The commitment of the Asian Development Bank to provide up to $1.8 billion until 2015 to help the Philippines achieve its development goals speaks highly of the success so far of the government initiatives to reduce poverty.
A big portion of the ADB fund will go to support the Conditional Cash Transfer program or CCT, locally called the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program administered by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. A number of civil society groups and foreign agencies are also involved in the CCT, including the World Bank, Australian Agency for International Development, and the local Social Weather Stations.
The CCT is by far the most successful government program to help the poor. Neeraj Jain, ADB country director for the Philippines, said it had become a model for the poverty-reduction activities of other countries.
The program provides its beneficiaries monthly cash grants of P1,400 during the school months from June to March and P500 during the non-school months April and May, or P300 per child a month as education grant and P500 per household a month as health grant. The money is provided as long as the beneficiaries comply with certain conditions, such as regular visits to health centers of children 14 years old and below and the maintenance of a class attendance rate of at least 85 percent a month for those who are enrolled in daycare centers or schools.
The CCT is one of the very few programs implemented by the Arroyo administration that President Aquino chose to continue. It was given P21 billion from Mr. Aquino’s first national budget in 2011; the amount was raised to P39 billion this year. DSWD data as of Aug. 15 show that 3,038,420 household-beneficiaries and some 7.4 million children in 1,400 cities and municipalities in 79 provinces in 17 regions nationwide are enrolled in the CCT. For 2013, the government has proposed to spend P44.25 billion for the program to allow the DSWD to add another 800,000 beneficiaries. (For perspective, the DSWD budget is a mere 2.8 percent of the total national proposed budget of P2.01 trillion for 2013.)
Pantawid Pamilya is not unique to the Philippines. CCT programs have been implemented since the 1990s in Mexico, Brazil and even the United States. Since 2009, the World Bank has been pleased by the success of the program in fighting poverty in a number of countries. It cited Mexico’s Progresa, which began in 1997 with 300,000 households, and its successor Oportunidades, which has more than 5 million households. The World Bank said CCT programs had increased the use of health and education services, citing the case of Mexico where the program reduced the dropout rate between the sixth and seventh grades by 9 percentage points, and of Cambodia, where two pilot programs cut the dropout rate between these grades by 20-30 percentage points. In Pakistan, the World Bank also said, another program raised the number of 10- to 14-year-old girls in school by 11 percentage points. It said CCT programs also increased the use of preventive health care services in Colombia, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua by between 8 and 33 percentage points.
Last Aug. 23, the DSWD and its partners presented the initial results of the CCT impact evaluation. Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said the findings presented empirical evidence on the effectiveness of Pantawid Pamilya on poor households. “After two and a half years of implementation and more than a year of data collection and analysis, the impact evaluation done by the World Bank … shows that the program is on track and is indeed achieving its objectives—of keeping children healthy and in school,” she said.
Soliman also said “the challenge to the government is to sustain these improvements in the lives” of the beneficiaries. She said the CCT’s target was to reach 4.3 million households by 2016.
Junko Onishi, social protection specialist of the World Bank, added: “Although the results are preliminary and more in-depth analyses are ongoing, the evidence suggests that Pantawid Pamilya is on track and having impacts on the beneficiary households.”
Local officials had wanted to dip their hands in the CCT to take credit for it and use it in their bid for reelection in 2013. The program has survived legal challenges in court and attempts by politicians to derail its success. The Aquino administration should ensure that the CCT will continue to run as it does now—free of politics.