EFFORTS to help lift families from poverty comprise the next phase of the Philippines’s population and development efforts as the government prepares to review the country’s 50-year-old population policy, according to the Commission on Population and Development (Popcom).
In a recent televised interview, Popcom Executive Director and Undersecretary for Population and Development Juan Antonio A. Perez III said the country’s population policy was laid down in 1969 during the term of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. The main goal of the policy then was to bring down the country’s fertility rate.
Half a century later, Perez said, the country has attained its desired fertility rate, which meant couples have two children, and households now have two parents and two children. This means the country is now ready to undertake the next phase on its population and development agenda.
“Nagpaplano na sila, responsable na sila. So dapat maiahon sila sa kahirapan. Dahil mataas pa ang level ng poverty both sa household and sa population, umaabot pa ng 26 million ang nabubuhay below the poverty line. So ito ang gusto namin tutukan, gumawa ng mga patakaran ang iba’t-ibang ahensiya para tugunan ang population poverty, ang family level na poverty. [Couples are now using family planning, and they are now responsible. The next step is to lift them from poverty. Poverty is still high at the household and population level since there are still 26 million who are living below the poverty line. This is what we want to focus on, for agencies to address poverty at the family level],” Perez said.
In order to attain this, Perez said, Popcom would focus on continuing the family planning program, which supports the family planning needs of 8 to 9 million Filipinos. This will help maintain the country’s population growth rate at 1 percent annually, making it more manageable to grow the economy and cut poverty.
Youth as procreators
PEREZ also said efforts to promote adolescent health to prevent a renewed increase in teen pregnancies, which still reach 150,000 annually, will also be pursued. He said starting next year, the Popcom and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will provide social protection for teen mothers and their children.
Popcom will also push for the need to increase employment for the youth and women, as well as shift to a living wage as opposed to a minimum wage.
Perez earlier told the BusinessMirror that, ideally, the country should adopt a living wage, which is about P15,000 a month.
However, given the consequences of such a move, one of which is inflation, it may be a low-hanging fruit to adjust minimum wages to at least make them on a par with the poverty threshold, which was pegged at P12,082 a month in the first half of 2021 by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
THE University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) earlier said each Filipino worker is supporting more than two consumers, leaving little room for savings and investment in their incomes. This is a major roadblock in reaping the demographic dividend.
UP demographer Michael del Mundo said the country’s support ratio was at 0.43 before the pandemic. This is below the recommended 0.5 support ratio that each country must have in order to reap the demographic dividend. The demographic dividend, he said, is not only about bringing fertility rates down but also ensuring that the population is able to earn, consume, save and invest.
Based on the study, since the country’s average support ratio is 0.43, which is still below the threshold of 0.5, one effective worker is supporting 2.33 effective consumers or, simply put, 100 effective workers in the country are supporting 233 effective consumers.
The number being supported by each worker takes into consideration the workers and two or more family members who are considered non-productive consumers, or those who could not economically support themselves.
Del Mundo explained that some of the non-productive consumers are those between the ages of 15 and 64 who are not earning a living. In order to reap the demographic dividend, each worker must be able to support himself or herself plus one family member.
Apart from this, Perez said Popcom, an attached agency of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), would also continue its efforts on zero hunger. He said their focus, together with the government’s Zero Hunger Task Force, will be on food-producing families who also experience hunger.
ADDRESSING poverty also means keeping prices low. In a statement issued on Wednesday, Ibon Foundation Inc. said the administration of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. should not play down the severity of high inflation and say that it is beyond government control.
“The new administration needs to admit the breadth of the price crisis to undertake real solutions. However, Marcos disagreeing with the PSA-reported inflation figure as not that high tends to understate the structural as well as contingent factors and gives the government an excuse not to solve these,” Ibon said.
“While expanding fuel subsidies to include tricycles and offering free train rides for students are welcome for the short term, actual subsidy distribution to households, transport workers and producers still has a huge backlog,” it added.
Ibon said oil prices could be lower without the fuel excise tax. The group estimated that the Department of Energy’s (DOE) monitored gasoline price of P98.40 per liter as of end-June, for instance, could be lower at P88.40 if the excise tax on gasoline was removed.
It could reach P76.50 if both the excise tax and the value-added tax (VAT) were to be taken out. As for diesel, the P98-per-liter monitored price can be lowered at P92 if excise taxes were removed and P80.20 if the VAT is also taken out.
Moreover, Ibon said the impact of increasing prices could be mitigated by subsidies, but these are coming in too little too late. The P500 monthly household subsidies for six months promised by the government four months ago will be given to only 12.4 million families.
If finally distributed after four months since promised, the P500 per month subsidy will also just be equivalent to P60 per day or a measly P12 per person for a family of five.
The amount is paltry, Ibon said, noting that in the National Capital Region the minimum wage still barely meets Ibon’s estimated family living wage of P1,106 for five members despite a belated P33 wage hike.