WITH PNoy still refusing to pull the plug on the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program despite four years of anemic results, there’s no denying that the controversial cash dole out scheme has now been transformed into a political rather than socio-economic tool, especially with the looming 2016 national elections.
According to the Social Weather Station (SWS) third quarter survey results released last week, 55 percent (estimated 12.1 million) of Filipino families considered themselves as mahirap or poor, an increase of 3 percentage points over the 2013 average of 52 percent.
The latest SWS survey also found that 43 percent (estimated 9.3 million) of families consider the type of food that they eat as mahirap or poor, or families that SWS calls “food-poor” – a 4 percent increase above the 39 percent four-quarter average of 2013.
As expected, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Dinky Soliman quickly parried widespread criticism that its anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs like CCT were not working. “(W)ithout our programs, the survey may have yielded more detrimental results,” Soliman argued.
The tide of historical data, however, does not support Soliman’s claims.
The CCT program (now known as the “Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program” or 4Ps) was piloted in 2007 and launched on a wider scale a year later. From around 1 million households in 2010, the CCT program’s beneficiary households quickly expanded to 3 million registered households after the second year of the Aquino administration. And as of June 2014, there were 4,090,667 beneficiary households under the 4Ps.
Of course, doling out cash to millions of households requires a lot of money; money that the public coffers does not have. This is why the Aquino administration was forced to borrow US$405 million from the World Bank (WB) and another US$400 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
So what has PNoy got to show for his billion-peso dole outs? Not much really.
The self-rated poverty and hunger rates among Filipinos have not improved significantly over the past four years of the Aquino administration. In fact, based on SWS surveys, it was during the Arroyo administration (March 2010) when the country’s self-rated poverty dipped to its lowest level in 23 years at 43 percent.
And ironically, while CCT program’s budget has tripled to P62.6 billion from P21.9 billion in 2011, the self-rated poverty level during the Aquino administration has climbed steadily from 48 percent in 2010 to 49 percent in 2011 to 52 percent in 2012 and 2013, according the same SWS surveys.
In spite of the seeming noble intentions of the CCT program, it has not achieved its objective of improving the quality of life of poor Filipino families. Worse, the scheme appears to have bred a more insidious threat to democracy and the democratic process.
In the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom paper published by Heritage Foundation, an American think tank based in Washington, D.C., policy analyst Sergio Daga claims that “due to poor monitoring and control mechanisms, these [cash transfer]programs are creating clientelistic behavior on the part of politicians.”
By that, Daga means CCT programs tend to breed political clientelism. In simple terms, political clientelism is defined as the distribution of material goods to individuals or clearly defined groups in exchange for political or electoral support.
Daga explains: “Emerging and less developed economies have suffered from political clientelism, especially regarding social assistance programs, for a long time. As World Bank CCT scholar Laura Rawlings points out, ‘there has been criticism of paternalism, clientelism and corruption in social assistance programs, many of which are perceived as vehicles for political patronage.’
“CCT programs seem to follow the same pattern…[C]ertain features of CCT programs indicate that the executive is focused more on using the program for short term political gains (earning political capital) than on attaining its long-term goals…”
According to Daga, “the introduction of conditionality on cash transfers has become more popular among governments because of the political benefits that can accrue to the ruling party or the central government.”
The observations of the Heritage Foundation’s policy analyst are validated by several studies on the effects of CCT programs on voting behavior.
In a 2011 study entitled “Anti-Poverty Programs and Presidential Election Outcomes,”
Colombian economics professor Oskar Nupia found that beneficiaries of cash transfer programs appeared to reward the incumbent government in presidential elections.
The results of another study conducted by economists from the World Bank and other renowned academic institutions in 2012 suggests that the CCT program in Mexico had influenced the electoral choice of voters and had resulted in higher incumbent vote shares.
We’re sure PNoy and his Liberal Party allies – including CCT kingpin and rumored senatorial aspirant Dinky Soliman – are well aware of the CCT program’s political dividends.
Perhaps that explains why the allocation for the CCT program in next year’s budget – which is also an election budget – has increased to its highest ever at P78 billion. That’s campaign money ordinary working Filipinos will end up paying for.