Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Behind the numbers, barking up the wrong religion

At 2.04% per annum, the Philippine population growth rate is already at its lowest. This number has in fact been steadily decreasing in the decades since the 1960s. (1960-1970: 3.01% p.a.; 1970-1980:2.75% p.a.; 1980-1990:2.35% p.a.; 1990-2000:2.34% p.a.). And yet there are sectors which are patently unhappy with this figure, saying that this rate is still too high. Projecting into the future, we are warned that, at present growth rates, by such-and-such year we will have so many more Filipinos. The thing is that it's easy to perform geometric progressions on a desk calculator; what no one has the courage to do is to say that there should only be X number of Filipinos, and no more. And no one has that courage because no one has that wisdom or foresight, or that right, for that matter.

Rather than panic at such a high growth rate (ostensibly in comparison with other neighboring countries with invariably more progressive views on contraception), we should look deeper into the number. What truly does the 2.04% comprise?

A quick look into the tabular breakdown of the census data shows that in twelve of our seventeen regions, the population growth rates are much lower than the national average. The five regions that posted growth rates higher than the national average were National Capital Region (2.11%), Central Luzon (2.36%), CALABARZON (3.24%), SOCCSKARGEN (2.41%), and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (5.46%).

High population growth is to be expected in the NCR because this is the region of the highest economic growth (32.5% of the Philippine economy in 2006). Economic growth translates to job opportunities, which in turn accounts for migration; remember that migration is also a factor in population growth. Similarly, CALABARZON accounted for 12.3% of the national economy and Central Luzon for 8.4%. NCR, CALABARZON, and Central Luzon are the top three largest regional economies, and also the fastest growing.

The real anomaly in this picture is the ARMM. ARMM's economic performance is middling, and yet it posted a whopping 5.46% growth rate, more than double the national average. What accounts for this miraculous performance? Is it something as miraculous, let's say, as the over 100% voter population growth rate in some Lanao del Sur towns between the election years of 2004 and 2007? (All in all, Lanao del Sur posted a 44% voter population increase between 2004 and 2007.)

But let's say that the Census numbers are indeed correct: what does that say? The biggest population growth rate contributors in the Philippines are not the Catholics but the Muslims! And this is true for the rest of the world: Islam is the fastest growing religion worldwide because of higher birth rates. In 2006, countries with a Muslim majority had an average population growth rate of 1.8% per year (when weighted by percentage Muslim and population size).

In the population growth debate, it's easy to target the Catholic Church because of its vocal stance against contraception. In actual practice, it is Muslim families who make more babies (and Allah bless them for it.)

Those who decry outdated morality as an obstacle to a "sensible" population control policy would do well to direct their protests to the other great medieval religion...if they dare.