The population-pollution mess  

By Herbert Vego

WHAT is the updated population of the Philippines?

The official count released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) based on the 2020 census is 109,035,343. That translates to a population density of 363 persons per square kilometer.

But based on the United Nations’ 2022 data, it has already gone past 115 million.

The annual population growth rate, on the other hand, has decreased significantly from 3.3% in 1960 to 1.3% this year. It could be an indication of creeping “responsible parenthood”.

From being the 12th most populous nation in the world, our country has slid to 13th.  Still, it does not augur well for our country that is visibly congested in the urban centers.

The urgency of population control triggered the passage of the Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (Republic Act 10354), aimed at funding family planning programs.

In a previous column, this writer raised the alarm of population congestion as a direct cause of poverty, which has already forced millions of Filipino laborers to seek greener pastures abroad.

This time I would like to focus on overpopulation as a direct cause of the pollution problem besetting the urban centers.  One example is the Manila Bay, where tons of garbage are extracted daily.

Another is the long and winding Pasig River that cuts through Metro Manila. Anybody who has been there has seen the murky, almost stagnant water; and has breathed the foulest air around.

As late as the second half of the 1960s, the waters of both Manila Bay and Pasig River were still fit for swimming.

Ironically, the Pasig River may also be cited as proof that lower population density augured well for a pollution-free environment. You see, there was a time when Pasig River was a natural health spa.

Yes, according to one of my prized possessions — the English translation of an 1853 French book, Adventures of a Frenchman in the Philippines by Paul P. de la Gironiere. A chapter in the book cites Pasig River as a health-rejuvenating body of water where the rich Spanish, English, Chinese and various mestizos paraded on boats and gondolas.

The author wrote: “The newest and most elegant houses are built upon the banks of the Pasig River. Each house has a landing place from the river and little bamboo palaces serving as bathing houses to which the residents resort several times daily to relieve the fatigue caused by intense heat.”

We can only see the same clean bodies of water today in sparsely populated rural riverbanks.

In the same book, the French author cited the 1833 census detailing the per-province population of the Philippines. Of the total Philippine population of only 3,345,790, what is now Metro Manila had the highest with 285,039. The provinces of Iloilo, Capiz  (including what is now Aklan) and Antique had 232,055; 115,440; and 78,250, respectively.

I remember my teacher telling us grade-four students in 1960 that the Philippines had a population of 30 million. This means that, between 1960 and today, the aforesaid population that took centuries to accumulate has almost quadrupled in only 62 years!

Should it quadruple again in a lesser number of years, God forbid that Filipinos might have to kill or be killed in a mad scramble for food and potable water.



KUDOS to MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) for logging more than one million safe man-hours of work. A safe man-hour is a unit of production completed without any lost time, injury, or accident.

It’s a feat worth crowing about. A lineman’s work is a dangerous one, since electricity has enough power to cause fatal electrocution. Even changing a light bulb without unplugging the lamp can be hazardous. Touching the “live” part of the socket could kill.

MORE Power, recognizing the occupational risks, educates its laborers on occupational safety and health.

The company periodically lectures personnel on “zero accident”. Its safety officer, Priam Roy Rivera, orients participants on the hazards in the workplace and on safe work environment and practices. The safety mileage mirrors the commitment of the distribution utility to maintain that kind of working environment.

MORE Power’s President Roel Z. Castro believes that keeping workers safe has improved employee morale. When employees are happy with their job, the more productive they become.