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 [email protected] For previous articles, visit www.map.org.ph.)