Philippines: Too many mouths?

  • Photo 1 of 24

    The Philippines has one of the highest population growth rates in all of Southeast Asia. Its population, today just shy of 100 million, is expected to double by the end of the century.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 2 of 24

    Rice is the staple food of the Philippines.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 3 of 24

    The average Filipino eats nearly three quarters of a pound of rice a day. Fish provides more than half of their protein.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 4 of 24

    Government warehouses, like this one, store imported rice. The Philippines imports more rice than any other nation on the planet in order to feed its growing population.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 5 of 24

    Clarissa Canayong lives in an urban Manila slum called Vitas, where she scavenges garbage from a nearby dump for a living.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 6 of 24

    Canayong is 42 years old and has 10 surviving children. The youngest pictured here is only 1 year old.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 7 of 24

    One of Canayong's children eating rice and fish after a day delivering heavy bags of charcoal to slum residents.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 8 of 24

    Children in the Vitas slum spend their days picking through garbage, searching for trash that can be sold for recycling.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 9 of 24

    Population growth among the poor in the Philippines, where birth control remains largely out of reach, is about four times higher than the rest of the country.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 10 of 24

    More than a quarter of the Philippines' population lives in poverty -- many in conditions similar to these.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 11 of 24

    The maternity ward at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila is packed beyond capacity with new mothers who have no choice but to share the limited number of beds. More than 2 million babies are born every year in the Philippines.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 12 of 24

    Dr. Esmeraldo Ilem is head of the hospital's family planning unit, but says he has little to offer women trying to prevent pregnancies. He depends on foreign donations for birth control commodities. But deep cuts in those donations in recent years -- especially from the United States -- have dried up his supply.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 13 of 24

    According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than half of all pregnancies in the Philippines are unintended.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 14 of 24

    One of the biggest opponents of a state-sponsored birth control program in the Philippines is the Catholic Church.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 15 of 24

    More than 80 percent of all Filipinos are Catholic, hindering efforts to pass a reproductive health bill in Congress that would offer universal access to birth control for the first time in the Philippines.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 16 of 24

    Scientists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines are scrambling to introduce higher-yielding rice varieties.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 17 of 24

    The demand for rice is expected to grow by as much as 70 percent in the coming years.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 18 of 24

    As the population grows, cities are expanding into farmland, causing a net loss in productive rice fields in the Philippines.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 19 of 24

    A rice farmer in Nueva Ecija shows the path of a new highway and industrial park that will cut through his land -- displacing him and his family.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 20 of 24

    Farmers in Nueva Ejica, known as the rice basket of the Philippines, are protesting these evictions.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 21 of 24

    The protesters are caravanning across the countryside, trying to rally support among other farmers.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 22 of 24

    Many farmers in the Philippines are poor -- with few tools at their disposal to boost rice yields.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 23 of 24

    Rice farming is labor intensive and vulnerable to climate change.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

  • Photo 24 of 24

    The price of rice remains high, with poor Filipinos spending as much as 70 percent of their income on food.

    - Sam Eaton/Marketplace

The maternity ward at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila is packed beyond capacity with new mothers who have no choice but to share the limited number of beds. More than 2 million babies are born every year in the Philippines.

Kai Ryssdal: Over the past 50 years, the amount of food that we as a planet produce has doubled. So too has the number of people who depend on that food. There are 7 billion of us now. The United Nations says we're on the way to 9 billion by the middle of the century. So that's what we're calling our year-long series on how we're going to feed them all. Food for 9 Billion is a partnership with Homelands Productions, the Center for Investigative Reporting and PBS NEWSHOUR. Last month, we took you to Egypt and the realities of food and revolution. Today, the Philippines, where a growing population means the country can't feed itself anymore. And that leaves them with two options: Increase supply and try to do something about demand. From outside Manila, Sam Eaton reports.
Sam Eaton: There's a saying in the Philippines, "pantawid gutom." It means to "cross the hunger." When a family can't afford rice, they'll water down a pack of instant noodles or feed their babies brown sugar dissolved in water to ease the hunger pangs. The fact that this saying even exists should tell you something about what it means to be poor here. Clarissa Canayong is 42 years old. She has 10 surviving children -- the youngest only a year old. And she lives in an urban Manila slum called Vitas, at the edge of a garbage dump.
Clarissa Canayong: Normally, you have three meals in a day, but sometimes we eat only once. Other times, the children just have bread twice a day because we don't have money.
Canayong's house, her food, all the money she earns -- around $7 a day on the good days -- comes from garbage. Her family picks through the trash heap to find things they can use or sell. She's lost four of her children to measles and dengue fever. This is the face of population growth. And not just here in the Philippines.  
Most of the world's next 2 billion people will be born into conditions similar to these, in countries already struggling to feed their populations.  
Warehouse noise
On the other side of Manila, workers load sacks of imported Vietnamese rice onto trucks. The bags are stacked 50-feet high in this sprawling government warehouse. The Philippines' population, today just shy of a hundred million, has tripled since the high-yielding rice varieties bumped up production back in the 1960s. And in order to feed all of those extra mouths, the country has become the biggest importer of rice on the planet.
Ernesto Pernia: Right now the Philippines is already beyond its carrying capacity.
Ernesto Pernia is the former lead economist for the Asia Development Bank.
Pernia: Otherwise we would be doing well. We would not just be muddling through. The fact that we have been muddling through, we have overreached.
And that "overreach" Pernia refers to, shows little sign of slowing. Today, about 2 million babies are born every year in the Philippines. Many of them here at Manila's Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital. Its maternity ward is one of the busiest in the world, with two, sometimes three mothers for every bed. Dr. Esmeraldo Ilem, head of the hospital's family planning unit, says it wasn't supposed to be this way.
Esmeraldo Ilem: We are supposed to be seeing less and less of these women getting pregnant, but that has not happened.
In neighboring Thailand, for example, a long history of government-supported family planning has caused fertility and poverty rates to plummet there. It's also paved the way for Thailand to become one of the world's biggest rice exporters. But in the Philippines, the availability of birth control still depends solely on donations from foreign governments and nonprofits. And as international donors such as USAID cut funding for these programs, hospitals like this one are left scrambling for supplies. Ilem says if the situation doesn't change...
Ilem: There will be a doubling of the population. There will be overcrowding of people. There will be a survival of the fittest.
Walden Bello: It's a hell of a problem.
That's Filipino Congressman Walden Bello. He says demographers expect that doubling of the Philippine's population to happen sometime before the end of the century. And that's only if something is done to close the birth control gap -- especially among the poor -- more than a quarter of whom have no access at all.
Bello: We're running out of time. Our window of opportunity is closing up fast. And fortunately speaking, people -- both among the poor and middle classes -- are beginning to realize that my God we have got to get hold of this.
Bello's been trying to pass a reproductive health bill in congress for more than a decade so that women at least have the tools to choose their family size. It would offer universal access to birth control for the first time in the Philippines' history. But there's a reason it's been languishing in the halls of Congress.
Oscar Cruz: From contraception abortion comes. It's just one step below.
Filipino Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz is a staunch opponent of the bill. He and the Catholic Church say it represents the interests of multinational pharmaceutical giants, not the people, 80 percent of whom are Catholic. All over the Philippines churches have plastered political banners on their façades. They've even threatened the president with excommunication.
Cruz: That's why I say don't fool with the church. Because she will bury you.
These warnings that the church will "bury" anyone opposed to its views point to just how much the issue of population growth here -- and all over the world for that matter -- is a battle of ideologies rather than economics or science. For Cruz, and many others who oppose efforts to curb population growth, the solution is simple. Grow more food. It worked in the past with the Green Revolution. So why wouldn't it work again?
Robert Zeigler: I think in many ways we're facing challenges that dwarf what we were facing in the 1960s.
That's Robert Zeigler, director of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. This is where those high-yielding rice strains were first developed. Zeigler says with climate change and an increasingly crowded planet, the huge increases of the past may be harder to come by this time around.
Zeigler: I don't think there's any question that we will want to feed these people and we want them to be well fed and we want them to be well nourished and we want them to be healthy. At the same time, we have to do this in a way that once populations do stabilize that the world we live in is a place we want to live in.
And this is where things get tricky. Zeigler says the demand for rice is expected to grow anywhere from 50-70 percent in the coming years. Meeting that demand without jeopardizing the planet's remaining ecosystems will take a level of coordination and foresight unprecedented in human history. For him, the technological Holy Grail is a bioengineered, photosynthesis-supercharged, rice strain. But such a breakthrough is decades away, if at all. And in the meantime the Philippines, and much of the world, is losing productive farmland, not adding it.
Protest caravan
I followed a caravan of protesting farmers in Nueva Ecija, the rice basket of the Philippines. Their land -- some of the most productive in the country -- is set to be paved over by a new highway and industrial park. As cities all across the country expand, the displaced often end up migrating to urban slums. Once here, they enter a cycle of poverty that's nearly impossible to break. Population growth among poor Filipinos is twice the national average. And for women like Clarissa Canayong, the mother of 10 I spoke with earlier, her inability to provide enough food, and to pay for her children's education, all but guarantees she and her family will remain poor.
Canayong: One of my kids already has a suitor, I told her: "Danica, please don't have a boyfriend just yet. You know very well of our situation. Do you want to get married at a young age and end up just like me?"
I asked Canayong: If she could do it all over again, how many children she would have wanted? Her answer? Two. A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute found that the cost of providing birth control to the quarter-billion women on the planet who want it -- but don't have access to it -- is about $4.50 a year, per person. But it could mean having 8 billion mouths to feed by the end of the century, instead of 15 billion. That's the United Nations' low and high fertility projections for global population growth. It's a huge spread. But the only difference between those numbers is an average of one less, or one more, child per women. So maybe solving the world's food problem isn't just about solving the world's food problem. It's also about giving women the tools they want, so they can make the decisions they want -- here in the world's poorest places. In the Philippines, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.
Ryssdal: Sam filed a second story from the Philippines, this time with pictures. It's on PBS NEWSHOUR tonight, about how over-fishing is adding to their problems. And there's more -- explore an interactive map breaking down the global food challenge, country by country. Check it out.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

The maternity ward at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila is packed beyond capacity with new mothers who have no choice but to share the limited number of beds. More than 2 million babies are born every year in the Philippines.

Log in to post20 Comments


This has nothing to do with religion. I've visited the Philippines for over 2 years as well as have relatives there. The government in the Philippines does very little for its poorest and so the only organizations that will and can spend money on them are the churches who of course are always looking for new followers. If the people there had a more unified non-corrupt or less corrupt culture like Japan or China, a healthy economy with enough decent paying jobs, a good Social Security system so that people didn't feel the only way to survive was to have more children so that 1 or more children could survive to take care of them in their old age, a good healthcare system that took care of its poorest, good completely FREE education & opportunity for even its poorest, then people would NOT have more children nor care what the church said.

I love the interactive map, but is it accurate? For the US, the map has population 309 M and growth rate 0.7 %, but the CIA World Factbook https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html has population 313 M and growth rate 0.963 % (2011 estimates). The difference in growth rates is quite significant. If the CIA rate is correct, then we should be less sanguine or complacent about US population growth, especially as people in the US consume a lot, in total and on a per-capita basis.

I am very glad Marketplace did this story--population size and population growth need to be covered frequently in the media if we are to have a chance at reducing the numbers and sizes of human and environmental catastrophes that loom on the horizon. Catastrophes caused by excessive human population size and growth are actually occurring on a continual basis, but not spectacularly and fast enough to grab attention, unless we have more of the astute journalists who were responsible for this story.

I am co-founder of 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund which offers the family planning worldwide that helps women, children, and societies. It does wonderful work in the Philippines. Illegal abortion is rampant in the Philippines. So very very sad! Our grassroots effort has garnered $4.2 million for the work of UNFPA all over the world.

Filipinos can look to Brazil as a success story. Brazil, a predominantly Catholic country, has used a mix of female empowerment and media to lower its fertility rate. Culture should be respected, but so should women's rights, economic rights and the environment.


A gut reaction to this might be "have everyone join a different church". Part of the problem is that even if they do, unless the new church really hits hard on birth control (and I don't know of too many that do) the first generation or two of new members will keep their old birth control beliefs, even if it's not part of the new religion.

I am glad to see Sam Eaton doing this story about planned parenthood in the Philippines. I am also glad to see the efforts of PATH being so effective that I plan to donate birth control pills to their project. Some forty years ago, I joined a research group to determine the effectiveness of family planning information dissemination in the rural areas. The research have shown that people are aware of the benefits of family planning but they will not make the extra step of doing the recommended method which are: rhythm, pills, iud and tubal ligation and condom. Abortion was never mentioned. Back then, the Church was aware of the effort to educate people about family planning and they did not mount such stiff opposition because the Church was confident that people will still go forth and multiply. Sexual activity is actually a substitute for food among the poor. No amount of family planning information will change their mind if they know sexual activity is within reach for everyone including the clergy. It is part of the Spanish colonial legacy where the priest can have children and people in the community know it. Who feed these children? The poor women who gave birth to children out of wedlock. Women are also led to believe that having children is a sign of good luck married or not. The Church stands to benefit from increasing population so there will be more money coming in every Sunday. The Church had been promoting feeding programs, backyard food production programs and the population just continue on growing and not realizing there is not enough to feed. That archbishop statement that more people can produce more food is absurd. He lives in a comfortable palace and driven around in an airconditioned limousine by a chauffeur and does not have a clue about the sacrifice and suffering of people with large families. No food and no medicine when they get sick and sometimes, father or mother have to leave the country just to earn a living to feed and educate their children. The Church and the corrupt politicians supporting them are the major hindrance to effective population control. The people also have to make a serious and conscious effort to limit unwanted and unintended pregnancies, the clergy and philandering politicians included. No one child policy enforced here...just individual choice to make the world a better place to live in for the sake of the child they are bringing into this world.

The issue of hunger is a serious one and it is rather unfortunate that Mr. Eaton decided to use this issue to build a straw man so that he could destroy it. In much of the Western world today and especially for the relativistic and materialistic West, the Catholic Church is the ultimate straw man which must be destroyed at all cost. The gist of Mr. Eaton's thesis goes something like this: the evil Catholic Church's opposition to birth control is the reason why the third world is over-populated and in the verge of starvation. I wish Mr. Eaton would produce one papal encyclical or church document that states that women should produce endless number of children? The fact of the matter is that the Church has always preached responsible parenthood. What the Church opposed is reducing birth by artificial means. Obviously, truth seeking is not the primary objective of the story rather it was ideology. The ideology is one where the primary focus of Mr. Eaton and Western neo-eugenicists is reducing the population of third world peoples. I doubt very much that neither Mr. Eaton and much of the commentators of the thread give a fig about third world peoples. If anyone believes that Mr. Eaton goes to sleep at night thinking about the people of the Philippines (or any other third world country) I have a bridge I want to sell to you. Mr. Eaton and the first world neo-colonialists have one thing in mind: eliminating the rights of third world families to produce children because children in the "first world" have become an inconvenience to be avoided at all cost. This is the reason why for the first time in the annals of human history a entire race people will eradicate themselves from the face of the earth.

If Mr. Eaton is serious about hunger and food production, I would suggest that on his next segment he should fix his gaze on the "first world", specifically in America because I doubt Mr. Eaton needs to look far to find that the main reason why there is hunger in the this planet is not because food is scarce rather it is over consumed by one segment of the world's population evidenced by the average American's burgeoning waistline. Americans are less than five percent of the world's population yet the consume thirty-five percent of all calorie intake, twenty-five percent of the world's energy supply, forty percent of the world's electricity supply. From this standpoint if Mr. Eaton really wants to save the planet might I suggest that he seeks to reduce the population of the U.S. and much of Western Europe.


Richjmon16, your citation of the dark past of the eugenics movement, and its effects on the reproductive rights of the poor, calls back to attention an all too often overlooked chapter in modern history -- and for that, appreciation is in order. However, though your concerns for eugenicist ulterior motives are demonstrably well informed, they are perhaps unfounded in the particular instance of the Philippines and its specific circumstance.

The thesis of your critique holds that: the criticism of the Catholic Church is a smokescreen for the true underlying cause of the impending sustainability crisis in the Philippines, being the global resource imbalance wrought by over-consumption by the First World populations; and also that holding the Catholic Church responsible for the hunger problem, by way of their opposition to reproductive healthcare legislation, is covertly neo-eugenic in perspective, and serves to maintain an exploitative status quo.

In a general, abstract, academic context, there may some truth to such a thesis. But more so the matter of consumption imbalance than any apparent influence of eugenics theory. And it is the problematic conceptual leap required to characterize the critique of the Catholic Church as eugenicist that ultimately flaws the overall argument.

Firstly, accusing the report of using the Catholic Church as "strawman" ignores the fact that the Church has been the strongest and most vociferous opponent of reproductive healthcare legislation for as long as both have existed. For the report to omit mention of the Catholic Church, and its opposition activities, would greatly misrepresent the sociopolitical context of the issue in the Philippines -- insofar as the burgeoning population has precipitated a mounting food crisis.

Secondly, the challenge against the perspective that the Catholic Church wantonly encourages procreation -- by calling for evidence in the form of official church documents or proclamations -- willfully overlooks the most glaring form of evidence at hand: the Scriptures. Claiming that there is no concrete evidence of an "official policy" of the Church is ludicrous. That would be asking a religion to substantiate the basis of its faith in the absence of its holy writ. The Church consistently cites the Bible as its pretext for opposing contraceptives, so what further evidence of an institutional stance is needed?

In short, it is the Catholic Church's commitment to preventing reproductive healthcare legislation from being enacted into law, in the context of an ever-dwindling food-supply, that the critical perspective comes forth -- not as a villain of convenience. While the over-consumption by the First World may be a compounding factor, the current political agenda of the Catholic Church certainly is not helping the Philippines out of its current situation either. If anything, pointing the finger at the First World as you have done here is a much a "strawman" tactic at diverting the blame from equally reckless religious social policy.

If you want to talk about "responsible parenting", having more children than you can feasibly support is hardly responsible. How is keeping people ignorant of family-planning methods in any way championing "responsible parenting"? Isn't that simply the obverse of eugenics? And is not the Catholic Church, in this instance, being just as patronizing as any other colonial power?

And let's not forget that the Catholic Church too is a colonial institution...

Are there any organizations that strive to provide birth control to the multitudes of women who would like to have it but don't have access? If so I would love to make a donation despite my limited income.

About 3 minutes 15 seconds into Sam Eaton's very good story (which you can find in video on this page), there's mention of PATH Foundation Philippines, Inc. Watch the video and see what you think. That's what I'm doing now, too. And here's the URL to their website (if APM Marketplace allows it): www.pfpi.org/


With Generous Support From...