ACCORDING to the latest installment of a regularly conducted survey by the Ibon Foundation, five years of the Aquino Administration’s “straight path” has hardly dented the persistence of poverty in the Philippines.
The survey, which the group reports was conducted among nearly 1,500 families across the country in mid-May, reveals that 67 percent of the respondents – 2 out of every 3 people – consider themselves “poor.” About 24 percent consider themselves “not poor,” while a little less than 10 percent were either unsure or offered no response.
The results stand in stark contrast, as they almost always do, to official government estimates of poverty prevalence. In the most recent report of the official Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES), poverty incidence was estimated to be just 26 percent, with 10.5 percent falling below the subsistence threshold.
Government officials invariably point to differences in survey methodology as the source of the usual discrepancy between the FIES and the Ibon survey, and to some extent they are correct.
However, experienced statisticians familiar with both have suggested that such “technical differences” should only amount to differences in the results of a few percentage points one way or another. The results of the Ibon survey, which show poverty incidence is more than double what the government claims, may not be completely accurate (it has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 percent, which the experts say is normal for a survey of this type), but they cannot possibly be so erroneous as to differ from the government data by an entire order of magnitude or more.
One clue to the difference is the definition of “poverty” used by the government, compared with what the Ibon Foundation estimates is a realistic poverty threshold. The official government poverty threshold is P58 per person per day. At current exchange rates, that is equivalent to $1.28, very close to the $1.25 per day threshold considered an international standard. By comparison, Ibon estimates a family of six actually requires P1,086 per day, or about P181 ($4.00) per person.
What is important to remember, however, is that the Ibon survey does not identify poverty according to an income benchmark, but rather people’s perceptions; one could be earning well over the established threshold and still feel poor.
That is what should be of grave concern to the Aquino Administration and anyone who hopes to succeed President BS Aquino 3rd. For all the rhetoric about “Tuwid na Daan” and “inclusive growth,” two-thirds of the country still feel they are disadvantaged. And circumstances such as the lagging recovery from calamities such as Typhoon Yolanda, the persistently high cost of power, deteriorating transportation infrastructure, and expensive, unreliable services such as water and internet, suggest those feelings are not at all misplaced.
That two-thirds of the Filipino people feel they are no better off and perhaps even worse off than they were before Aquino took office should be regarded by the President and his coterie for what it is – an embarrassing shame and an indictment against his government’s lack of sensitivity and attention to people’s basic needs.