The government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program is celebrating an initial harvest: The graduation of its first batch of high school student-beneficiaries—333,673 of them, 21,844 from Metro Manila alone. Not bad for a program that has been criticized as fostering the culture of mendicancy among impoverished Filipinos.
A Social Weather Stations survey showed that 54 percent of Filipinos (11.4 million households) described themselves as poor in 2014, the highest ever incidence of poverty self-rating.
The Arroyo administration started the Pantawid Pamilya or conditional cash transfer program in 2008. It first targeted some 700,000 poor households who were given cash cards with which to regularly withdraw money from ATMs. The program was aimed at not only helping safeguard maternal and infant health but also encouraging families to keep their children in school by requiring an 85-percent attendance rate for school or daycare for children aged 3 to 14. A qualified household was entitled to receive as much as P1,400 per month.
The Aquino administration expanded the Pantawid Pamilya as a mainstay of its antipoverty policies; in 2014, the program had a budget of P83 billion. Today, over four million households benefit from it, though it remains a lightning rod for criticism that it perpetuates the dole mentality.
Despite the noise, however, the expanded program is achieving one of its targets: helping in the schooling of children 18 and below whose families are beneficiaries. One bright note is that its first batch of graduates includes the valedictorian of the Pasay City Science High School, who has made it through the challenging University of the Philippines College Admission Test. She is Alyannah Terite, 15, and she will take up civil engineering at the premier state university. Her 13-year-old sister Alizzah is also a program beneficiary. The girls’ parents earn P300-500 a day selling barbecue in front of the family home.
Under the program, Alyannah received P500 as a monthly stipend, which she used for projects and other school-related expenses. (Grade-school beneficiaries receive P300 a month.) She described it as “really a big help to my family.”
After graduating from high school, the Pantawid Pamilya student beneficiaries may seek assistance from the Department of Labor and Employment and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to gain training and find employment. They may also avail themselves of a student grant from the Commission on Higher Education.
The current Pantawid Pamilya grants are based on 2008 prices, according to Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman. “What we’re providing is the minimum to be able to address poverty,” she said. “If there’s no [Pantawid Pamilya], we will be worse off.”
A number of other countries have implemented similar programs in varying conditions, with varying results. A conditional cash transfer program is notoriously difficult to administer. In Latin America, such a program has been observed to lower poverty rates, notably because it was meticulously planned and efficiently implemented.
The Philippine experience has had mixed results. There are accounts of household beneficiaries selling or pawning their money cards. Still there is proof that the program can work. “These kids only get P500, which is little, but you can see that with the perseverance of the children and their parents, they are now able to finish school,” Soliman said.
The bottom line is the beneficiaries “graduating” from the conditional cash transfer program in the future, having found the means and the livelihood to make a go of things by themselves, and allowing families in bigger need to take their place as recipients. The point is to view the program as a “leg up”—a means of assistance, indeed a bridge, as its name “Pantawid Pamilya” indicates, and necessarily of a temporary nature.
For the moment let us consider Alyannah Terite’s pride in the present and hope for the future. “I really did not expect this. UP is such a prestigious university and I did not think I would pass [the admission test],” she said. “It is my dream to be an engineer. I want to be able to help my family once I achieve my dreams.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.