Mapping the Future

Winning the war against poverty


Poverty is a tell-tale sign of the failure of governments in instituting reforms for the betterment of its citizens.

Thus, using this scorecard, the Philippines has a dismal record over the past 50 years. In the early 1960s, we were the envy of the rest of Asia. The Philippines then was adjudged the second-best economy after Japan. What happened afterwards may be likened to the country falling into period of ignominy. This spans the administrations of six Presidents— Macapagal, Marcos, Aquino, Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo. Thus, it is not fair to simply put all the blame to the recent past President. Today, we have one of the highest poverty incidences in Southeast Asia.

P-Noy is the sitting President and we still have to see how the end of his term will perform on this poverty scorecard. P-Noy was elected with the promise of “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” He still has three years and it is too early to give him a score using this yardstick. But it is worth reviewing what he has done and see what more needs to be done.

The way P-Noy figured it out to rid the country of the poverty problem is to clean up the government from graft and corruption. His earlier gains in putting the previous President in “prison” and getting rid of a perceived Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as a puppet of the previous President seem to be working to restore confidence in government. Many economic indicators seem to point out to an economic take-off for the Philippines. Most recently, we were given an investment-grade rating, a welcome development for foreign investors to take the country seriously as an investment destination.

But it seems that the trickle-down effect does not seem to be happening. Job creation and income generation, especially for the bottom of the pyramid, is not being felt. Poverty statistics point to a different direction especially with the all-time low prices of copra where millions of Filipinos are dependent on.

Economic growth seems to benefit only the rich and the middle class especially those in the urban areas.

To be fair, P-Noy’s administration is trying to address this problem. Foremost among these is the 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) under the Department of Social Welfare and Development to address the needs of the poorest of the poor.

The second is the Kalusugang Pankalahatan (Health for All) of the Department of Health and then Philippine Health Insurance.

The third is the K to 12 of the Department of Education. This will afford students to get job competency in the Senior High School and should make them job ready.

The fourth is the National Greening Program under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that hopes to mobilize upland dwellers, one of the most vulnerable groups, for reforestation projects.

The fifth is legislative agenda that enacted the Reproductive Health Law that according to the majority of our lawmakers is the answer to poverty. (I beg to disagree. As an economist, the proposition that population growth is the cause of poverty in the country does not hold water.)

The sixth is the recently launched “Bottoms-Up-Budget” program, which will set aside P20 billion for projects to be identified by mayors of the country’s poorest provinces. Projects to be funded are preschools, health centers, water supply, reforestation, and flood mitigation.

I hope and pray that P-Noy and the secretaries of concerned departments give their utmost best in making sure that these programs (except the RH Law) produce the intended results, that is, “to lift more families from poverty.”

Who are the poor?

It might be good for P-Noy and his administration take a step back and see who and where the poor people in the Philippines are. If we go by the statistics, the great majority are the farmers, fishermen, and kaingineros. And if such is the case, I wonder why there is no concrete program crafted for these vulnerable groups.

It is true that the Department of Agriculture (DA) all these years have invested billions of pesos for farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, post-harvest facilities, farm equipment, subsidized fertilizers and seeds, research and development, the list goes on and on. And yet, why are the farmers still the poorest of the poor? It simply tells us that these programs are not making the intended big impact in lifting families of farmers from poverty.

How to lick this problem?

Many times when government bureaucrats and politicians make development plans, they keep in mind the “quick gains” like funds disbursed on time, number of beneficiaries, and photo ops to make it to the press and TV to earn pogi points for themselves. But have they really figured out if such programs are working and producing the intended results? Like many government (local and foreign)-funded projects, when project funds are all spent, the project grinds to a stop and joins the list of white elephants.

Unfortunately, investment in human capital is the least in the priorities because such programs take time and even years to produce results beyond the secretary’s or politician’s term of office. But this is one important investment that has to be done to sustain growth and development.

Take for example agriculture. Filipino farmers are aging and there is no generation of educated young people going into agriculture. I just don’t know if our people in government realize this serious problem but I see it more critical than rice self-sufficiency where much of the funds at DA are spent for. A rice farmer with two hectares will still be poor even if he manages to double his output. The same can be said of corn, coconut, and sugar where the great majority of the country’s farmers are engaged in.

Every year, around this time, I look forward to seeing the list of students granted scholarships by DOST to pursue science and technology courses in public and private universities. These scholars number to about 3,500 high-school graduates annually. If the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) justifies this because of the need to prepare manpower for this sector, I wonder why up to this day the DA has not come up with a similar program to prepare future agripreneurs, not scientists, farm technicians, and extension workers because we have an oversupply of these types of manpower. (This is one reason why courses in agriculture for the past 25 years have low enrolment).

I hope P-Noy and Secretary Alcala take a look at this problem. If P-Noy takes a serious interest on solving the problem of poverty of farmers, I think his last three years will make a big difference in the lives of the poor. He will be remembered as the President who has won the war against poverty in the Philippines.

But the government cannot solve this problem alone. The private sector has to find innovative solutions to educate the poor, especially those in the agriculture sector where they count the most. I am glad that private sector groups like the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), MFI Foundation, Foundations for People Development, and the Philippine Federation of Family Farm and Rural Schools have started programs to benefit children of poor Filipino farmers to educate and train them to be next generation agripreneurs. I hope many more groups will follow their example.

(This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is a member of the MAP Agribusiness and Countryside Development Committee, and dean of the MFI Farm Business School. Feedback at For previous articles, visit

Get Inquirer updates while on the go, add us on these apps:

Inquirer Viber

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • Vic @ Business Tips Blog

    In my own opinion, the major cause of poverty in the Philippines is corruption – corruption in the government offices, corruption on people’s votes, and even corruption in the churches. Stealing money is not only the form of corruption. Teaching false knowledge can also be considered as corruption.

  • Facebook User

    Better to create a market and attract agri-business entrepreneurs rather than train people that won’t make money.

  • Gico Dayanghirang

    Indeed, other than hardware (agrarian reform), farmers also need software (technical skill) to really get going.

  • JOHNCeneza

    Example of poor filipino family scene: Parents have many children hoping that many will eventually help in bringing the family out of poverty. They raise them by working hard, sending them to school. Some due to peer pressures or barkada or lack in finacial capability drops out of school and ends up as Stand-by or work at an early age to help ease the family’s financial burdens. Some children do send money to parents, some don’t and spends it all on cellphones and other wants. well you cannot blame them, its their own money anyways but without any regard in saving for future expenses. At the age of 17 – 24, some children will ask to get married coz they got pregnant or got someone pregnant. with no savings or decent work experience, they tend to ask their parents for milk to feed their babies thereby increasing the burdens on the parents.
    Example above is from my experiences in observing people that i know. Imagine something like this is happening everywhere, the gov’t or the sectors desiring to help will be overwelmed.
    My point here is that without training/education in financial management and proper family planning, the war on proverty will never be won.

    • Crazy_horse101010

      perfect example of what i see here they have kids to take dare but now grandpa is driving a tricycle taking care of kids and grandkids because they cant find a job the girls go to the cities and find the only jobs they can get is on their backs more and more of them are turning to drugs ive had parents ask me to buy their kids and i adopted 3 kids who were my wifes cousins and their mother didnt want them only problem she was a shabu addict and the kids are what we call in america meth babies. they have a lot of mental problems and now their birth mother has 4 more kids whos lives will be ruined. and sadly there is a lot more mothers like her in the mountains

  • JOHNCeneza

    If the the parents can’t control the size of their families how do you expect them to rise above poverty with many mouths to feed. They can’t really depend on hand-outs forever. They should learn how to manage their finances (the gov’t should teach it to them), and by managing their finances, it would mean reducing their expenses and maximizing their income and savings. how can they reduce expenses if they have a dozen children to feed. (raising children is an expense that cannot just be neglected or stopped unlike other kind of expenses)

    I agree that its not the government’s problem alone. The war on poverty shall start at the family level not on the national level. That is why everyone, and most of all those affected by poverty must be pro-actively seeking ways to get out of it. not by relying and blaming the government, but by planning their expenses in starting a family from the start.

    • galit_sa_oligarko

      sorry I can’t find the button to like this, I’ll post it anyway LIKE! LIKE!

    • Facebook User

      I agree. Population growth isn’t a problem, but over population is.
      And it’s important that all Filipinos are taught how to manage their money.

    • rodben

      Very interesting topics, when I was in province town of Sorsogon during my youngest age we back 70’s during our palay harvest no body stole it even one week stock beside the road and no one will touch our corn plantation in the mountain which is to be harvest after we finish palay…and in our town big businesses are stable….their is a big bus terminal run by the gov’t giving a good jobs too… 80’s I move in Manila feared for NPA’s and become OFW in 90’s…in 2000 I have a chance to visit my home town I was so amaze the busiest town before become a ghost town now….most of the peoples are complaining about the rampant extortion of the NPA’s at manok na nakatali ninanakaw na daw….the conclusion and judgment is your’s..

To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.

Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:

c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City,Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


editors' picks



latest videos