Population not a problem, but...

SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Valeriano Avila (The Freeman) - July 14, 2020 - 12:00am

Portions of The FREEMAN’s editorial on Saturday read: “In case you weren’t keeping tabs on the calendar, today happens to be World Population Day. And in case you also weren’t keeping tabs on our population, we are now an estimated 109 million Filipinos as of the last census. According to the data from the United Nations, we make up 1.41% of the world’s population and we are also the 13th country with the biggest population.

“Although another study pointed out that our population growth has been on a steady decline since the 1960s, this doesn’t change the fact that our population is no longer proportional to our infrastructure and it’s high time for the government, the different sectors, and families themselves to do something to arrest the way we rapidly multiply.

“The proof that we have a population that is just too big, and that it has been for a while, is all around us. Our roads and highways can barely keep up with the number of driving and riding public. Companies and employers cannot supply enough jobs so people have to go work abroad. Every year we have to deal with an increasing student population that is always running out of classrooms, chairs, desks, and even teachers.

“Some of our hospitals are starting to waitlist patients seeking admission. While this may also be the product of the pandemic, there should at least be some rooms available for non-COVID-19 cases. These days you will be hard-pressed to find one. Need more proof? We are sure you heard of the recent problem involving Cebu City’s cemeteries, or lack thereof. There is almost nowhere to bury the dead here.”

But when Mayor Labella built an emergency cemetery in Guba, DENR stopped it because of the cutting of trees. But in truth, when there is an emergency, normalcy shouldn’t block it.

First of all, if we only had a population of let’s say 30 million people, I could not say if our economy would have gathered enough momentum for growth. But our 100 million plus population allowed many of our people to work with the IT industry and thus, earning good salaries. They are the local tourists who gave the country a great tourism boost. This is not to mention that a good number of Filipinos found jobs in foreign nations, that’s why we call them overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). So things were really going better for the nation where we had a very strong economic growth in the year 2019.

Then the global pandemic called COVID-19 hit not only the Philippines but the entire world. The economy has ground into a stunning halt and since this is a global pandemic, many nations suffered the same problems. It resulted in the sudden return of thousands of our OFWs back to the Philippines as they can no longer find work in their host countries.

As acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua pointed out, the Philippines is bracing for an even worse-than-expected drop in the gross domestic product (GDP) in the second quarter. The country’s chief economist said that the COVID-19 lockdown inflicted more pain into the economy than earlier projected by NEDA. I suspect that NEDA’s outlook came during the time of National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) head Sec. Ernie Pernia, who resigned a month ago. Back then, we didn’t realize that the return to thousands of OFWs would flood our country and create a bigger havoc on the country’s economy.

Sec. Chua further said: “The latest economic data covering the months of April and May showed the impact of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) imposed in Luzon and other parts of the country with high COVID-19 infection since mid-March was more severe than expected.” Those were the months that OFWs started returning home, including the thousands of Filipino seafarers working in cruise ships. The stopping of cruise line vacations further wrecked the world’s tourism economy.

In April alone, 7.3 million Filipinos were jobless, jacking up the unemployment rate to a 15-year high of 17.7 percent and I would like to believe the numbers have grown as the lockdown continued in the months of May, June and July. So what we really need right now is to open up the economy to gradually open up under less-restrictive quarantine. It is now up to the IATF to consider the shift to a GCQ as soon as possible, regardless of the medical reports show a high concentration of COVID-19 patients. It is time they consider the importance of opening the economy.

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For email responses to this article, write to vsbobita@mozcom.com  or vsbobita@gmail.com  . His columns can be accessed through www.philstar.com .

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