Poverty worsened in 2006

Manila Standard Today, March 6, 2008

SOARING oil prices and the rising cost of living have driven nearly four million people in the Philippines back into poverty officials said yesterday.

The number of Filipinos living on jut dollar a day rose from 23.8 million in 2003 to 27.6 million in 2006, according to a survey by the National Statistical Coordination Board released by the economic planning ministry.

The board said a family of five needed P6,274 in monthly income to stay out of poverty in 2006, compared with only P4,177 in 2003.

Indeed, one in three Filipinos are living in poverty despite the modest economic gains in recent years.

The survey blamed rising oil prices, which have pushed up the cost of transport, which in turn has pushed up the cost of basic food items.

Another factor contributing to rising poverty levels were wages, which have barely moved in the three-year period under review.

“The failure to meet the most basic needs can be due to increasing prices and/or insufficient rise in personal income,” Economic Planning Secretary Augusto Santos told a news conference.

He said that in the three years to 2006, prices had risen by 22 percent.
“External factors such as higher oil prices played a role in this scenario,” he said.

“The government’s commitment to solve the fiscal deficit also put upward initial pressure on inflation,” he added.

Dolores Castillo, head of the government’s National Anti-Poverty Commission, said the government remained confident it could fulfill the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals of trimming poverty by half to about 16 percent in 2010.

“However ambitious these targets may seem, they are achievable as long as we sustain our momentum towards higher economic growth and ensure equitable distribution of wealth,” Castillo said.

The Philippines posted a 31year high economic growth of 7.3 percent in 2007, along with a 20 year low inflation of 2.8 percent.

But inflation has been rising steadily this year. Data released Wednesday showed inflation at 5.4 percent in February, the highest since October 2006.

Former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, in the country for a series of lectures, said he was “quite struck” when he saw the statistics and previous figures showed the Philippines had been doing well in fighting poverty.

He recommended that the government spend more on education, particularly since the economy was expanding and the macroeconomic figures appeared to be good.

In the long term, he said, “there are no secrets [to fighting poverty.] The question is political will.”