Despite difficulties in mobility, a couple commits to receive family planning advice from a health worker. POPCOM said more Filipino men and women consciously made efforts to plan their families last year. POPCOM REGIONAL OFFICE V.

POPCOM: Pandemic causes decline in 2020 births 
Numbers lowest in 34 years

     The Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) cited a significant drop in the number of births in 2020, with just 1,516,042 million registered in the country—the lowest number registered since 1986, when only 1,493,995 Filipinos were born—based on a preliminary report of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in June 2021. 

        Based on figures released by the PSA, POPCOM said the numbers are comparable to those in 1986, or almost three-and-a-half decades ago, and are lower than 2019’s (1.675 million) by more than 157,881, which posted a decrease in births by 9.43%, year-on-year.

          The country also saw the lowest number of marriages in the last 20 years in 2020, as 240,183 couples wed last year: 44% fewer than the 431,972 who tied the knot in 2019. 

          Undersecretary for Population and Development (POPDEV) Juan Antonio Perez III, MD, MPH attributes the 2020 birthrate decline to the combined impacts of fewer marriages, women delaying pregnancies during the pandemic, and the increase in women using modern family planning methods to prevent unplanned pregnancies.

         “What we feared at the onset of the pandemic did not happen,” POPCOM’s executive director declared. “From the PSA numbers, it is clear Filipino women are deciding to delay having children, and families are deferring, or avoiding, to have more kids, as they were made well-aware of the possible hardships and inconveniences in securing medical, as well as family planning services, since the pandemic has severely impeded health-care systems.”

        Despite also being heavily compromised due to ensuing travel restrictions and limited local health-care capacities, Perez is also pleased with the outcome of family planning services in the country in 2020, with the addition of 400,000 users nationwide, which brought the total to more than 8 million protected Filipino men, women and couples.

     Concerted efforts by the national government in support of local government family planning services, allied agencies, as well as stakeholders from the public and private sector raised the level of Filipinos’ awareness and interest on the potential risks of conceiving and giving birth during the health crisis. POPCOM has also sought to expand community-based family planning services through its National Program on Population and Family Planning, or NPPFP, which the agency started implementing in 2019. 

Concerns and projections. Perez also noted the Social Weather Stations’ November 2020 survey, which disclosed that unintended or unplanned pregnancies were among major concerns of a majority of Filipino women during the pandemic’s progression. They were also anxious about Covid-19’s effects on their well-being as well as their families, their unborn children, and the country’s overall condition, according to the study

       The POPCOM official projects that the slowing trend of marriages, pregnancies and childbirths will likely continue this year: “The number of those who gave birth between January and March 2021 were at 268,000, compared with the normal trend of 350,000. If that continues, we can see an even smaller addition to the population by year-end.”

He also said there may be instances of delays in the registry of births, more so in the provinces, as midwives may have met difficulties in reporting them due to the pandemic. 

Fertility decline continues. The POPCOM chief disclosed that the country’s fertility rate is currently at 2.5 births per woman, from a high of 6 in the 1960s. But he sees the situation normalizing in a post-pandemic Philippines, when fertility and the steadily dipping number of marriages will see a possible rebound—similar to what occurred after World War 2: “Filipinos will eventually learn to live with Covid-19. As such, we may see increased births after the era of Covid, with family planning helping couples avoid unplanned pregnancies, unlike in the late 1940s and 1950s when there was no family planning program.”

             With regard to the decline in the number of those entering into married life, Perez opined that generally for Filipinos, being in a relationship has become more “informal,” with figures declining from a high of 593,553 couples who tied the knot in 2003.

“As such, POPCOM will devote a significant amount of its energies on young people who are now living together, and are having difficulty in acquiring family planning services, under its recent mandate to address the root causes of teen pregnancy,” he stated.

     With the agency’s implementation of appropriate programs and unrelenting efforts that positively affected 2020’s low birth rate, the POPDEV undersecretary said family planning is just as vital in a health crisis, as it is a means to cope with life in post-pandemic scenarios: “Alleviating poverty and the ability to plan one’s life should go together.”