MANILA - The Philippines is projected to record this year its lowest annual addition to the population since 1947, according to the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) on Monday.
By year's end, the country's population will have increased by 324,000, according to the agency. Prior to this projected figure, the lowest annual "natural increase" of the population was recorded between 1946 and 1947, by around 254,000.
The latest available official data indicated that as of May 1 last year, the country's population stood at 109,035,343. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) noted that the population increased by 1.63 percent annually from 2015 to 2020.
POPCOM Executive Director and Population and Development Undersecretary Dr. Juan A. Perez III attributes the notably lower increase in the population this year - which is around 0.3 percent, compared to last year's 0.79 percent - to the crises brought on by the pandemic.
"We believe that the major factor influencing this change in demographics is because women are choosing to delay pregnancy. They are choosing not to have children during both the health and economic crisis," he said.
Perez said the high cost of pregnancy during the pandemic has deterred women and men from wanting to add family members.
"The health crisis has led to greater cost in health services. Non-COVID services like obstetric services are only available in higher level hospitals, and people may not be willing to [get them], lalo na yung population who give birth in lying-in clinics (especially those who give birth in lying-in clinics)," Perez said in an interview with ABS-CBN News.
The unstable economic status of many Filipinos during the pandemic may have also contributed to the decrease in registered births this year.
"Maaaring nawalan ka ng trabaho o 'di ka na full-time. We know na if you have another pregnancy during this time, it will eat into your savings," said Perez. "A new child usually takes up one-third ng ipon. Kung wala kang ipon, you really want to avoid having a pregnancy during this time."
(You may have lost your job, or are not employed full-time. Another pregnancy during this time will eat into a third of your savings. So if you do not have savings, you might want to avoid getting pregnant in the meantime.)
The Asian Development Bank previously said that the Philippine poverty incidence is at 20 percent this year, up from 16.7 percent in 2018.
With the country's population is seen to have grown to around 110 million, a poverty incidence rate of 20 percent would be equivalent to about 22 million poor Filipinos. In contrast, the number of poor Filipinos in 2018 was estimated at 17.7 million.
The number of marriages also remain low, said Perez. Partial data from the PSA reported over 240,000 new marriages in 2021, compared to pre-pandemic figures that tally over 430,000 per year.
There is also a greater increase in women and couples who avail of family planning services by the government.
In Block 37, Barangay Addition Hills, many women actively avail of the local government unit family planning programs.
Hannah Dumagan, who bore her first child in 2019 does not plan to add another member to their family soon. "Mahirap po, pandemic po kasi. Mahirap yung sunud-sunod po. Wala kami parehas na trabaho nung unang pandemic po. Eh, nag-gagatas yung baby namin."
(It's difficult to have one child after another, especially since we became unemployed since last year).
Her neighbor Lovely Agquiz echoed her thoughts, after she gave birth to her fifth child this April.
"Stop na muna. Hanggang dito na lang kasi medyo ano na, para mapalaki sila nang maayos . Sobrang hirap kasi kailangan mo magtipid, budgeting kung magkano lang hawak mo (We decided to stop with our fifth child, it's hard to make ends meet)," Agquiz shared.
Both Dumagan and Agquiz get birth control from their local health center.
Barangay health worker Malou Abayon said she has been on the pill for seven years now. "Ayaw kong masundan. Kahit sabihin mong may trabaho ang asawa ko, ako, hindi pa rin sapat eh (I don't want another child. Even though my husband and I are both employed, our income is hardly enough)."
Perez hopes Filipinos will remain being prudent in deciding whether or not to add more members to their family.
"Eventually in the next years, stable na ang population, and our socio-economic programs can have a better impact on smaller families. This situation of lower number of births is a trend that we would like to see continuing, kahit na matapos ang pandemya. Kung matapos ang health crisis, hindi pa matatapos ang economic crisis," he said.
(We hope the trend continues even after the pandemic, because even when the health crisis is over, the economic crisis may not be yet.)
The number of births registered in a year is subtracted by the number of deaths in a particular time period to get the country's natural increase in population, or natural population change.
POPCOM made the computations based on the PSA's vital statistics preliminary reports for the period spanning January 2020 to August 2021.
POPCOM is expecting to tally 1.1 million births and around 700,000 deaths by the end of the year.
There are no immediately available official Philippine population data for the post-World War II years, except for 1948, which logged 19 million.