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.”
THE WORLD Bank’s most recent analysis of the Philippine economy released last month was quite underreported, probably since, as is typical of its reports, you have to wrestle through its technocratic language.
The title itself of the study doesn’t make for exciting reading: “The Philippines: Fostering More Inclusive Growth.” It would have been covered better in the press perhaps if it was titled based on its actual topic: “Why so many Filipinos are poor, and will be poor—and their numbers will certainly grow—if little is done by government.” As is typical of World Bank reports, it is a comprehensive analysis with a long list of “to-dos” for government (e.g., more efficient tax collection, more infrastructure), which, I would say, could be a good blueprint for President Aquino’s reform programs. We focus though on two of its major conclusions on why so many Filipinos remain poor.
THE SUCCESSFUL sale last week of the government’s $1 billion Peso Global Bonds was a vote of confidence for President Aquino’s administration, especially considering that it was undertaken less than three months after it assumed power, still a short time to evaluate a regime’s capabilities.
THERE SEEMS to be no doubt that media contributed to the tragedy of the Luneta hostage crisis. They gave ex-policeman Rolando Mendoza the venue and the “loudspeaker” to extort the government, the main goal after all of any hostage-taker.
They gave him the monitoring system to keep tabs on what was going on around him. They even probably puffed his ego, as he was on television, in his well-ironed uniform. That televised scene of his brother being hauled off by the police probably blew his top to a murderous rage.
It would be utterly naïve though to expect that media will comply with certain “guidelines” so that the next time around, they’d behave properly, in the manner the State wants them to.
Media have their own job to do. Ordered to cover a major news event, a journalist’s worry is not over the possible adverse impact of his reportage on people, but whether he’d be scooped by his rivals in some way. Welcome to the real world.
ONE HAS to be, or to have been, at the center of the Philippine state to realize how extremely unwieldy it is, how labyrinthine its structures are. It is like an old, huge, ocean-going ship, which requires much experience to know how to quickly maneuver, out of harm’s way especially.
The central government was not designed to deal with political crisis or security threats, such as mobs pretending to be a People Power movement, terrorists kidnapping scores of people in remote parts of the country—or a disgruntled policeman holding foreign tourists hostage.
WITH THE many, mostly passionate responses, to my Aug. 12 piece (“There are 100 million of us now”), which argued that a full-blown population program is now crucial for our national well-being, a report on recent breakthroughs relevant to the issue, especially as these have gone strangely unreported in the local press, will be useful.
Whether we, the government or the Catholic Church like it or not, these developments could very well overwhelm religious, cultural and even government restrictions on the use of artificial contraceptives in our Catholic-dominated nation. Indeed, humanity’s history is marked by sharp twists when theoretical or religious debates were suddenly resolved by some scientific breakthrough. For instance (and closer to our topic), oral contraceptives, which was introduced to the American public half a century ago, allowed many US Catholic women, even if secretly, to defy Catholic dogma that sex is moral only if undertaken solely for procreation’s sake.
CHECK AGAIN this newspaper’s front-page news the other day: China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second biggest economy. Then, recall what in China is termed as the 4th June Movement, which the Western media calls the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.
The juxtaposition of these two thoughts should pose serious issues in this land of People Power movements, which we must confront. To use a politically neutral terminology, the “Tiananmen Square Turmoil of 1989” could have been the biggest global event in the template of our 1986 People Power Revolution, which had inspired democracy movements all over the world.
WELL, TO be precise, 99,900,177, according to one forecast. That makes our country the 12th most populous nation on earth. Ours is the fourth most crowded place on earth after India, Bangladesh and Japan (on a list that excludes such exceptional cases such as Monaco, Singapore and Malta.)
It is a staggering figure. President Aquino presides over a nation nearly double the number of Filipinos when his mother assumed power in 1986. Since 2008 when the Reproductive Health Bill was filed in Congress, there are 4 million more Filipinos. And while Congress debated on the bill, which would empower Filipinos to choose whether to have children or not, and going by surveys that 36 percent to 44 percent of births in the country are unwanted, there have been as many as 1.8 million unwanted births in the past three years.
Worse, it is the poor who mostly have these unwanted births, as they do not have access to contraceptive information and means. (How can a laborer earning P200 a day afford condoms sold at P30 per pack?) While Congress debated and the Catholic Church threatened fire and brimstone against its supporters, our country produced 1.8 million more poor Filipinos.
MAYBE IT’S because another year is passing this month for me, but I can’t but be awed by some people who are decades older than me: Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, 86, former President Fidel V. Ramos, 84 and Sen. Joker P. Arroyo, 83.
These octogenarians are the living Filipinos I admire most, and to paraphrase a child’s compliment (revised for my phase of life): I’d like to be like them when I grow up (to my 80s). They certainly inspire me to look forward to my coming decades. I hope our new generation of leaders will emulate their patriotism and political wisdom.
WE OFTEN tend to forget that our country is part of the planet, and that the economies of nations—even their culture and politics—are getting closer and closer to each other, affecting each other more and more. The state of our nation will always be affected by the state of the world, just as it had always been.
THE GLOBAL ECONOMY. President Aquino is lucky in that he assumes office in precisely the period when the state of the world economy is looking better. After the slowdown triggered by the global financial crisis that started in the United States in 2007, the global economy is expected to pick up in the first year of the Aquino II presidency.