Decades after it was created in 1988, during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos, the National Antipoverty Commission (NAPC) has not done anything to alleviate poverty. A top unimpeachable official of NAPC was forced to admit this during a conversation with journalists.
After going on and on about NAPC: that it cannot implement its plans because of lack of funds in spite of the fact that the whole administration has an abundance of it (“money is not a problem with the whole government,” he said), he was asked:
“In short, what you are saying is that the NAPC has not, until now, done anything to alleviate poverty, is that correct?”
The official (I shall not name him lest he be punished for telling the truth) replied, “Yes.”
What NAPC has been doing all these years is draw up plans, make studies, write reports and other documents which are hardly ever read, much less implemented. In short, it has been using plenty of paper for those plans and other documents, and therefore contributes to the despoliation of the environment because thousands of trees are massacred to be processed into paper that the NAPC wastes on plans and reports. The despoliation of the environment, in turn, increases the incidence of poverty.
Yet all candidates to elective positions claim the reason they are running is that they want “to help the poor.” You will hear plenty of that beginning tomorrow, Feb. 12, the official start of the campaign period for the May elections. President Aquino is among these claimants—during the presidential campaign three years ago and after he became President. Yet, halfway through his term, his administration has done little to really—I mean, REALLY—improve the lives of the people.
Of course there is the conditional cash transfer (CCT) which the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) doles out to poor families lucky enough to be included in the DSWD lists. But do these doleouts improve the lives of the poor? Hardly.
The cash is given to them every month. They have to go to a designated bank and wait like beggars for the cash to be dropped into their open palms. Nothing is asked of the head of the family except to keep his young children in school. He can scratch himself, eat and sleep, play bingo and go to the cockpit, have drinking sessions and do nothing else until the next payday. Why work when you get paid even while not working at all?
This promotes a culture of mendicancy and laziness, and a waste of billions of pesos of taxpayers’ money. Yet many simple things need to be done in the communities but cannot be done for alleged lack of funds. Drainage systems and waterways are clogged with garbage, thus causing massive flooding, yet the government cannot hire enough workers to declog and clean them because of “lack of money.” In exchange for the cash transfers, can’t the recipients be asked to do these things? Can’t they be asked to clean their surroundings, to persuade their neighbors not to throw their garbage into the waterways, not to cut trees but to plant them instead, to build toilets so their families are not exposed to infectious diseases?
By merely waiting for the doleouts like beggars, these families lose their dignity and self-respect. But by working for the cash, they keep their dignity and maybe arouse a desire to earn more by learning and looking for a regular job.
Thus, the CCT achieves triple results: 1. The cash helps the poorest of the poor provide for their needs; 2. Things that need doing to improve the poor communities and the environment are done; and 3. The recipients retain their self-respect, learn a new job and are encouraged to look for regular jobs to earn more to support their families.
With the present “do nothing” policy, when the CCTs stop coming even before P-Noy’s administration ends, the recipient families remain as poor as ever, with no more cash aid coming. All those billions of cash doled out are wasted without achieving the results wished and expected—to improve lives and alleviate poverty permanently.
Would you believe that the poorest farm families are the coconut farmers who own—yes, really OWN—at least a hundred billion pesos of coco levy funds? They cannot get even a portion of these funds because they are tied up in legal wranglings with private corporations who benefited immensely yet now do not want to return the funds to the farmers who paid the fees. After decades in the courts, the issue is far from being settled. Yet the issue is very simple: The coco levy was paid by farmers whenever they sold copra. The coco levy was set up precisely for them. The money belongs to them. That is clear. But leave it to the lawyers to make what is clear and simple murky and confusing.
The price of copra and coconut oil has hit rock bottom, so low that farmers do not even bother to harvest their coconuts because it would cost more to harvest them than what they would get from them when sold. The irony is that hundreds of millions of pesos of coco by-products are thrown away in the process of making copra.
Whenever a coconut is cracked open, the coco water inside is thrown away. In the process of copra making in a small coconut farm, the coco juice thrown away can fill up an Olympic-size swimming pool. Yet this “coco juice” is now the rage in the international market because of its health benefits. In some foreign countries, it costs more than cheap grape wine. This water can also be turned into wine and vinegar. If coco farmers sell only the coco water and throw away the meat, they would earn more. Yet this wealth is routinely thrown away every day in the coco farms. And all the concerned government agencies do nothing to educate the farmers.