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Rm. N-411, House of Representatives, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
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(Delivered by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman during the BUILD Asia Pacific Learning Session on Understanding the Demographic Dividend and the PED Nexus on 27 September 2022)

Allow me to begin by thanking our speakers and the organizers of PATH Foundation for a successful and enlightening session. Thank you, too, to the invited guests for your active participation in today’s session. Your valuable inputs are indispensable if we are to better understand the compelling nexus between population and sustainable human development.

It should be underscored that seeking out stakeholders’ perspectives is vital in getting a fuller picture of each sector’s distinct role in taking full advantage of the rewards of a demographic dividend and avoiding possible future pitfalls, and the indispensability of incorporating population and development policies into our development agenda and anti-poverty strategies.

But the term “demographic dividend” will remain a mere development buzzword if the Philippines fails to maximize the gains of its current demographic transition as a result of declining fertility rates and the corresponding expansion of the working age population coupled with the reduction in the dependent population.

Undoubtedly, the issues of population, poverty, reproductive health, and sustainable human development are so closely interconnected that none of them can be considered in isolation.

Twenty years ago, then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan explained in his message to the Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference in Bangkok that “… the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, cannot be achieved if population and reproductive health issues are not addressed.  In order to address these issues, we must work to further promote women’s rights and invest in education and health, including reproductive health and family planning.”

Perforce, it is imperative that the crucial concerns of population and sustainable human development are incorporated into policymaking and our development agenda.

The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) in its “NEDA Explainer: Reaping Demographic Dividend” emphasizes the need for continuing investments in both reproductive health and in a genuine universal health care program to reduce both fertility and mortality rates.  This will, in turn, result in the faster and more tangible decline our population growth rate and a healthier, more productive workforce – the very goals we must achieve to take full advantage of the demographic-economic window of opportunity.

The Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenthood Law has long been in place and is an effective and efficient catalyst in uplifting people’s lives. But for it to live up to its enormous potential and promise to engender genuine and sustainable human development, it should be fully and faithfully implemented and adequately funded together with additional sufficient investments in human capital focusing on health, education, and job-generation.

Former NEDA chief Ernesto Pernia stated succinctly in 2018 that “We need to fully implement the RPRH Law to speed up the demographic transition. If fully implemented now, we should get there by 2025. When people are able to care for their reproductive health and plan for their families, they can save more and invest in their children better.” 

The NEDA Explainer points out the urgency of fully addressing Sec. Pernia’s recommendations because “The Philippines is expected to be the last major Asian economy to benefit from the demographic dividend between the years 2025-2070. If not properly addressed, the country would need to wait until at least 2050 to benefit from the demographic dividend, or possibly miss it all together.”

I cannot overemphasize that once fully and faithfully implemented, the Philippine Reproductive Health Law will herald the country’s full development as resources are primed to maximize social and economic services and infrastructure growth, because they are liberated from the current mounting expenditures on maternal and infant mortality and morbidity, life-threatening pregnancies and abortions, teenage pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the increasing budgetary demands of a runaway population.

A rights-based, health-oriented, and development-driven law on reproductive health and responsible parenthood is unequivocally an indispensable development tool. Perforce, family planning and mitigation of our population growth rate must be a component of the development agenda.

Voluntary reduction in fertility rates is key to accelerating demographic transition. But apart from providing an enabling environment where women can make informed reproductive health and family planning decisions, studies have shown that three other important variables contribute significantly to lower fertility rates: higher education for women, increased female labor force participation, and healthy infants and children.

Evidently, a multi-dimensional approach is needed if we are to reap the rewards of demographic dividend. While it is indisputable that lowering fertility rates, especially among the poorest households, is crucial to creating the demographic window of opportunity, it should be coupled with government policies on encouraging higher and/or technical education for women, greater female labor force participation, and improved healthcare services for infants and children.

The painfully slow reduction in our fertility rates and the current lack of employment opportunities for younger Filipino workers are the main stumbling blocks to the country’s ability to take full advantage of opportunities offered by the demographic dividend.

Government must intensify its efforts to hasten voluntary reduction in fertility rates and strengthen its family planning information drive in order to significantly increase our contraceptive prevalence rates. But these efforts must be combined with labor policies and economic programs that will generate employment principally for younger people and offer equitable wages, especially for women workers.

Clearly, the RH law needs sister statutes to help the country achieve real and lasting development. The Congress must then take unequivocal action and craft laws that significantly reduce inequalities and inequities, end extreme poverty, generate employment, protect and promote the overall health and wellbeing of people, squarely confront discrimination, and accelerate progress specifically for those furthest behind.

Let me emphasize to the committee technical staff of both Houses of Congress who are with us today that you wield significant influence in making your principals more aware of this literally once-in-a-lifetime demographic window of opportunity that we can take full advantage of only with the appropriate and enabling laws and policies. 

For our guests from private sector, your partnership with government and help in securing additional funding for population management, health, and employment programs are indispensable if we are to finally reap the dividends of demographic transition.

Finally, let me underscore the potential of BUILD to uplift lives. The program builds its foundation on the interrelatedness and interdependence of the issues of RH, crippling poverty, the blight of gender inequality and inequity, poor health and ignorance, the degradation of the environment, and genuine human development that reaches the grassroots.

This not to mention its goal to raise awareness on the adverse impact of being unable to address the social ills spawned by poverty and the crucial importance of commitment and adequate funding from government, and the support of the private sector in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Let us build on the lessons we have learned today, capitalize on the commitments of our stakeholders, and make the most of the momentum generated by this first of several BUILD sessions to consolidate the efforts of both the private and public sectors in harnessing the rewards of demographic dividend and ensuring that the Philippines’ demographic window of opportunity will not close before we can take full advantage of the gains we have achieved thus far.

Again, thank you for your dynamic participation and together let us move forward in ensuring the upliftment and empowerment of ordinary citizens, and the attainment of genuine human development for all Filipinos.