Social Climate

The poverty drop was anticipated

/ 12:14 AM November 05, 2016

Last Oct. 27, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released its newest report on poverty, stating that 16.5 percent of families were officially poor in 2015, compared to 19.7 percent in 2012. The report also provided the percentages of poor families in two earlier years: 21.0 in 2006, and 20.5 in 2009.  The four readings were based on the triennial Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES).

The official triennial trend in poverty is correct. The drop in the official poverty incidence between 2012 and 2015 is welcome news, since it validates the decline in poverty as independently measured by Social Weather Stations, and published much earlier.


The SWS quarterly poverty figures for 2015 came out on time, and were all done by last January (“The value of self-rated poverty,” Opinion, 1/9/16). Average self-rated poverty (SRP) for the full year 2015 was 50 percent of families, compared to 54 percent in 2014, 52 percent in 2013, and also 52 percent in 2012.

SWS agrees that poverty was less in 2015 than three years earlier, in 2012.  But what the new official triennial report misses is that poverty rose between 2012 and 2014.  Remember, Supertyphoon “Yolanda” happened in November 2013.


SWS sees the decline in poverty as having continued this year (“Favorable news about poverty,” 5/28/16; “Favorable poverty news again,” 8/6/16; and “Poverty at historic low,” 10/15/16). In the first three quarters of 2016, average SRP was 44 percent.

The downtrend in poverty in the past decade, as seen in the SWS surveys, was not smooth.  That poverty did not consistently fall every year, much less every quarter, is not something strange.  The more frequently something is measured, the more the opportunities to discover irregular—and realistic—movements.

What happened to the official annual poverty data of 2013 and 2014? The PSA actually has more poverty data than what it released last week. Why does it not acknowledge, I wonder, the official poverty data for 2013 and 2014, based on the Annual Poverty Indicators Surveys (Apis) done in the first semesters (“S1”) of those years?

On March 6, 2015, at a workshop of experts on poverty reduction at the Asian Institute of Management, then Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan revealed that a new official report on poverty would be released that very day. I reported: “Dr. Balisacan announced the bad news that poverty worsened between 2013S1 and 2014S1.  It rose from 18.6 to 20.0 percent among families, and it rose from 24.6 to 25.8 percent among people.” He thus validated the 2013-2014 increase in poverty earlier seen by SWS (see “Self-rated poverty proves its reliability,” Opinion, 3/14/15).

The 2013 and 2014 figures provided by Dr. Balisacan were based on the Apis, which has a questionnaire on income very similar to that of FIES.  The PSA should devise a way to splice the figures from the FIES and the Apis, and not ignore the latter. (I tried, without success, to download the Apis reports from the PSA website for use in this column.)

The triennial FIES system takes too long to discover the poverty trend. Did the PSA do an Apis in 2016?  Will it do one in 2017?  If its next reference points for poverty will be 2018 and 2021, using the FIES, then its next figures will not come out until late 2019 and late 2022.  Unless the new socioeconomic planning secretary, Ernesto Pernia, follows his predecessor’s example, President Duterte will have one—and only one—opportunity to see what happens to official poverty under his watch.

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TAGS: Family Income and Expenditure Survey, Philippine Statistics Authority, Poverty
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