Poverty and Pollution in Paradise

While the Philippines is considered a rising economic star in Asia, poverty and environmental degradation continue in this natural paradise. What is the problem? The culture ensures over population and the poverty and pollution it causes. With the fastest growing population in Asia, jobs and wages can never keep up with the increase in people wanting to work. In the past the government has focused on exporting a large portion of its labor force rather than trying to stabilize population. Workers abroad are the number one domestic product of the Philippines. This is one of the reasons that the average family has more than five children. Wages are kept low due to the large number of people seeking the jobs in the Philippines. Laborers get between four and ten dollars a day except for a few foreign companies operating in the Philippines that pay a little more.

Other countries have shed poverty when women were liberated to have their own lives and careers. This is not yet the case in the Philippines. Spain, Portugal and even Italy are good examples of catholic countries that have shed poverty through empowerment of women. The equal rights amendment passed many years ago giving women all the rights of men but unmarried women are still considered the property of their parents, regardless of age, and expected to send their wages to their parents, reinforcing the reason to have many children.

When I first came to the Philippines I had been convinced that better food production and more efficient markets could solve poverty. I no longer believe it. Food production has increased steadily and a majority of farmers are still small farmers who sell their product locally, the most efficient market possible. Farmers here grow a large surplus of food, in fact, although much of it goes as feed to pigs and chickens which, when consumed, raise the rate of heart disease,diabetes and cancer. While starvation was a health problem in the past, it has been replaced by obesity.

Two years of scrutiny, living among the people and not in tourist or expat locations, has narrowed my opinion of the cause of poverty to just one factor and that is over population. The current government has passed a reproductive health act that legalizes contraceptives but not abortion. Although this law would be ridiculed in most parts of the world as inadequate, the catholic church lobbied hard against it but lost. It remains to be seen what effect it will have since many good laws go unenforced here. My first sojourn out of the Catholic Trade Center was to a joint government/church seminar on the outlawing of charcoal production, transport and sales. Studies leading to that law showed that the remaining forests of the Philippines were being cut illegally to produce charcoal. Little is being done to enforce this law and forests continue to decline. Even efforts to reforest fail when the new trees are cut for charcoal production. It is for this reason that I recently exposed a charcoal smuggling operation, but I understand it is just "a drop in the bucket". Until Filipinos demand that the laws be enforced the forests will continue to decline. Until women insist that they have a right to a life and career of their own, whether single or married, over population will continue. Leadership from the church and government would be helpful but courage from Filipinos is what is missing.

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