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Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas is a Filipino writer, thinker and economist. He was a member of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the Philippine Constitution under the government of President Corazon Aquino. He has been an advisor of the recent Philippine Presidents. As of 2013 he was a professor and senior vice-president at the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P), the Chairman of the Center for Research and Communication, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Makati Business Club, and visiting professor at IES.
Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in the Philippines was 6 babies per fertile woman in 1975. Without any aggressive program for birth control over the last 30 years, that rate has fallen to 3.1 babies today through such natural trends as later marriages, education of women, urbanization and industrialization. In another thirty years, that rate will fall below replacement of 2.1 babies per fertile woman. The birth controllers say that there is nothing to worry about because even at below replacement, population will continue to grow because of a “growth momentum” that can last for decades. What these RH Bill proponents do not tell us is that any growth in population that occurs after the TFR drops below fertility rate will be in the number of those over 65, i.e. people will be living longer and longer. Labor force, however, will start to shrink with the consequent financial burden on a economy that has to support more and more retired people with less and less productive workers.
The cases of Thailand and China are very instructive. Both still have growing populations but are already suffering from serious labor shortages because of aging. Both are far from being developed countries but are already undergoing the demographic pains of such highly developed countries as Japan and Singapore. A recent report from Digital Media (May 25, 2013) estimates that Thailand is already lacking 1.6 million workers despite having a population of 65 million. The following was datelined Bangkok: “Thailand’s current labour shortage will become more severe with two government mega projects needing at least 530,000 more workers, a senior Thai official said today. Pravit Khingpol, Department of Employment director general, said the country will be short by 1.6 million persons in the labour force and foreign workers will have to be hired. The planned Bt 2 trillion in infrastructure development projects will need at least 450,00 workers and the Bt 350 billion water management project another 80,000 labourers, he said. The two major projects will require workers in five fields–management at 2 per cent, engineering 5 per cent, supervisors and skilled labour 20 per cent, semi-skilled labour 36 per cent and non-skilled labour 37 per cent…the Labour Department will import workers form Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia to accommodate the private sector while additional workers will be hired from other countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam. The migrant workers will mostly work in the construction and fisheries industries.”
In over just one generation of aggressive birth control programs, Thailand is already suffering from labor shortages. It is clear that the so-called growth momentum does not exist and it would be against sustainable development for the Philippines to aggressively promote birth control, especially among the low-income households who are the only ones still not affected by a contraceptive mentality. The same thing can be affirmed of China that implemented, sometimes brutally, a one-child policy. In no time at all (again no growth momentum), China’s youth labor supply has already started to decline. A report published by Silk Road Associates entitled “The End of Made-in China,” describes the labor shortage in China: “It was once popular to talk of China’s endless supply of cheap labour. Not anymore. Labor supply has shrunk dramatically over the past decade. China’s youth demographic is expected to decline by 44 million over the next 10 years, according to the United Naiton’s population projection division. Indeed, the average Chinese national is 35-year-old, compared to the average Cambodian (23 years) and average Bangladeshi (24 years). (The equivalent figure in the Philippines is 23 years). The result is massive labor shortages. Officials in the southern Pearl River Delta, for instance, estimate the region suffers a shortfall of 600,000 workers. Or take the example of a major manufacturer of butane lighters who recenly remarked to us that in spite of automating part of the factory floor and cutting his employee numbers in half, the average of his staff has gone from 20 years to 30 years, and now 50 years, as he struggles to find enough labor.”
Needless to say these labor shortages in Thailand and China have pushed their wages upwards. Average monthly wages in China, according to the International Labor Organization (March 2012) are now at $656 while that in Thailand are at $489 as compared to $279 in the Philippines and $295 in India. No wonder there is an upsurge of Japanese and Korean manufacturing enterprises moving to the Philippines, as reported by Director General Lilia de Lima of the Philippine Export Processing Zone (PEZA). China is no longer the preferred site of labor-intensive manufacturing operations. These trends should be a warning to our Government to either repeal the RH Lawl or at least slow down in its aggressive implementation. The Philippine Constitution refers again and again to sustainable development. Obviously, the RH Bill will not promote sustainable development. In that sense, it is unconstitutional. There is no need to push the TFR below replacement level at too rapid a pace. We cannot solve the problems of today by harming the economic welfare of future generations who will surely suffer labor shortages if we follow the examples of China and Thailand. There are numerous positive ways of addressing the problem of mass poverty without endangering future generations as the Chinese and the Thais have already done. For comments, my email address is email@example.com