Gov’t data showing number of poor up shocks ex-WB chief

The Daily Tribune, March 6, 2008

The rising level of poverty in the country under the Arroyo administration never fails to impress, surprising even former World Bank president James Wolfensohn who is in the country on a speaking engagement.

Wolfensohn expressed disappointment over the latest government figures showing that the number of poor families in the Philippines, instead of receding, grew between 2003 and 2006.

Wolfensohn, speaking at the Asian Institute of Management, cited figure4s released by the government yesterday showing poverty incidence in the country worsened to 32.9 percent of the population in 2006 from 30 percent in 2003.

“That, of course, for me as a former World Banker, is a challenging statistic to place before you, as this is the country where the difference between rich and poor is as high as almost anywhere in the world,” he said.

Data released yesterday by the National Statistic Coordination Board (NSCBN) shoed 33 Filipinos out of 100 were poor in 2006 compared to 30 in 2003, adding a family of five needed to earn P6,274 a month to stay out of poverty.

About 27.6 million Filipinos were living in poverty last year, according to the data.

Malacanang immediately refuted the findings of the government’s own statistics with Secretary to the Cabinet Ricardo Saludo insisting that poverty fell during the seven years that Mrs. Arroyo was in the presidency by 4.8 percentage points between 2000 and 2006 to only 22.4 percent of Filipino families.

“Self rated poverty is now lowest in 20 years. We expect poverty to fall in the next family income and expenditure survey (FIES) in 2009, with primary spending in national budget up P281 billion in 2006-08, five times the increase in 2003- 05, which affected the 2006 poverty level. With fiscal squeeze over, its social payback time,” he said.

Wolfensohn added debates sparked over allegations of rampant corruption in government would be key to the country in confronting the poverty problem.

“Poverty is a challenge the country would be able to confront, particularly after the debates that I’ve been exposed for the last 48 hours about the governance in the country” Wolfensohn said referring to the controversy generated by the anomalous National Broadband Network (NBN) telecommunications deal with ZTE Corp. of China.

He said central to these debates will be issues of “equity and social injustice” amid the continued allegations of corruption hurled against the Arroyo administration.

The actual number of poor Filipino families went up by 16 percent, from four million in 2003 to 4,7 million in 2006.

The Arroyo administration had committed to reduce poverty incidence to between 17 and 19 percent by 2010.

Wolfensohn, who is credited with anti-corruption efforts at the World Bank, also criticized the weak record of developed countries in channeling aid to the needy.

NSCB said in 2006, a Filipino family comprising of five members also needed a monthly income of P4,177 to be able to sustain minimum basic food need, an increase of 23 percent from 2003.

In the National Capital Region, the annual per capita poverty threshold was estimated to be P20,566 in 2006. Thus, a family with five members needed to earn at least P8,569 monthly in order not to be classified as poor.

NSCB further noted that Tawitawi in Southern Mindanao was considered as the poorest province last year of which eight out ten families poor. Provinces that remained among the 10 poorest provinces from 2003 to 2006 were Zamboanga del Norte, Maguindanao, Surigao del Norte, Masbate and Misamis Occidental.

Other provinces now included in the 10 poorest provinces in 2006 were Tawi-tawi, Lanao del sur, Apayao, Northern Samar and Abra. Tawi-tawi has a poverty incidence of 78.9 percent. Provinces with high incidence include: Zamboanga del Norte with 64.6 percent; Maguindanao 60.4; Masbate 55.9 percent; Surigao del Norte 54.5 percent and Lanano del Sur 37.6 percent.

Five provinces from the 2003 poorest list have dropped out in 2006 namely: Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Sur, Mt. Province, Biliran and Lanao del Norte, NSCB said.

In Luzon, there were nine least poor provinces from 2000-2006 which include Batanes, Rizal, Bataan, Cavite, Benguet, Pampanga, Bulacan, Laguna, Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino. Batanes was the least poor province in 2006 with 0 percent poverty incidence. The final results was based in the 2006 Family Income and Expenditure Survey.

Wolfensohn said the government should muster a strong ‘political will’ to reduce poverty adding that the World Bank already have financial resources available to reduce the poverty incidence.

Wolfensohn spoke before prominent local businessmen and former government officials at ‘Bridges’ forum at the AIM.
“It only takes political will if you give them an opportunity to be out of poverty, that is alleviation. That, of course, for me as a former World Banker, is a challenging statistics to place before you, as this is the country where the difference between rich and poor is as high as almost anywhere in the world,” he added.

Wolfenshon noted that the global issue is still poverty adding there are about 2.3 billion people living in poverty. “It is not the question to relax about the issue of poverty, we are not doing well about poverty,” he said.

Wolfesohn, who visited more than 120 countries, said the poverty issue is not a theoretical issue and cannot be ignored. “If you want your children to live in peace and security we cannot ignore this problem it is not an option, it is a necessity,” he stressed.

To effectively address poverty, Wolfensohn said one of the key solutions is to encourage multi-sectoral organization in order to create various poverty alleviation programs. “The system is perfect we have the resources available, but what we don’t see is tactics to reach the goal for development,” he said

“The expenditure for developing funds is extremely inefficient at the moment in the way we accounted for and the way it was deliver. There are a lot problems,” he noted,

Second, we need to come together with multiple programs ineffective ways of delivering the money,” he explained.

Poverty in the Philippines is highest in the agriculture sector according to WB report of which, a agriculture-dependent households account for over two-thirds of the poor.
Reacting to Wolfensohn speech, Rajat Nag, managing director general Asian Development Bank said inequality must also headdress aside from poverty.

“By 2015, about 350 million people in this continent will still live below $1 a day, and they don’t have the luxury of having $2 a day. By 2015, roughly two billion people will still don’t have access to sanitation and more than 100 million children will be under weight by the age of five.” he pointed out.

Ramon del Rosario Jr. chairman of Phima added: “we will be forced to stagnation if we do not care to cleanse out political system of widespread corruption. The civil society and the business sector can not be a back seat driver rather we will function as navigator who seats beside the driver.”

Del Rosario said that corruption still posses as a mjor obstruction to the national economic development. “For unless our country will come together to finally slay government corruption that tormented our political economy for so long, then I fear that the economic progress that I have seen will not be sustain.” he noted.

The Bridges- Dialogues were also attended by former president Fidel Ramos, Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Philippine-chairman of Bridges-Dialogues, Francis Estrada, Bert Hofman, country director of World Bank Philippines, Uwe Morawetz, founding chairman of the International Peace Foundation and
Washington SyCip, Chairman Emeritus, AIM Board of Governors.

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director-General Augusto Santos said he informed President Arroyo about these data Tuesday night through a text message.
Santos added he also sent the Chief Executive a memorandum on the 2006 Official Poverty Statistics Wednesday morning.

Asked what was Arroyo’s response, Santos said: “I have not obtained a response from the President.”

Given the bleak poverty figures, the government will not likely meet its target to reduce poverty incidence from 28% in 2004 to between 17-19% in 2010.
For its part, the National Anti Poverty Commission meanwhile blamed the typhoons that hit the country in 2006 as causes of poverty incidence to increase.