Our stalled RH program and Malthusian doom

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Marlen V. Ronquillo

The Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus and his essay on population growth and scarce resources ran into a particular bad luck. Right after he wrote his famous track, An Essay on the Principle of Population, there was a dramatic improvement in agricultural production methods in the West.

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His thesis that population growth explodes while agricultural production’s growth is “arithmetic“ was proven wrong and that was right after he scared the daylights out of the living world in 1798, the release of his essay.

But after a period of bountiful agricultural yields, pockets of famine and shortage in food supplies again bedevilled many poor countries, many of them relying on agriculture. That respite from Malthus’ dire prognosis did not last but that seemed to tar and discredit his thesis for good.

But what is the reality? Even with GMOs in the 21st century and even with the wondrous advances in both agronomy and animal health systems, the world cannot bask in the luxury that Malthus has been disproved, permanently and with finality.

In his second State of the Nation Address, Mr. Duterte did not really go full Neo-Malthusian. But one of the most important components of his SONA, which was barely touched by the media and has the same importance as seeking peace, was the one on population control, his plea to the Supreme Court to lift the ban on the full-scale implementation of the stalled Reproductive Health Law, the RH. The SC said only two items are covered by the ban. For a program as timid as our RH architecture, that partial ban cripples the entire thing.

Lift that ban, indeed. If you think that the results of all contemporary surveys, that millions of Filipinos suffer from involuntary hunger and that is not at all related to the stalled RH program, think again. It is the shadows of Malthusian doom, whether we admit it or not, that stalk the communities where food is scarce, hunger is a daily constant and wasted, malnourished children are the most visible results.

Where are we now? 104 million? Or more? The sure figure is that it is already past 103 million, based on official, outdated data. For a country the size of Arizona, for a small Asian country with barely any resource to extract, for a country with farmlands rendered toxic by over-cultivation, for a country whose farm production has been outpaced by population growth from time immemorial, to deny the Malthusian doom is to deny reality.

We are the 13th country with the biggest population, or 1.4 percent of the total global population. A famous laggard in farm production, that problem is made worse by pollution, erosion, and shrinking natural resources. At the rate we are despoiling our seas and oceans, farmlands and forest areas, our air resources, nothing is in place to reverse our diminishing food production capability.

There is no viable strategy in maintaining that needed balance between population and food supply except via one radical step – rein in the runaway population growth via strategies that fall short of abortion.

Then, Congress should do more.

One area worth exploring is enacting a two-child policy. That would be the compromise between the reckless urge to populate and the imperative to control the population growth. Between the so-called Catholic values and the moral responsibility that comes with raising children, passing a law that caps the number of children couples could birth and raise will not be an affront to the bedrock doctrines of the Catholic faith, which are justice and love. How could you even love your fellow men and women if you allow them to birth recklessly without imposing a sense of responsibility?

The so-called “demographic sweet spot” is the canard being peddled by two powerful institutions to blunt the RH program of government. The Church argues for a fundamentalist interpretation of “go forth and multiply” while the multinational corporations and local conglomerates want a ready pool of warm, young bodies to employ in their sweat shops.

The two institutions have converging needs and both have powerful megaphones, powerful enough to tone down even the most compelling population control arguments. The push back by these two institutions is the reason behind the mass media feeds on how, supposedly, is the PH uniquely positioned to grab all the good jobs under a globalized economy.

The “good jobs” referred to are call center jobs, jobs bagging groceries at the boxy malls, jobs collecting parking fees at the same malls, jobs needed by the corporate giants that are temporary – and paid slave wages – in nature.

The data on those employed under the “demographic sweet spot” scenario are a pittance once compared to the number of restless young people pounding the streets for any available job, the wasted young men and women peddling and using meth in the urban slums and the dreary, wretched and hopeless rural areas, the 10 million or so children of school age being ravaged by malnutrition, the terrible data on infant mortality.

Beneath the façade of a country blessed with a young population ready to take on the globalized economy is an overpopulated country with a state that is too strained to meet the basic needs of its citizens.

We are not birthing for a global work force. We are careening nearer to a Malthusian doom under a severely-strained state with limited resources being fought over by the desperate and angry mobs.

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