Fighting poverty

Published June 11, 2019, 12:33 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Atty. Joey D. Lina Former Senator
Atty. Joey D. Lina
Former Senator

How poor are the poor Filipinos among us? Answers vary, incredibly.

A family of five needed in 2018 no less than P10,481, on average, to meet basic food and non-food expenses to be above the poverty threshold, according to a report last April of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) which estimated poverty incidence among Filipino families at 16.1% and among Filipino individuals at 21% in the first half of 2018.

But according to Social Weather Stations, the average family of five needs to have a monthly income of around P20,000, for those living in Metro Manila, and P15,000 in Mindanao, to stay above poverty level. The SWS “self-rated poverty” survey in June, 2018, revealed that around 48% of families or 11 million considered themselves poor.

And there’s also Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia who said in June last year that the average Filipino family “would actually need an aggregate income of P42,000 to live above the poverty line.” He said such household may consist of two family members earning P21,000 each per month and are exempted from paying income tax. But with a total monthly figure double that of SWS, it won’t be surprising if an overwhelming majority of Filipinos would rate themselves impoverished.

In my DZMM teleradyo program, Sagot Ko ‘Yan last Sunday morning, I had an insightful discussion with Dr. Rene Ofreneo, a professor and former dean of the UP School of Labor and Industrial Relations, who said that the SWS survey on poverty incidence was closer to reality, and that the PSA data seems to understate the magnitude of poverty.

“The poverty threshold of P10,481 monthly for a family of  five means a member of the  family will only get P69.87 daily. This is barely enough to cover three low-cost or budget meals costing P25 each.  If one includes transport, schooling, health, house rental and other basic expenditures, the PSA threshold becomes meaningless,” Dr. Ofreneo explained.

While many sectors such as trade unions and farmers organizations view the PSA poverty threshold “too low and incredible,” the estimated 16.1% poverty incidence of Filipino families reported by PSA in the first semester of 2018 is a huge drop from the 22.2% during the same period in 2015. The PSA also said that poverty incidence among Filipino individuals estimated at 21% in 2018 is much lower than the 27.6% recorded in 2015.

With the PSA indicators, it appears that the Duterte administration is on track to achieve development targets of, in the words of presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, “decreasing poverty incidence to 14 percent, or even better, by the end of PRRD’s term in 2022 and fulfill the President’s vision of providing a comfortable life for each and every Filipino.” Unemployment is also projected to decrease from 5.5% in 2016 to 3-5% in 2022.

But Dr. Ofreneo warns: “It is dangerous for the government policy makers and economic planners to assume a business-as-usual posture based on the PSA data on declining unemployment and poverty. The gravity of joblessness and poverty in the whole archipelago requires the formulation of bolder social and economic reform measures, not a mere affirmation or re-affirmation of existing ones that are unable to deliver real change in the lives of the common people.”

Among the “bolder social and economic reform measures,” he said, is the pursuit of “multiple engines of growth,” aside from the “manufacturing for growth strategy” in infrastructure development through the current “Build, Build, Build” program.

A potential engine of growth, Dr. Ofreneo said, is the mobilization of around 10% of the savings of Overseas Filipino Workers, who remit over $30 billion yearly, into productive capital. He said the administration can review an earlier policy study made by former colleague Sen. Teofisto Guingona on how OFWs can become investors.

He said steel manufacturing or revival of the National Steel Corporation ought to be pursued to provide the enormous steel requirements for the ongoing infra projects. Also needed is a measure to elevate the capacity of the informal sector. Dr. Ofreneo said a Magna Carta for Workers in the Informal Economy is necessary to give legal recognition to Informal Economy (IE) organizations, arrange dialogues between government and IE organizations, and provide for representation in tripartite and other bodies in local and national levels.

The poverty alleviation efforts of the Duterte administration have been strengthened with the recent enactment into law of the landmark Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program which gives more benefits such as the new P700 cash grant per senior high school student of beneficiary families, an inflation adjustment provision, and additional modes of cash transfer.

But poverty incidence remains high especially in the countryside. About two of every three poor Filipinos are in rural areas and are largely dependent on agricultural income and employment. Underemployment in agriculture is a persistent problem. It is therefore imperative for our newly elected leaders to intensify pursuit of agricultural modernization. It is key to achieving food security, job creation, balanced rural-urban development, and, most importantly, eradication of widespread poverty.

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