Last of three parts
Despite the appalling amounts of smuggling and misappapriation cited earlier in this article, if Filipinos are doing fine, then maybe the scams are not so bad. Is the nation, especially the poor, better off under Aquino?
Here’s some data from the United Nations’ Human Development Reports for 2013 and 2014. In the decade to 2010, mostly under then-President Gloria Arroyo, the country’s Human Development Index (HDI) improved by an average of 0.61 percent a year, as cited in the 2013 report. That’s up from 0.49 in 1990-2000 and 0.35 in 1980-90.
Incorporating the first two full years under President Benigno Aquino 3rd, when gross domestic product returned to the 6-7 percent annual growth before the 2008-09 global slump, the HDI should have improved even faster.
It didn’t. Average increase slowed to 0.58 percent a year for 2000-12 after the Aquino years of 2011-12 were averaged with the Arroyo decade. Adding 2013 data, the annual average HDI increase for 2000-13 further slowed to 0.49 percent in the Human Development Report 2014, though it might have been computed differently.
Self-rated poverty is worse
Other data support the UN numbers. Every quarter Social Weather Stations asks respondents if their families are poor. Under Arroyo, this self-rated poverty (SRP) fell from 62 percent of families in 2001, her first year, to 49 percent in 2009, when global recession cut Philippine GDP growth to barely one percent, and 48 percent in 2010.
Under Aquino, the 48 percent average SRP rate he inherited climbed to 52 percent in the past two years, despite Asia-pacing GDP growth. In the first two quarters of this year, the percentage of households that said they were poor worsened further to 53 percent in January-March and 55 percent in April-June.
Government data as of last month also showed limited improvement in poverty. Incidence moderated somewhat to 25.2 percent of families in 2012, from 26.3 percent in the global-recession year of 2009. There are about 22 million families in the country.
The poorest sectors, fisherfolk and farmers, aren’t much better off. Poverty among fishermen’s families declined slightly to 39.2 percent in 2012, from 41.2 percent three years before. Farmers’ lives improved even less: the poor among their households had been stuck at 38 percent since 2006, as reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority.
Even more distressing, poverty incidence in the poorest region worsened under Aquino. After dipping in 2009 to 42 percent in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, ARMM poverty rose to 46.9 percent, even with hefty development funds for the Aquino-appointed regional governor.
Not enough to eat
SWS also measured the food-poverty rate, the percentage of families who do not have enough money to buy the food they need. With her comprehensive Accelerated Hunger Mitigation Program targeting a wide range of factors behind the scourge, Arroyo reduced food-poor households from 53 percent average in 2001 to 36 percent in 2010.
How did Aquino do with strong economic expansion and the conditional cash transfer stipend for millions of poor families, exceeding P40 billion a year since 2012? Food-poor households increased from an average of 36 percent of Filipino families in 2010 to 41 percent in 2012 and 39 percent last year. For the first half of this year, self-rated food poverty averaged 40 percent, no doubt affected by soaring rice and other food prices.
SWS hunger data affirms the lack of improvement in food poverty. The annual average ratio of all families who involuntarily missed at least one meal in the past three months rose from 19.1 percent in 2009 and 2010, to 19.9 percent in 2011 and 2012. It dipped to 19.5 percent average last year, and further to 16.3 percent last quarter. Let’s hope it keeps improving despite still-high food costs and the typhoon season.
Prices and jobs are the key
Two factors are key to alleviating poverty: inflation and jobs. If prices climb, thousands or millions of Filipinos fall below the poverty line and can no longer afford basic needs. After staying below 4 percent in the past two years, inflation has neared 5 percent, prompting the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to raise interest rates to curb it.
The BSP’s rate hikes, however, won’t do much for the current price spiral in edibles burdening ordinary Filipinos, especially the poor. What could help is the increased rice imports announced by President Aquino last month. Authorized shipments for this year total 2.3 million tons, the same volume needed in 2010, after the Ondoy and Pepeng megafloods wiped out most of the main 2009 crop.
Rice smuggling is the other problem. Due to cheap imports, local farmers suffer reduced incomes and crop prices, driving tens of thousands to penury and leading many to cut cultivation of edibles undercut by smuggled produce. Now, with shipments constrained by the current Manila ports congestion — itself caused by wrongheaded government policies — food prices have spiralled, squeezing the poor, including farmers.
As for jobs, Aquino-era economic growth, business investment, and government spending have not trimmed unemployment much. Like poverty incidence, joblessness is stuck in a range: 6.5-8 percent. It dropped to 7 percent in the latest Labor Force Survey in April. Usually between 18 and 19 percent, underemployment fell to 18.2 percent. To slash poverty, both figures need to break through their lower limits.
That looks unlikely with higher interest rates restraining growth, and key growth drivers slowing. Government consumption spending rose just 2.0 percent in the first quarter of 2014, a fifth of the 10 percent first quarter 2013 pace. Fixed capital formation, up 7.7 percent, was just one-sixth of the nearly 50 percent surge in January-June 2013.
Bad news for farmers and fisherfolk, agriculture managed just 0.9 percent growth, less than a third of the same quarter a year ago, with fishing, the livelihood of some of the poorest communities, contracting 3 percent. Construction, a leading employment generator, also hit the skids: only 0.9 percent up against 31.1 percent a year ago.
After botching his Tuwid na Daan anti-corruption drive, thanks to unbridled KKK, trebled PDAF, illegal DAP, and record smuggling, Aquino has also done little for the poor whom he promised to uplift by purportedly fighting graft, but instead unleashing it for his camp.
Now he wants to do this for six more years and with less judicial accountability. No way.
(The first two parts were published on Monday and Wednesday.)