and statisticians—after six years of study.
For that 146,482 projection, Villegas condemned our country’s official statistical institution which, as he knows, should be without the shadow of a doubt, because it reports the only data economists rely on for any study on the Philippines, as staffed by “doctors of statistics” producing “statistical abacadabra.”

It is intellectually dishonest for Villegas to portray Sandejas as an unbiased scholar questioning the NSCB’s data. Sandejas is, like Villegas, a religious crusader against contraceptive use, which he calls the “work of the devil.” Former Health Secretary Alberto Romualdez in his newspaper column described him as the “Opus Dei functionary who was instrumental in neutralizing the once progressive Population Commission of the Philippines” (in the early 1980s) from continuing its aggressive family planning program.

The Catholic organization Opus Dei, whose Philippine branch Opus Dei numerary, Villegas, was one of the founders of, has been at the vanguard of the Church’s efforts to block an authentic family planning program in our country. Sandejas is the Opus Dei supernumerary at the forefront of the campaign.
Next week: Opus Dei versus the “Work of the devil”

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer