No meat allowed for the poor | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

No meat allowed for the poor

/ 09:25 PM October 07, 2011

This is the gist of the reply I sent last Thursday to Rep. Raymond Democrito C. Mendoza, chairman of the House committee on poverty alleviation, who asked for comments on House Resolution No. 960, “A resolution directing the committee on poverty alleviation to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the new poverty measurement scheme approved by the National Statistical Coordination Board which substantially lowers the official poverty threshold.”

I confirmed that the “refined” official daily poverty threshold of P46 per person, and the old one of P52 per person, as stated in HR 960, correctly correspond to my citations in “The lowering of the official poverty line” (Inquirer, 2/12/11), that pointed out that NSCB had thereby re-classified about one million families out of poverty in the reference year (2009).  That was like addressing the unemployment problem by tightening the official definition of being unemployed.

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The NSCB reduced its standards for food. In its previous reduction of the poverty line in 1992, the NSCB excluded items such as liquor, cigarettes, recreation, furniture, and so forth, that are arguably non-necessities.  Now, it targets what the poor may eat.

The new NSCB reduction is seen in its new and old one-day menus for the National Capital Region.  The cost of a menu multiplied by 365 is its one-year cost, i.e., no variation in quality, at higher cost, is allowed.  The menus (http://nscb. gov.ph/headlines/StatsSpeak/2011/021411_ rav_joe_bbb.asp) show:

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Breakfast was changed from: tomato omelette/coffee for adults/milk for children/fried rice to scrambled egg/coffee with milk/boiled rice.  The new menu only allows boiled rice, for any meal; no more sinangag for the poor.  Poor children may not have milk; but adults may have milk in their coffee.  The egg (singular) should be served plain.

Lunch was changed from: fried galunggong/mongo guisado with malunggay leaves and small shrimps/boiled rice/banana latundan to mongo guisado with malunggay leaves and dried dilis/boiled rice/banana latundan.  So the galunggong is eliminated, cutting the viands from two to one, in which the small shrimps are replaced by dilis.

Dinner was changed from: pork adobo/pechay guisado/boiled rice/banana latundan to fried tulingan/boiled kangkong/boiled rice.  Thus pork is replaced by tulingan; the poor may not enjoy the national dish of adobo any more, presumably due to the extra cost of vinegar, garlic, etc. In fact, the new menu excludes all meat, including chicken or beef, from what the poor may eat.  Pechay is replaced by kangkong.  The banana at dinner is gone, implying that the single banana at lunchtime is already enough fruit for the poor for one day.

Snacks was changed from: pandesal with margarine to plain pandesal. So the poor are not allowed a palaman.  (Perhaps they should be grateful for still being allowed snacks.)

I see these changes not as “refinements” but as actual downgrades in minimum official food standards set for the poor, even if the NSCB could argue that the nutritional intakes are unchanged (for example, 2,000 calories per person per day) in its “refined” menus.  It seems that the NSCB discovered that the old poverty line allowed a little extra well-being to the poor, and decided to disallow such extras now.  That’s cruel.

After computing its food poverty line, the NSCB defines the food-poor or subsistence-poor as those whose incomes are below this line. This is wrong. What is right is to compare food-expenditures, specifically, to the food poverty line, and to define the food-poor accordingly.

Specific non-food needs should also be on the poverty line agenda. The NSCB has never bothered to set minimum standards for any other basic necessity aside from food.  HR 960 correctly points to education, clothing and footwear, medical care, transportation and communication, housing, housing maintenance, furnishings, household operations, personal care and effects, and rentals as necessary individual items in an official poverty line.

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If one accepts the alleged failure of other countries to specifically include basic non-food items in their poverty definitions as an excuse, then any increase in prices of such items will never be reflected by updates in the official poverty line. The NSCB should consult more experts on basic needs besides the Food and Nutrition Research Institute.

Furthermore, the NSCB’s use of actual expenditure by the borderline-poor on non-food items to estimate the needed expenditure by the poor on these items to fill basic non-food needs is also wrong.  Poverty is seen when actuality is deficient compared to needs; if actuality is used to derive needs, it becomes impossible to see deficiency.

Unrealistic and outdated statistics are harmful. Since the NSCB’s re-definition of poverty creates the impression that the poverty problem is less serious than earlier thought, fostering complacency about the problem, I strongly agree with HR 960’s call for a public inquiry into the matter, leading to legislation calling for greater realism and social acceptability as necessary criteria for setting an official definition, and mandating public updates on a much more regular basis.

Given that the government’s Consumer Price Index is already generated monthly, it is perfectly feasible for official poverty lines for food and non-food to likewise be generated and published monthly, thus becoming a very useful guide for economic decisions in both the public and private sectors.

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Contact SWS: www.sws.org.ph or [email protected]

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