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Editorial

What about war on poverty?

/ 12:18 AM October 11, 2016

The numbers remain grim: According to official data, 26 million Filipinos, or about one in four, are mired in poverty. That’s 26.3 percent of the population, out of which 2.6 million are also unemployed. A survey by Pulse Asia last July, conducted just the week after President Duterte took office, showed that issues and concerns relating to jobs, poverty and high prices were what Filipinos wanted the new administration to immediately address. The top three concerns were inflation (68 percent), employment (56 percent) and propoor programs (55 percent), according to the nationwide survey. Criminality (48 percent) stood at fourth.

How remarkable is it, then, that in the first 100 days of the Duterte presidency, hardly anything was said by the administration about a war on poverty that would at least match in zeal and urgency its flagship war on drugs and crime? Nearly every single speech by Mr. Duterte since he assumed the nation’s highest office has been about his forceful campaign against the drug menace, and also his invariably bellicose reaction at those who raise concerns about how the campaign is being conducted.

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No doubt it’s an effective platform; he won resoundingly with it. There should be no question, too, that drug trafficking deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent, its syndicates exposed and neutralized. More than once, Mr. Duterte has cited the effect of drug addiction on Filipino families as the reason for his hatred of it—that homes are splintered, lives are wrecked and crimes proliferate whenever drugs come into the picture.

This is true, but hardly a complete picture. Criminality is due to a much bigger cause than the spread of drugs. As Cielito Habito, director general of the National Economic and Development Authority during the Ramos administration, has pointed out, “poverty and inequality are other important reasons for criminality.” Many are reduced to committing petty crimes simply to survive; the lack of jobs that would put food on the table drives people to desperate measures—including, for some, becoming street pushers and drug mules, the lowest and therefore most expendable segment in the totem pole of drug syndicates.

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In the past three months, they have borne the brunt of the killings that have been unleashed by Mr. Duterte’s exhortations to the public in general, and to the police in particular, to be ruthless in dealing with anyone with the barest whiff of involvement in drugs. Most of the 3,000 or so persons killed in the war on drugs—those whose bodies were found dumped in godforsaken corners, trussed in duct tape and adorned with a cardboard sign branding them as drug pushers—come from the poorest sectors of society. Big-fish suspects like Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, get choice treatment—a chance to plead innocence before the cameras and even take temporary shelter in the police chief’s official residence.

In contrast to the administration’s overarching focus on drugs, the antipoverty measures have come piecemeal—the Department of Agrarian Reform’s bold moves to fully implement land redistribution, for one, and the Department of Labor and Employment’s announced policy to end the practice of contractualization in the workforce. But, three months on, the President himself has yet to make an official speech detailing his administration’s battle plan to combat poverty, bring prices down, open up more job opportunities, and ensure that the average 6-percent economic growth he inherited from the Aquino administration is finally felt in tangible ways by the majority of the population. Even his State of the Nation Address was short on detail, much less focus, on the economic tasks required to bring immediate relief to the masses trapped in grinding misery.

Would that the same energy and fervor this administration has shown in its war on drugs are applied as well to the more crucial fight against poverty.

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TAGS: Duterte, editorial, opinion, Poverty, war on poverty
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