A Demographic Snapshot of the Philippines: One Step Forward, a Half Step Back

Former President Rodrigo Duterte (on screens) of the Philippines addresses the UN General Assembly’s 76th session last year. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Barry Mirkin
DAVAO CITY, Philippines, Aug 3 2022 – With the national election and transfer of power in the Philippines from outgoing President Duterte to incoming President Marcos Jr. in July 2022, it seems an appropriate time to briefly take stock of the country’s current demographic situation, as well as recent related developments.

According to the biennial global estimates and projections of world population issued by the United Nations Population Division in 2022, the Philippines population climbed to 114 million by mid-2021.

A global milestone will be achieved in November 2022, when world population is expected to breach the 8 billion mark. Population projections foresee that by 2050, the rise in world population will be concentrated in eight countries, one of which is the Philippines.

The country’s total fertility continues its gradual decline, falling to 2.5 births per woman in 2021. Some staggering statistics for the Philippines reveal that from the years 2004 to 2020, 36 in every 1,000 Filipino girls aged 15 to 19 years had already given birth.

A UNFPA staff member walks to a damaged health centre in General Santos on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. Credit: UNFPA Philippines

Furthermore, during that period, one-half of all births were unintended. In comparison, world fertility is estimated at 2.3 births per woman and 1.5 births per woman in South-East Asia, of which the Philippines is part.

Abortion remains illegal in the Philippines, despite the over one million illegal and unsafe procedures estimated to be carried out annually. Anyone undergoing or performing an abortion risks up to six years in prison. It is the only country in the world, other than the Vatican where abortion remains illegal under any grounds.

While the Philippines is a global outlier concerning its stance on abortion, it should be noted that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022 struck down Roe versus Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the United States and thus creating a firestorm of protests.

As a consequence, a number of state governments are seeking to severely restrict abortion access.

In one of the few recent legislative successes regarding population, the Philippine Parliament in 2021 raised the legal age of sexual consent from 12 years, the lowest in Asia to 16 years. Nevertheless, the law contains a “Romeo and Juliet exemption” to protect younger lovers.

Other Parliamentary developments have proven to be unsuccessful. For example, in a country wrought with conservative values and a powerful Church, divorce continues to be illegal, except for the minority Muslim population (eight per cent of the total population), despite a number of attempts over the years to legalize divorce.

Annulment, an option to divorce can take up to four years, may only be granted on narrow legal grounds and at great financial expense. A Civil Partnership Bill has recently been introduced in Parliament, as a means of affording some legal protections to gay couples in a country that forbids same-sex couples from marrying. The bill, however, faces stiff Parliamentary opposition.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there were a record number of repatriated overseas Filipinos (OFWs), some 792,000 in 2020, due to COVID-related lockdowns and restrictions.

Under this program administered by the Philippine government, Filpinos work abroad on fixed-term contracts, usually in the oil-exporting countries of the Arab Region and generally for periods of one to two years, but with the possibility of renewal.

On a more positive note, the Filipino diaspora, i.e., those living and working abroad in 2021, estimated at between 10 to 12 million, remitted US$ 37 billion to the Philippines, a 5 per cent increase from the previous year.

The Philippines benefitted directly from the job creation and wage gains in the United States, which accounted for almost 40 per cent of remittance receipts. Other major remittance sources were Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

The top four global remittance recipients are India, Mexico, China and the Philippines, The United States has been the major source of global remittance outflows, amounting to US$ 75 billion in 2021.

Despite the ravages of the global COVID pandemic, remittances have proven to be highly resilient, as well as a major contributor to Philippine economic growth. According to World Bank projections, despite the ravages and uncertainty of the Ukraine crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, remittance flows to low and middle-income countries are expected to grow by four per cent in 2022.

Always a source of nurses for other nations, the significant exodus of nurses from the Philippines, amid the coronavirus pandemic has climbed, as 25 per cent more Filipino nurses migrated to the United States during the first nine months of 2021 than during the same period in 2020.

Based on the recent increases in COVID cases in the United States, as well as in other parts of the world, the departure of Filipino nurses is likely to continue and grow.

Given the country’s current demographic trends and future population projections, combined with the various failed legislative initiatives, the Philippines is unlikely to experience major demographic changes, at least in the near term.

In other words, same old, same old.

Barry Mirkin is former chief of the Population Policy Section of the United Nations Population Division.

IPS UN Bureau

 


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