A government report showing that the level of poverty in the country remained unchanged over the past six years despite robust economic growth drew various proposals from senatorial candidates and their supporters to address the problem.
The latest report from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) said the poverty incidence stood at 27.9 percent in the first semester of 2012, “practically unchanged” from 2006.
United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) candidates said it was time for the administration to reconsider its antipoverty programs.
This was despite the Aquino administration’s expansion of the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, which provides a monthly stipend to the poorest of the poor.
UNA senatorial candidate Ernesto Maceda described the administration as a “failure” for not making a dent on poverty, and added that the funds that it channeled to the CCT program should be diverted to other uses.
“The other conclusion is that the CCT has had no effect. So we may just be wasting the P45 billion,” Maceda said in an interview.
He said there must be more jobs in the country for growth to be felt by all. “The poverty problem, as I’ve said in my speeches, is basically due to the fact that there are no new jobs created. We don’t have enough,” he said.
In a statement, Milagros Magsaysay said the administration could look into the underemployment of agriculture workers, who make up a significant portion of the work force.
In a statement, Cagayan Rep. Juan Ponce Enrile Jr., an UNA senatorial candidate, said that boosting food production should be the first priority in solving poverty.
“We are forced to import food, costing billions of pesos annually, when we can produce this food ourselves and thus increase the income of millions of farmers and their families,” he said.
Vice President Jejomar Binay said that “inclusive growth remains the problem” despite rosy economic indicators and that more jobs were needed.
“While all the reports are good, we even broke the 7,000 [mark in the local stock market], the problem is it is not inclusive. So this is what everybody should think about,” Binay said in an ambush interview on Tuesday night in Zamboanga City.
He said ways should be found to ensure that economic growth translates to new jobs.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño, a senatorial candidate, blamed the administration’s lack of imagination in solving widespread poverty as it merely continued the old strategies of the Arroyo administration.
“The NSCB survey only confirmed what we already know. Nothing substantial is being done to address poverty. What are the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) and other responsible agencies doing? Our agencies are so unimaginative. They just carried on old programs and dressed them up with new packaging. We might as well abolish the NAPC,” said Casiño in a statement.
Former Sen. Jamby Madrigal, who’s running as one of President Aquino’s handpicked senatorial candidates, said the persistence of high levels of poverty shouldn’t be taken against the President.
“This shouldn’t be blamed on the P-Noy administration because it has been in power for only three years. P-Noy had been dealing with nine years of corruption that’s why the improvement in the lives of Filipinos couldn’t be immediately felt,” Madrigal said in a statement.
Madrigal said she would file antihunger bills in the Senate if she wins in May.
Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, a senatorial candidate of the Team PNoy coalition, said the government should strengthen its social safety net programs in areas of extreme unemployment, underemployment and poverty, and embrace a policy of “redistribution” toward the marginalized sector.
Angara said increased investments in the eastern seaboard would immediately translate into a one or two-percentage point rise in gross domestic product as these investment-starved areas had an amazing capacity for translating state investments into growth and job opportunities.
Senatorial candidate Benigno Aquino IV, the President’s cousin, said continued economic growth should result in pulling out many Filipinos from the clutches of poverty and hunger.
Bam Aquino said he would push for what he called the Education 2.0 Act that would provide scholarships and college financing, a Go Trabaho Act that would promote skills matching with employment opportunities, and the Go Negosyo Act that would provide fund capital for the smallest of businesses.
“The answer to poverty is already in our hands but we need to help each other in coming up with solutions and believe in each other’s capacity to improve ourselves,” said Aquino, who spent seven years with poor communities in promoting microfinancing for small businesses.
A Liberal Party stalwart said the country’s burgeoning population may be too much for its limited resources. Sen. Franklin Drilon said the administration had “been successful in alleviating poverty” although it would take time to feel its reduction.
He said those who study poverty in the Philippines must also realize that its population had increased from 2006 and more mouths sharing the same resources may have offset the gains of government efforts.
Drilon, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said the government would allocate for 2013 and 2014 a total of P25 billion for PhilHealth, the government’s health insurance program.
“We are allocating this year over P40 billion for 3.8 million Filipinos under the National Housing Poverty Reduction Program which has never happened in the past. In the past two-and-a-half years, the Aquino administration has shown its capacity to govern properly,” he added in a news conference.