Voice of the forgotten poor | Inquirer Opinion

Voice of the forgotten poor

At the 45th anniversary meeting of Asian Development Bank in Manila on May 3-5, Philippine officials painted a picture of the country that was “on track” to recovery and, sustained “inclusive growth” with nobody left behind. This official outlook flew in the face of the statement of ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda who said, “unfortunately, while the region has made remarkable progress in reducing poverty, the benefits of growth have yet to reach several hundreds of millions of Asians who continue to struggle on less than $1.25 a  day.”

This grim outlook, translated into stark reality after the March 10 to 13 self-rated hunger survey by the Social Weather Stations which was first published by the BusinessWorld newspaper only days after the ADB meeting, found that 55 percent of the respondents—equivalent to 11.1 million families—claimed to be poor in the first quarter of 2012. The report said the spike represented a 10-point jump and “the highest result so far under the Aquino administration.” The survey, released on May 8, said that a record 4.8 million families in the country said they experienced hunger in the first quarter of the year, or an increase of some 300,000 families from the previous quarter. The result came as a shock to the complacent administration, and the effect of this jump on the public satisfaction with the performance of the government, which has been sliding over the past few months, is yet to be known. However, the result reflects muted public disenchantment with their state of poverty, which has now come to the surface.


According to the SWS, the survey showed that 23.8 percent of households experienced involuntary hunger, 1.3 percentage points higher than the 22.5 percent recorded in December last year. The latest survey on hunger, or the  involuntary suffering because of the lack of anything to eat, reflected slight increase in “moderate” as well as  “severe hunger.”

SWS said that those who experienced hunger “only once” or “a few times,” including the few who did not state their frequency of hunger, were categorized under moderate hunger. Severe hunger refers to those who experienced hunger “often” or “always.” Those who said they experienced “moderate” hunger increased from 17.7 percent (around 3.6 million families) in the previous quarter to 18 percent (around 3.7 million families).


Meanwhile, those who experienced “severe hunger” rose from 4.7 percent (around 955,000 families) to 5.8 percent (around 1.2 million families), just below the record 6 percent that was posted in March 2001.

According to the SWS, among households that considered themselves poor, the number of those who said they went hungry went down from 33.6 percent in December last year to 32.4 percent in March. Hunger among families who considered themselves food-poor went down from 38.1 percent to 37.3 percent. Severe hunger rose among the self-rated poor (from 8 percent to 9.2 percent) and the self-rated food-poor families (from 9.1 percent to 10.5 percent).

Previous surveys have shown poor ratings for government performance not only in reducing poverty inequality and in social reform programs. From a regional point of view, ADB issued a paper in its last meeting, showing that in the past two decades in Asia, the Gini-coeffcient—the most common measure of inequality—has risen from 38 to 47. In the past two decades nearly 20 percent of developing Asia’s total income went to the top 5 percent in most countries, including the Philippines. In the past two decades if inequality had stayed stable instead of rising, around 240 million more people in Asia could have escaped the poverty trap.

The economic interests of the Philippines’ poor have taken a back seat to the political priorities of the government’s agenda. Under the present administration, the reduction of poverty has seen less attention than the overriding objective of cleaning up government of corruption by way of prosecuting past administration officials accused of corrupt practices.

For the past four months, the country’s energy has been focused on the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, who is accused of betrayal of public trust.

It was during the trial when surveys showed that poverty and even hunger were taking heavy toll. The poor had very little involvement in the political exercise of impeachment. They have shown less interest in the trial than the urban-based middle class, the beneficiary of the benefits of economic growth. But the economic slowdown has however downgraded the middle class’ gains. They too are restless, and criticism of the government’s priorities is rising from the middle class.

The impeachment trial is winding down, and this has been accompanied by more and more   questions calling for the revision of government policy priorities, seeking more emphasis on economic programs for poverty alleviation. The poor are making known their discontent that they are being left behind by the mantra of “inclusive growth.” They are expressing their voice through the opinion surveys. The voice of the poor is not that of the Yellow Army, whose voice has little resonance with that of the poor.

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TAGS: Asian Development Bank, Poverty
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