Sunday, July 24, 2011

Solving Population?

I borrowed R's January 2011 issue of the National Geographic because the cover page is attention grabbing, not for its photo (which is the common assumption) but for the cover blurb. "Population 7 Billion: How your world will change." At first glance, the magazine screams, "Doomsday alert! Control the population or die." When you read what's inside, however, it's another story.

The article, penned by Robert Kunzig, points out that while the number is alarming, the fertility decline poses greater effects than the population itself:

The end of a baby boom can have two big economic effects on a country. The first is the “demographic dividend”—a blissful few decades when the boomers swell the labor force and the number of young and old dependents is relatively small, and there is thus a lot of money for other things. Then the second effect kicks in: The boomers start to retire. What had been considered the enduring demographic order is revealed to be a party that has to end. The sharpening American debate over Social Security and last year’s strikes in France over increasing the retirement age are responses to a problem that exists throughout the developed world: how to support an aging population. “In 2050 will there be enough people working to pay for pensions?” asks Frans Willekens, director of the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute in The Hague. “The answer is no.” (p.48)

It's a population implosion, not explosion, and it's happening in most developed countries in the world. Imagine, China's fertility rate went from 6 kids per woman in 1965 to a low of 1.5 per woman today. True, the Chinese people still make up a fifth of the world population, but has anyone paused to consider that their land is equally large too?

But let's forget the numbers--I bet this has been discussed over and over already. Truth is, it isn't the issue on implosion vs explosion that bothers me. It's the attitude most people have over the idea of accommodating more people in the planet that I find disturbing.

Kunzig writes that in India, people have been, for 60 years now, battling with overpopulation. Their weapon? Sterilizations. Can you tell me what's wrong with this picture?

The Indian government tried once before to push vasectomies, in the 1970s, when anxiety about the population bomb was at its height. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay used state-of-emergency powers to force a dramatic increase in sterilizations. From 1976 to 1977 the number of operations tripled, to more than eight million. Over six million of those were vasectomies. Family planning workers were pressured to meet quotas; in a few states, sterilization became a condition for receiving new housing or other government benefits. In some cases the police simply rounded up poor people and hauled them to sterilization camps. (p.60)

In their fear of a number, I think many people forget that the number is made up of people like themselves. You don't round up and haul your fellow men or give them incentives to let you mutilate them (and pretend it's for their health when it's really just for your fear of a number). People deserve to be educated to be independent and productive citizens. I think much of the government money would be put in better use if it is invested in the field of training workers, educating kids and producing better livelihood than it would ever be in vasectomy/tubal ligation factories. Let's not forget the dignity of the individual person--just think: what if it was you?

Almas Ali of the Population Foundation says it better: “The goal should be to make the villages livable.... Whenever we talk of population in India, even today, what comes to our mind is the increasing numbers. And the numbers are looked at with fright. This phobia has penetrated the mind-set so much that all the focus is on reducing the number. The focus on people has been pushed to the background.” (p.61)

I bring up this point because the same fear seems to be creeping into our own shores. You read it in the papers, you see it on TV, you hear it over the radio. Have you heard that radio spiel from the Popcom in which a kid complains, "Ano? Mag-aaral ako pagkatapos pa ni Ate, ni Kuya at ni Junior? 'Nay naman!"

First of all, I agree that we should raise families with prudence; however, when, despite all efforts (even with artificial contraception, conception can happen), a baby is given, is it even logical NOT to try to earn more money to send all the kids to school? It's a misplaced kind of prudence at best; it's just a lazy attitude that is not heroic at all--giving only the minimum you have to give, and taking the easiest solution to a problem, never minding if it isn't the right solution.


We Filipinos have our hearts in the right place TODAY. Let's not allow any of that Western fear creep into them. Tomorrow I'll be at the State of the Soul of the Nation Address, dedicated to commemorating the 43rd Anniversary of the Humanae Vitae. It's also going to be an interfaith event, with people of other religions doing worship services nearby before marching in solidarity with other pro-lifers to Club Filipino. Catholic Mass will be at Sanctuario de San Jose Parish, Greenhills, at 9am.

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Money money money

Do you have a credit card? I do. I got one in the mail and activated it because I needed a laptop. And, because of a series of silly mistakes on my part, I ended up paying for the laptop in cash, which spared me from living with the knowledge that my first credit card bill amounted to almost 20k pesos. (To set the record straight, my first credit card bill amounted to a big bold zero because I was too shy to swipe. Mabait pa ako nyan. hehe!)

I got lucky last Friday when I stayed on to hear Sha Nacino's two cents on credit cards (in particular) and financial freedom (in general). Sha is a yuppie like me, but she knows more about these things, not only because she works in a bank and finished BS Business Economics in UP, but also (and more so) because, in her own words, she has "made a lot of mistakes." In the talk she gave her insights on assets, wealth, and of course, saving.

Here, some points that I found very helpful (which I hope you'll find very helpful too!):
  1. Live within your means. Ok, ok, this may seem a bit obvious, but let me explain. If you have a credit card, technically you aren't living within your means. A credit card is meant to bridge that gap between expenses and income, especially when the former exceeds the latter. This is not to say that credit cards are bad... it's how you use them that makes them either bad or good. Remember that the percent interest the bank collects from your unpaid balance is much more than it gives your savings account. Zero out the balance in your credit bill as often as possible.
  2. Wants and needs? Know which ones are good purchases. I'm not gonna say don't buy the wants, because I can't do that either. But here's something to help you decide whether it's a good buy or not: According to Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad, Poor Dad, an asset is anything that puts money in your pocket, while a liability is anything that takes money out of your pocket. Before you make a lifestyle-changing purchase (a car? a huge LCD TV? enrolling in a class? the newest gadget in the market?), think about how it will help you grow as a person (grow in skill/knowledge, hone a talent, instill virtues, bring you a step closer to your dreams) and how much you will spend on it (in terms of time, too, not just money)--and ask yourself: is it worth it?
  3. Develop a habit of saving. Sha points out that as your income grows, so do your expenses. Hence, it's not how much you earn, but how much you keep. This is why saving is so important. If you have a hard time saving, maybe you're using the wrong formula: Income - Expenses = Savings. Use this instead: Income - SAVINGS = Expenses. Set aside a certain amount every month that you absolutely will not touch on pain of [horrible punishment here]. Put it in a savings account so it's not handy when you want something. If you have enough money to set aside that you won't miss in a while, how about considering a time deposit? The interest is larger, and you really won't be able to touch that monies! (There's also the option of the stocks and mutual funds, but those are for people who understand the risks and know how to "play the game." If you're a beginner, take small steps first.)

Did you see that movie Confessions of a Shopaholic? While I wouldn't call my appreciation for shopping an addiction like Becky Bloomwood's, I learned something from the Girl in the Green Scarf: while making the credit card hard to reach (literally freezing it in a block of ice, for instance) will stop you from buying things on impulse, it is not the same as self-mastery.

Because it's sale season I am tempted to buy something for myself every time I wait around in the mall. I know I'm on my "lean months," so I really should think twice before I buy anything impulsively, whether it's on sale or not. Remember that scene in Confessions where Becky enters a sample sale even when she knew very well she didn't have the money to pay off her debts? She tells herself: "These cashmere gloves I need as it is winter and I have... hands." Don't make excuses or superficial reasons for buying something. Excuses only weaken your resolve to do anything, and you lose control again.

I think financial freedom goes hand in hand with self-mastery. That and the virtue of poverty. Now, how on earth did poverty become a virtue? Poverty here means you are not attached to material things, and you are not impressed by the glitter of a name or the cost of a piece of merchandise. You know what you need and want (and have placed these in a proper priority list), and you see how you can make the best use of the things you can afford. Only in living the virtue of poverty can a person see the real worth of things.

Happy saving!

Photos are stills from the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic, starring Isla Fisher.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Don't be ignorant!

"Ignorance is boring," so says a National Geographic shirt. A few months ago, I wrote a piece on why the RH bill is not good for Filipinos, and since that article came out already in The You, Inc. Chronicles, a newsletter for women young professionals, I can now share it here.

When ignorance becomes deadly

Ever heard of the term “reproductive rights”? It sounds very nice, doesn’t it? In fact, it is a very nice concept, on the condition that by “nice” you mean “foolish” as the word meant in Old English.

Why is that? “Reproductive rights” basically points to the right to do anything with one’s fertility and body because it is one’s own. A woman with reproductive rights can kill her unborn child without being called a murderer. A husband with reproductive rights can get a vasectomy without informing his wife. A teenager with reproductive rights can have an IUD inserted without telling her parents. The big deal is, it’s their body; let them do with it as they please.

The Reproductive Health Bill, now known as the “Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011,” stems from this concept of reproductive rights. Don’t be fooled by the “Responsible Parenthood” in the title; if anything, this bill promotes irresponsible parenthood. Why?

1. It encourages married couples to forget how their body works and just use the contraceptives the government will give for free. “Modern” (read: artificial) family planning methods are to be considered “essential medicines” (Sec. 10) bought using taxpayer’s money, which will amount to about 3 billion pesos. Besides that, the bill provides a plan to integrate an artificial family planning component in the government’s “anti-poverty programs” (Sec. 12), so, after our country spends 3B, we can be sure we’ll have fewer folks under the poverty line. (How do you lessen poverty? The RH bill answer is: Cut down on poor people!)

2. It takes away the parent’s responsibility to teach their children about love, sex and marriage. Mandatory sex education programs (Sec. 16) as dictated by the government will be implemented in schools. If you disagree with any of the lessons in it, you cannot bring your children to another school because all schools will use the same government-issued sex ed manual. What could these lessons be? One list provided in the sex ed manual clumps “Relihiyon” and “Pakikialam ng Pamilya” under one heading: List of obstacles to rights.

3. It insists upon an ideal family size. The bill esteems two children to be the ideal family size. This number is “neither mandatory nor compulsory,” which makes one wonder what it’s doing in Sec. 20 in the first place.

Not only parents, but every citizen will be affected by the RH bill. Besides the fact that your income tax goes to condoms no one will put to good use, you (Sec. 28):

1. Shall be forced to provide access to the full range of reproductive health care services to your employees, if you are an employer. Never mind if you don’t believe in the use of artificial contraceptives (condoms, injectables, IUDs, patches, emergency contraception, etc.), or the need for surgical sterilization when there are better alternatives. What’s more, legislators are saying the bill is anti-abortion, but the term “reproductive health,” as feminist and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defines it, “includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion.” If this bill gets passed, what’s to stop pro-abortion groups from getting “safe” abortion included in the law? After all, it is part of reproductive healthcare. Employers then will not only be providing rubber balloons, but will also be participating in the murder of innocent people.

2. Shall not be allowed to refuse a patient his reproductive healthcare services on account of religion, if you are a healthcare service provider. If a kid asks you for a gun, you don’t refer him to someone else if you don’t believe that guns are the solution. But this bill will make you refer someone to another healthcare service provider if you don’t provide reproductive healthcare. Whatever happened to helping people find better alternatives? Any healthcare service provider will know of more health-friendly and environment-friendly alternatives to stroke-inducing, breast cancer-causing, ecosystem-disrupting oral contraceptive pills.

3. Shall not be allowed to criticize the bill. It says “malicious disinformation” but that can easily mean “anything that rubs the bill the wrong way.” Whoever heard of getting jailed for protesting to something written on a piece of paper?

There are people who may say that the RH bill has some good provisions like maternity and good pre-natal care. Those provisions deserve to be in a bill of their own, not lumped together with provisions on birth control, which is—to say the least—ironic. How can a piece of legislation focus on providing good maternal healthcare when it’s already so bent on not having to handle cases of pregnancy in the first place?

Going back to reproductive rights—while rights are good and wonderful, they go hand in hand with responsibility. That means our freedom to do what we want with our fertility and body ends where the rights of others begin. What’s wrong with the so-called reproductive rights is it oversteps a child’s right to be born, a parent’s right to educate and guide the children, and a husband’s right to know about (and be involved in) his wife’s fertility concerns, and vice versa. What’s wrong with this particular RH bill, in addition to those three already mentioned, is that it also oversteps every citizen’s freedom to practice his religion, to speak up against something he believes is wrong, and to choose without having to hear all that hogwash about the convenience of contraceptives and the need for instant self-gratification.


Photos of the UP Against RH silent protest courtesy of Sunnyday. Isn't it nice to see the youth (even just a few of them!) standing up for the truth? :-)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

True freedom

Image from i write to believe.

"Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought."-Blessed John Paul II