Reject the reduction of the poverty line!
Last Tuesday, Nov. 29, was the first hearing on House Resolution 960, introduced by Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raymond V. Palatino, calling for the Committee on Poverty Alleviation to “conduct an inquiry on the revised poverty measurement scheme approved by the National Statistical Coordination Board which substantially lowers the official average poverty threshold from 52 pesos per person per day to 46 pesos per person per day with a view to devise an official poverty estimation methodology that is truly reflective of the situation of the millions of poor Filipinos today.”
(The P52 and P46 cited in HR960 correctly correspond to the P7,953 and P7,017 old and “refined” thresholds announced by the NSCB on Feb. 8, 2011, per month for a family of five, when the latter are multiplied by 12 months, divided by 365 days, and divided by five persons.)
The committee chairman, Trade Union Congress Party-list Rep. Raymond Democrito C. Mendoza, called for an explanation of the NSCB poverty line by Jessamyn Encarnacion (chief of its poverty, human development, labor and gender statistics division), and then for my criticism of it. Officials of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, National Economic and Development Authority, National Statistics Office, and Philippine Institute for Development Studies were also there.
Encarnacion did not dispute the NSCB reduction in money value of the poverty line, but argued that the new amount still allows fulfillment of 100 percent of caloric requirements and 80 percent of nutrient requirements. The NSCB’s cut in the food-budget then led to a cut in the non-food budget too, since it simply applies a fixed food to non-food cost ratio (of about 69:31).
My comments consisted, firstly, of affirmation of my Oct. 5 memorandum to Representative. Mendoza (see “No meat allowed for the poor,”
Inquirer, 10/8/11), showing how the NSCB downgraded the quality of its food-poverty menu: no more milk for children; no more pork adobo (actually, no meat at all); only one ulam, not two, for lunch; rice and vegetables should be boiled, not fried or guisado; only one banana now, not two; no more margarine for the pandesal.
Apparently, the NSCB’s aim is to adjust the poverty boundary to the least cost of providing nutritional requirements that it can discover. To me, this treats the poor not as people entitled to minimum satisfaction from food, but like work animals to be efficiently fed to maintain their productivity.
From its “refinement,” the NSCB now puts the official 2009 incidence of poor families in Metro Manila, for example, at a miniscule 0.4 percent food-poor, and a tiny 2.6 percent generally poor (see “Is poverty gone in NCR?” Inquirer, 2/19/11).
I pointed out that the NSCB’s failure to do specific research on non-food needs makes its poverty line totally insensitive to price changes in other basics like water, electricity, shelter, transportation, etc. (see “The poor don’t live by bread alone,” Inquirer, 3/5/11). On this, NAPC Undersecretary Jude Guerrero remarked that minimum standards for housing do exist.
I used my presentation, “The official reduction of evidence on poverty,” from the First Monitoring and Evaluation Forum, organized by Neda and Unicef on Nov. 7, 2011 (www.sws.org.ph). It showed the NSCB’s own slides depicting the Philippines as fourth-poorest among Asean countries, after Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, with its new poverty line, but second-poorest with its old poverty line. Thus NSCB fosters complacency by diverting attention to an Asean comparison. (At the hearing, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez remarked, correctly, that what NSCB has done is simply window-dressing.)
Another original NSCB slide went anti-worker by proclaiming, using its new poverty line, that a minimum-wage worker in Metro Manila can now support a family of six. At the Neda-Unicef forum, I called for the rejection of the NSCB “refinement” because it reduced the evidence on poverty, which is against the principle of evidence-based policy making.
Bottom-up thresholds are more realistic. Finally, I presented recent SWS findings of what poor families themselves say they need for monthly home expenses (not in terms of income) in order not to be considered poor.
For September 2011, the medians (i.e., what would satisfy the lower half of the poor) are P15,000 in Metro Manila, P7,500 in Balance Luzon, P10,000 in Visayas, and P6,000 in Mindanao. SWS has been reporting such bottom-up poverty thresholds quarterly since 1992.
Implications for program targeting. The National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR) used the original 2006 official poverty line (national average P6,274 per month for a family of five) in determining beneficiaries qualified for the Conditional Cash Transfer program.
By December 2009, when the NSCB had not yet cut the 2006 poverty line by 11.3 percent (to national average P5,562 per month, for five persons), the NHTS-PR had already subjected 10.8 million households to a Proxy Means Test, and identified 5.2 million of them as poor. Of this target list of households, the Conditional Cash Transfer program had registered 2.3 million by mid-2011. It aims to reach 3.0 million by the end of 2011, and to expand the registration further in 2012-2013.
Sensibly, the Department of Social Welfare and Development has decided that the NHTS-PR will stick to its present target list of 5.2 million households, and not let its programming be road-blocked by the NSCB’s reduction of the poverty line.
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Contact SWS: www.sws.org.ph or firstname.lastname@example.org.