VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Is having 110 million Filipinos good or bad?

In a press conference on Nov. 21, Justice Secretary Boying Remulla defended the decision of the Philippine delegation to reject the United Nations Human Rights Council’s recommendation to decriminalize abortion.

“We have to discuss more on the policy of population growth kasi may lumalabas that there are benefits and there’s just good and bad about having a big population. Sometimes we have to look at it from the point of view that it’s also good to have a big population,” he said.

Remulla’s statement came six days after a symbolic eight billionth baby was born at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Tondo, Manila on Nov. 15.

As the world population continues to grow, here are three things you need to know about the country’s population:

1. What does the Filipino population look like today?

Juan Antonio Perez III, executive director of the Commission on Population and Development, cited three reasons for the decline in birth rates since 2020: women and couples choose to delay childbearing, fewer marriages and family formation, and increase in the use of modern family planning methods.

In a May 25 media briefing, Perez said the country is undergoing a demographic transition, which could mean a larger working population in the coming years.

“The high fertility levels of the last two decades were projected to create a bulge of young people entering the workforce up to 2035,” he said.

Preliminary results of the 2021 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study by the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI), however, show that only 20% of Filipinos aged 15 to 24 pursued some college education. About 40% reached only junior high school, or Grades 7 to 10.

2. Is having a population of over 110 million a disadvantage?

Experts say a huge population is not necessarily a problem.

“Focusing exclusively on population totals and growth rates misses the point, and often leads to coercive and counter-productive measures and the erosion of human rights,” United Nations Population Fund Executive Director Natalia Kanem said at the World Population Day celebration on July 11.

In the same event, Perez underscored the importance of the Filipino youth and their potential to greatly contribute to the economy. 

“They make up a large human resource whose participation as effective workers will serve as drivers for the country’s further economic growth in the coming years,” he said. 

The economic growth resulting from smaller households and a larger, younger working population is referred to as the “demographic dividend.” However, experts say that while a transition similar to what is happening in the Philippines makes a demographic dividend possible, its benefits do not come automatically.

At the side event of the 55th Session of the United Nations Commission on Population and Development on April 21, Michael Del Mundo of UPPI noted that only three regions in the Philippines — Metro Manila, CALABARZON and the Cordillera Administrative Region — are in a position to benefit from a potential demographic dividend.

He explained that other areas in the country face similar challenges of high fertility rates, low youth and female participation in the labor force, and lack of a highly educated workforce.

3. What does the Philippines need to do to reap the benefits from a large population?

To make the most from a demographic dividend, Del Mundo said the country must hasten its transition by reducing fertility and mortality rates. The government must also provide better economic opportunities through quality education and improved financial literacy.

“Better education could lead to better employment, more income. Better education could affect financial literacy and their fertility behavior,” Del Mundo said.

This was echoed by sociologist and Ateneo de Manila University Professor Emeritus Ricardo Abad in his 2020 magisterial lecture where he described quality education as a “necessary precondition” for economic growth. He stressed that quality education leads to higher individual income and encourages active societal participation. 

“You want more volunteerism, you want more interpersonal trust, you want more political participation in the country, then education is one good way to achieve these things,” he said, adding that a more educated population will also spur innovation. 

Del Mundo stressed that people’s income must leave room for savings and investments to ensure upward economic mobility for households.

Bagong Henerasyon Partylist Rep. Bernadette Herrera noted during the World Population Day 2022 celebration that bills are pending in the House of Representatives seeking to harness the Philippines’ potential demographic dividend, such as the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Bill.

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Department of Justice official Facebook page, WATCH | Justice Secrerary Jesus Crispin Boying Remulla holds a press conference – 21 November 2022, Nov. 21, 2022, watch from 1:07:05 to 1:07:55, UNHRC asks PH to decriminalize abortion as data show ban ineffective, deadly, Nov. 7, 2022

ABS-CBN News, PH report on rights improvement not convincing, UN review shows, Nov. 15, 2022

CNN Philippines, UN human rights experts to PH gov’t: Decriminalize abortion, legalize divorce, Nov. 6, 2022

Commission on Population and Development, POPCOM: Filipino children’s population declined in last 20 years: While seniors comprise 8.5% of PHL population as of 2020, accessed on Nov. 21, 2022

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United Nations Population Fund Philippines, Population Dynamics, accessed on Nov. 23, 2022

BKKBN Official YouTube channel, Side Event The 55th UN-CPD Session Economic Development & Demographic Dividend Among ASEAN Countries, April 21, 2022

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House of Representatives official website, HB00079, June 30, 2022

(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)