05 December 2021

This is a reaction to the 15 November blog post of Kenneth Reyes. While he doesn’t say so explicitly, I take it that his post is a reaction to my earlier piece on Governance in the Philippines.

In my blog post of 14 November, I suggested that the principal reason for the Philippines falling behind its Southeast Asian neighbors is poor governance and I argued that, while the prospect of improved governance at the national level may not be good, there are plenty of opportunities at the local level.

In his post Kenneth Reyes makes two points: the Philippines has over the last 74 years developed faster than several Western countries during their earlier stages of development, and secondly, since the 1986 Edsa Revolution the country has made significant progress in reducing poverty rates, mainly due to the conditional cash transfer program or 4Ps, and in areas such as water, power, and telecoms.

The obvious rebuttal of the first point is that I was comparing the Philippine record with comparable Southeast Asian countries over the same postwar period and trying to understand its lagging behind. Any comparison with Western countries in previous centuries is an entirely different matter and should start with the fact that those countries had to first invent or develop technologies that resulted in the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath. The countries in Southeast Asia could simply introduce the latest technologies.

As to the second point of Kenneth Reyes, sure there has been progress in the country but the poverty rate of over 20% compares with 9.8% in Indonesia and 6.2% in Thailand. Moreover, the absolute number of people below the poverty line has only declined from around 26 million in 1985 to 24 million in 2015. Some progress for sure, but nothing to be proud of. If one combines this with distressing statistics such as about malnutrition (one-third of children below the age of five is ‘wasted’, the term used for children that have not achieved their full natural growth) and education (the Philippines scored last or second to last in terms of what a 15-year old has learned – see my blog post of 14 March), it is hard to share the optimism of Reyes that while ‘these things take time, but sooner or later, this train will arrive at its destination’. Moreover, the country has significantly destroyed its natural resources on land and in the sea to achieve even this limited progress.

Finally, back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, much had been expected from the Philippines given its huge potential, and against those high expectations the result has been such a disappointment for those who love the country.

I do not know what to make of the elephant metaphor and the reference to cynicism at the conclusion of the blog post of Kenneth Reyes. My intention was to try and explain the development record of the country relative to its neighbors and to identify what I believe to be the main obstacle to improving the past record.


From Jay Maclean: Is Population Growth the Problem?

I was recently looking at a potted summary of the world news today, particularly the SUV plowing through a procession of young dancing girls in Wisconsin in the U.S., a shooting at a holy site in Israel, and an earlier incident in Liverpool in the UK. They called to mind Gerry van der Linden’s governance article in this blog, to which I would like to respond.

I once wrote myself some notes on a sustainable size of the world population and looked around for indicators. The population explosion began after WW II and was encouraged then, but when ought it to have come to a stop and thus should have been discouraged? The ecological footprint concept has a broad set of measures that imply the world has exceeded resource replacement rate since the 1970s.

In my view, the footprint concept is sound and that a world population of 4 billion (1975) would have kept a balanced account of natural resource use, less pressure on non-renewables and thus lower costs (to give technology time to replace minerals etc running down). There would be no need for GMOs, no need for any number of resource wars--the primary cause of conflict, such as an imminent one with China. A globalization outlook would have grown and been maintained instead of the increasingly "America first" approach causing breakdown of trade agreements today, the trend to inward looking tribal politics, and so on.

The above is rather simplistic but it has implications about Spanish rule being blamed for Philippine governance today. Spain and all other colonial powers since at least the Egyptian/Roman times primarily wanted their colonies' relatively unique resources; their interaction with the population was to keep the one-way flow of resources (and thus power) running. In the Philippine case, Spanish rule was therefore also a proximal factor, the more distal one being a global/universal tendency for war over resources to gain power, mainly by preventing a revolt of a hungry or disaffected populace. In that view, population pressure is the common element, whether absolute population or relative to a particular situation/resource.

I conclude that at root, overpopulation (absolute or relative) is the basis of Philippine woes.


Response from Gerry van der Linden:

I don't agree with the idea that the root cause of the Philippine problem is over-population. A period of rapid population growth has accompanied development everywhere in the world. It is simply the result of death rates falling rapidly as a result of improved health conditions. Meanwhile birth rates followed much later as reproductive behaviour is not easily changed. There are countries that have dealt well with this, like Thailand, and countries that have not, like the Philippines.

From a similar starting position in 1950, the population in Thailand will stabilize at less than 80 million, while that of the PH will stabilize at 150 million.

The failure of the Philippines to deal with this is a failure of governance, not the other way around. Of course, having such a large and young population makes the development process much more difficult.


Gerry van der Linden is a former Vice President of ADB and is now active in microcredit and governance NGOs in the Philippines