Jose Antonio Cangco

The feature on television was good. It showed an idyllic small island community with coconut trees and white beaches. The cluster of bamboo houses just beyond the beach, on higher ground, showed that the people living here were poor. In Manila, the same conditions can be found with plywood and tin sheet houses, but there is no idyllic, peaceful setting. I have gone to squatter areas around the city and found lots of men, gambling and drinking at all times of the day. The scene is not very different in the relocation areas provided by the government although the houses and structures here are built of more durable materials, and with wider spaces between them.

This scene where men are found lounging around, women idly chatting with each other and countless children running aimlessly is duplicated around the country. What is missing here? Government support? Population planning? Work?

The objective of government support is the alleviation of poverty in rural communities and metropolitan cities to ensure education, health, and food security. Increased infrastructure building, improved peace and order situation, job creation, tourism development projects, technical assistance and a host of others may all be lumped as government support through empowerment of targeted local government units and poor rural communities.

The concept of government support to most Filipinos however is not assistance rendered to the community level as a whole but for the self. Sadly, many of our countrymen ask "What has the government done for me?", "What have I received from the Philippine government?", "What can it do for me?" To them, government aid and support is understood not on what it is for the greater good for more people but is drag down to a personal level

I am not a historian nor a socio-anthropologist but this attitude of "me first and I alone" must have originated somewhere in the past. All I know and what I am aware of is this attitude is still being enforced at the present. Instead of Juan dela Cruz thinking what he can do for his country or even just for himself, he frets that he is not getting any more sustenance or help from the government. He refuses to budge and try to make himself free and independent, arguing that it is too much effort to work before trying to make the most of what he already has. Our politicians and leaders of society start to set the example, too, through less talk and more action. Not a few of them swarm over to the hottest trends and latest issues, struggling to get exposure and be in the limelight. But as one politician aptly said "People get the politician they vote." So, should we change the electoral process?

Far from it. Filipinos vote for their leaders through what is known as the popular vote, unlike in the United States where an electoral college is chosen to pick who will be the next president. But putting the electoral process aside, the Filipino attitude to government assistance down to the individual level may be due to a feeling of helplessness and desperation brought about by overpopulation.

Our poor and the undereducated depend so much on government help, not only because they need to but more so because, I think, our society and some sectors of the community encourage this attitude, expecting the government to create jobs, provide healthcare, education, and uplift the living conditions of the individual.

The government can provide only so much; the rest of the population have to move on their own feet. Overpopulation, unless it is brought down to manageable and affordable levels is the biggest threat to the development of the people of our country. Overpopulation harbors diseases and suffering, it breeds crime, causes polluted air and rivers, adds thrash and garbage, uses the natural resources of a country, erodes infrastructures and space, lowers wages and standards of living, and takes away jobs.

No less than our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal was aware of the indolence of the Filipino people. Except for certain regions of our country, the Filipino is not known for hard work, our country being blessed with abundant fish and wildlife and a tropical idyllic climate. But, that was before. Sans the climate, the fish in the sea around our plentiful islands are decreasing and our wildlife and natural resources too are dwindling. Encouraged by activists, militants, and sometimes even the church, we turn to the government for help.

Contrary to wet market economics a high population does not increase demand for products and services, leading to the growth of the manufacturing and service industries of the country. With a ballooning population, there will be an increase in the demand for noodles and school desks and hospital beds but these are not really the economic demands to boost and propel the economy to soaring heights. They are more of a burden.

It is an outmoded thinking that having lots of children are a blessing; we are living in modern times. We have to admit that it takes more than a feeling of communal happiness to raise a child decently.

If having a big population is a spur to economic growth, then India, Mexico, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and our dear country the Philippines would have been twice a superpower and a big player in the world market. We can hardly even make a dent in the Asian market.

I remember before I was of school age, I was playing behind my grandfather's house. In my pocket was a 5 centavo coin and several 1 centavo coins. My elder sister was richer, she had a silver 10 centavo coin but I felt happy. The 1 and 5 centavo coins had a logo of the Republic of the Philippines on one side and on the other side a design which brought much childish introspection to me: it was a muscular man who was turning a big wheel. The coin design showed honest and hard work to turn the wheels of government and industry. On the ten centavo coin, there was engraved a lady with a hammer and anvil with Mount Mayon in the background. Again this depicted the Filipina woman as strong and as hardworking as her husband. They were not lazy. Because young children usually have coins as their first money, the designs engraved on them are very important in imparting to them the values of society which should be honest hard work more than heroism or anything else, for that matter.

When I studied college at the Ateneo de Manila, and incidentally President GMA was my teacher in economics, a Jesuit priest told us early in the course that a loaf of bread can feed four persons better than ten persons, implying that the country's resources can only feed so large a population. Some of our country's resources are unrenewable and foremost is space. He stopped short of telling us that controlling the country's population growth would help solve a myriad of the country's woes. It is one of the least painful medicine to take instead of cutting down on health care, education, wages and salaries, plus other services and benefits. Even highly developed and industrialized countries which don't have a run-away population growth have some troubles funding their health care services and housing needs when cost rises and there is an overwhelming demand for them.

When our country has some semblance to population management, it will be comprised of quality Filipinos because a marginalized family with one or two kids will be able to provide for them better than if the parents had more children. They will have a bigger share of the loaf of bread. Clearly, the choice now is to provide for the living and barely surviving rather than to encourage conceiving more babies for the future.

The Filipino family will develop as units independent of government help. Population control programs, made possible with the government as the lead factor and supported by civic organizations, and left alone by the church will prosper. At the same time, a good work ethic should be ingrained into the youth and children in their school curricula, through advertising, and with examples by honoring hard workers in the public and private sector.

Hard work, diligence and industry, to accomplish what they aim to be, have to go hand in hand with a slower population growth. The country's labor force cannot work itself to the bones if the number of dependents, unemployed and underemployed is increasing at a faster rate than true output and productivity. The country's potential in terms of man hours and productivity is huge, assuming our brothers and sisters have the right attitude towards work. Honest work is not demeaning, it is respectful, a tonic, and more importantly, it is a tried and tested means of thwarting starvation and deprivation. With a zero or near zero population growth and through hard work, the Filipino can improve his standard of living with little help from the government. With a change of attitude of our leaders towards population control, hard work then becomes meaningful.

And we, of the older generation, will be assured of enjoying our retirement.

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