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26 June 2010

Crises drop two million Filipinos to poverty

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At least 2 million Filipinos became poor in the aftermath of unfortunate events that hit the country in the last four years, a study commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) showed, as reported by the Manila Times.

The study, titled Tackling Poverty and Social Impacts: Philippine Response to the Global Economic Crisis, attributed the number of poor Filipinos to the three shocks that hit the Philippines—the rise in food prices from 2007 to 2008, the global financial and economic crisis from 2008 to 2009 and the Typhoons Santi and Pepeng and Tropical Storm Ondoy hitting the country in 2009.

These shocks, according to the report, sharply sank the economy’s productive sectors in 2009 such as agriculture (from -0.3 to -3.4 percent), industry (0.7 to -6.1 percent) and manufacturing (from 1.4 percent to -7.8 percent).

Production in the services industry remained steady for the past two years at -2.5 percent. Arsenio Balisacan, an author of the report, noted that the productive sectors resulted in high underemployment, which reduced the mean income of Filipinos by 2.1 percent and increased poverty by 1.6 percent in the process.

The government’s responses to the shocks, according to the study, proved to be wanting because projects and activities tended to be mere handouts instead of making people capable in building productive assets.

At the height of the crisis in 2008, the government came up with an Economic Resiliency Plan, which included a pump-priming program with a total budget of 4 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and increased spending for job creation, technical programs, cash transfers and food subsidies.

“Responses drawn by the national government were heavily implemented across the country despite the fact that various communities have varied needs. There was poor attention to quality, especially in the run-up to elections,” Balisacan pointed out, saying that the government actually spent two pesos for every peso that it gave to the poor.

The study, however, recognized that the government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program was an effective vehicle for addressing short- term poverty and long-term human development.

The CCT, locally known as Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, is a development and poverty-reduction strategy that provides cash assistance to extremely poor households to allow the family members to meet certain human development goals such as health, nutrition and education, provided that they comply with certain conditions.

The conditions included: Children 3 to 5 years old must attend day care/pre-school at least 85 percent of the time; children 6 to 14 years old must attend school at least 85 percent of the time; children from zero to 5 years old must get regular health check-up and vaccinations;

children 6 to 14 years old must undergo deworming every six months; parents must attend responsible parenthood sessions; and pregnant women must get pre-and post-natal care and be attended to during childbirth by a skilled/trained birth attendant.

But for the UNDP country director for the Philippines, Renaud Meyer, having two million more poor Filipinos at this point is simply unacceptable notwithstanding the global crisis.


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