1. Growth on its own is not the ‘royal road’ to the MDGs – the link between the two is distribution. The key is setting in train a political process that will lead governments and the private sector to distribute the assets, opportunities and benefits of growth more fairly, supporting human development outcomes and in turn, the achievement of the MDGs.

    - ODI Briefing Paper on Economic Growth and the MDGs 

    With all the talk of GDP growth rates in the news recently I think it’s important to bring up one key point: Growth matters for shit if it’s not inclusive and does not reduce poverty. If our focus is on growth for the sake of growth then the economic future of the Philippines will look little different from the last 25 years (or especially, the last nine years under GMA).

    In a developing nation such as ours high GDP rates have been fool’s gold since most of the benefits have only circulated among a select slice of the economic spectrum. Our recent economic history is a classic case of the rich getting richer, while the poor stagnate. Sure, high GDP rates bring in hot money and foreign investment, but where exactly do the benefits of that accrue? Industries like call centers may bring jobs into the country, and help combat unemployment, but where exactly is the labor pool for that drawn? If anything, the recent rhetoric about inclusive growth is welcome; only so long as the structural inefficiencies that prevent it are addressed.

    Economic discussions centered on achieving MDGs (which are all about reducing poverty and social development) has been fixed on creating inclusive and deep GDP growth. The fact is our growth has not necessarily achieved any large-scale reduction in poverty rates (which by the way, occurred with the lowest GDP growth rate in a few years). Poverty reduction has stagnated, with only small percentage points in terms of ‘self-rated’ poverty showing any improvement. But when we look at measures, such as the number of impoverished at the national line, the numbers show little change. According to World Bank numbers the poverty headcount ration in 2000 was 33%, in 2003 24.9%, in 2006 26.4%, and in 2009 26.5% (the latest).

    Not encouraging.


  2. (Self)Perception

    I had an interesting conversation with a sociologist and a historian yesterday. In part we touched on the idea of self-assessed poverty, and how it intersected with Nick Joaquin’s A Heritage of Smallness. 

    It is difficult to question when someone rates themselves as poor. But I think it is an important question to ask. By what standard of living can we self-differentiate between poverty and middle class in the Philippines?

    In the course of a research project, and doing some outreach work, one of the people I talked to brought up the fact that some people who aren’t necessarily poor according to Philippine economic and social standards rate themselves as poor. For example, one subject is a driver for a company. He owns a piece of land in an urban area (bought legitimately), he built a home on it. His wife works as an accountant in a major accounting firm, they have two children both going to a decent private school. Yet, when asked if he is poor, he still says yes. By most social standards, owning land, having a home, putting children through private school, and owning a motorcycle would qualify nebulously as middle class. Yet here that standard of living it seems is still self-rated as being ‘poor.’

    In this discussion a differentiation between extreme poverty, those who live under the international standard of $1.25 a day, has to be made. I am not referring to those who live in abject poverty. It is very difficult to bring up whether someone is poor or not, so may be the better social question is what do we see as not poor.

    I wonder if our understanding of what it means to be middle class is still colored by our colonial history. We have been indoctrinated with wholly western standards of wealth and affluence. In a way, I wonder if we only consider those who live in the golden ghettos of Greenhills and Makati as being not poor; or being affluent.

    Poverty and economic standing require social context. What might be poor in one country is not necessarily poor in another. We can look at the raw numbers (average income and so on) and say, yes the Philippines is poor vis-a-vis our neighbors and other nations in the world. And yes, that would be accurate. Just as an American of average means would likely be considered ‘poor’ according to the Basques or Norwegians. But within our social and economic context what necessarily makes someone see themselves poor and what will allow them to see themselves as middle class? Beyond the raw numbers that is.

    This brings in Joaquin’s idea in his A Heritage of Smallness essay. He was arguing that the way we construct our identity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. We see ourselves as a poor nation, so we are a poor nation. We see ourselves as corrupt, so corruption flourishes. We see ourselves as downtrodden, so we become doormats.

    Going back to my original question: By what standard is middle class in the Philippines? Is someone who can own land, own a house, and send their children to a decent private school objectively poor?

    It is a thorny question, one that is difficult to even ask without inciting recriminations of the person asking the question. There is little doubt that our country is ‘poor’ right now. Yet I do wonder: Is our perception of ourselves as a poor people coloring our perception of individual circumstances?

  3. Artemeo Cataga (C), accompanied by his wife Tinay (2nd L), eats their meal with five of their seven children cramped inside their small shanty in Baseco, Tondo, Metro Manila July 11, 2011.

    Fighting poverty has been an uphill battle in Philippines partly due to the rapidly increasing population. The United nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said that with a population of 94 million, the Philippines is the 12th most populous country in the world and with an average of 2 million babies born every year, the number could hit the 100 million mark by 2015. (Reuters)

    It’s photographs like this that should remind that poverty alleviation is not found in one magic bullet piece of legislation. It relies on rationalized and cooperative programs across a continuum of government and private enterprise to truly eradicate.

    Everything from CCTs, to health and social services, to revamping education curriculums and infrastructure, to promoting rural agricultural development, to deconstructing failed economic development policies, to promoting cultural heritage and concomitant livelihood. You cannot take one program out of context and hold it up as both a savior or a farce without understanding how it relates to other endeavors.

    (via ellobofilipino)


  4. So I heard you hate Willie Revillame.


    The de facto National Douchebag of the country’s recent antic has raised hell of self-proclaimed muckrakers; and sure, come jump in— the water is warm.

    How easy it is to vilify a fiend through the convenience of social media under the wonderful guise of vigilance because, of course, none of us has ever in our whole lives indulged in a laugh at the expense of a child’s humiliation. Still, it is not an excuse to create “entertainment” out of an apparent emotional abuse, is it? Never mind that the kid has received positive reinforcement all throughout the act and a generous compensation that dozens other would fight over; crossing the line is crossing the line.

    I won’t stop you from throwing the proverbial stone, but hey, while were at the subject of children protection, why not do something for the country’s five-hundred-thousand-something children below fifteen years old involved in child labor as well? Does rape and physical abuse, being the top reported crimes against children, not weigh enough as compared to televised humiliation to warrant your opinion? Has activism depressingly become a mere sensation that you are as quick to jump in a fleeting affair as to forget that the number of children robbed of proper education is in the millions and rising?

    Einstein was right when he said everything is relative and perspective— even the term “disgusting.”

    Prove to me that you really mean to vanguard child welfare and that Willie Revillame isn’t just a straw man. Prove to me that you aren’t using this “dipshit scum of a TV host” as a surrogate for your farce wisdom and maybe I will consider listening to your babble worth my time.

    Prove that you truly care or GTFO.

    [Dateline Philippines, Child Protection Org, Global March, UNICEF, Child Info]

    I’m going to take this wholly opportune time to delve back into the Revillame issue, and bring up a curious by-product of the broader discourse.

    Judging that the issue with Willie Revillame is indicative of the plight the impoverished find themselves, I do believe that shining a light on what went on is instructive. More so, because, for the parents, this is it. This is the highlight of their lives, this is one of the only opportunities that they likely will ever have.

    Properly contextualized, the Willie Revillame and Janjan issue is a very prominent example of what happens when poverty is not addressed and hope is scant for the poor.

    Now, while we are getting on our pedestals of wisdom and sharing life experiences with the masses (much appreciated really) there is a wide gap between expressing outrage over something as visible as this and plain not caring about the plight of millions of street children in the Philippines. I’d hazard only the very desperate or misguided would inevitably try and confuse the two.

    While I am sure there are some who have never given a second thought to street children, there are many who do. And who spend time and money supporting actions and causes for poverty alleviation. 

    In all, this post (and others of its ilk that I have seen) come across more as an impassioned and defensive attack on anyone criticizing Revillame. As if to say, only those whose hands are clean and whose hearts are pure are allowed to criticize what just went on. Is that the case? Really? Because if that is so, then ire is misplaced. His critics (who by the way, aren’t wrong let’s not forget that shall we) should absolutely not be under attack, polemics should be cast at society at large: A society that allows children to wallow in poverty and misery; a society that has forgone it’s broader humanitarian responsibilities, to the point that it is not only enough to that millions of children are poor, some have to laugh and deride them. Heaping humiliations upon degradations. How lovely to see.

    To attack the critics is to indirectly defend the court jester. It is a curious attempt to undermine the valid concerns raised vis-a-vis what happened two weeks ago and what just happened.

    In essence, this post aptly demonstrates another weakness in Philippine society. So thank you for the opportunity to bring this up. Just because there are greater issues facing the country does not mean smaller ones, small indignities, should pass unremarked and unaddressed. Especially when this indignity is part and parcel with the broader issue of poverty in the country.

    Then again, the inability to contextualize issues is, sadly, something seen far to often.

  5. From @unicefphils

    “Through A Child’s Lens: An exhibition of a children’s photography workshop in the Philippines” was a five-day workshop conducted by UNICEF photographer Giacomo Pirozzi, with Cebu City high school students. Many of the students became more interested in using photography in helping raise awareness of children’s rights and encourage support for the Anti-Corporal Punishment bill. Photos taken by the children were launched in a photo exhibition.

    The caption for the photo above:

    “A girl begging for money in front of Metro Gaisano. I feel so sad because of the way she looked at me with so much pain in her eyes.” Rachel Marikit, 15


  6. Relative to us:

    According to the country’s 2009 report under the aegis of UNICEF’s ongoing Global Study on Child Poverty and Disparities, poverty increased from 24.4 per cent in 2003 to 26.9 per cent in 2009. Two out of three poor people live in rural areas. The other third live in the country’s mega- cities, where they face overcrowding, inadequate sanitation and limited access to basic health services.

    Hey look at that! It coincides with the GMA administration. It is also one of the key indicators for my argument elsewhere that the GMA administration significantly retarded our efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

    Moving on.

    The section on the Philippines did quite rightly point out that the Philippines has made gains in improving and defending the rights of children and women. Areas that demand more than just legal measures, but an educational component to help expand understanding of women and children’s rights. In a sense, it is a bit of cultural re-engineering. But, to be fair, the Philippines is one of the leading countries in Asia when it comes to gender equality.

    There still remain some disconcerting statistics, especially connected to our relatively high per capita income (compared to our statistical brethren). While gains have been made in terms of child mortality, we still see about 33 deaths per every thousand (though down from 59 in 1990). Infant mortality (under 1) checks in at 26 per 1000 deaths (compared to 41 in 1990) and neonatal mortality is at about 15 per every thousand.

    All indicate that gains have been made in those areas, but the statistics still put us next to countries like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

    Other areas where we do not do so well is nutrition. 21% of infants are born with low-birth weight; low birth weight is a product of poor nutrition on the side of the mother and can negatively impact the ability of a child to mature intellectually and physically. It retards growth. 26% of those under five exhibit moderate to severe underweight and malnourishment symptoms, while 32% of our children are stunted in terms of growth.

    There are data points, like low HIV rates and high literacy rates that will likely be pointed to as success in our story. According to some reports HIV prevalence is on the rise, though remain far far faaaar below our neighbors and other countries.

    In terms of literacy rates though, there is a large difference between functional literary rates. While, yes they can read, it doesn’t mean they can understand what they are reading. Or apply those skills in any sort of meaningful critical way. Primary school enrolment and attendance rates may look high, but the quality of what they are learning is definitely up for debate. That parents still send their students to understaffed, underfunded and under supplied classrooms demonstrates the cultural value we place on education in the Philippines.

    In terms of adolescents there are some disconcerting numbers, especially taken in conjunction with poverty and drop out rates during the teenage years. There are approximately 53 births per 1000 girls aged 15-19. Of women aged 20-24 7% gave birth prior to 18.

    And as mentioned before, our primary school rates look wonderful, but that falls apart during secondary education. Net enrolment rates are only 61%, meaning we’re shedding over 30% of students between primary and secondary schools. That number further drops when it comes to tertiary; I believe less than 30% of students end up in universities.

    The one value that should be studied further is the HIV education: 19% of those aged 15-19 have some level of HIV awareness and education. While this does not replace a more general reproductive health coverage statistic, it does (in some sense) give an idea of awareness out there. In all of the conversation on RH, I still have not seen definitive statistics covering things such as this.

    While you can argue that things like poor nutrition and so on point to a lack of awareness, how of that is related to poverty and lack of access and how much is related to lack of education and understanding?

    There is one story I can relate concerns and outreach medical program. Once they got on the ground they ended up having to reorient their program because basics, such as hygiene, nutrition and even bathing, were unknown within the community. They had to go ahead and teach those things, before even being able to touch on their original mission. Of course this is anecdotal, but coming from the organization I do suspect it’s a similar situation elsewhere.


  7. LGUs and Empowerment



    Yep, I do agree that education and the media are tools which may have contributed to the tunnel-vision of the people in the Capital. And I also agree that these two will play an important role in getting out of that tunnel and seeing the whole country, even from the confines of the Capital.

    While this reminds me of the role that the local government units outside the Capital must take up on disasters, it is important to point out that power given to the local governments is a concept only recently promulgated and practiced. And very few LGUs outside Manila have grasped that sense of responsibility over their own provinces. There is also the practice of disaster relief funds, the use of which is still up to the national government and leadership. The LGUs can only go so far as prepare for disasters and mitigate the impact. The process of rehabilitation takes not only their own efforts, but also much needed help from the rest of the nation. And that is where the media and education play an important role.

    I must agree with you that taking an interest in the cities and provinces outside of the Capital is essential to having a genuine national perspective of the country. Manila is not the Philippines in the same way as the Philippines is not Manila.

    I must say that no Filipino can call himself a nationalist until he or she has gone beyond his place or city of birth, been and understood the people in other parts of the country where the language, customs, food, and sometimes even the clothing is different. Only until we realize that we are a nation of various ethnicities and languages will be truly be a nation.

    Failing that, we will always see news on the destruction of lives and property in the other cities and provinces in the country relegated to a couple of paragraphs in the back section of the national dailies; while controversies involving celebrities and politicians rule the front page.

    I wrote the column not without a hint of bitterness; back in 2009 I wrote something that elicited some bitterness from people affected by Pepeng.  It was disheartening, but it was the obvious answer: things would concern you more if you were directly affected.  While Ondoy was dramatized in so many ways by the media and by those directly affected by the disaster, little was done for landslides, sickness, and the lack of food and water available to the victims in Northern Luzon.

    It’s in the metropole that most activity was done during the disaster: donations, geotagging, volunteerism.  As Ondoy subsided, so did the donations.  So did the geotagging, the volunteerism.  It was just fatigue, the lack of care, or that the storm didn’t affect them anymore.

    There’s a certain sense of proximity when it comes to caring, but none so distant, none so disjoint, than here.  What makes it all the more freaky is there were more emotions made here for the floods and landslides that hit Brazil and Australia.  You’ve got news in PEP, for example, that Anne Curtis’ family is safe from the floods that hit Brisbane.  Galling, considering that families affected by floods and continuous rains in the eastern part of the Philippines had next to nothing for media noche.  Robbery, theft, and rape make national headlines and segments on the six o’clock news: rat infestations in North Cotabato don’t.  All the hoopla and the outrage over the MRT-LRT fare hikes fail to encompass a larger context of problems: the lack of roads and transportation in far-flung areas of the Philippines that makes even riding the Metro Manila train system impossible for them.  And yet, they too bear the brunt of our woes.

    It’s not a social media awareness campaign, a hashtag, or a headline that is the be-all-end-all of conversation, but in many ways it defines conversations, especially in the Twitter-center that is Metro Manila that has, in so many ways, demonstrated its inability to care for things it’s so attached to and dependent on, yet so far from it.  The seeming inability of the center to care for (and to take care of) the periphery is a fairly good indictment of it.

    Reblogging for both the comments of @ellobofilipino and @marocharim; cuz they’re just damn good, most especially for us in Manila.

    To switch to the integration issues, I know that frequently we like to point to historical and geographical considerations when it comes to the ‘disjointed’ nature of our nation. That the South was never fully brought under Spanish control and only integrated nominally during the American period is true (though, the Philippine Republic did recognize their brethren in the South). That the archipelagic nature of the country does not lend itself to integration in the past is also true. That these are the reasons why the country remains more than slightly out-of-sync is not. Granted, they are contributing reasons. But, I fear the current state we find ourselves in has less to do with history and more to do with political expediency. Or to put it in other terms, the need to exploit resources for personal and political gain. As well, I believe that’s why LGUs remain wholly un-empowered (except where/when political favors needs be paid). 

    There is something else I would like to add to the discussion of media. When it comes to poverty, like with Ondoy, what we typically see are images of urban poverty. These visuals as well reflect the international focus on urban poverty, over rural poverty driven by a lack of provincial development. What we see then are efforts to improve the plight of the poor in the cities, without truly addressing the wellspring of poor immigrants: a lack of opportunity and development in the provinces. Visually, I guess seeing poor children living next to polluted estuaries resonates more than families living in ‘idyllic’ rural scenes (sarcasm). While we should be working to improve urban conditions I suspect our almost total focus on it obscures the rural issues. That’s holding us back.

    Tagged #poverty
  8. Source: NSCB Poverty Briefing


  9. ellobofilipino:

    This reminds me of a discussion I had with my Economics students before when they asked me why rural-to-urban migration, which is a product of the bias for the cities than the provinces, is bad.

    I told them this scenario: A rural Filipino teenage male goes to the city to earn more for himself and his family since the crops they produce are bought cheaply. And the money they make simply cannot provide for their needs. He looks for a job, but finds none since he has only finished elementary studies or at most some high school, while the city kids have college degrees. He stays in a slum area in the city since the rent for bed spaces is cheaper than a hotel or hostel, and he does not have that much money. He passes some istambays (local thugs), they don’t like him or his kind. They ask him for his money, he refuses to give them what little he has. They stab him, he dies. His body is sent to the morgue unidentified since his wallet and old mobile phone has been taken by the thugs. His body stays there until some medical school gets it for its students. All the while his parents and siblings in the province wait for him to return with the money he would have raised by working in the city.

    My students of course were shocked by the story. But I told them that cases like the one I mentioned happen often in the cities of this country. And if only the government would allot more money to the provinces, particularly in the agricultural areas, there would be no need for kids like the one I cited to move out of their farms and pursue a job in the city. Sadly though, this country’s government prefers to pour money into the cities and not the provinces.

    Morbid? Well maybe for some. But in my time as a journalist, I have covered more than one case with this kind of story. And this is the story of most of those young men I have seen stabbed, hacked, mutilated, and thrown by the roadside only to end up unidentified and unclaimed in the morgues. And it does pain me that they have to suffer such things in the cities when they would have been contently working in the fields with the family and friends.

    Additionally, what we discovered with the Ampatuan case is the IRA funds that are disbursed are used as petty cash! This is not an isolated case, but just one that we can easily point to as representative of the embedded issue.

    Unfortunately, the IRA disbursed funds and discretionary national funds that are allotted very rarely filter down to the people. When you couple this with the jueteng situation and so on, it is incredibly apparent why rural development is stymied…static…DOA…whatever.

    So, instead, as you point out, those in rural areas are forced to migrate to the urban areas in the hopes of finding potentially a better life; where instead they find themselves abused, even killed. We look at urban poverty, cluck our tongues and think about what we can do to fix their situations in the cities. Solution? Allocate more money for urban poverty alleviation problems.

    It ignores why the people are forced to migrate in the first place.

    This is why we continually bring up the necessity for improving the peace and order situation in rural areas and strengthening LGU oversight and systems. Hell, just focusing on agriculture will redound on urban poverty.

    Tagged #poverty

  10. When Poverty becomes a competitive advantage…

    A few months ago I got into an argument with an American economist who claimed the developing nations artificially keep their wage structure lower vis-a-vis other countries. Specifically, he was claiming the LDNs in Asia forcibly maintain lower wages so that they will have a competitive advantage over other nations. The cheap wages would be part of the inducement to site manufacturing and outsourcing centers in LDNs.

    I of course took exception to the central thesis; that the government purposefully does this. I argued that instead the low wage structures were a by-product of free trade policies that undercut local industries.

    I just could not conceive of a regime, no matter how corrupt or shortsighted, would purposefully entrench poverty to entice foreign investment. The sheer audacity, to exploit and impoverish your own people for the sole purpose of bringing in foreign funds that could be funneled into their own pockets and the pockets of the cronies? Impossible.

    Further, I could not believe any regime would be so short sighted as to short-change the economic growth of their constituents. Ultimately, I argued that a by-product of a corrupt regime would be a low wage structure; but I could not believe that it would be a central economic policy for a regime.

    Well, I need to get in touch with that economist and apologize. I was wrong:

    Wages in the Philippines were the lowest in Asia. Government policy kept salaries as low as possible in order to attract multinationals to establish plants in the Philippines. Marcos announced the policy on January 4, 1974, on the occasion of the Philippine Central Bank’s Silver Anniversary celebration:

    "Our country now has one of the lowest average wage levels…We intend to see to it our export program is not placed in jeopardy at an early stage by a rapid rise in the general wage level…We shall preserve the relative position of our wage structure vis-a-vis those of countries."

    If success in wage policy were measured in terms of maintenance or decrease in real wages, the Marcos administration was highly successful. The Central Bank report for 1980 stated that "real wages for skilled workers were 63.7% and for unskilled workers 53.4% of what they had been in 1972."

    - Ferdinand Marcos and the Philippines: the political economy of authoritarianism by Albert F Celoza, pg 118.

    It remains unfathomable to me how certain parties can still maintain a straight-face when defending the so-called legacy of Ferdinand Marcos.