Inquirer Headlines: Nation

A World with Extreme Poverty is a World of Insecurity.

Friday, November 9, 2007

GMA releases additional P1-B fund for hunger

Paolo Romero / Thursday, November 8, 2007 / Philippine Star

President Arroyo ordered yesterday the release of P1 billion more for anti-hunger measures as part of the government’s stepped up fight this year versus poverty.

Mrs. Arroyo ordered Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. to immediately release the amount during the Anti-Hunger Task Force meeting that she convened at the Manila Hotel.

She said the additional appropriation would be distributed to government agencies directly involved in the implementation of the government’s hunger mitigation program.

She said the hunger mitigation program seeks to address the unavailability or insufficiency of food as well as the lack of financial resources to purchase food items.

On the supply side, the measures include increasing food production through productivity programs like livestock, crops, mangrove and coastal fishery development, farm and irrigation; and, enhancing the efficiency of logistics and delivery of food items to end consumers through the development of more farm-to-market roads, full utilization of the Roll-On Roll-Off (RoRo) ports and terminals, increasing the construction of more Barangay Food Terminals and Tindahan Natin stores and the strengthening of school feeding programs.

On the demand side, mitigating measures include, providing income to the poor through aggressive micro-financing programs, more employment opportunities, livelihood and training seminars and the development of “other value-adding products” such as coconut for coconut coir and virgin coconut oil; promoting good nutrition through social marketing information seminars; and managing the population through responsible parenthood.

Mrs. Arroyo stressed that concerned agencies should focus their attention on the supply side as this would have the greatest and most immediate effect on ending hunger.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, who was at the meeting, updated Mrs. Arroyo on the agency’s anti-hunger programs.

Yap said his department has already attained its target of 3,000 kilometers of new and renovated farm-to-market roads and 5,000 kilometers more are being readied.

He said 7,765 Tindahan Natin convenience stores are now operating across the country.

Yap assured Mrs. Arroyo that with the P1 billion additional appropriation, the government’s target of 8,000 Tindahan Natin stores by the end of the year would be achieved.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, for his part, said that under the Food for School Program (FSP) with the Department of Social Welfare and Development, one kilo of rice is issued daily for 120 days to families who suffer from severe hunger and whose children are in pre-school and Grades one to six.

Other government agencies involved in the program are the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, National Irrigation Administration, National Food Authority, Department of Transportation and Communications, Philippine Ports Authority, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and local government units.

Survey results welcomed

Malacañang said the results of the latest SWS self-rated poverty survey showed that more people have benefited from the country’s economic gains.

“The common people are now feeling the benefits of a growing economy. The implementation of the much needed tax reforms contributed to the strengthening of the peso and the increase in investments,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

According to the SWS, self-rated poverty has been at a lower range of 47 to 53 percent since September 2006 compared to the 55 to 59 percent between December 2005 and June 2006.

“That decline roughly translates to five million Filipinos or one million families,” Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

Presidential Management Staff director general Cerge Remonde pointed out that the average self-rated poverty under the Arroyo administration is the lowest since the Marcos regime.

Remonde said that based on the records, the average self-rate poverty rate was at 55 to 74 percent during the Marcos administration; 51 to 72 percent under President Aquino; 58 to 70 percent for the Ramos administration; and 54 to 66 percent under President Estrada.

“The news that 52 percent rated themselves poor today is welcome. It is one of the lowest self rated poverty thresholds of this generation and it is happening under the Arroyo administration,” Remonde said.

Remonde emphasized that the President has remained focused on governance and on ensuring the growth of the economy amid “political noise.”

He pointed out that the government has undertaken several measures to address poverty and that all agencies and offices are involved in this effort.

“The strategies include putting money in the hands of people through MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) loans and the like, bringing down food costs by enhancing supply through Department of Agriculture programs and food for school and food for work programs among others,” Remonde said.

‘Red alert’

A group that claims to promote anti-poverty initiatives said the country is on “red alert status” regarding poverty despite government claims that it is addressing the issue.

Global Call to Action against Poverty-Philippines (GCAP) said the economic growth trumpeted by the government “does not trickle down” but “stays put with those who already have a lot.”

“Despite the government’s continuous rhetoric that eradicating poverty is its overarching goal; poverty continues to grow amidst the trumpeted economic growth,” it said.

“The government’s response to the calamity of poverty and hunger in the country is mere palliative to the root causes of the problem,” said Erning Ofracio, an urban poor leader from Kilusan para sa Makatarungang Lipunan at Gobyerno (KMLG), a member of GCAP-Philippines.
“Billions of pesos are put into these poverty and hunger mitigation programs that have been proven to be ineffective and a waste of resources as evident in the government’s recently concluded 6-month war on hunger, which by the end of its duration witnessed the record rise in hunger incidence, with one out of four Filipinos experiencing hunger, and now one out of two Filipinos who see themselves as poor,” Ofracio added.

The Third Quarter 2007 SWS survey showed that “self-rated poverty” rose in all areas, except in the Visayas where the figures actually went down.

GCAP-Philippines cited the results of the 2003 Family Income and Expenditure Survey, which showed that the income of the richest 10 percent was still 20 times the income of the poorest 10 percent.

The group pointed out that the net worth of the nation’s 10 richest individuals and families in 2006 was equivalent to the combined income of the country’s poorest 9.8 million households.

“But 45 million poor Filipinos have spoken; the admission of poverty in the recent surveys has unveiled the truth,” Ofracio said.

“We are facing a war on poverty and hunger but this war begins with the government facing up to the true state of poverty and hunger in the Philippines,” he said.

“If the government is really doing their job in poverty reduction, then why do they need external surveys to tell them that hunger and poverty is rising? In fact, if they were really doing their job, our people would not be facing worsening poverty and hunger,” he added. - with Marvin Sy and Katherine Adraneda

Friday, October 19, 2007

World Poverty Day is our Day

Opinion /Ma. Ceres Doyo / Human Face / Philippine Daily Inquirer

First posted 02:18:58 (Mla time) October 18, 2007 / Ma. Ceres P. Doyo / Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--We who are not on the extreme side of the economic divide, we who are fortunate to have a little more than the have-nots, but who have so much less than those who talk six to eight zeros in boardrooms and on golf courses, have no reason to feel that there is nothing important or impactful for us to do.

We are many, in fact, we are the majority, and we have the power. And I do not mean only on election day. If only we could bring forth that power. If only we knew how.

Yesterday was the United Nation’s official World Poverty Day. It was not a day to be celebrated, but rather to be observed. It was a day to remind the world that a third of the human citizens of this planet -- the “have-nots” -- could be dying because of hunger, disease and disasters at this very moment because of the neglect, greed and ignorance of the few “haves” who have too much in their hands and those who have the power, might and numbers to change the order of things but don’t.

For the two billion people who live on less than $2 (or about P90) a day, every day is poverty day. Half of them live on less than $1 a day. The UN’s official day -- they’ve never heard of it, and for them it doesn’t matter when it is.

Seven years ago, in 2000, 189 nations committed themselves to cut that grim figure in half. Four years later in 2004, the figures still looked grim, swinging from hope to despair to hope.

More than 100 million children were still out of school. Each year, about 10 million children die before their fifth birthday. Some 40 million people are living with HIV and AIDS of which five million die each year.

UN figures remain grim. Every day, about 25,000 people die of hunger or hunger-related causes. This means one human being every three and a half seconds, with children being the most likely to perish.

Is there not enough food to go around? Oh, but there is enough food to feed the teeming millions. The problem is that there are millions who are trapped or held hostage by poverty and can’t get to where the food is because they have no money, they have no work, they can’t go anywhere. And when they are further weakened, they become even poorer, sicker and less likely to find work and get to where the food is. They can’t even grow the food they must eat.

Without intervention from outside, they are trapped in a spiral that goes further down. This spiral has to be broken. Doing this is not easy, it is not going to be broken by simply pumping aid money or building infrastructure. Development aid without regard for the human factor will eventually fizzle out.

There are many ways of dealing with the poverty spiral or breaking it softly, so to speak. Development workers would often speak about “food for work” programs that would enable jobless adults to get up slowly and build for themselves the infrastructure that would help them get out of the mire. And for children, there is the “food for education” where children are fed while they are in school.

Of what use are a school and a good curriculum (and broadband networks) if the students have addled brains because they are malnourished? They wouldn’t be able to get to the school house because they suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiency, their lips and gums are sore, their bodies are ravaged by infection, etc., etc.

One small step at a time. A global problem could find some local solutions that would mean the difference from here to there. And the poor themselves, if they are not yet so crippled by disease and hunger, could do a lot for themselves, with a little help, of course.

The theme for the 20th International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (that’s the official name) is “People Living in Poverty as Agents of Change.” This suggests recognition of the poor people’s role in their own emancipation.

There are as many stories on this as there are many poor families. I have seen stories unfold around me. I have seen failures and successes. I have seen crossovers from despair to hope.

It is difficult for a journalist to remain on the fringes. I have always needed to savor what it is like, to be there, to sometimes put in something where my mouth is. But one must forget that something will ever come back. Oh, but something does, but not in the way we might expect.

And then, one must remember that local efforts are not everything. On the occasion of World Poverty Day, Jubilee South (a global network of social movements, including those from the Philippines) has issued a reminder that one of the biggest challenges for the global debt movement today is to correct the perception that the debt problem has largely been solved by the debt relief programs offered by lenders in recent years.

“The majority of the peoples of the South continue to suffer from the injustice and staggering burden of debt. It is a burden not only because of the huge amounts of debt payments in the face of poverty and deprivation. It is unjust not only because our people did not benefit from much of the debts they are forced to pay. The debt is also used as an instrument to ensure that our economies generate profits for global corporations and meet the requirements of global markets instead of providing for our needs.

“We continue to struggle for freedom from debt. We struggle not only to wipe out the outstanding debt claim from our countries but to transform the structures, the institutions, and the relations of power that has led to the accumulation of unjust and illegitimate debt.”

Poverty has a human face, a name, a voice that we know very well. We need not journey far. We who are un-poor and un-wealthy can do a lot.

New national hunger record belies MDG achievement

Posted by: Isa Lorenzo on 17 October 2007 at 2:48 pm

MIDWAY to the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Arroyo government reported last week that the country is well on its way to achieving its commitments, highlighted by a drastic reduction in the proportion of Filipino families living in extreme poverty.

Yet a week prior to the government declaration, the results of the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey seemed to negate this rosy picture as a new national hunger record of 21.5 percent of Filipino households — or about 3.8 million families — was found to have experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the last three months.

The new record, up from 19 percent tallied in February and November 2006, is almost ten points above the 11.8 percent average in 38 quarterly SWS surveys from mid-1998 to the present. Hunger declined briefly to 14.7 percent last June. A survey conducted last year by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS), according to SWS President Mahar Mahangas, already revealed a national hunger rate of 19 percent.

With even more Filipinos now going hungry, Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP)-Philippines says the government’s six-month campaign against hunger has proved worthless.

Declaring a war against hunger, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced the release of P1 billion in March to fund school feeding and food for work programs, barangay food terminals, and Tindahan Natin and Gulay ng Masa projects to address hunger in the depressed areas of Metro Manila and several provinces. The hunger response ended last September.

Despite this, hunger has remained on the rise.

“This just shows how ineffective the government hunger intervention programs are,” said GCAP, a local network of nongovernment and people’s organizations which is part of the biggest anti-poverty alliance in the world. “We said it in March and we say it again, more strategic solutions, rather than palliatives or stop-gap solutions, are needed to fight worsening hunger.”

Eradicating extreme hunger and poverty is one of the eight MDGs. Extreme poverty refers to the proportion of families living below the subsistence or food threshold. The Philippines is said to be on track in meeting its target of halving the proportion of people below the food threshold. As of 2003, the proportion of people with incomes below the subsistence threshold was 13.5 percent (10.2 percent of all Filipino families), down from 24.3 percent (20.4 percent of families) in 1991.

However, the government uses the subsistence threshold in measuring extreme poverty, instead of the $1 per day international benchmark. The present subsistence threshold is pegged at P40.73 per person per day, with P27.36 allotted to food. This means that one would only need P9 per meal.

“P41 is not enough for any person to live a decent life with,” GCAP said. “The government is mocking us all by saying so.”

For these “ridiculously low” figures, several civil-society groups have thus tended to believe that poverty incidence is widely underestimated.

Official poverty statistics are also suspect, pointed out GCAP’s Ma. Victoria Raquiza. “To begin with, the comparability of the official poverty estimates of the National Statistical Coordination Board from 1990 to 2003 is undermined by the 1992 and 2003 major methodology changes,” Raquiza said. Comparisons with earlier data sets of the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) have been deterred by the methodology change in 2003 whose implementation was applied retroactively only up to 1997 figures.

Raquiza said FIES data also underrepresent the poor since these exclude the ambulant poor, or families without “official and permanent residence.”

Worsening hunger has been caused by a decrease of purchasing power and rising unemployment and inflation, according to a PCIJ report. Food takes up 60 to 70 percent of a person’s income, thus unemployment and underemployment would greatly affect one’s ability to buy food.

In 2004, the 5.8 percent food inflation rate was higher than the 5.5 percent overall inflation rate. It was also the highest from 2000-2004. “With the double whammy of higher unemployment and underemployment, as well as higher inflation, hunger will inevitably increase,” said Agriwatch Chairperson Ernesto Ordoñez.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Population Growth, Poverty, MDGs

Rapid population growth barrier to reaching MDGs
10/16/2007 11:59 AM /

The Philippines's rapid population growth rate is one of the primary reasons hindering the country from attaining the millenium development goals, as it dilutes the impact of economic growth and policy improvements, a joint report by the government and the United Nations showed.

In a statement, the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development Foundation Inc., said that the Philippines, with a growth rate that is one of the highest in Asia, still has a long way to go before it makes noteworthy progress on the eight MDGs.

"Among the challenges and priorities for action that must be viewed with urgency is the rapid population growth," the PLCPD said, quoting the Philippines Midterm Progress Report on MDGs jointly released by the UN and the National Economic and Development Authority.

"Rapid population growth rate is closely linked to persistent poverty as it reduces overall economic growth and prospects for poverty reduction. It strains the environment as competition for scarce resources and public goods expands," the report continues.

If the rapid growth of the Philippines's population is not addressed, PLCPD said the country's population would hit 102.55 million by 2015, a number sure to tax the Philippine economy and environment. However, PLCPD said that as of now, the government is doing very little to address this problem.

“The Philippines, along with 191 member states of the United Nations, signed the Millennium Declaration in September 2000. Eight years after, the country still lacks a comprehensive national law that would address our population management problem," said Ramon San Pascual, executive director of the PLCPD.

San Pascual said that the current administration has instead let local government units shoulder the burden of implementing policy on population and reproductive health. "However, without sufficient budget allocation from the (national) government, any LGU efforts will not be sustained," San Pascual said.

There are eight MDGs that should be achieved by 2015: halving extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowerment, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.

However, a report by the Asian Development Bank, has showed that no developing country in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Philippines, will be able to meet all millennium development goals by 2015.

“The region still faces quite a challenge. Most of the developing countries can point to success in some of the goals, but none is on course to achieve all of them," the regional lender's The Millennium Development Goals: Progress in Asia and the Pacific 2007 report said.

Philippine hits and misses

The ADB said that among the 21 criteria under seven MDGs, the Philippines is either slow or showing no progress in nine categories. There are eight MDGs: halving extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowerment, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development, by the target date of 2015-- but the ADB study did not release a rating for the global partnership goal.

The multilateral lender noted that the Philippines is slow in reducing the number of its population living in $1 a day, reducing the number of underweight children, providing sufficient water, and improved sanitation both in rural areas.

The Philippines, the ADB report said, is either showing no progress or even regressing in the MDG criteria of number of primary education enrollees, number of those able to reach 5th grade, forest cover, carbon dioxide emission and water accessibility in urban areas.

However, the ADB also said the Philippines is an early achiever in the following MDG criteria: primary completion rate, gender primary, gender secondary, gender tertiary, tuberculosis prevalence rate, turbeculosis death rate, increasing the number of its protected areas, and ozone-depleting CFCs consumption.

Besides this, the ADB lauded the Philippines for making progress in reducing under-five mortality, infant mortality, people with HIV, and improving urban sanitation.


Reminders for our war against poverty

ROSES & THORNS By Alejandro R. Roces / Tuesday, October 16, 2007 / Philippine Star

Tomorrow, October 17, marks the 20th anniversary celebration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. United Nations’ theme for this year is “People living in poverty as agents of change.” It is ironic that many countries all over the world are developing and experiencing economic growth, yet destitution and poverty still exist. Global trend forecasts show this to continue in the year 2020 particularly in East Asian countries. Driving forces are population growth, the unabated abuse of natural resources and if left unchecked, a possible pandemic.

Readers may say this is particularly true in our country where the common opinion is that the economic advancement being claimed by the present administration cannot be felt where many still languish in hunger and poverty. A Social Weather Station report in March 2007 indicates that around 17 million Filipinos or 19% of the population are hungry, while 45 million Filipinos or 53% of families saw themselves as poor. The positive news, according to the recent UN report, is that the number of people living in extreme poverty in our country is decreasing, with the proportion of families below the poverty threshold falling to 24.4 percent in July this year, compared to the same month in 1990. The same report, which will be released worldwide this October, says the Philippines’ poverty alleviation targets are “on track” and that statistics point to the fact that economic gains having trickled down to the grassroots.

The fact remains, however, that more than 50 percent of the labor force or roughly 16.1 million Filipino workers, mostly unskilled workers and agricultural laborers earn P5,000-8,000 (P33-53 per person per day for a family of 5), an income level that hovers around the 2007 poverty threshold pegged at P40 per person per day, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB). The workers’ low income, combined with high prices of goods and services, fuels poverty and hunger in the country.

More than 10 million people live in Metro Manila alone. This means 10% of the total population live in the metropolis. We can just imagine the congestion of people and establishments in an area of 636 square kilometers, where the density rate is 15,700 people per square kilometer. Population grows as more people move from the rural to urban areas in search of economic opportunities and of course due to a natural increase in number of births. This rapid urbanization leads to the lack and deterioration of existing resources, which includes the lack of clean drinking water, water shortage, sanitation and garbage problems, air and noise pollution, to name a few.

There are over one million Filipino street children at present. Starving children are victims and they should get top priority in the aspect of education and health.

The future of our country in a highly globalized economy will depend on its greatest resources, the Filipino people. We must involve the poor and the disadvantaged if meaningful change is to be realized. For a people who work together with one mind and spirit, for the future of their children, winning this war against poverty will not be difficult.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Poorest Pinoys spendng MORE, earning LESS

By Cai U. Ordinario
Reporter/Business Mirror/October 10

HIGHER prices have taken their toll on the poor. The poorest families are now spending more and earning less, according to the latest preliminary results of the 2006 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) released by the National Statistics Office (NSO) Tuesday.

The FIES showed that poor families, or those belonging to the bottom 30-percent income group, spent P153,000 last year but only earned P148,000.

While these figures are higher than the P125,000-worth income and P128,000-worth expenditures in 2003, the difference is higher in 2006 at P5,000 a year than in 2003’s P3,000 a year.

The NSO said for every P100 spent by these economic sectors in 2006, P59 went to food, compared with only P48 in 2003. Consequently, there was a decrease in the share of other expenditure items like rent, which dropped to 9 percent from 12.7 percent.

Macroeconomically, the upper 70 percent earned P2.73 trillion and spent P2.3 trillion for a savings of P437 billion in 2006 compared with the
bottom 30 percent that earned P258 billion and spent P267 billion, or a deficit of P9 billion.

The Gini coefficient measured in the FIES was estimated at 0.4564 in 2006, slightly lower than the 2003 ratio of 0.4605 .

The Gini coefficient provides a measure of income inequality within a population and ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 indicating perfect income equality among families, and 1 indicating absolute income inequality.

The good news, if good news it is, is that, “the share to the total income of families belonging to the 10th decile exhibited a slight decrease, from 36.3 percent in 2003 to 35.9 percent in 2006. The gap in family income between the families belonging to the 10th decile and those in the first decile had narrowed slightly.”

The FIES is a nationwide survey of households undertaken every three years by the NSO. It is the main source of data on family income and expenditure, which include among others, levels of consumption by item of expenditure as well as sources of income in cash and in kind.

The number of households, or families, for the 2006 FIES was estimated using the 2000 Census of Population and Housing (CPH)-based population projections and information from the 2000 CPH on the average household size by province.

Report notes Philippines' slow progress in reducing poverty

BusinessWorld / 9 October / Bernadette S. Sto. Domingo

DEVELOPING COUNTRIES, including the Philippines, are not on track to achieving all United Nations-led goals of cutting poverty in half by 2015 — or the socalled The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — a report released yesterday said.

For the Philippines, in particular, efforts to reduce poverty and hunger have been slower than some of its neighbors, although still better than the Asian average.

The report, “The MDGs: Progress in Asia and the Pacific 2007,” said “most of the developing countries can point to success in some of the goals but none is on course to achieve all of them.”

The Philippines, for its part, “has given high priority to achieving the MDGs,” report author Shiloh Chatterjee told reporters. “The Philippines is making tremendous effort to achieve these goals. Among countries in Asia, it’s one of those who have given high priority to focusing on MDGs. What’s necessary is local governments are supported in terms of policies, institutions, and capacities.”

The eight MDGs — targeted for achievement by 2015 — formed a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s nations and leading global development institutions. The eight MDGs are: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/ AIDS malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, as well as develop a global partnership for development.

The report, produced through a partnership among the Asian Development Bank, United Nations Development Program and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, said the eighth development goal, which seeks to create a global partnership for development, calls for enhanced market access.

“The best way to provide additional momentum would be to conclude the Doha Development Round which would add legal certainty to least developed countries’ duty and quota-free access to developed-country markets,” the report said.

The Philippines has made slow progress in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, cutting its 1990 poverty rate of 19.8% to just 14.8% in 2004. While Asia’s average poverty rate fell to 17% from 32%, China was able to slash its poverty rate to 9.9% from 33%. “The Philippines has traveled half the distance towards the target [of 9.9%] over the period… it is slowly moving towards the target, but will come very close to it by 2015,” the report said.

The country made no progress at all in the area of achieving universal primary education with a decrease in its primary enrolment ratio to 94.4% in 2003 from 96.5% in 1991. The number of children reaching grade five also dropped to 71.5% from 75.3%. It also lagged behind in the area of ensuring environmental sustainability, while it registered slow progress in providing improved drinking water resources and sanitation facilities to rural areas.

In the area of reducing underfive mortality and infant mortality as well as cutting HIV prevalence, the country remains on track, the report said.

But the Philippines has already achieved the goals of promoting gender equality and empowering women.

Mr. Chatterjee said, “I’ve seen a lot of evidence that the Philippines is giving very high importance to education and health.”

“Fast, effective delivery of public goods and services is a demonstration by a government of its commitment to reach the very neediest,” ADB chief economist Ifzal Ali said in an interview. “This is, to my mind, an acid test… Otherwise, everything is just rhetoric; nothing is real.

A progress report on MDGs, part of a National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) report to World Bank executives last Sept. 17, showed the Philippines having high chances of achieving four MDGs by 2015. These are: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, reducing child mortality, combating HIV/ AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and ensuring that families have access to safe drinking water.

But NEDA admitted the Philippines had problems in achieving universal primary education, reducing maternal mortality and increasing use of contraceptives. The Philippines committed to the MDGs — quantitative targets designed to improve human conditions — in September 2000. The goals are incorporated in the UN Millennium Declaration, which targets the reduction of extreme poverty by 2015. — Bernardette S. Sto. Domingo

Saturday, October 6, 2007

HUNGER at a record peak


HUNGER HAS HIT A FRESH PEAK nationwide, a new Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed, with the national percentage of families having experienced nothing to eat rising to a high of 21.5%.

The survey results, made exclusive to BusinessWorld, showed a dramatic reversal of gains noted in June when hunger fell to 14.7% from the previous record of 19%, notched in February 2007 and November 2006.

The national proportion of 21.5%, the SWS said, was equivalent to 3.8 million families and was almost ten points above the 11.8% average for the 38 hunger surveys it had conducted quarterly starting mid-1998.

The Palace immediately disputed the results, saying nothing significant had happened in the last three months to warrant the spike.

An economist, meanwhile, warned of the human resource impact, particularly with respect to schoolchildren’s school performance.

The independent research institution said new record highs in the Balance of Luzon (outside Metro Manila) and the Visayas were behind the overall national deterioration.

A total of 1,200 respondents were polled in the latest survey on involuntary hunger.

Household heads were the subject of the poll, which used the phrase "nakaranas ng gutom at wala kayong makain" or "experienced hunger and did not have anything to eat."

The SWS conducted face-to-face interviews with 300 household heads each in Metro Manila, the Balance of Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao from 240 geographical spots.
The margin of error was plus or minus 3% for national percentages and plus or minus 6% for regional percentages.

Moderate hunger, referring to those who experienced it "only once" or "a few times", rose to a record 17.4% in September from 12.5% in June. Counted in this category were those who did not state their frequency of hunger.

Severe hunger — meaning it was experienced "often" or "always" — rose to 4.1% from 2.2% in June. It remained, however, below the record of 6% notched in March 2001.

Overall hunger rose in all parts of the country except Metro Manila, where it went down to 17.7% from the record high of 22% in June.

In the rest of Luzon, the percentage went up by 10 points to 22.3% from 12%, while in the Visayas, it jumped by nine points to 21.7% from 12.3%, with both areas notching fresh peaks. In Mindanao, it rose by four points to 22% from 17.7%.

Moderate hunger also declined in Metro Manila (12% from 17.7%) but went up in the rest of Luzon (18% from 9.3%), the Visayas (17.3% from 10.7%), and Mindanao (19.7% from 17%).

Severe hunger went up in all areas: Metro Manila, 5.7% from 4.3%; Balance of Luzon, 4.3% from 2.7%; Visayas, 4.3% from 1.7%; and Mindanao, to 2.3% from a record-low of 0.7%.

"Hunger declined in Metro Manila because the six-point decline in Moderate Hunger outweighed the one-point increase in Severe Hunger," the SWS said.

Presidential Management Staff director-general Cerge M. Remonde said he had reservations about the survey results.

"The gap is large considering that no significant event or calamity that happened in the past months," he said in a phone interview.

"If, for instance, there were typhoons, then that would have been understandable."
But he said the survey could be used by administration in its hunger mitigation programs.

"This could help us determine the areas where we can focus our anti-hunger efforts. We will ask the Department of Health National Nutrition Council to look into this so we can channel our efforts in provinces where many families are hungry."

Anti-hunger programs such as the food-for school-program and the Gulayan ng Bayan which encourages backyard farming, Mr. Remonde said, are continuously being implemented.

"We have also directed our institutions to be more aggressive in lending so the people can start a small business which would enable them to earn income so they can buy food," he added.

Cielito F. Habito, a former Socioeconomic Planning secretary and now economics professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, warned that the failure to address hunger problem would impact on human resources.

"For instance, if children are hungry, it will have an impact on their mental capacity and their schooling. Thus, the quality of our human resources would be affected," he said.

"The government’s plan to focus on school feeding is strategic as this would also make it attractive for children to go to school. But these are never enough because the incidence of hunger goes beyond the school," he added.

The government, Mr. Habito said, must strengthen its job-generation programs as hunger is usually caused by poverty and unemployment.

"We need more employment generating economics. One way is to develop MSMEs (micro-small-medium enterprises). They must have better access to finances," he said. — ADBR/BUSINESSWORLD

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Donor-driven, donor-dependent

Opinion / Financing and Population Management

Health News and Views / Dr.A.G. Romualdez / Malaya, 25 September

Donor-driven is the term used by a number of senators to describe the ZTE-NBN project. The fact is that the deal was also supplier-promoted and externally facilitated. All these features rendered the ZTE deal extraordinarily susceptible to unsavory practices such as bribery and other forms of corruption.

However, apart from the immensity of the amounts involved and the exposure of unprecedented direct participation by very high-ranking officials, donor-driven, supplier-linked, and externally facilitated projects are the rule rather than the exception in most foreign assisted projects in the Philippines, whether they be bilateral (one country donor) or multilateral (international finance institution).

In the health sector, Japan, Netherlands, Austria, Spain, and in fact almost all OECD countries have in the past implemented projects with features similar to the controversial broadband network deal. The modus operandi for project development is essentially the same in most cases.

The story usually begins with a supplier who is well-connected in the donor country. The supplier identifies and approaches a local group that has vested or professional (or both) interests in an activity and offers to secure funding for a project. In exchange, the local group is expected to facilitate the government processes for project development and approval including counterpart funding or government guarantees when necessary. Depending on the donor countries’ procedures for overseas assistance, the deals can be finalized anywhere from one year to a few years of initial contact.

At this point, it should be emphasized that not all projects that follow this process are disadvantageous to the Philippines. In fact most of them are of distinct benefit and have contributed to peoples’ welfare significantly. The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang (funded by Japan) and the Eye Institute as well as the Emergency Medical Complex at the Philippine General Hospital (funded by Spain) are only two examples out of many.

Unfortunately, quite apart from the potential for scandal and graft, there are other adverse effects of foreign assistance that need to be anticipated and to the extent possible mitigated. The worse of these are most likely when the supplier-linkage is eliminated or minimized such as is the case with most multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Among the most undesirable of these adverse effects is the strong tendency to develop donor dependency in Philippine institutions. Donor dependency is in the long term more harmful to Philippine interests than some of the financial consequences of individual projects. Unfortunately, in the health sector there are a number of examples.

Arguably one of the most successful of foreign funded programs in this country is USAID’s family planning assistance. Over the last three decades, population growth rate dropped significantly, and the population management program is so well institutionalized that repeated attempts (including the present administration’s) to dismantle it have so far failed. However, the country’s complete dependence on foreign support for contraceptive supplies, aided and abetted by government’s reluctance to allocate money early in the program, has resulted in today’s dangerous situation of lack of supplies especially for those who need them most – the country’s poor women.

Similarly, a number of apparently successful programs currently on-going are in danger of suffering the same fate if and when donor interest wanes. For instance, drug procurement for the Philippines’ most important disease control programs is largely dependent on funds from the Global Fund on AIDS, TB, and Malaria (GFATM).

The Department of Health’s Formula One strategy to institute health reforms in the Philippines is another example of donor dependence preventing the major portion of the Philippines from benefiting from serious changes in the way health services are delivered. All efforts are concentrated on 16 provinces identified by a combination of past experience (old pilot projects) and donor-interest that are beneficiaries of World Bank, European Union, Asia Development Bank or other donor agencies projects. It appears that without foreign-funding, even the highest of priorities are unlikely to receive attention because no Philippine funds are appropriated for them.

One characteristic that is shared by all donor-driven activities is over-pricing. This is because it is in the donors’ interest to spend as much money as possible. In the late 70s, when it was established that 95 percent of the World Bank’s First Philippine Population Project objectives had been met at a loan availment rate of 55 percent, a naïve health official suggested that the excess money be returned. The government finance establishment was aghast and instructed the health ministry to forthwith reprogram the funds for other activities.

For the record, these instructions were issued without finger pointing and the use of the phrase "back off".

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The big reveal: Model cities’ secrets of governance

By Beverly T. Natividad, Tonette Orejas
Last updated 01:10am (Mla time) 09/02/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Poor residents of Tagbilaran City in Bohol get free hospitalization benefits and free medicines.

Marikina in Metro Manila offers free dental services to its residents, while San Fernando City in Pampanga has placed some 6,000 of its residents in jobs here and abroad through its job fairs and recruitment projects.

“Tagbilaran is telling us that we are our best hope. San Fernando has rebuilt from the ashes [of Mt. Pinatubo] and has provided an empowering atmosphere. Marikina is moving the concept of leadership into [one] that ennobles the people,” said Mario Antonio Lopez, associate dean of the Asian Institute of Management’s Center for Development Management.

If these three cities are edging out their counterparts in the rest of the country, it’s not that their mayors—Marikina’s Ma. Lourdes Fernando, San Fernando’s Oscar Rodriguez, and Tagbilaran’s Dan Neri Lim—are lords of all they survey.

Far from being a one-person act or a top-to-bottom management approach, their style of governance involves a way of doing things that demands the participation of both the governing and the governed.

They share the power and responsibilities of governance with those who have stakes in their communities and institutions, involving them every step of the way to reach commonly agreed aims and targets.

Tagbilaran, Marikina and San Fernando were recognized as public governance system (PGS)-proficient cities at the two-day 2007 Public Governance Forum in Pasay City last week, dubbed the ‘Mahal Ko Ang Pilipinas’ (I Love the Philippines) forum.

They were three of 24 cities that adopted the PGS system, which is an adaptation of a corporate governance tool called the “balance scorecard system,” a strategic approach that directly connects the objectives of a company or local government to its operations.

Introduced by the International Solidarity in Asia (ISA) in 2004, the PGS is also being practiced in 14 sectors and six national public institutions. The ISA is an independent, non-partisan and non-profit institution which seeks to improve public governance.

“A PGS-proficient city means that these cities have mayors that are committed towards good governance, that they have highly involved constituents and sectoral groups, and that their governments have discipline and are transparent,” said ISA chair and president Jesus P. Estanislao.

The Philippine Military Academy under its superintendent, Maj. Gen. Leopoldo Maligalig, was also recognized as a PGS-proficient institution.

Estanislao said that while Filipinos are used to blaming their leaders for the inadequacies and failures of government, the PGS system teaches both leaders and citizens to think past government personalities and focus instead on active citizen participation. This is what makes good public governance sustainable, he said.

The ISA has partnered with the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) and the National Competitiveness Council to “aid cities in crafting programs that will push the competitiveness rating of the country.”

It has also teamed up with the AIM to develop “tools to gauge and track a city’s progress” and with the Netherlands government to “sustain the institutionalization of the PGS in select Philippine cities.”

The PGS will be one of five case studies to be featured in the Global Public Sector Summit in Washington, D.C. in October.

Being PGS-proficient means Marikina, Tagbilaran and San Fernando are about six months to one year away from institutionalizing the PGS in their own public governance systems.

The participating cities started off three years ago by drafting their objectives and plans for their cities.

The ISA conducts a twice-a-year audit of the participating cities and groups to see if they are on the way toward achieving their goals.

Marikina’s vision for itself is to become a model city in competitiveness, not just in the Philippines, but in Southeast Asia by 2015. In her presentation, Fernando said that Marikina was working towards this goal, using such indicators as honest, transparent and business-friendly government, a clean and green environment, efficient delivery of basic services, good infrastructure and financial stability.

The free medical and dental services at the health centers is one of the concrete results of the PGS system in Marikina. The privilege card is an example of how the people’s taxes are working for them, she said.

The city has also relocated 30,000 families and is on its way towards being squatter-free by 2010, she said.

Fernando said business permits have been streamlined to encourage businesses to locate and invest in the city to create more jobs. The city is also aiming to eradicate unemployment in three years.

Tagbilaran aims to become a prime ecotourism hub by 2015. In line with this, Lim said the city is focusing on environmental protection to preserve the marine-protected areas of Bohol.

He said the city has already rehabilitated about 80 percent of its coral reef cover. It has reduced solid waste disposal by 20 percent, with 65 percent of the city’s residents practicing segregation of solid waste at source.

Tagbilaran was also one of the first cities to phase out the two-stroke engine in tricycles through a credit system that allows tricycle drivers to buy on installment the more environmentally compliant four-stroke engine.

The Tagbilaran city government has also provided indigent families with the Blue Card that entitles them to free hospitalization in the city’s two major hospitals. Lim said the program brings to 99 percent the number of city residents with health insurance coverage.

Tagbilaran also topped the Asian Institute of Management’s recent quality of life survey among cities with a population of 200,000 and below.

San Fernando’s stated goal is to become the regional growth center of the Central Luzon region. It has streamlined local government policy and practices to make it conducive for foreign and local businesses to locate there. It succeeded in attracting about P481 million in new investments in 2006.

The city’s renowned parol (Christmas lantern) has been chosen by the national government as the model for the “one-town-one-product” project in 2006, aimed at marketing the product to the world market.

Rodriguez also said that some 6,000 urban families affected by the construction of the Northrail project are being resettled by the city government.

The city government is also funding the education of some 8,000 scholars who are receiving information and communication technology (ICT) training so they can compete for jobs locally and abroad.

The city has also built 35 school buildings to accommodate 150,000 students in the next 10 years through the city’s special education fund, Rodriguez said.

In the PMA’s case, Maligalig said the shift to long-term institutional development has, among others, improved the success rate of graduates from 36.8 percent to 64 percent.

The mayors of the three cities agreed that the secret of making public governance work is the people’s commitment towards achieving a vision for their city.

“Our people have an open mind and an open heart. This comes from the collective effort of the people,” said Lim.

It is having capable constituents who know enough to put the right person in a position of leadership, said Fernando.

Good governance is just the commitment of both the people and their leader towards achieving a vision for their city, according to Rodriguez.

For Lim, it is simply “loving your own city.”

“Governance is essentially participatory. It is not only of those at the top, it is also a responsibility of those in the middle and at the bottom. It is the concern of everyone. It is a matter for both the governors and the governed,” said Estanislao.

At the end of the day, the PGS system shows that doing good pays, he said.

The principles of governance are not hard-to-reach concepts, they are, in fact, basic ethical principles, said another speaker at the forum.

The governance principles of transparency and disclosure are just echoes of the commandments “Thou shall not lie” and “Thou shall not steal,” he said.

Friday, August 24, 2007

MDG Midterm Review: Missing the target

This is a wake-up call kind of an article. Read on..... up to the last sentence.

MDG midterm review: Missing the target

By Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
Last updated 02:05am (Mla time) 08/23/2007

The Philippines is “off the track,” it’s too soon to celebrate and there is a lot of work that needs to be done to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The year 2007 is midway through the 15-year-long process of achieving the so-called MDGs targeted by the United Nations, but the Philippines is still way off the expected results.

Social Watch Philippines gathered civil society groups last Aug. 15 and 16 to do a mid-term review of the MDGs and came up with conclusions and suggestions. Among them: Government is “missing and messing up the MDG targets” and citizens should therefore help monitor government performance and push for an alternative budget for the MDGs.

The Philippines is one of 189 countries that signed in 2000 the Millennium Declaration and covenant to attain the MDGs by 2015. The MDGs refer to the eight goals and 18 targets that the international community committed to attain in 15 years.

The eight goals are: (1) eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; (2) achieve universal primary education; (3) promote gender equality; (4) reduce child mortality; (5) improve maternal health; (6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; (7) ensure environmental sustainability; and (8) develop a global partnership for development.

After presentations by civil society groups working in different regions, Social Watch challenged government pronouncements that the Philippines is on track with majority of the MDGs. The government, Social Watch said, had admitted that the goals with low probability of being achieved are: universal primary education for both participation and survival, maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and access to reproductive health. The government also admitted problems in financing, regional disparities, advocacy, localization and monitoring.

Social Watch concluded that with the way things are, and judging from MDG performance in the last seven years, most of the goals will not be fully met. It cited the 2006 report of UN-ESCAP, UNDP and the Asian Development Banks that showed that the Philippines was “failing further behind” in relation to countries in Asia and the Pacific.

Social Watch International ranks the Philippines as “very low” in the Basic Capabilities Index (BCI) on a global scale. BCI is based on three indicators: percent of children reaching Grade 5, under-5 mortality, and percentage of birth attended by health personnel.

Minar Pimple, deputy director of the UN’s Asia Millennium Campaign, said that globally poverty has been reduced. The number of very poor, which used to be 1.25 billion, has been reduced to 980 million. Pimple came to attend the Social Watch convention where civil society groups from different regions shared how the MDGs are faring on the ground.

Social Watch convener Leonor Briones raised questions on the reliability of data presented by the government. Briones, who once headed the Bureau of Treasury, pointed out that national data do not reflect the situation in the regions. “There is disparity between national data and regional data,” she said. “Averages are a poor measure.” She cited the example of Makati City which could pull up the averages even while the ethnic minorities remain very poor.

Citing key indicators in education such as “participation rate and cohort survival rate,” Social Watch noted that these are going down in the elementary and secondary levels. Drop-out rates are rising and the number of out-of-school youth is among the highest in Asia, higher than in Indonesia and Vietnam. The Philippines, Social Watch added, rates very poorly in performance scores in math when compared with other countries.

Inequality is more serious than mere poverty, Social Watch pointed out. The claims that poverty has been reduced in the Philippines, Briones said, are only in terms of national totals, which do not reflect reality. National totals are pulled up by the few relatively rich regions.

The Gini Coefficient, which is used to measure inequality, shows that inequality in the Philippines remains high. Social Watch cited the 2003 Family Income and Expenditure Survey that showed that only 2 percent of the total number of families earn more than P500,000 a year, and only 10 families control 52.5 percent of the total market capitalization.

While the Philippines is supposed to have a sound environmental policy, translating these policies into actual programs and allocating the needed resources have been problematic. Social Watch noted inconsistencies in governance, characterized by a high turnover of environment secretaries.

Briones said that among the MDG goals, environmental sustainability remained the least funded at less than one percent of the total budget.

Social Watch criticized the government’s overemphasis on the so-called “super regions,” which was evident in President Macapagal-Arroyo’s recent State of the Nation Address.

“For the past seven years,” Social Watch said, “the Sonas which are the bases for budget priorities, hardly noticed the MDGs. Attention has been focused on the super regions these past two years, while the poor are lagging behind in the ‘un-super’ regions.”

Seven years to go and there is still hope for the Philippines to get near the targets. There is need for more civil society groups (forget the incorrigible politicians) to get involved on the ground. There are NGOs that spend so much time, effort and money on political protests and propaganda while the poor they claim to defend continue to languish.

This I need to say out loud: Time also for some of these civil society groups to look into themselves and how they spend the funds entrusted to them by their funders.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Scaling up the advocacy

Blame the legislators

Solita Monsod / 16 August / Business World

At the 2nd National Multi-Sectoral Policy Conference on Population and Development (a mouthful), sponsored by the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development (another mouthful, but called PLCPD for short), EU Ambassador Alistair McDonald observed that in the late 18th century, Scotland's population was larger than that of the Philippines — something like 1.7 million people to our 1.6 million people. Unfortunately I did not catch his comparison about the present-day population of these two countries, but certainly, we can get his drift when we see that in 2004, we had 81.6 million people while the entire United Kingdom, of which Scotland is a part, had less than 60 million. "I know Scotland is cold," said McDonald, "but it's not that cold."

At the same conference, UNFPA's Suneeta Mukherjee pointed out that four babies are born every minute (which translates to 5,760 babies born a day), while every day, 10 mothers die while giving birth. Every year, she continued, three million women get pregnant, half of which are unintended or unplanned, and one out of three of these unplanned pregnancies end in abortion.

Congressman Edsel Lagman contributed to this distressing pile of data by noting that the Philippines is the 12th most populous country in the world (and the third largest Roman Catholic country), and quoted Al Gore as saying that we were losing two percent of our forests annually because of a ballooning population; while columnist Jarius Bondoc, not to be outdone, told me in private (he had not the opportunity to ask a question, as he was moderating the panel) that according to a recent World Wildlife Fund (WWF) document, the Philippines also has the dubious distinction of being the 19th most polluted country in the world.

Governor Bella Angara Castillo recounted that she spent her last two terms in Congress trying to pass a bill on reproductive health and family planning, but failed to do so, attributing her failure, quite frankly, to the strong lobby of the Roman Catholic Church. Undaunted by her failure in the national legislature, though, the first thing she did as governor of Aurora was to encourage her provincial board to enact a local reproductive health code, and had it passed within a year — the first province in the Philippines to enact one. She also reported that two other provinces, Ifugao and South Cotabato, have done the same thing, partly because of her advocacy. If you can't skin a cat one way, there are other ways, and she is on her soapbox, urging the LGU officials to take up the cudgels for population and development where the national officials (read the legislature) have failed.

I pointed out, when I had the floor, that for every local chief executive like Bella Angara Castillo to champion reproductive health and family planning, we also have someone like Joey Lina or Lito Atienza, who as local chief executives, vetoed any family planning or reproductive health program, due apparently to their strong religious beliefs. And even without those beliefs, the system of internal revenue allocations (IRA), which is partially based on population size, may discourage the LGU officials from actively pursuing a population management program. So while LGU cooperation in family planning would be a plus, it cannot substitute for a national policy and plan.

Neither could I resist pointing out that the PLCPD, in its 18 years of existence, had not succeeded in getting the national legislature to come up to scratch. In fact, while the population growth rate had gone down steadily (if slowly) from 3.08% in the '70s, to 2.75% at the beginning of the '80s and to 2.35% at the beginning of the '90s (when the PLCPD was organized), it seems that at the end of the '90s, if anything, the population growth rate increased — to 2.36%. Not a very good track record.

The Roman Catholic Church is the usual escapegoat for the lack of effective population management in the country. There is no doubt that the hierarchy is actively trying to prevent any but the "natural" method of birth control, but certainly at least some of the members of the clergy and other religious — like Fr. Ruben Tanseco, SJ, and the late Sister Christine Tan — have stated in no uncertain terms that this natural method is ineffective. Others have even called it a most unnatural method.

That being said, however, the main responsibility for the failure to come out with what Lagman calls a rational and comprehensive national policy on population and reproductive health (he says it is the crucial missing link in the government's human development plans), cannot be laid at the door of the Catholic hierarchy — but rather at the door of the legislators themselves. Why? Because they have been turning a deaf ear to what the Filipino people in general and the women in particular are telling them. Either that, or they have attributed to the Roman Catholic Church an influence with the voters that is nonexistent.

Only consider the results of the March 2007 Pulse Asia Survey (Ulat ng Bayan), to the effect that: 92% of Filipinos think that the ability to control fertility and plan a family is important; 89% of them think that government should provide budgetary support for modern methods of family planning including the pill, intrauterine devices, condoms, ligation, and vasectomy (only 3% think that it is not important).

Not only that: 76% say it is important for a candidate to include family planning in his/her program of action (vs. 7% who say it is not); and 75% say that they will support candidates who are in favor of a government budget for family planning (vs. 2% who will not).

There is more: these figures seem to have remained essentially unchanged for at least the past six years — Edsel Lagman claims that they have not changed substantially over the past 15 years. In other words, the Filipino people have been trying to tell their servants (the legislators) what they want, and are willing to translate that desire into votes. In particular, the women, according to the National Demographic and Health Survey of 2003, are saying that they WANT a total fertility rate (TFR) of 2.5 children, while the actual TFR is 3.5 children.
If there is any proof that the wishes of the Filipino people trump the desires of the Catholic hierarchy insofar as family planning is concerned, Edsel Lagman and his daughter Crisel constitute that proof. According to Edsel, in the last elections, the Catholic hierarchy in Albay were actively campaigning against him and his daughter, precisely because of the Lagmans' views on the subject.

Both won.

So do we have idiots for legislatures? Another nail in their coffin.


Political health

Saturday, August 18, 2007 / Philippine Star

Family planning, the secretary of health declared, is the least of his department's priorities. The "overwhelming priority," said Francisco Duque, is the improvement of maternal health care to reduce the maternal mortality rate.

How does a long string of unplanned pregnancies improve maternal health? Only this administration can say. No other administration has aggressively resisted any proposal to at least make Filipino couples aware that it is possible to plan the size of their families. No other administration has openly neglected to inform women about their reproductive rights, and provide access to birth control especially to those who need it most — women from impoverished families.

Educated women living above the poverty line do not need the government for that kind of information and access. These women are fully aware of their reproductive rights and the choices they have in spacing childbirths. They do not need to wait in line at crowded government hospitals where they must share not just free wards but beds with other mothers who deliver babies almost every year throughout most of their reproductive years, until their bodies give out.

This is maternal health care, as defined by an administration whose policies have one overwhelming consideration: political survival. Through crisis after political crisis, the administration has enjoyed the support of the Catholic Church. Much of this support has to be based on the certainty — as President Arroyo herself has often declared in public — that the Church influences policy-making in government. If the Church frowns on artificial contraception, so does the administration, and it will go even one step farther: it will deprive the citizenry even of information about family planning. It may violate the constitutional provision on the separation of church and state, but everyone knows that provision is merely a best-efforts pledge.

The heretics who equate maternal health with female reproductive health will all burn in hell. Maternal health care, family planning? This is all about planning for the continued political survival of the administration.

More reports in the PhilMADE blog.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Rise in births in RP feared with phase-out of US program

Associated Press
Last updated 00:15am (Mla time) 08/15/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine government is unprepared for the phase-out of a contraceptive donation program by the United States, which could mean high population growth, maternal deaths, and abortion, family planning advocates said Tuesday.

The US Agency for International Development began phasing out its 30-year program to donate condoms and birth control in 2003 and will complete it next year.

The government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo promotes natural family planning in line with the stand of the dominant Catholic Church, officials said.

The Philippine Congress has allocated 1P80 million (US$3.9 million) for family planning this year, but guidelines for the funds' release to local governments have not yet been approved, private groups said.

Benjamin de Leon, head of The Forum for Family Planning and Development, Inc., said the money was needed to bring down infant and maternal mortality.

About 473,000 abortions, or a third of 1.4 million unplanned pregnancies, occur in the country yearly, said Rena Dona, a UN Population Fund official.

Two out of five women who want to use contraceptives don't have access to them, Dona told a forum on family planning.

A UN study showed the country needs about US$2 million for contraceptives yearly from 2007 to 2010 to provide them free or at subsidized prices to the poor.

Alberto Romualdez, a former health secretary, doubts the budget for family planning would be available anytime soon, and fears a rise in population.

"The problem is that the conservative elements of the church hierarchy seem to have the upper hand in getting access to the President's ear, that is why her policies reflect the extreme conservatism of those who oppose any kind of family planning," he added.

The government estimates the Philippine population has topped 88 million, with a growth rate of slightly less than two percent.

Related Articles:

RP not ready for phase-out of US contraceptive aid (Malaya)
Uncontrolled Population Growth (Manila Bulletin)

Presidents and Family Planning

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism / Philippine Star / Monday, August 13, 2007

Benjamin de Leon, who once headed the Commission on Population (Popcom) in the 1970s and is now president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development, points to the irony of the country’s population policy going haywire during the term of two female presidents: Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

De Leon says the country’s population policy began in the late ’60s, when then President Ferdinand Marcos issued presidential decrees and letters of instruction creating Popcom and making population management an integral part of his economic programs.

“He understood the gravity of the population problem, that any economic gains will be lost if there’s no family planning,” says De Leon.

In 1986, the country’s population program weakened under a very devout Catholic President Aquino. But she gave then Health Secretary Alfredo Bengzon enough room to maneuver by placing Popcom under the Department of Health. The DOH pushed family planning by including it in its maternal and child health programs.

Under the Ramos administration, the population program was included in its reproductive health programs. “He addressed the problem and gave it strong support,” says De Leon.

The Protestant Ramos also prodded local government officials to craft their own program, giving out awards to the most effective ones. And he tapped the colorful “Doctor to the Barrios” veteran Juan Flavier as his health secretary. Also a Protestant, Flavier often clashed with the Catholic Church. But he won the support of the masses by popularizing his department’s health campaigns by tapping advertisers for free advise. It helped, too, that Flavier, while small in height, was big on humor.

Ramos’s successor, Joseph Estrada, had two “tutors” in family planning who explained in layman’s terms the relationship of rapid population growth to economic growth: then National Economic and Development Authority Secretary General Felipe Medalla and Health Secretary Alberto Romualdez. Estrada once said he was lucky his parents did not practice family planning because he was the eighth of 10 children. He is also known to have sired several children by women other than his wife. But with the “tutoring” he received from his economic and health planners, Estrada saw the wisdom in managing population, once even quipping to an audience to “work harder and limit your libido.”

De Leon said those in the population management sector were at first optimistic that Arroyo, being an economist, understood the importance of population and development. “No amount of development matters without population management,” he says. “She has a Ph.D. in economics. It seems she is hiding what she knows.”

He blames this on Arroyo’s fear of an subservience to the Roman Catholic Church. “We have reliable information that she has told her cabinet members not to talk about reproductive health in front of her,” says De Leon.

Some of President Arroyo’s statements regarding family planning, meanwhile, include calling natural family planning as “internationally known, scientific, practical and 99-percent effective.” She said this in a speech marking National Women’s Day in 2003, during which she also said the natural methods “are means of family planning acceptable to the Catholic Church, to which most Filipinos belong.”

“Kaya hindi kailangan maghiwalay ang simbahan at family planning (So there should be conflict between the Church and family planning),” she said.

In New York in September 2005, Arroyo told the United Nations General Assembly and world leaders who were there that she “expect(s) the United Nations to respect the deep Catholicism of the vast majority of the Filipino people.” She added that the UN fund for reproductive health that was being given to the Philippines “shall be dedicated to train married couples in a natural family planning technology, which the World Health Organization has found effective compared to artificial contraceptives.”

A few months later, however, then WHO Asian Region Representative Jean-Marc Olive was quoted as saying, “the failure rate of natural family planning is much higher than other contraceptives.” — Jaileen Jimeno

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Doing business with a ‘social conscience’

By Maria Cecilia Rodriguez
Last updated 06:24am (Mla time) 08/12/2007

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines—“The challenge is to shift the paradigm of the farmers in their relationship with the land.”

This was the important lesson learned by a small entrepreneur at the helm of Nature’s Bounty, the only store in Cagayan de Oro offering organically grown food.

A decade ago, Boy Cortez urged his wife Ann and three of his friends—Pinky Baclig, Butch Alano and Apollo Pacamalan—to explore the potential of organic rice trading.

“I wanted to set up a business with a social conscience,” said Cortez, himself a farmer before becoming a professor in the Bukidnon Community School of Agriculture.

Being involved in NGO work mostly in the rural areas, Cortez had been exposed to problems confronting small farmers. He and Apollo had been engaged in training small farmers on organic farming and saw that one of the pressing concerns is the lack of marketing.

Fair share for farmers

“We used to help out small farmers by teaching them new technology in rice farming that will not degrade the land,” said Cortez. “But we also observed that farmers think twice about going organic because traders accept only the commercially grown products.”

Cortez explained that they wanted to hit three problems with one stone. “We urged them to go organic because of all its social benefits—on environment, on health and on protecting the welfare of farmers by giving them their fair share of the earnings.”

It would be the third reason that seemed most urgent for Cortez and his partners. “The farmers were at a disadvantage because it is the landowners, the traders and brokers who got the bigger share of the profits and they get buried in debts because of high cost of farm inputs and production,” he said.

After saving up a small capital, Cortez and his partners eventually set up the Bukidnon Organic Products Corporation (BOPC). “Our objective is to provide a marketing arm for organic farmers,” Cortez said.

Like all straggling businesses, BOPC in its early years had to contend with market development. “At the start, we had to rely on our friends, colleagues and the NGO circle to sell our products. We did house-to-house selling and depended on word of mouth,” Cortez said.


In 2003, the Philippine Development Assistance Program (PDAP) approved a loan for BOPC for market development. The loan program, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (Cida), was composed of P2-million package for market development and P100,000 grant for administration and mobilization.

“It was a lifesaver for us,” said Cortez, who immediately sought the help of marketing experts to promote the organic products. A modest store outlet was constructed in the heart of the city where health-conscious citizens could drop by any time.

Immediate attention

The product name Nature’s Bounty was eventually introduced to the public and immediately earned the attention of consumers.

“The name Nature’s Bounty reflected the loving care and sacrifices of farmers to cultivate nature and produce these natural crops,” he said.

“We strived to take the products to the buying public,” said Manny de la Peña, sales and operations officer of BOPC.

“We had direct suppliers among small farmers. We bought their crops at a higher price. They were happy to have been well compensated for all the hard work they did to produce organic crops,” he added.

The leap in market development took BOPC in another dilemma. “The supply could not meet the demand. Bulk orders were coming in and we had no choice but to turn them down because we were short in supply,” said Cortez.

Women farmers

PDAP introduced them to a network-member under its PRIME project, the Malahutayang Kahisuan sa Kababaginan sa Bukidnon Inc. or Makakabus, a farmers’ association composed mostly of women. The association agreed to till 16 hectares of land for organic rice. This provided BOPC with 100 sacks of organic rice.

De la Peña recounted how they developed a mutual relationship with Makakabus. “The women are very sincere and persevering. They made sure of the crop’s integrity and strived to deliver the best products. In return we buy their products at a good price.”

He added that in time, the farmers saw the viability of organic farming because there was no need to buy pesticides and fertilizers, and thus, they get to keep all the sales income.

“The women were also good managers. They wanted to be paid in cash which was understandable,” he added. Eventually, Makakabus expanded their production area to 100 hectares.

Quality control

“All the products that we buy should pass the internal quality control system,” said Cortez, referring to the system they developed to ensure that all the products have zero pesticide and were grown only with natural farming.

BOPC accessed free training for the small farmers to enable them to learn all about natural farming. “Now the farmers produce their own compost fertilizers. And we’re also now into a new technology called ‘rice and duck integration,’” Cortez boasted.

Incentives were given to farmers whose products pass the quality control system. “For Makakabus members, 50 cents per kilo go to the association and 20 cents per kilo goes to the farmer,” Cortez said as he explained that this was part of BOPC’s way of motivating the farmers to work hard in ensuring the quality of their crops.

Going organic

De la Peña said that during the first years of BOPC, the company wallowed in huge losses. Over the years, however, sales increased at a slow but steady pace.

“We enjoy at least 53-percent increase in volume and in peso every year,” said De la Peña, while acknowledging that this is far from the millions of pesos earned by commercial rice traders in the city.

Cortez admitted there are still challenges they need to face before organic products get the overwhelming support of consumers that it deserves. “Unlike in first world countries, here we still have to educate the people of the value of organically grown food.”

Fortunately, a national network of organic advocates has been helping BOPC in getting support for capitalization and technology transfer. “These are enterprise groups who are also engaged in organic products processing and marketing,” he said.

The other challenge Cortez cited is how to keep the price of organic products at a competitive rate. “Our aim is keep up with the premium price. This can be done by having a cost-efficient production process and getting enough suppliers.”

This means farmers have a primary role in getting that organic food on the poor man’s table. “We need to convince, first and foremost, the farmers to turn to organic farming. Similarly, support from the community, the government is essential,” he stressed.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Dry spell impacts on poverty; cost of rice up to P1B

By Amy R. Remo
Last updated 05:21pm (Mla time) 08/09/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Damage to rice from the dry spell may amount to between P600 million and P1.14 billion or about 200,000 to 400,000 metric tons, Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap said Wednesday.

“The damage refers to the costs of planting rice and may still change depending on how the weather turns out,” Yap said.

He assured the public that rice supply remained stable.

“The supply needed for 2007 is in place. What we’re trying to assure is the supply of rice for 2008, which we are now augmenting through the quick-turnaround [planting] program,” he said.

He said that by this month, the National Food Authority would have around 800,000 metric tons of rice in its warehouses.

More than 127,000 hectares of farmland have withered in the northern third of the country after lower-than-normal rainfall in June and July, the Office of Civil Defense said.

Fishponds, too

Also devastated were some 41,000 hectares of fishponds.

Worst hit by the dry spell were the regions of Ilocos, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog, Bicol and Cagayan Valley.

Besides destroying crops, the dry spell is hampering power generation, causing price increases that have hit the poor.


Dennis Arroyo, NEDA deputy director, said the government’s 6.1-percent economic growth target for 2007 remained in place, but warned a drought could cause food price inflation and worsen poverty.

Read the full report here.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

How government fights hunger

By Mahar Mangahas
Last updated 08:50pm (Mla time) 08/03/2007

STATISTICAL efforts. Last Tuesday morning, I attended the National Statistical Coordination Board's forum revealing a new "Hunger Index" done by the Interagency Task Force that it had created in 2006.

The Index turned out to be an average of: (a) the proportion of underweight children less than 5 years old; (b) the proportion of households deficient in food-energy intake; and (c) the mortality rate among children less than 5 years old. The latest period with official data available for these three components happens to be 2003.

The Task Force considered as "Low Hunger" any Index values of .256 or less. "Moderate Hunger" would be between .257 and .291, "Serious Hunger" would be between .292 and .326, and "Alarming Hunger" would be .327 and up. (The boundaries were based on a complex technique which is immaterial here.) Using equal weights, the Index for 2003 turned out to be .272, meaning "Moderate"; but using alternative weights recommended by the Task Force, it became .235, meaning "Low."

I commented at the forum that none of the Index's components was directly about hunger, and thus it ignored the National Nutrition Council's (NNC) one direct survey on hunger, in 2003 [see my column last week]. More importantly, however, the Task Force had no plans for doing the Index more frequently.

I likened this analysis of the 2003 data to archeology--normal for academics, but of little relevance to the present situation. The year 2003 was in fact the lowest or most favorable point in the SWS quarterly surveys on hunger. One relying only on official statistics wouldn't realize that hunger rose to record heights in late 2006 and early 2007.

Executive branch efforts. Also last Tuesday, in the afternoon, in Malacañang, the National Anti-Poverty Commission en banc was presented by the NNC with an Accelerated Hunger-Mitigation Program, with emphasis on the National Capital Region.

The NNC presentation started with a reasonable framework: hunger is due to insufficient food to eat, and no money to buy food. On the supply side, the program calls for "increased food production" and "enhanced efficiency of logistics and food delivery." On the demand side, it aims to "put more money in poor people's pockets," "promote good nutrition," and "manage population."

Next, the NNC presented the SWS hunger data for each of the four quarters of 2006 and the first two quarters of 2007, in percentages and projected numbers of households affected. Focusing on the record-high hunger of 22.0 percent in Metro Manila, NNC said that the possible reasons were increased prices of meat and vegetables and unemployment (higher in NCR than in all other regions). It also cited an increase in national electrical consumption and a decrease in manufacturing production and sales (though the reasoning isn't too clear to me).

There followed a long list of programs, said to be in place, for mitigating hunger. The list also showed the agencies responsible, targets, accomplishments, and details for NCR: Programang Gulayan sa Masa; Backyard Fisheries; Barangay Food Terminals; Tindahan Natin; Roll-On Roll-Off (RORO) ports; Food for School Program; Supplementary Feeding (DSWD); Jobs Generation (roadside maintenance of national roads); Microfinance; Aggressive Training (of workers, by TESDA); Training on Infant and Child Feeding; Pabasa sa Nutrisyon; Nutritional Guidelines for Filipinos; Responsible Parenting Movement.

How well these programs, put together, will work will ultimately be determined by forthcoming surveys on hunger. How well a single program works by itself can be gauged by tracking the interface of hunger with that program. Assessing the effectiveness of programs, either collectively or singly, is learning by doing.

But what is sorely lacking, in my view, is learning by studying past movements over time. From mid-1998 onwards, SWS has already done 37 quarterly surveys on hunger and poverty at the national level and in broad geographical areas, making it feasible for econometricians to start building empirical models of the dynamics of hunger, in association with food prices, various cost-of-living indicators, actual wages, inflation, unemployment, Gross Domestic Income, remittances from abroad, the physical weather, and other factors. Econometric models have long been used to estimate the impact of investment on employment; now they should be designed to estimate the impact of, for instance, food prices on hunger.

In this list of requisite data, what worries me the most is wages, since it is measured very poorly and irregularly. There is a bias in official statistics against regularly measuring wages (in real terms, corrected for cost of living) just as there is bias against measuring poverty and hunger, because the findings might be embarrassing.

Incidentally, I saw one interesting theory that the recent slight fall in hunger could have been due to extra purchasing power from election spending. This theory would fit SWS' severe hunger figures in June 2007 of 4.3 percent (about 105,000 households) in NCR, and 2.7 percent (210,000 households) in the rest of Luzon, compared to only 1.7 percent (60,000 households) in the Visayas, and 0.7 percent (25,000 households) in Mindanao, on the assumption that such spending was relatively skimpy in oppositionist areas. Of course, to validate the theory would require help from insiders who know how much money got spent, and where.

Read his previous related article: Hunger hasn’t fallen enough

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Poor families, poor nations

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE(The Manila Times Internet Edition)
July 31, 2007
By Marit Stinus-Remonde

Prosperous nations emanate from prosperous families, Cebu Sixth District Rep. Nerissa Soon-Ruiz said in her welcome remarks at the Philippine Population Association’s National Conference on Life Course Perspective on Population, Nutrition and Health held in Cebu City on July 28. A family’s ability to contribute to national progress, on the other hand, “depends on how well individual members have been nourished to their fullest potential.” So children “must be nourished, educated and nurtured so that they will become responsible members of society in the future. It is in the interest of both parents and society to raise children who are similarly committed to perpetuating themselves in a responsible and rewarding manner.”

Unfortunately, two in every three Filipino begins life as an anemic. Their mothers are anemic too. Micronutrient deficiencies in children are common, not even sparing the children of the better-off families. Children belonging to families in the highest income bracket were found to be iron and calcium deficient (2003). Dr. Corazon Barba of the Institute of Human Nutrition and Food, UP Los Baños, pointed out the stark irony that “coexistence of underweight child and overweight adult in same household” is a reality in 20.9 percent of households.

This shocking finding is related to another disturbing but not surprising finding that undernutrition at an early stage in one’s life significantly increases a person’s susceptibility to chronic diseases at a later stage in life. The situation is even worse for those who were underweight as children, and become overweight as adults. The ongoing “nutrition transition” from traditional foods to processed foods, which is happening in all sectors of society, is not resulting in improved diet. For instance, our “modern diet” contains more fat and more sugar than traditional diets. Consumption of fruits and vegetables is low, and level of income does not seem to be a significant factor.

Overweight, obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases have become common as society undergoes lifestyle and dietary changes. While overweight in itself increases risk of hypertension, Ms. Nanette Lee, senior research associate of the University of San Carlos Office of Population Studies, showed that staying overweight for a long time significantly increases risk of hypertension.

The scientific findings tell us that while indeed the country has made great progress in bringing down infant and under-5 mortality rates, and malnutrition, an unacceptable large number of our babies and children remain malnourished. In addition, these children have elevated risk of facing chronic health problems when they become adults. The negative factor of the current nutrition transition compounds the problem. Alarmed by these findings, Congresswoman Soon-Ruiz, herself a medical doctor, committed to sponsor needed legislation. The country has existing laws that mandate micronutrient fortification of certain foods, but obviously this isn’t enough.

Dr. Linda Adair of the Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, disclosed that a 2005 Metro Cebu survey showed that at age 2, 65.8 percent of females and 69.2 percent of males were stunted. At birth, 11.5 percent had low birth weight and 12.9 percent were preterm, indicating that malnutrition gets worse after birth. In other words, nutrition intervention cannot wait until school age where most government-assisted feeding programs appear to take place. The audience is captive in the school, but we need to address the problem much earlier, according to Dr. Barba. Occasional feeding of lugaw and sabaw will not suffice to reverse the impact of malnutrition. More radical and comprehensive efforts are needed.

The poor nutritional status of our babies and children will eventually become an economic burden to society. The mental capacity of malnourished children will never produce the scientists and entrepreneurs that the country needs in order to progress. Hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases and other chronic ailments affect productivity, and will put an increasingly heavy burden on a health sector already in crisis. The research studies presented at the conference give the hard facts and the inevitable conclusions. From there it is up to the policymakers whether or not to address the problem. Poverty is obviously the biggest factor in malnutrition, but ignorance, too, is greatly to blame for the sad state of health of the Filipino people. From poor and ignorant families emanate poor and ignorant nations.

Friday, July 27, 2007

NSO to conduct census starting Aug. 1


By Jonathan L. Mayuga
Correspondent/Business Mirror


THE National Statistics Office (NSO) will conduct the 2007 Census of Population starting on August 1.

At least 37,000 census-takers will conduct the nationwide survey to interview household individuals to make a complete count of the population.

The nationwide survey is the 12th to be undertaken since 1903. The NSO is the sole government agency mandated by Commonwealth Act 591 to undertake such nationwide population count.

The census will cover all people living in the Philippines, including overseas Filipino workers and foreigners who intend to stay within one year.

Underscoring the importance of an updated information on the size of population in development planning, Romulo Neri, director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), appealed for the public’s full cooperation.

“From the rural areas of Batanes to the remote barangays of Jolo, no one should be left out. Stand up and be counted,” Neri said during the press launch of the 2007 Census of Population at the Sulô Hotel on Thursday

The last census, the 2000 Census of Population, revealed that there are 76.5 million people living in the Philippines. It was from this figure that the NSO was able to project the current population in the Philippines of 88.7 million, at a projected population growth rate of 2.36 percent.

With this year’s census, NSO hopes to get an accurate information about the population in the Philippines and determine whether the growth rate is increasing or decreasing.

The current population growth rate, on a demographic point of view, is “unacceptable,” said Socorro Abejo, officer-in-charge of the Household Statistic Department of the NSO.

“The Philippines is what you call right now explosive population. Ideally, a country’s growth rate should be based on the capacity of the government to provide for the basic needs of the people. Our current growth rate is not acceptable,” she said.

NSO administrator Carmelita N. Ericta said the census, which was supposed to be conducted in 2005 but was shelved due to lack of budget, will take 40,000 NSO-trained census-takers and 7,800 team supervisors to cover 41,944 barangays in the Philippines.

The nationwide survey will last about 25 days and will be made available by end of February next year.

She said the NSO-trained census-takers, wearing official 2007 Census of Population IDs and T-shirts will visit and interview every household to ask basic information about the number of people living within the house, including their ages, sex, marital status, education and other demographic, social and economic characteristics. The interview will take about 15 to 30 minutes.

The government will spend P1.6 billion to conduct the survey.

The census will also cover institutional populations such as those living in hospitals, sanitaria, penitentiary, military camps, convents and seminaries.

Allaying fears that the census will be used for other purposes, such as conducting surveillance under the Human Security Act (HSA), Ericta said any information obtained during the census will be held strictly confidential, as per Section 4 of Commonwealth Act 591.

However, she also said that refusing to give information or providing false information to census-takers is punishable by law.

Under Section 3 of Commonwealth Act 591, upon conviction, a fine of not more than P600 or imprisonment for not more than three months or both will be meted to any person who unjustifiably refuses to furnish the information called for in the census questionnaire.

She said the 2007 Census of Population will provide current data on population counts, which will be the basis for the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) and the creation of new local government units (LGUs), or conversion of some of the existing LGUs to a higher level, pursuant to the provisions of the 1991 Local Government Code.

It aims to continuously address the specific data requirements of the national government agencies, like NEDA and LGUs, especially in targeting beneficiaries of basic social services.

Census of population is the complete count of all residents, both Filipinos, including overseas workers, and foreigners, who have stayed or are expected to stay for at least a year.

Among the important uses of such census for the government is the accurate and timely formulation of policies, preparation of plans and programs concerning population such as the number of schools to be built, the number of teachers, number of policemen to be deployed, and number of public health workers needed in a province, city or municipality and even barangay.

It will also help determine the number of congressional seats in a province, city or municipality based on the population.

Such census also aids the government in allocating resources and revenues, and help in planning the creation of political and administrative units.