MANILA, PHILIPPINES – The challenge is already formidable considering the country’s relatively large population. It has just gotten more challenging but not daunting for the government as the country officially broke through the 100-million population barrier over the weekend.
A baby girl born early Sunday has officially put the country’s population at 100 million, highlighting the challenge of providing for more people in the already-impoverished nation.
The child, Jennalyn Sentino, was one of 100 babies born in state hospitals all over the archipelago who received the symbolic designation of “100,000,000th baby”.
“This is both an opportunity and a challenge… an opportunity we should take advantage of and a challenge we recognise,” Juan Antonio Perez, executive director of the official Commission on Population, told AFP.
While a growing population means a larger workforce, it also means more dependents in a country where about 25 percent of people are living in poverty, Perez said.
This new generation of Filipinos, needless to say, requires the State to give them a fighting chance at life by laying a strong foundation for total human development.
Thus, consideirng this socio-economic reality, Sen. Grace Poe stressed the need to address child malnutrition, which persists despite the country’s much-touted economic growth.
“Child malnutrition is a stark reality in the Philippines. Many children in the country – most notably those in the countryside and urban poor areas – still do not have enough food to eat,” Poe said during the 8thAnnual Busog, Lusog, Talino Opening Program organized by the Jollibee Group Foundation in partnership with the Provincial Government of Tarlac.
Poe has been pushing for a standard free lunch program for public school children as her main advocacy.[pq]She (Sen. Grace Poe) has filed Senate Bill 79 or the proposed Sustansya sa Batang Pilipino Act which is expected to benefit an estimated six million malnourished children in the country.[/pq]
“Ang pag-asa ng bayan ay malusog na kabataan… Kapag malusog, listo at matalino ang isang bata,”the senator said, citing studies which prove that the effects of malnutrition are often irreversible and that children who grew up underweight and stunted are most likely to end up as adults with inferior intellectual and physical capabilities.
Thus, PopCom chief Perez said the government had to find a way to bring services to the poorest families while also lowering the average number of children that fertile women would bear in their lifetimes.
“We’d like to push the fertility rate down to two children per (woman’s) lifetime,” from the current level of an average of three per woman, he said.
While celebrating the birth of the babies with cake and gifts of clothing and blankets, the government would also monitor each of the designated 100 children over the coming years to see if they are receiving the required health services, Perez added.
Jennalyn’s father, 45-year-old van driver Clemente Sentino, said he was grateful for the government aid, but expressed confidence he could support his child and his partner.
Sentino and the child’s mother, Dailin Cabigayan, 27, are not yet married. “She just happened to get pregnant. But we do have plans to get married,” he told AFP.
“I make just enough to get by but at least my job pays regularly. We will find a way to make it fit,” he said.
Efforts to control the country’s population growth have long been hampered by the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, which counts about 80 percent of the population as followers and which disapproves of all forms of artificial birth control.
It was only in April that the government finally overcame over a decade of Church opposition to implement a reproductive health law providing the poor with birth control services.
Perez said with the law’s implementation, about two to three million women who previously did not have access to family planning now do.
Meanwhile, Father Melvin Castro, head of the commission on family and life of the country’s Catholic bishops, was quoted by a church-run radio station as praising the ballooning population, as there would be more “young workers” to power the economy.
President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman Herminio Coloma said the milestone showed the importance of making “the right investments in people”.
The government had prepared for this by spending more on “human development”, particularly education, he told reporters.
Meanwhile, Klaus Beck, country representative of the United Nations Population Fund, endorsed the government’s new focus on family planning in a statement issued to coincide with the population landmark.
“Governments that are serious about eradicating poverty should also be serious about providing the services, supplies, information that women, men and young people need to exercise their reproductive rights,” he said.
The Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2013 State of Agriculture Reports said that the global cost of malnutrition – in terms of lost productivity and direct health care costs – could account for as much as five percent of the global GDP, which is equivalent to $3.5 trillion a year.
“This means that the Philippines, which per latest census has a population of 97 million (15 million are malnourished per current estimates), is losing up to P2 trillion a year – in terms of lost productivity and health care costs – due to malnutrition,” Poe explained.
“This is why governments all over the world invest huge sums of money not only in the education of their children but in their proper nutrition as well,” she added.
The latest National Nutrition Survey says around 3.3 million children below five years old are underweight and another 3.5 million are below their normal height.
– DFF, Medical Observer