The continuing level of poverty in the Philippines as many have written about is in direct conflict with all the trumpeting about “stellar economic growth” numbers.
The extreme poverty incidence has been reduced in percentage terms over the last three years by 2.3 percent. In 2012 the number of Filipinos who could not afford enough food on which to subsist was 13.4 percent of a population of 97.1 million, or 13,011,400. In 2015 it was 12.1 percent of a population of 102.2 million, or 12,366,200.
In that four-year period, 645,200 people or 0.65 percent of the population average, were raised from starvation conditions to being able afford to eat enough to remain productive. To meet the “food threshold” for 2015, a family of five needed an overall average monthly income of P6,365. This is not economic development; it is a national disaster.
There are not too many places with higher levels of extreme poverty than the Philippines, and they are states which the Philippines would not like to consider as comparable “peer states” – Haiti, Madagascar, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Togo to name a few.
I doubt that there is too much national interest in, say, Madagascar over the customs tariff for importing Lamborghinis or available broadband speeds, or that in Afghanistan there will be long lines of people queuing up to buy the latest iPhone on its release date. National interest in such states will be on how to get enough money to simply survive. But this is not the case, or at least it does not appear to be the case [and it is appearance that is so important]in the Philippines.
To quote British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan in a 1957 speech, “You will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime – nor indeed in the history of this country.” “Indeed let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good.” To a point the statement was correct, increased production in major industries such as steel, coal and the auto industry had led to a rise in wages, export earnings and investment with the consequence that everybody had a much better standard of living than previously.
But some of the Philippines’ media sound bites are not too much different from what Harold MacMillan was saying, “Economic growth in the Philippines is surpassing that of China and all other South East Asian nations” etc, etc.
A nation which has 27 percent of its population living in poverty and 12.1 percent in extreme poverty needs to focus its attention on relieving those statistics, getting the percentages right down and doing less about publicising achievements such as a 25 percent increase in the number of new vehicle registrations and the mushrooming of condominium developments and fancy shopping malls, that at least 27,000,000 people cannot afford.
There are fundamentals to alleviating the poverty situation such as stimulating the agricultural sector, improving education and creating an environment of greater job opportunity. But these big economic development initiatives take time, longer than a single Philippine administration to get fully operational and create the effect that they are capable of doing.
Government itself needs to take direct responsibility for improving the lives of the underprivileged. The time, effort and government money, not to mention the political squabbling that goes on in trying to privatise everything in sight, thereby relieving government of its responsibility to engineer a society in which there are better lives for all, is not well spent. Short-term measures and a steely focus are needed in order to start correcting things. Above all, greater efficiency is needed in the operation of the government apparatus. Some years ago it was stated that there were over 8 million cases pending in the justice system. It can take over a year to get new license plates for vehicles, and as for getting permits and approvals for any group who is insane enough to try to create an enterprise that will actually produce long-term, secure, job opportunities lead time should be measured in years or even decades rather than in months.
There needs to be a higher level united purpose in relieving poverty by developing the national economy and bringing about better lives for all. Whilst that national purpose is being developed, a maturing government needs to make itself much more efficient and help rather than be a hindrance in providing agricultural sector reform, shelter for those who have none, medical services and short-term improvements in education. Handing out money under a conditional cash transfer programme, whilst providing some valid short-term relief, is far from a resolution to the problem, it is a temporary emergency measure covering for some immediate term needs, and its use can tend to mask the real issues.
First, there needs to be prioritization on how to achieve a national purpose of “you’ve never had it so good,” then focus, determination, bringing about efficiency, good planning and making it all operate well. Whatever economic progress will be claimed, it will always be belied by the poverty statistics . . .
Mike can be contacted at email@example.com.