Manila: The Philippines said the prospect of breaching the 100 million population mark is both a challenge and an opportunity.

“It is both a challenge and an opportunity because people are the most important resource. That is our balanced view of the situation,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said on the state-run DZRB Radyo ng Bayan yesterday.

Coloma was reacting to a statement given by Philippine Populations Commission (Popcom) executive director Dr Juan Antonio Perez that the country was expected to breach the 100 million mark by the third or fourth quarter of the year.

Perez, in an interview published in the Philippine Star, noted that a rising population would require investment in social health, education and infrastructure — expenditures that the government can hardly afford right now.

Perez said that with the country’s population growth rate pegged at an annual two per cent, the Philippines needs to “maintain a gross domestic product of more than four per cent to keep pace with employment”.

But Coloma said these issues were factored in when the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) came up with the 2011-2016 Philippine Development Plan (PDP).

Coloma said the PDP is geared for inclusive growth, to make sure all Filipinos benefit from any improvements in the country’s economy. Coloma, likewise, stressed a large part of the budget for 2014 was geared towards social protection and social welfare and development.

“The majority of Filipinos should not be left out of any growth,” he said.

The country’s population growth had always been a subject of debate among economists. During the administration of president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo this matter had been brought up and the standard response was that population growth would be good for a country like the Philippines. This, given that the country had no qualms about exporting its surplus manpower and benefiting from this arrangement in terms of foreign currency remittances.

International observers have said that the Philippines has to rein in its population growth so that its citizens would be able to share the benefits.