The Filipino has often been short-changed in more ways than one. That is why a visual examination of the Philippine social landscape reveals patches of enclaves of the rich in a sea of impoverished dwellings, where a profusion of the poor struggle daily with the barest of subsistence in a consumer-dominated society.
What makes the situation worse is another deprivation – that of the official use of outdated numbers as a representation of what it means to be poor in this country of more than 100 million people. In particular, to say that a family of five needs P9,140 a month on average to meet its basic needs – food and non-food – is a sad misrepresentation of our economic reality.
It is precisely such miscalculation in the form of unrealistic threshold from no less than the authority on data – the Philippine Statistics Authority – that makes it difficult to forge the right policy direction in addressing poverty that can eventually lift the tens of millions of Filipinos out of the quagmire of pitiful existence. How could people in that quagmire even dream of giving the right education for their children, having health care services, proper homes, quality jobs and the power to deal with the vagaries of life?
What the PSA numbers represent are but a single dimension of being poor in terms of income. As the National Anti-Poverty Commission aptly stated, “the statistics aren’t meant only to describe poverty, but to guide policy-making as well. If we begin to recognize poverty as the pervasive and deep-seated problem that it is, then we might start looking, not just at targeted interventions, but at systemic solutions.” It goes to say that poverty must be viewed “in a holistic manner.”
One of the premises of Executive Order No. 5 – signed, sealed and executed by the Office of the President on Oct. 11, 2016 – is acknowledging the need for a bold vision in aspiring for a place of prominence in Asia as the center of global economic activity by 2050. The vision is supposed to encapsulate an effective development planning that places the country on a par with the region’s economic growth and development.
The vision is also rooted in the policy statement of Ambisyon Natin 2040, which sums up the Filipino aspiration toward an enjoyable and comfortable life that rests on financial security to cover more than their daily needs and with enough leeway to plan for and secure the future of their children, existing with the family intact within the comforts of their own home, yet free to roam anywhere in the country knowing that a clean, honest and efficient government is there to protect them.
The timeliness of EO No. 5 cannot be understated, but the figures issued by a government office are a discordant note to an otherwise lofty but doable, long-term aspirations of the Filipino. Nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with clinging to the hope of deliverance from such misrepresentation. The order has empowered the government and its agencies to change what runs counter to the vision of its people.
By integrating the Medium-Term Development Plans of past administrations in a consolidated version called the Philippine Development Plan, the Executive Department basically upgraded and updated what in the past seemed to be a perennial plan to eradicate poverty and hunger without actually achieving the avowed goal. This time it’s tripling the per capita gross national product. Needless to say, P9,140 as the poverty threshold no longer applies to the current reality even if only as a bold vision adopted by the government.
The math is simple. Updating the threshold in a gradual manner until it reaches P27,420 makes it consistent with the overall long-term goals of the Filipino and the government. But the adjustment must begin now so that policy planning treads on the right footing and not on wrong assumptions.