In a recent interview, Dailene Cabigayan-Sentino (right), mother to Chonalyn who is one of the “symbolic” Filipino children, expressed dismay at the recent developments in the country such as the ongoing Covid-19 health crisis and worsening inflation that keep her away from her daughter while she works as a caregiver in London for three years now. Though thankful that her little one was chosen to represent the symbolic babies and receive simple birthday gifts from the government, she feels that they are not enough, because their need for resources also increases. As a mom, she finds it ironic being thousands of miles away from Chonalyn, while taking care of another’s child. With meager savings preventing her from returning home, Dailene is bent on staying in her work “until miracles happen.” She said that daily video calling and exchanging of messages cannot compensate for her absence to personally care for her daughter.

The Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) underscores the significance of every person born in a family, especially within the context of development, as the “symbolic 100 millionth Filipinos” turn eight years old on July 27, 2022.

Leading the nationwide celebration of the children’s natal day by promoting their continuous advancement and providing fundamental socioeconomic services, POPCOM considers their deliveries in local state hospitals as historic, as they marked a milestone for the Philippine population. On the said date eight years ago, when the country’s citizens were estimated to have breached 100 million, the agency selected newborns whose births signaled the rollout of essential services that need to be provided by various institutions in ensuring the wellbeing and development of each individual through their life cycle.

Since then, POPCOM has closely monitored the growth and development of this cohort of babies and their families. It maintains that securing the excellent state of education and health of the country’s young citizens should be prioritized in preparing them to be contributors to further the nation’s growth and progress.

They also serve as benchmarks on ways national and local governments have looked after juvenile Filipinos, with focus on their learning and growth, as well as maternal and childcare. Likewise, POPCOM strongly advocates for the implementation of programs on adolescent health and development or AHD, as well as children’s health, for those who are about to enter their adolescent years.

Government-dependent: Likewise, POPCOM has kept abreast of the children’s lives, as some suffered from health concerns—with one afflicted with a heart ailment, and serious parental issues. A few saw their siblings’ numbers increase further with their mothers’ repeat pregnancies. Their parents now find it difficult to provide enough for their families, and thus are heavily reliant on government provisions. 

According to other parents of the special cohort of youngsters, the past years have been some of their “most difficult, yet interesting times,” as the pandemic forced the latter to be indoors and attend their classes online. While digital technology has helped them cope with the situation by being more independent-minded, their being cocooned at home has somehow impacted their participation in mainstream society.

Not too long ago, the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, noted that “despite progress, children are deprived of basic rights in the Philippines,” as more than 30% of them live below the basic-needs poverty line. While the country was able to reduce overall child mortality rates between 1990 and 2015, nutrition among the very young was described as “poor,” compared to regional averages in East Asia and the Pacific. Though access to education is encouraging, about 2 million children aged 5 to 15 remain unenrolled.

Healthy, productive, empowered: For Undersecretary Juan Antonio Perez III, MD, MPH, continuous monitoring of the development of the particular group of young “Pinoys” serves as an indicator of the Philippine government’s services under the Philippine Population and Development Program or PPDP, especially when it comes to national population management.

While some concerns of the children’s families have to do with internal matters, the POPDEV undersecretary shared that the national government and local government units (LGUs) are currently strengthening programs and interventions that protect and uphold Filipino children’s rights, especially when they pertain to “balanced diet, adequate clothing, sufficient shelter, proper medical attention and all the basic physical requirements of a healthy and vigorous life,” as stipulated in Presidential Decree 603, or the “Child and Youth Welfare Code.”

“Our wish is for the families of the children to be models in their respective communities,  where they are guided on their ways in ensuring that each single member, especially the kids, can be healthy, productive and empowered,” Dr. Perez explained. “We commit to the strengthening of  their state of education and health, as these are the bases of development, while continuously aiming for their improved quality of living.”

“Our agency and regional offices continuously work closely with LGUs in monitoring their growth and development, but we cannot do it alone,” the POPCOM chief clarified. “The huge roles of parents and community play the biggest part in a child’s development, which are complemented with help and support that the government can provide.”

“Despite challenges, we should combine all these efforts in a common goal for all of to have a higher chance of achieving the desired stable, comfortable and secured lives, especially for our children,” he remarked.