Continuing challenge to share
Another Christmas season is past and, as a matter of course, gift-giving and -receiving again take the back burner. Children, the season’s principal focus, will find themselves out of the spotlight until school enrollment time hogs the news again. But there is a government effort that pays continuing attention to children: the Conditional Cash Transfer or Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) under the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
The 4Ps was in the news recently after a Commission on Audit report listed implementation problems such as P1.085 billion going to 364,000 initially nonlisted beneficiaries, flawed documentation on return of unclaimed benefits amounting to P2.46 billion, P168.1 million going to 21,117 nonpoor beneficiaries, and double payments. All told, the problems concern less than 10 percent of the P38.915 billion in cash benefits distributed in 2013. Deducting the 6.3 percent of unclaimed benefits, which should still be in the government’s bank account, the potentially dubious transactions are at only 3 percent. But there should be no justification for dubious accounts of whatever amount in a program like the 4Ps. The DSWD is in the process of providing its side of the issue.
Independent agencies like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank as well as academic institutions are evaluating the impact of the 4Ps on its beneficiaries. The outcome is being compared to the impact of similar programs in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh, among others. The cost-benefit assessment for such a program is a continuing concern of agencies and institutions involved with and interested in global social programs. The expenses incurred in delivering the cash to the beneficiaries do reach billions of pesos, too. There are many issues to be studied on the program’s efficacy.
The 4Ps started here in 2007 under the Arroyo administration, with a pilot coverage of 6,000 households. The knee-jerk political response at that time was cynical: that it was a tactical preparation for the 2010 general elections and was highly vulnerable to corruption and fraud, and that it was a “dole” scheme designed to buy votes. In 2008, some 376,000 households were covered in 782 cities and municipalities in 81 provinces in all 17 regions. By 2014, some 4 million households had been covered, with 10 million beneficiaries between the ages of 3 and 18 sharing in the P62.6 billion distributed during the year.
The challenge of eradicating poverty is a continuing undertaking that cannot be left exclusively to the machinations of the market system, as advocates of the “trickle down” principle would like it. Inclusive economic growth demands a deliberate strategy that goes directly to the beneficiaries, like the 4Ps which addresses health and education, or the Gawad Kalinga and Habitat for Humanity which are private nonprofit initiatives for housing and community development. The resources used, whether public or private funds and “sweat” capital, are investments for the future as children are provided an opening, albeit small, to break free of the stranglehold of poverty.
Analysts of economic cycles are prone to conclude that economic stimuli are generated by election spending, with huge campaign funds creating income streams over a short (4-6 months) period. Election years are thus considered highly favorable for better economic performance. The 4Ps’ P62.6 billion for 2014 is likewise a strong stimulus for consumption considering that hardly any amount from this is saved on the first round. If the spending is done in poor communities—which is likely as 72 percent of the beneficiaries are in the lowest 20 percent of the economic pyramid—the income multiplier on the cash distribution is extremely high. Very poor areas with very little options for income flows are now made a little bit active by the 4Ps, in much the same way as remittances from overseas Filipino workers have made many areas economically progressive.
By its very name (“Pantawid”), the 4Ps must not be expected to be a regular program forever. The children benefiting from it should be getting education that will prepare them for the job market. The long-term challenge is for the economy to generate employment opportunities for them when they are ready. Over the medium term, investments that will generate employment for their parents will have to be made.
The rural areas are where the incidence of poverty is highest and drives people to the cities where they become informal settlers. Fortunate are those who in the last 30 years were able to find work as OFWs. They are real heroes to their families and to the country despite the high social cost of the diaspora. The rural areas are agricultural, and the challenge is for the development of agriculture through the application of creative models that have proved successful in other countries.
The government has yet to pursue an effective development plan for this sector. The challenge rests on the private sector to go directly to the poor farmers and fishers with viable plans and programs for them. Subsidiarity in reverse will have to work, with the government giving way to private initiatives where it has been wanting. The Departments of Agriculture and of Agrarian Reform will now have to be receptive and responsive to initiatives from private groups that will push programs directly targeting poor farmers and fishers.
The continuing challenge to share must now mobilize resources that will generate employment and income in agriculture. We owe this to our children.
Danilo S. Venida ([email protected]) holds undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of the Philippines and the Center for Research and Communication/University of Asia and the Pacific. He is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and is now a business consultant.
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