By Mariela Angella Oladive
The 9th National Population Health and Environment (PHE) Conference, marking its first in-person gathering in five years since it was last held in Bohol in 2018, kicked off on October 25 at Grand Xing Imperial Hotel, Iloilo City.
The event themed “From Crisis to Opportunity: Re-Engineering the PHE Approach for Resilience and Economic Growth in the New Normal” brought together key resource speakers from different sectors to address crucial issues and develop strategies for scaling up integrated PHE initiatives with a primary goal to harness the demographic dividend and transition while focusing on the most vulnerable sectors of society.
A press conference was led by moderator Atty. Jo Clemente and joined by Dr. Adriano Suba-an, regional director of Department of Health (DOH) VI, Dr. Rodel Lasco, executive director of Oscar M. Lopez Center (OML), Elvin Ivan Uy, Philippines Business for Social Progress (PBSP) executive director and lead convenor of PHE Network, Naida Paison, chief business development officer of Save the Children and convenor of PHE Network, USEC. Lisa Grace Bersales, executive director of Commission on Population and Development (CPD), Dr. Raul Banias, Iloilo province administrator, and Louria Joy Paragon of Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP).
The organizers said the forum delves into a range of important topics such as examining population vulnerabilities resulting from the impacts of climate change, nexus of peace, development, environment, and humanitarian efforts, demographic dividend and demographic transition, with a focus on enhancing the capacities of the most vulnerable sectors, among others.
One central topic discussed is the “demographic dividend.”
Defined as economic growth resulting from changes in a country’s population structure, this dividend often follows a reduction in fertility and mortality rates. It leads to increased productivity among the working population, subsequently boosting per capita income.
Challenges, particularly in the context of human capital, were highlighted by Dr. Banias. He pointed out that although Iloilo has a young population, a closer examination of socioeconomic data reveals a significant issue.
“If you take a look at the population pyramid of Iloilo, we can see the pictures are the same with the country, we have a young population. But if you take a social closer look at the socio-economic profile that PSA Data has on our website. You will see that we have a problem, Human Capital. 25 percent of the 2M Ilonggos have only finished high school and 25 percent have finished elementary,” he said, further raising a question: “So, how can you fill-up the industry in the job market if your population is only high school and elementary?”
In response to these challenges, Banias said the local government is making significant efforts to enhance the educational attainment of Ilonggos while emphasizing the role of education as a fundamental service that must function effectively.
Addressing the issue of “learning poverty” is their top priority, as it is vital to produce a more skilled and competitive workforce.
The significance of the issue is magnified as he cited as an example the growth of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry in the region stating a concerning statistic that out of every ten applicants, only two are being hired.
This gap reflects the need for a more educated and skilled workforce from the region to meet the industry’s demands.
Gender and development also took a prominent place in the conference agenda, with the province of Iloilo serving as a local learning hub for the Philippine Women’s Commission.
The region has launched programs aimed at empowering women and enhancing economic opportunities.
Investments are being made to ensure the province is more gender and development (GAD) friendly, with a focus on improving access to education and critical infrastructure, such as a water system in remote areas, where women can benefit from accessible water systems.
Plans are also in motion to establish resiliency hubs in areas prone to geohazard situations, enhancing the safety and security of vulnerable communities.
One of the resource speakers highlighted the gender imbalance in education. While more women are pursuing higher education, they tend to stay out of the labor force due to household responsibilities. This issue raises questions about the future participation of women in the workforce.
Teenage pregnancy and the need for increased access to family planning services were also discussed, highlighting the importance of empowering youth to make informed choices about their reproductive health.
The Department of Health (DOH) emphasized its substantial investments in improving healthcare access and quality. However, the goal to make Filipinos the healthiest among Asian nations in the future remains a challenge, underscoring the need to address the determinants of health status.
The 9th National PHE Conference in Iloilo aims to enhance integration as a means to achieve resilience in the face of complex, interconnected challenges with education as a central point of concern.
It is clear that addressing the challenges in education is not just a local issue but a crucial step towards ensuring the prosperity and resilience of Iloilo and its people in the years to come.