Two views on poverty—from the top and the hungry
CANBERRA—A recent survey in which 4.8 million Filipino families said they experienced hunger in September—about 1.2 families more than in the previous quarter, as hunger has risen in all regions except Mindanao—delivered a powerful message on the deficiency of the Aquino administration’s antipoverty program, if there is one.
The survey, conducted by the Social Weather Stations on Sept. 26-29, highlighted the hollowness of the administration’s claim that it has significantly boosted the gross domestic product (GDP) as its legacy, as Mr. Aquino (a scion of one of the largest landed families in the country) winds down his presidency. The claim has been undermined by the fact that GDP growth has not translated into jobs that would have given the poor the income to enable them to escape the poverty trap.
Whatever claim made by the administration that it has compassion for the poor has been blasted full of holes by the survey, which found, among other things, that:
- Twenty-two percent of the respondents, or an estimated 3.6 million families, said they experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months—5.7 points higher than the 16.3 percent in June.
The September hunger figure was the worst in a year and was 2.5 points above last year’s annual average of 19.5 percent. A record high of 23.8 percent was posted in March 2012.
- Fifty-five percent, or 12.1 million families, said they considered themselves poor, unchanged from June, and 43 percent, or 9.3 million families, said they considered themselves food-poor, slightly up from 41 percent, or 9 million families, in the previous quarter.
Economists at the University of the Philippines and Asian Development Bank have established the nexus between the spike in hunger incidence and poverty. Some academics attributed the spike to such underlying factors as persistent poverty and worsening inequality. According to the SWS, the rise in overall hunger between June and September can also be attributed to the increasing number of those who considered themselves poor (from 21.1 percent to 31.4 percent), food-poor (from 27 percent to 36.6 percent), and nonfood-poor (from 8.8 percent to 11.2 percent) even as hunger among the nonpoor barely changed from 10.3 percent to 10.4 percent.
These data draw a picture or pattern of bouts of hunger based on the experience of those afflicted by hunger, regardless of whether they experienced hunger only “once” or “a few times” (moderate hunger) or went hungry “often” or “always” (severe hunger).
But in the face of these statistics, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman has refused to acknowledge that the government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program for the poor is practically useless. She insisted that the survey results did not indicate that the program was not working. In reality, it is hardly making a dent in poverty reduction.
What more evidence is required to open the eyes of Soliman to the stark reality that the CCT program has the makings of an absolute failure in ameliorating hunger among the poor? The numbers echo the voice of the people who are at the bottom of the social heap, and their self-rating of hunger incidence represents the view of poverty from the ground—not from the insulated enclaves of the rich and the insensitive PowerPoint projections of bureaucrats on the blight ravaging the poor.
Soliman rubbed salt on raw wounds when all she could offer as an excuse for the ineffectual poverty alleviation program of the administration was the mealy-mouthed platitude, “We cannot quickly eradicate poverty and hunger. Survey results like those of the SWS are good reference points. They should not prevent us in addressing our people’s needs.” If there’s nothing more she can do to deliver results, why does she not just shut up?
Insult was added to injury when Malacañang produced statistics on Oct. 27, claiming an actual decline in poverty incidence. Speaking with condescension, Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told a televised press briefing: “We’d like to share with you the poverty incidence survey that the government conducts through the Philippine Statistics Authority—what is called the Annual Poverty Indicators Survey or Apis, where there’s a drop of three points from last year to this year. That means 2.5 million families are out of poverty.”
How the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) came up with its figures or what black magic produced these results, Lacierda did not explain. That press briefing shows us the distortion between the images of poverty as viewed from the commanding heights of the power elite and that viewed from the self-perception of the victims of hunger and poverty on the ground.
Another Palace spokesperson claimed that the PSA’s Family Income and Expenditure showed that poverty incidence dropped to 24.9 percent in the first semester of 2013 from 27.9 percent in the same period in 2012.
Lacierda did not question the methodology of the SWS. But he said it should be taken into account that the Annual Poverty Indicators Survey had 10,000 households as respondents, compared to SWS’ 1,200 respondents. He pointed out that poverty incidence is different from self-rated poverty.
But between these two surveys, the results derived from the experiences of victims of poverty provide stronger reason to believe that their testimonies reflect the reality on the ground.
Reporters left the briefing feeling that Lacierda was pulling their leg—and wasting their time.
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