‘A La Juventud Filipina’

Allow me to quote from Jose Rizal’s 1879 prize-winning work “A La Juventud Filipina” (To the Filipino Youth): “bella esperanza de la Patria mia” (fair hope of my fatherland). I consider this very relevant to the intransigent demand from lawmakers and other protagonists for contraception (and, eventually, abortion). The Philippines has been the target of a campaign to “manage population” as a national policy.

Population explosion, as an argument for such a policy, is quite simply a fallacy. The Philippines is not overpopulated, though, admittedly, there is concentration of people in urban centers that are crowded with squatters, or to use the politically correct euphemism, informal settlers. The obvious solution is to decongest the urban centers by making the rural and outlying areas more progressive with opportunities to make a living. This, however, is not the topic of this article.

As Rizal had already outlined that the youth is the hope of our country, I shall discuss the “demographic dividend”, which might be seen as a fresh reason for looking at fertility dynamics. Simply stated, the demographic dividend occurs when changes in birth rate result in a revised age distribution as for instance, a falling birth rate makes for a smaller population at young ages and for relatively more people in the adult age groups—who comprise the productive labor force. Such a situation improves the ratio of productive workers to child dependents in the population, and for a period of time, makes for faster economic growth and fewer burdens on families. In time, however, the age distribution changes again, as the large adult population moves into the older, less productive age brackets and is replaced by the smaller cohorts born during the fertility decline. When this occurs, the dependency ratio rises again, this time, involving the need to care for the elderly, rather than the need to care for the young.

Thus one could propose that the government consider the demographic dividend a window of opportunity in its development as a nation. As faster rates of economic growth at the start occur when fertility rates decline, one cannot ignore the fact that, eventually, the dependent group reaches the productive labor force. With fertility rates continuing to fall and the older generations having shorter life expectations, this demographic shift initiates the demographic dividend.

This country’s large population of young workers with purchasing power provides the economy with the demographic dividends that are good for consumption and investments. This period in our country’s economic history, where a prominent portion of the population is of working age, results in greater purchasing power that can drive consumption, savings and investment.

The Philippines should take advantage of the opportunity to enhance the key features of the economic life cycle. Policies should be put in place to take advantage of the demographic dividend, and ensure that they harness the low window of opportunity that we have and plan while our population is still young.

During the course of the demographic dividend, four mechanisms that will benefit society may be delivered through: (1) increased labor supply—this benefit depends on the ability of the economy to absorb and productively employ the increased labor supply; (2) increase in savings—as the number of dependents fall, families can save more, and the increase in national savings rate increases the stock of capital and leads to higher productivity as capital in invested; (3) human capital—decreases in fertility rates result in fewer economic pressures at home, allowing parents to invest more resources per child, thus, leading to better health and educational outcomes, and finally; (4) increased domestic demand brought about by increasing GDP per capita.

Harking back to the prophetic words of Jose Rizal, our youth is the fair hope of our nation. Let us, therefore, not be in a hurry to kill off our young, who, while at first are dependents, eventually grow to be our productive workers even as the older generation declines.

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