The Explainer: Babies as bounty or burden

That was a scene from , where . A great big fight is taking place all over the world, and it has to do with population. It’s not about having fewer babies –everyone, actually, seems to agree that what matters is having only as many babies as parents can afford, in terms of providing a good quality of life for their children.

The fight seems to be about how governments and societies go about encouraging families to be responsible about the number of children they have. And as with all big fights, this disagreement is playing out in our political life.

Tonight: Population, planning, information and you.

I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.


I. Six billion and counting


Just last Saturday, a rally took place in Cebu City. It was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Cebu, and the placards held up by its participants speak for themselves.

No to DEATHS, they said. This is an acronym which means no to divorce, euthanasia, abortion, total population control, homosexual unions, and sex education.

Here’s another view of the acronym.

The rallyists, in particular, oppose a bill in Congress that aims to arrive at a Reproductive Health Act. Besides opposing contraception,

Gay marriage,

The rallyists sent out this powerful message,

And this one.

Now you might be curious why this rally took place in Cebu, last Saturday, when Congress is on vacation.

The rally last Saturday was in direct response to an event commemorated world wide, last Friday:

World Population Day, which took place on July 11. This was the day, forty years ago, when world leaders proclaimed that individuals have a basic human right to determine, freely and responsibly, the number and timing of their children.

Blogger Parallel Universes also pointed out that July 11 marked another anniversary: on July 11, 1987, Matej Gaspar was born in Yugoslavia and became the five billionth person residing in Planet Earth.

Right now, of course, the world population’s a billion more than it was in 1987. Current estimates put our global population at 6,708,700,100 men women and children all sharing the planet.

Some places are more crowded than others.

Here’s the population density of the world, as illustrated in a Wikipedia chart:

This other map, puts our own country in global perspective.

In orange are the top 15 most populous countries in the world, and notice our own country’s in orange:ölkerungsreichsten_Staaten.png


You’ll also see that there are more populous countries in our part of the world, than in any other.

If you look at population growth per continent over time, you’ll see how some continents, like Europe, have a declining population while others, such as Asia, how growing populations:

The good news, as another Wikipedia chart shows, is that population growth has been slowing down, since the 1960s:

Once in a while, something comes along that ties all these facts together.

Last March, in Harper’s Magazine, Steven Soll reviewed some books on economics, growth, and the environment, and tried to put it all in historical context:

We will likely look back at the period between 1600 and 2050 as the Era of Expansion. The first date marks the beginning of surplus agriculture in England, when its population began to climb out of famine, when agrarian people all over the world entered into a period of wildfire frontier settlement, and when capitalism appeared. The second date marks the year when present trends in consumption will reach a level equal to double the earth’s capacity, requiring a second planet. The U.N. projects that the number of humans will increase by 36 percent between now and 2050, to around 9 billion. Rising population will offset any savings from improved efficiency and any reduction in per capta consumption.

-Steven Soll, “Fear of fallowing: The specter of a no-growth world,” Harper’s Magazine, March 2008

Let’s step back from this grim but grand vista of world history, and look at our present day reality. You know that our population’s increasing all the time. You may have heard our population’s increased tenfold just within the 20th Century, from 7 million at the turn of the century to 70 million in the 1980s and hitting roughly 90 million now.

And more and more of us are squeezing into the same number of islands, and once lush vistas have become urban sprawl. And over and over again, you and I hear this is awful and others say, never fear, God will provide.

Here enters a clash of convictions. Some think our population growth rate’s reached crisis proportions; others, like the Cebu protesters last Saturday, think the problem is Social Justice, that if we only shared things better, there would be plenty for everybody, even if we continue to multiply.

Let’s look at some facts and figures when we return.


II. More people than jobs


That was a scene from, where .

Two things are certain, right now. There are more of us than ever before, and times are tougher than they’ve been for some time.

Times being tough, blogger The Unlawyer says groceries have taken to instituting strict security measures:

For example, one major Philippine supermarket chain mounts surveillance cameras on top of every check-out lane and cashier station. On top of that, security guards mount patrols outside the check out lanes, not only to deter employee theft but also to prevent outside thieves from carting off the customers’ grocery bags. July 12, 2008

What’s relevant to our topic for today, is what The Unlawyer says is the number one item stolen from supermarket shelves:

I’ve mentioned it before: infant formula ranks as the number one item stolen from Philippine supermarket shelves. This problem must have been very acute for at least one eastern Metro Manila supermarket that it has taken to displaying and selling all of its baby milk products in a special enclosure inside the premises, complete with its own check out counter. July 12, 2008

Here you have the problem of people being blessed with babies, but having to engage in shoplifting to feed their babies.

And if, God willing, those babies grow up, they will want to work –but with more and more babies being born, can their elders provide jobs for them?

The PCIJ recently published an entry on its blog about our economic growth being a peculiar kind –the kind that doesn’t really create jobs.

We’ve borrowed some charts from the PCIJ report, to give you a quick rundown of the points the report wanted to make.

First of all, here’s a snapshot of those who have jobs, at least as of 2007:


And a focus on those who, euphemistically, belong to “informal sectors”:


Now what do these snapshots tell us? Well, according to the PCIJ Report,

…there are four million Filipinos working without pay as of 2007. They constitute 12 percent of the employed. The number of Filipinos working at less than 40 hours a week is 12.3 million (36.5 percent).


The underemployed, on the other hand, are estimated to be 6.7 million (37.4 percent) and the self-employed, 10.6 million (31.5 percent).

According to DOLE, workers in the informal sector have also been on the rise. At 14.7 million in 2006, they make up 45 percent of the total number of employed.

Put together, and according to official statistics, the number of jobs created annually, meets only about half the number of new jobs we actually need to create to bring down poverty significantly:


And finally, a snapshot of poverty in our country:


Says the PCIJ:

While it is true that unemployment rate went down to single digit in 2006, at 7.9 percent from 11.8 percent in 2004, Ofreneo explained that this is mainly because the National Statistics Office (NSO) switched to the International Labor Organization (ILO) definition of an unemployed starting in 2005.

We mentioned this peculiarity previously, on this show. Former NEDA chief Cielito Habito pointed out that joblessness statistics improved, because government took people who’d given up on looking for work, out of its calculations.

But all of these facts and figures are meaningless, if proponents of family planning and population control, are going to be met by protesters calling for more children to be born.

So let’s see if faith and reason can’t be reconciled. But in the meantime, as we always do, here are two books that you might find both helpful and enjoyable.

From Jared Diamond, the author of “Guns, Germs, and Steel”, comes the more recent “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” which as its title suggests, looks at how human settlements, from Vikings in Greenland to present-day Rwanda, have literally eaten themselves out of house and home.

And this book, on what would happen to the earth, if humanity disappeared overnight: it’s “The World Without Us,” by Alan Weisman. You always hear how the one living thing that will outlast us is the cockroach: well, Weisman says that isn’t true. Roaches are so dependent on human habitations that if we disappeared, they’d freeze and starve to death!

When we return, we’ll meet a group of population control advocates, and ask them how they’d answer the Cebu protesters.


My view


Winston Churchill once said there’s no better investment than putting milk into babies. He didn’t say, though, that the best investment was making babies.

You read the grisly stories in the papers: how an aborted fetus was found in Malacanang; or how a monsignor in a church in Manila was shocked to find a fetus inside a jar hidden in a basket of fruits offered during the Sunday morning Mass; or how a six month old fetus was found in a mayonnaise jar in Binondo.

You may have heard that 400,000 abortions –all of them illegal, under our Constitution- take place every year.

And you may have even considered that a woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy, should be allowed to have one. But then you realize your faith tells you that’s wrong.

Well, faith’s a whole package, and it includes prohibitions on contraception, which others might tell you, if widely available, would prevent abortions in the first place.

Personally what I don’t understand, is how abortion and contraception, prohibited by the hierarchy, should also include a prohibition on sex education.

Perhaps even the clergy are confused? Who knows: but in a democratic society, one thing’s sure. Not everyone’s a Catholic, and so if Catholic doctrine’s to become the policy of our state, we’ll all have to fight it out, at the ballot box, and in the halls of Congress.




Manuel L. Quezon III.

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