The conditional cash transfer program, or “4Ps,” (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) may be a quick fix for poverty but has an adverse effect on rural productivity, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said after a visit to farmers in Palawan last week.
Piñol said that during the Biyaheng Bukid Forum in Brooke’s Point, Palawan last Wednesday, rice farmers sought help from the Department of Agriculture rice transplanters and combined harvester-thresher equipment, complaining that the province no longer has enough willing farm workers.
Piñol said he was told by one farm owner, “Dati marami kaming trabahante. Pero ngayon, mag-ani lang ng isang araw, aayaw na kasi may 4Ps.” (“Before there were many workers, but now, they will only work one day and no more because of the 4Ps.”)
“This is a problem which I have been confronted with in almost all of the rice and corn production areas where the Biyaheng Bukid forum was held in the past,” Piñol said.
The agriculture chief said that the refusal of the 4Ps beneficiaries to undertake hard farm work because they have monthly financial support from government could be viewed two ways. In a positive sense, “it could be an indication of the emancipation of the farm workers from the hard farm work that offers oppressive wages,” he said.
On the other hand, Piñol suggested, “it could be a danger sign of a growing mentality of mendicancy on the part of poor families who receive monthly allowances and now an additional amount for their rice allowance.”
Big budget program
The program, also known as the conditional cash transfer program or CCT, was implemented during the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and was expanded by former President Benigno Aquino III and by the current administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The CCT program is patterned after successful anti-poverty program in several Central and South American countries, in particular Brazil, where it is known as the Bolsa Familia program.
The program provides a P500 monthly stipend for poor families identified by the National Household Targeting System, as well as P300 each per month for up to three children of beneficiary families who are in grade school or high school.
According to the website of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which manages the program, “The CCT program is designed to provide monetary support to extremely poor families to respond to their immediate needs” and to break “the inter-generational poverty cycle by investing in the health and education of poor children.”
The cash grants are conditional in that beneficiary families must make sure that pregnant women and children aged 0 to 5 undergo regular medical examinations, and that school-aged children attend classes regularly.
The beneficiaries are also obliged to attend family development sessions and training for livelihood projects.
The budget for the CCT program for 2017 is P54.9 billion, partly supported by loans and grants from international finance institutions. Piñol pointed out that the budget amount did not include a recently approved monthly rice allowance of 13 kilos per family.
“That is even bigger than the budget of the whole Department of Agriculture which is only P46 billion for 2017,” he said.
“As early as when I was Governor of North Cotabato, I already saw these danger signs on the 4Ps program,” Piñol said. “Families who line up in front of the Land Bank of the Philippines to withdraw their cash dole-outs from the ATM would later be seen in Jollibee and the department stores buying cellphone loads.”
He also said that the program offered an avenue for corruption especially in many poor areas in Mindanao where the beneficiaries’ ATM cards are controlled by local officials who offer “cash advances” to the families and later would get a “cut” of the poor families’ money.
“Since I have been receiving these feedbacks wherever I go, I decided to speak out about this situation, not to criticize the program but to allow the managers of the 4Ps program to take a second look at it and undertake remedial and corrective measures,” he said.
Piñol said the lack of farm workers to do the planting and the harvesting would influence the Department of Agriculture’s planning program for the 2018 budget.
He said that he has already issued a directive that the DA rice and corn program budget for 2018 should allocate more funds for farm implements like tractors, transplanters, harvesters, and dryers.
“The mechanization program will also take into consideration the farm workers who have opted to work in the agriculture sector and who may be displaced by the use of machines,” Piñol stressed.
“In M’lang, North Cotabato, for example, Mayor Russel Abonado and Vice Mayor Lito Piñol designed a program where the farm workers were organized into the M’lang United Transplanters and Harvesters Organization (MUTHO),” he added.
The Dept. of Agriculture (DA) turned over a combined rice harvester to the MUTHO group last year, with the former farm laborers now earning their livelihood operating the machinery, he explained.
“The concept will be replicated in other parts of the country,” Piñol said.