Is minority-poverty here to stay? | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Is minority-poverty here to stay?

The very first time that a minority of Filipino household heads rated their families as “mahirap” (poor) was in March 1987, when Social Weather Stations (SWS) found Self-Rated Poverty (SRP) at 43 percent. It was the fifth nationwide survey of SRP, and the third during the presidency of Corazon Aquino.

In Ferdinand Marcos’ time, SRP was surveyed twice, in April 1983 and July 1985 (by predecessors of SWS, which was established in 1985). The 55-percent majority that felt poor in early 1983—before the assassination of Ninoy Aquino—was relatively mild, in the context of the great suffering lying ahead. By mid-1985, after two years of hyperinflation, SRP was at its all-time high of 74 percent—or three of every four families felt “mahirap.”


In 1986, SRP simmered down to 67 percent, or two of every three families. Inflation was near zero. The first minority-poverty percentage of 43, in March 1987, was a huge 24 points below the 67 of the previous October.

Minority-poverty never happened again in 10 more surveys under Cory Aquino (1986-92), as inflation returned to double-digits. It never happened in 37 surveys under Fidel Ramos (25 rounds in 1992-98) and Joseph Estrada (12 in 1998-2000).


The SWS has surveyed poverty quarterly since 1992. The lowest SRP under Ramos was 57; most SRPs were in the 60s. The lowest under Estrada was 54; half were in the 60s. In the first three years under Gloria Arroyo, SRP was mostly in the 60s, and as high as 66. November 2003, with the SRP rate at 64, was the last time that over three out of five Filipino households felt poor. Poverty is volatile, but has been falling over time.

From 2004 on, minority-poverty got more frequent. After 17 years, minority-poverty appeared for the second time in June 2004, with SRP at 46 percent. In 39 surveys of Arroyo’s long tenure, eight, or one-fifth, had minority SRPs, the last one being 43 in March 2010.

In the 24 surveys under Noynoy Aquino, minority-poverty happened seven times—over one-fourth of the surveys, i.e., more often than under Arroyo. The lowest was 45 in June 2016; but usually SRP was in the low 50s. Thus, after happening only once in 1983-2003, minority-poverty occurred 15 times from 2004 to mid-2016.

On the other hand, in 11 surveys under Duterte so far, minority-SRP has already happened eight times. It hesitated in 2017 and 2018 (“Poverty bounces back up,” 10/13/18, and “Two years of rising poverty,” 1/19/19), but last March it fell below 40 percent for the first time (“First Quarter 2019 Social Weather Survey: Self-Rated Poverty falls to record-low 38%,”, 6/18/19).

I think the most important factor behind the fall in SRP from December to March was the drop in the retail price of rice by over 5 percent (see “A happiness rebound,” Opinion, 6/8/19). The rice price fell further in April to May, with private importation no longer impeded by the National Food Authority. Eliminating the 35-percent tariff would help to maintain minority-poverty.

The difference between SRP and official poverty is not in trend, but in scale. SWS finds that (as of the first quarter of 2019) two out of five families feel poor. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) says that (as of 2018) the officially poor are only one out of five families (“A half-true poverty report,” 6/2/18).

The PSA measures poverty only once in three years, with 2018 as its last reference year, and 2021 as its next, for reporting only in 2022. I think this schedule is lackadaisical. Antipoverty programs will be flying blind in 2019 and 2020 if they rely only on official data.

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TAGS: minority-poverty, self-rated poverty, Social Weather Stations, SWS
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