At the sidelines of Pathways to High and Inclusive Growth, a policy discussion on the Philippine Development Plan 2011 to 2016 held last Sept. 24 at the Asian Institute of Management, two other journalists from the province and I had the opportunity to interact with Secretary Joel Rocamora, lead convenor of the National Anti Poverty Commission just before he left the forum sponsored by the AIM Policy Center.
The timing of the economic policy discussion couldn’t be more suitable, as halfway across the globe, top officials of the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) were listening to President Benigno Aquino III’s reform agenda and key poverty reduction strategies.
Rocamora, who hails from Siquijor is a research fellow of the Institute of Popular Democracy and associate director of the Transnational Institute. The scholar-activist is the chairman of Akbayan party-list group and was one of first political allies appointed by P-Noy. When Rocamora learned that I come from Cebu, Nestor Burgos from Iloilo and Walter Balane from Bukidnon, the NAPC chairman shifted to Cebuano but that is getting ahead of my story.
The government’s centerpiece anti-poverty strategy is the Pantawid Para sa Pamilyang Pilipino (4Ps) otherwise known as the Conditional Cash Transfers. I thought Rocamora’s overview will make us troop to the coffee station but he immediately caught the attention of foreign and local economists, academics, government planners, businessmen and journalists when he described the CCTs as “not sustainable and deliberately top to bottom.”
The CCTs started in 2008 during the time of former President Gloria Arroyo with 700,000 household-beneficiaries. The number has since gone up to 2.4 million households coming from 600 poorest of the poor communities, mostly from the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, Caraga region and the typhoon-prone areas in the eastern part of the country.
The current total number of household-beneficiaries is still short of 2.3 million as the Aquino administration is targeting 4.7 million by the time P-Noy’s presidency expires in 2016, or five years from now. The CCTs have a hefty P23-billion allocation in the 2011 budget. Next year, the budget will increase to a whopping P39 billion.
No pro-poor program of such scale had been implemented in the Philippines, and when the CCT is tied up with health care insurance provisions, these strategies become effective levers in restoring to the poor their capacity to improve their lives. Rocamora said the key to the revolutionary strategy is the backing of local government units and private organizations working closely with the marginalized sector.
Where will the Aquino government get resources for these initiatives?
Rocamora didn’t highlight this concern except to say that the Department of Budget and Management, with the approval of the President, has secured the budget requirements for poverty reduction programs. Significantly, in his remarks before WB and IMF executives in New York, P-Noy announced that his reform agenda had generated more money to fund anti-poverty programs. In other words, the drive against tongpats in government contracts has enabled the executive branch to generate funds for pro-poor projects.
The NAPC lead convenor clarified that CCTs will not solve the problem of poverty in one fell swoop. Inclusive growth requires asset reforms like genuine land reform, reform in the ownership and control of industries, more subsidies for
Kapit Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS)s, improvements in the delivery of social services, the fostering of competition in business, etc.
The 600 focus areas will have to come up with their respective plans of action including a corresponding budget, implying that the flagship anti-poverty program is a work in progress. The assistance of private organizations like cooperatives will be critical because the marginalized sector needs guidance from people with a proven track record in building up communities.
In response to Rocamora’s inputs, Winnie Monsod, University of the Philippines economics professor and former National Economic Development Authority director general, questioned the wisdom of terminating the CCTs in five years saying that children-beneficiaries would still be too young to enter school when that time comes.
Later, provincial journalists buttonholed Rocamora and asked him for a reaction to Mareng Winnie’s comments. “Layo-layo pa man na ang lima ka tuig (Five years is still a long way),” he said, implying that the anti-poverty program may not only be extended but its design also improved along the way.
On the other hand, he raised the view that the program might encourage too much dependence on government intervention, so economic planners are trying to weigh all options.
Poverty is a serious problem. It has led to breakdown of families, increased criminality even among juveniles, the brain drain which translates to pressure in running the government. More policemen are needed to man the streets, chase criminals, etc. Meanwhile, the exodus of doctors and nurses to foreign shores has given rise to problems in the delivery of health care programs.
In sum, the dynamics of inclusive growth require radical adjustments in the political and social order. That the AIM policy forum ended with a report on political dynasties by Prof. Ronald Mendoza, executive director of the AIM Policy Center, simply means that the challenge is huge and attaining inclusive growth is difficult to realize. However, ranged against the possibility of violent social upheavals, there is no other option.