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The Burgeoning Philippines: Population Problems

By Edited Aug 10, 2015 1 3

Philippines population map

Populations are defined by the various the benefits as well as the burdens that they bring to their respective nations. The twenty first century is characterised by the great difference between the population problems of increasingly crowded developing countries and their decreasingly crowded developed counterparts. The Philippines is a prime example of this former condition, while countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada or the United States illustrate the latter. Over the past four decades, the belief that the population induced problems can be solved only through massive migration from the developing world to the developed world has been put into practice by millions of emigrating Filipinos. On the surface this method may seem to work well but it is my belief that it is only by dealing with the source of a country’s unique problems that every nation, be it developing or developed, will be able to truly prosper sustainably from its own populace.

Southeast Asian GDP Growth

An island nation covering 299,764 km², virtually the same size as Italy, the Republic of the Philippines shelters the twelfth largest population in the world, a staggering 94 million people, one and a half times as many as Italy. The fertility rate in the Philippines is also high, about 3.2 births per woman, compared to an average of about 1.8 in the United States and 1.6 in the European Union. The total GDP (PPP) amounts to 394 billion dollars (four and a half times lower than Italy’s), while the per capita value rests at 4,111 dollars (nine times lower than Italy’s). Not surprisingly, the Filipino HDI is a middling 0.644, a fact which makes richer countries such as Italy (HDI of 0.874) seem all the more promising. These statistics may seem to make the case for mass migration from the Philippines to the developed world as the easiest way to solve everybody’s problems. After all, by doing so the Philippines controls the number of its population, and more specifically, that of its unemployed young men; today some 9 million Filipinos (one tenth of the population) work abroad. In addition, this wealthier Diaspora ensures plenty of remittances: last year they sent 16 billion dollars home, providing one tenth of the nation’s GDP and improving living conditions. The developed world, on the other hand, receives a large workforce that is increasingly settling into white collar-jobs. Crucially, these emigrants also maintain the stability of their host countries by perpetuating the growth of populations which would otherwise be declining from fertility rates lower than 2.1 births per woman, an almost universal condition in not only the West but in all developed countries, such as Japan, South Korea and Australia.

Southeast Asia import export

However, in reality this approach does nothing to help the Philippines’ weak economy (GDP), poor living conditions (HDI) and, crucially, atrocious political landscape. A self-serving, incompetent and authoritarian governments, though not directly the fault of the population per se, lies at the heart of the Filipino economic troubles. A thoroughly inefficient bureaucracy garnished by convoluted laws and the vested interests of a well connected elite have hindered any real development of industry and is not conducive to reform. In addition, a weak economy also contributes to exacerbated living conditions, and frequently a larger populace which in turn worsens HDI. Neighbouring Thailand gives a sharp counter example to this situation: successive proactive and well intentioned governments have made the country an investment destination, thus fostering jobs and development. Thai GDP is consequently higher: one a half times that of Philippines, despite a population two thirds the size of its island neighbour. Furthermore, in the Philippines the influence of the Catholic Church in a pious community has hindered any efforts at family planning. Also, providing basic education to the flood of young who then leave is wasteful and diverts scarce resources from being spent on the higher education needed to attract high value added employers. The mass migration of Filipinos ensures that the disastrous political and social situations that have taken hold will never change since there will never be the sufficient build-up of discontent young citizens necessary to form protest groups that demand, and have the determination to obtain, favourable reforms. Without a large percentage of unemployed youths in Tunisia’s, Libya’s and Egypt’s populaces, the Arab Spring of 2011 could never have taken place. The same applies to any hope of change in the Philippines. If the policy of mass migration from the developing world to the developed world were to continue unabated, the Philippines will never change and exist only to provide emigrants.

Filipinos Abroad

Another possible solution to both the developing and developed world’s problems is for the latter to hire the specific immigrants it requires from the former. This method, though perhaps more moderate, presents its own specific set of drawbacks.  It must be noted here before more explanations that Filipino Gini Index is a middling 45.8 (Italy’s is 32). Keeping that statistic in consideration, if the recruiting nations target upper class Filipinos their departure would strip a lot of the country’s wealth, while decreasing income inequality (the Gini Index decreases) as those who remain are generally all poorer than those rich emigrants. However if the recruiters target middle class Filipinos their departure would not affect the country’s wealth too much, but on the other hand its wealth inequality would go as (the Gini Index increases) as those who remain are generally either much richer or much poorer than those moderately wealthy emigrants. Evidently, this approach is a clear lose-lose scenario for the Philippines as other provide nothing more than an affluent Diaspora, whatever does happen will not truly help the country. On the other hand, the developed world profits by having the power to select a skilled workforce that suits its particular needs.

Therefore, the Philippines can truly prosper only by retaining its ambitious and skilled citizens that are so anxious to leave. It may seem that any former colony of a European empire is doomed to the third world, but quite a few countries have made impressive progress in the past few decades. Many South American nations are now on the right track, while closer to the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and the aforementioned Thailand are good role models. Surprisingly, perhaps the country that is the best example of what the Philippines could become is located in Eastern Europe. After World War II, Poland was by all intents and purposes occupied by the USSR and forced to exist as one of its Soviet Socialist Republics from 1945 to 1990. During these tumultuous times many Poles left the country but after the fall of communism this Diaspora returned and helped rule effectively, transitioning from the communist system to a market driven economy while avoiding a catastrophe that could have been similar to that which occurred in the Congo once the Belgians departed. By utilising citizens otherwise lost to other countries, the Philippines could achieve similar success through reform.

Poverty in the Philippines

In conclusion, mass migration from the developing world to the developed world or specific emigrant recruitment by the developed world would only condemn the Philippines to serve as a baby mill for the West, never solving its current problems and never acceding to the rank of developed country. The Philippines will only ever fully realise their own country’s capacity for growth and prosperity by reforming both political and social systems. Nations hosting seemingly endless amounts immigrants from the Philippines must also learn to deal with their own declining populaces. Only in this way both worlds can be assured of a sustainable system no longer eternally dependant on each other. Every country should see an advantage in the day when the shining examples presented by the states of Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea are equalled by the Republic of the Philippines.



May 20, 2013 9:47pm
It all boils down to the semi-feudal character of the country's economy. Your observation about mass migration being the elephant in the room is on spot. The Philippine government seems to believe that the only way to push the economy is to engage in labor export and to keep the country open to foreign investments. On top of labor export, the government also considers business process outsourcing its so-called "sunshine industry" and yet cost of running a business in the country defeats this, not to mention, the prevalence of a corrupt bureaucracy.

The truth is that relying solely on international economic realities is the reason for this shortfall. The country is rich in natural resources and its people can be harnessed to become great citizens (not just baby-makers and laborers), and yet there is no national industry to back that up. We (I'm Filipino) are always trying to cope with the demands of the international market which has proven to be not as stable as the government likes to see it.
May 20, 2013 10:36pm
there's also hypocrisy in the current administration bragging about the recent increase of the peso's value vs. the dollar, while also bragging about the OFWs and the BPO industry (both of which will suffer with the reduced value of the dollar).

...and they don't even have any right to brag about the dollar's reduced value in the first place. They had nothing to do with it. The main reason was the quantitative easing on the US' part. The peso didn't really increase in value, the dollar just went down.
May 21, 2013 9:20am
Thanks for the input, I appreciate it
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