The province of Bohol is struggling to keep its burgeoning population at bay.
And why not? With an annual population growth rate of 2.92% - which overtook the national growth speed of 2.36% - the provincial government of Bohol must do more than a Dagohoy to control the trend.
“We must manage our population," Gov. Erico Aumentado told the eight journalists from Mindanao, Visayas, northern Luzon and Metro Manila who visited the province in mid-February.
(The eight who bagged respective honors at the 3rd PopDev Media Awards last year – Samira Gutoc of The Moro Times, Rene Bartolo of Mindanao Times, Linette Ramos of SunStar Cebu, Mayette Tabada also of SunStar Cebu, Frank Cimatu of the Philippine Daily Inquirer northern Luzon bureau, Aurora Zialcita of ABS-CBN’s radio DZMM, Lea Llamoso of GMA Network’s I-witness and this author – were invited for a study tour of the Philippines’ 10th largest island that is popular tourist destination for its beaches, resorts, tarsiers and Chocolate Hills.)
“We are really serious on this matter. We don’t want to go back where we used to be," Aumentado said. “Our population of 1.137 million is expected to double in 20 years."
The governor’s move to address this concern is urgent. Bohol is a small island. The province comprises of one city, 47 municipalities and 1,109 villages. It has three congressional districts with a land area of 4,117 square kilometers.
No U-turn to ‘Club 20’
The governor said Bohol’s population must be kept within manageable levels to avoid making a U-turn to the Club 20, or the 20 poorest provinces in the country.
Aumentado said seven years ago, Bohol languished at No. 16 among the country’s poorest provinces - popularly known as Club 20.
He once told the Local Peace and Security Assembly in Tagbilaran City: “During that year, using the issue of poverty, the insurgency inroads were terrifying: 305 out of the 1,109 barangays (villages) – or 30 percent thereof – were in various stages of insurgency: influenced, infiltrated or threatened. There were also 283 armed men in four fronts in the province, making Bohol the hotbed of insurgency in Central and Eastern Visayas."
Aumentado said he worked for peace and development for Bohol, which was then overflowing with economic potentials, in order to ease poverty and put the insurgents out of “business."
He said Bohol thrives on agriculture and eco-tourism, and boosting these industries was his challenge.
The governor said they formed the Bohol Poverty Reduction Management Office and designated community development workers in conflict areas that were once a no man’s land for sponsors of the Official Development Assistance projects.
He said under the program, they channeled its 20% development fund amounting to P531.2 million to deal with poverty.
It paid off. Bohol became a first class province and listed the 34th richest province in the Philippines in 2003. The insurgents, the province’s officials claimed, were hardly making a dent, so far.
Bohol’s survey last year showed that 26% in the province say that their lives would further improve in the next 12 months.
Eight out of every 10 Boholanos (84%) have their own houses. As many as 63% own lots. Eight out of every 10 households enjoy electricity, 55% have running water, 67 have TV sets and 80% own radios.
Smooth roads, clean environs, generally smiling Boholanos would greet any visitors on the island.
As one columnist put it: “Also, while [Boholanos] aggressively promote tourism, they zealously protect the environment."
Yet, these achievements, Aumentado fears, will remain fragile in the face of Bohol's population pressures.
ABE CEROJANO, GMANews.TV