State support to families may allow PHL to reap demographic dividend

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By Cai U. Ordinario & Jovee Marie N. De la Cruz

PHILIPPINE society’s foundation is built on the “F” word: Family That’s what the 1987 Constitution says so.

The highest law of the land states that the government shall strengthen the Filipino family’s solidarity and actively promote its total development.

Still, Filipinos, more so the country’s lawmakers, admit that families are now facing several challenges such as responsible parenthood, increasing number of broken families, communication, balancing work, school and family life amid technological advancement.

Joanna Sanchez, 30, and Arnold Sanchez, 35, shared with the BusinessMirror that if given a chance to redo one thing, they would carefully plan the number of their children.

They were married for more than 10 years before they separated two years ago. They have four children.

“Mahirap pala talaga magkaroon ng sunod-sunod na anak ng walang plano, napaka-importante ng pagpa-plano [It’s really difficult to have children in succession and without any plan; planning is very important],” said the former housewife.

Rodolfo Mendoza (not his real name), who was then working as a service crew, said he and his wife separated because of financial challenges.

“Lumalaki ang mga bata kaya nahihirapan ako magbigay ng sapat. Naaawa ako sa mga anak ko pero wala na akong magagawa,” he said. “Mas mahirap kung magsasama pa kami mag-asawa na halos araw-araw ay nag-aaway dahil sa problema sa pera [It’s getting difficult to meet the needs of my children as they grow. I pity them but I can’t do anything. It’s also difficult for me and my wife to stay together because we always end up fighting about money].”

First time

DESPITE the challenges, there is a window of opportunity that opened five years ago when the country’s population breached the 100-million mark for the first time. Experts call this “demographic dividend” and they believe government support to families would help the country reap this dividend.

The demographic dividend window opened in 2015, the time when the median age in the Philippines is very young, at 24 years old. This means half of the population is below 24 years old and the other half is above 24 years old. This was based on the 2015 Census of Population, which estimated that there were 100.98 million Filipinos.

Having a young population is one of three conditions to set in motion the country’s reaping of the demographic dividend. The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) explained that the demographic dividend is the economic growth experienced by a country as a result of the change in the country’s population structure.

The Neda said this is the product of the demographic transition, which is characterized by markedly declining mortality and fertility rates, resulting in the shrinking of the dependent age (0-14) group and expanding of the workforce (ages 15-64).

A ‘double whammy’

THIS transition, Neda explained, leads to steadily rising savings and investment rates and, hence, faster economic growth and improved living standards. The Neda said demographic transition has three phases.

The first is marked by an initial decline in infant mortality (death rate), with fertility rate remaining high. The second phase happens when the share of working-age population becomes large relative to the young dependent ages and the older population or 65 years and above. The third phase is increasing the number of productive working-age population at its highest level that will benefit the country’s economic growth.

In terms of timelines, for the Philippines, this means entering the first phase of the transition at the earliest in 2022 but no later than 2025. Under business as usual, the Commission on Population and Development (Popcom) Executive Director Juan Antonio Perez III told the BusinessMirror it means reaching the demographic transition at 2035—the same time when the population of the country will start to age.

Perez said this will be a “double whammy” since the country will not only need to contend with higher fertility rates, it also has to invest heavily in long-term care for an aging population. This is why Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia is keen on doubling reproductive health efforts in the next 3.5 years.

“It’s a double whammy that we will have high fertility, higher need for long-term care. So we want to avoid that, push this dividend to be triggered by 2022 or 2025. That’s why Secretary Pernia is very concerned that this window is not going to be open all the time,” Perez said in an interview. “Now is the time to seize the day.”

More planning

PERNIA told reporters late February the government wants to usher in the “Golden Age of Population and Development” in the next three-and-a-half years. This means that the target is to bring down population growth rate to 1 percent or as close to zero from the current 1.7 percent, as well as total fertility rate (TFR) to 2 or the replacement rate from the current 2.7 percent in the next 3.5 years.

These are part of efforts to “vigorously implement” the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Law and the Duterte administration’s Zero-to-10 point agenda that included the RPRH Law.

Efforts to boost population and development were also behind the President’s decision to revert the Popcom to the Neda to emphasize that reproductive health is not just a health measure but also an effort to address population issues.

“When Filipinos are able to plan their families through easy access to sexual and reproductive health services, we will have healthier children, empowered women, prosperous families who are able to save and invest in their children more, a robust and young workforce, and a productive society—thus boosting economic output and employment generation,” Pernia said.

Instituting measures

FOR some lawmakers, additional laws are needed to support the family. For one, Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo believes that when Filipino families are weak, the society begins to break down.

Castelo said that is why he filed House Bill 7002, or An Act Upholding the Sanctity of Family Life, which prompts the government to establish all manners of intervention with the end in view of safeguarding the “sacredness and inviolability” of the family.

Castelo’s bill said “the government shall henceforth institute measures including but not limited to the periodic family forums, dialogues and/or counseling, family-oriented activities promoting health relationships and reasonable financial aid to support such activities.

“The family is the basic unit of society. No less that the Almighty God established it from the very beginning. The government should institute every measure to safeguard the sanctity of family life and work vigorously against its dissolution. When families are strong, society is strong,” he said.

“Hence, no trial, trouble or tribulation should undermine the family. Their foundation should be the kind that withstands all kinds of hardship and adversity. And the government should establish all kinds of intervention in order to uphold the sacredness and inviolability of the family,” Castelo added.

The lawmaker said couples should work together and exhaust all remedies to keep their marriage.

“Children should exercise at all times unconditional love and respect for their parents,” Castelo said. “The family should enjoy each other’s company and spend a lot of time doing things together. This promotes a good family life.”

In order to achieve this, he said there should be, among others, established in the community periodic family forums/dialogues and/or counseling to prevent the breakdown of the family and nurture a healthy and harmonious life.

Legislating NFD

FOR his part, Cebu Rep. Rodrigo A. Abellanosa believes celebrating a National Family Day (NFD) will help strengthen Filipino families.

Abellanosa said he is pushing for the passage of House Bill 4845 declaring February 14 of every year to be the NFD. He explained that the NFD shall celebrate and strengthen the family unit’s contributions to the nation-building and shall aim to remind Filipinos of its rights, capabilities and responsibilities.

“February 14 has traditionally been celebrated as a day of love,” he said. “This bill seeks to expand the definition of love from more than just romantic love, into celebrating family love by declaring February 14 of every year as a special working holiday to be known as the National Family Day.”

“To honor and to instill in our people the importance of nurturing the most basic unit of the community, the family, the 14th of February is hereby declared as a special working holiday to be known as the National Family Day,” Abellanosa added.

Under the bill, all government offices, private entities and academic institutions are enjoined to extend their full support through the conduct of programs and activities to pay tribute to the family as the building block of a nation.

The bill said corresponding government agencies including, but not limited to, the Department of Education, Commission of Higher and Technical Education, Department of the Interior and Local Government and the local government units shall prepare and adopt necessary policies for the observance of the NFD and to ensure the implementation of this act.

Threats to family–Atienza

AS more couples are seeking legal ways to dissolve their union, Buhay Rep. Lito L. Atienza Jr. said, “Love should be the foundation of marriage and family.”

Atienza believes divorce and the dissolution of marriage bill is shaking that foundation.

“[There are] threats against the Filipino family; the difficulty of maintaining marriage comes from the Western culture primarily not the Filipino. Filipinos, basically, are very conscious on the need to protect the family through a solid marriage,” he said. “But because of movies, Internet, and the Western culture [we’re weakening the Filipino family].”

In March last year, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading House Bill 7303, or the proposed “Act Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage In the Philippines.”

The bill seeks to give the opportunity to spouses in irremediably failed marriages to secure absolute divorce under limited grounds, as well as judicial procedures to end dysfunction of a long-broken marriage.

Authors of the bill said the divorce bill will save children from the pain, stress and agony consequent to their parents’ constant marital clashes; and grant the divorced spouses the right to marry again for another chance to achieve marital bliss.

Moreover, Atienza said the continuing attempt to legalize abortion will be a big threat to the Filipino family.

“The government has to wake up to the reality that they cannot continue leading us toward [the destruction] of families. Even the US declared we have to bring back prayers in the family; we have to now strengthen the family,” he said.

“Even America is realizing that [the destruction] of American family is one of the main causes of the problems today in the economy, the peace and order, security and safety of the people. [The] breakdown of marriage and family is one of the main reasons  [we have] these problems. So now they want to go back and strengthen the American family,” Atienza added.

According to him, Congress should focus on measures strengthening Filipino families and reject all the anti-family bills, including divorce.

Resisting divorce

PROTECTING the dignity and sanctity of family remains a priority agenda of the Church now more than ever, especially amid pending government policies the Catholic institution believes is against it.

During the recently concluded three-day Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (ECFL) National Conference in Cebu, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) public affairs executive secretary Jerome R. Secillano said they are wary of attempts of lawmakers to push for the divorce bill.

However, despite their opposition to the proposal during its hearings at the House of Representatives, it was still favored by many lawmakers.

“We made efforts to somehow delay the plan to make this bill into law. But to no avail,” Secillano said. “The only reason it still did not make it to being a law is [it] still has yet to reach the [bicameral committee].”

He noted it will be up to the laity to organize to influence lawmakers so that they reconsider their support for the divorce bill. 

“We need to make noise and we need to organize ourselves,” Secillano said. “It could not be the clergy since they will be accused of engaging in partisan politics.”

The concern of the Church on the welfare of family extends to their daily struggle, particularly poverty.

“The Church, of course, acknowledges such hardships,” Secillano said. “She is aware of the poverty afflicting many Filipino families.”

He noted their interventions to such families include providing them livelihood and building houses for them, especially for those affected by calamities, and scholarships.

Secillano said the Church also runs institutions that provide shelter to single and battered mothers, and orphaned children so they could become productive members of society.

Potentials for women

PERNIA believes the Philippines reaping “the demographic dividend will not only contribute to poverty reduction, but also help, build and then strengthen our science and technology innovation ecosystem as we work toward being a globally competitive knowledge economy,” he added.

Perez said this will require a budget of P11.4 billion in the next 3.5 years or an annual budget of P1 billion to P2 billion. He said this will enable the government to increase the number of women using modern contraceptive methods to 11 million from the current 6.5 million by 2022.

For the most part, efforts to reduce TFR and slow population growth rates have been successful. Perez said for one that the average family size based on the latest demographic survey of 2015 was at 4.3, significantly lower than the 5.2 recorded in 2013.

This is a significant decline of almost 1 child and could be accredited to not only the increase in the use of contraceptives in rural areas at 44 percent, but also the increase in the population of working women in urban areas. The contraceptives use in urban areas was only around 30 percent but this is because employment acts as a natural contraceptive.

Perez said education and employment are important because getting pregnant will not allow women to “get the full benefits” of an education and continue with their careers—even for a short period of time.

“I would attribute much of it to women choosing to have fewer children,” Perez said. “If women are more educated, they choose to have fewer children, if you have more employment opportunity, they will also choose to have fewer children.”

With additional reports by Samuel Medenilla