Crossing the poverty line thru 4Ps
BANGUED, ABRA—Eusebio Buenavista, 53, used to start his day tilling the soil and would spend the whole day doing other back-breaking farm work.
His harvest would yield some 100 kilograms of palay on a good season. He would then take the unhusked palay to a small mill near his home at Barangay Dangdangla in this town.
The milled rice was usually sold to his neighbors and fellow farmers, who were not lucky with their harvest, at P100 for a “ganta.”
The rest was saved for the family’s dinner table.
After a heart attack in 2016, Buenavista said he could only work in the field three times a month.
With the help of his two children, Aldrin and Carl Brian (an adopted son), both 17 and Grade 11 students, he has kept the family farm going.
His wife Luz, 47, works as a cook in a small cafe in the town. Together, they support six of their eight children’s education and needs.
In 2014, they became beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. The program helps poor households with cash grants provided they comply with the program’s conditions.
President Duterte made the 4Ps a permanent government program by signing Republic Act No. 11310, or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program Act on April 17.
Under the law, the program provides conditional cash transfer to poor households for a maximum of seven years “to improve the health, nutrition and education aspect of their lives.”
It was introduced by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and was continued by President Benigno Aquino III, who made 4Ps into a flagship antipoverty program.
Now, the Buenavista family receives P4,800 during payouts every two months.
Three of their children—Aldrin, James, 14, and Liwliwa, 11—are listed as beneficiaries. Under the program, only three children per family receive financial assistance.
“If we will depend on our earnings alone, we will not be able to send all our children to school and my heart condition will get worse,” Buenavista said.
“If it wasn’t for the added help, I would go back to farming despite having a heart ailment.”
He said that since they became beneficiaries, they saw more chances to earn.
His family was also among the 23 families in their village who were given two goats as a part of the DSWD’s sustainable livelihood program. They were able to breed and sell the animals.
Ten years of being 4Ps beneficiaries, these families saw a drastic change in their lives, said Ligaya Cacho, 42, a 4Ps parent leader.
They belonged to the first batch of families enrolled in the program and were supposed to graduate in 2013 until an extension was made due to policy changes during the Aquino administration.
Cacho and her husband, Joni, were juggling odd jobs in San Isidro town, also in Abra. Cacho worked as an on-call house cleaner and also joined other farmers during harvest for extra income.
They enrolled their three kids in the program in 2008. Now their daughter, Jessa, 21, is in college, and son Jhonel, 17, will soon finish high school. Another son, Justine, 14, is an awardee in junior high.
Joni also landed a job as a driver in the municipal government.
However, Cacho said the program had some flaws, one of which was the delayed release of the financial grant. She said the last time they received cash aid was for February and March.
“I understand that there are delays because there are a lot of families like us who need help,” she said.
In Tacloban City, Nelda, a 54-year-old mother of five, has no job while her husband is a construction worker.
Her family is among the 221,393 beneficiaries of 4Ps in Eastern Visayas and gets P4,200 every two months since two of her children are still in school.
Due to what she described as “hard times,” Nelda admitted pawning her cash cards and using the money on what it was not supposed to be used for.
“Sometimes, our assistance came in late, two months delayed so I was forced to pawn my cash card,” Nelda said.
But when the financial assistance arrived, she admitted using the money to buy cellular phones or household appliances, like a minikaraoke.
“Of course, when we have the money, we buy things that are not actually within the purpose of 4Ps. It’s like a fiesta celebration,” she said in Waray.
Her husband also stopped taking jobs when the financial assistance arrived. He would only start looking for a job when they had run out of money and had to wait for the next payout.
Mitch Calzado, program coordinator of the DSWD in Eastern Visayas, admitted that some beneficiaries violated the conditions set by the program.
The most common violation was pawning the cash cards, which would lead to delisting of violators from the program.
Lack of farm workers
Once they discover the violation, Calzado said, they send notices to the violators. On the third notice, the beneficiaries will be taken out of the program.
Calzado said 34,167 beneficiaries had been delisted due to a number of reasons, like fraud or misrepresentation.
Despite of these reported violations, Calzado said that the program was successful in the region.
“We have several success stories here in the region. In fact, just this year, 13,374 children of our beneficiaries finished their studies with honors,” she said.
But the program was identified as one of the reasons there was a shortage of manual labor.
For the past several years, many landowners in Iloilo province are having difficulty getting workers in sugarcane and rice lands.
“Many farm workers do not want to work or want higher pay than the one provided by law. This has frequently delayed or affected our production,” a sugarcane landowner told the Inquirer.
“Helping poor families especially in rural areas is good but this has created dependence on many people who are contented of receiving the monthly grants instead of working in the farms,” the landowner said.
He said he could not blame the members of 4Ps families who do not work any more in the farms.
Reliance on gov’t
“Working in the farms is hard but we should not inculcate reliance on government grants. They should instead be provided with employment opportunities so that they will be productive,” he said.
If the government continues with the 4Ps, this should be modified by requiring beneficiaries to work to receive money from the government, he said, adding: “If you are receiving money without working, then that is a waste of resources.”
A village official in the rural town of Igbaras in Iloilo said while cash grants were intended to ensure that children would go to school, many families used the subsidy for other household needs because of poverty.
“4Ps is helping families cope with their daily needs but this has also changed their mindset because they are expecting to receive the grants every month,” the official said.
Farah Pareja, Masbate social welfare officer, said that the program’s impact was more on behavioral modification. The government, Pareja said, wanted to correct the “common misconception” that 4Ps was only focused on cash grants. She said the cash aid helped children of poor families finish school and get jobs. —REPORTS FROM VALERIE DAMIAN, JOEY GABIETA, NESTOR BURGOS JR., MAR ARGUELLES AND SUZENE CAJEGAS
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.