Money For Food, Cash For The Future

The Conditional Cash Transfer program, or CCT, is once again becoming the focus of controversy. Good. It should become more controversial so the subject matter can be publicly discussed. It would then make it a fare occasion when poverty in a more raw form, hunger and the permanent poverty of the poor whose children cannot afford to go to school, becomes the subject of debate. The previous controversy, the RH Bill, almost succeeded in bringing the issue and face of poverty to Congress but was not able to do enough.

There has been so much talk about education as the key answer to poverty. I agree. The problem is that education is gravely hampered by poverty. DepEd knows that half of Filipino children going to the public school system do not finish high school, not for lack of intelligence, but because of poverty. It is only logical that education suffers from a national setting where poverty is massive. The first victim, though, is the stomach. Hunger stalks tens of millions of Filipinos every day and manages to catch 15 – 20 million of the poorest among us.

When poverty is at an intensity that already manifests in millions experiencing hunger, education simply cannot prosper. The hunger has to be addressed before we can expect other intervention to make the poor marketable to even be a doable option. That is why I can appreciate the CCT but disagree that the cash transfer be deemed conditional. One cannot put conditions before feeding the hungry.

The families who withdraw their children from school are not stupid, they are simply afraid and unable to beat the system they were born into. They know their children are their ONLY hope, yet they take them out of school. That is not from a lack of love for their children, not a lack of appreciation for the future, but a lack of options.

The CCT is supposed to be an intervention for education. That is why the cash transfer is conditional. Parents must send their children to school and keep them there to continue to avail of the cash subsidy. This is quite a good idea, a good investment for education.

However, how about the hungry? What is the intervention on hunger, especially the hunger of adults? There ought to be a matching intervention for hunger, and it should not be conditional.

Taking the poor out of poverty by educating their young should begin with addressing the problem of hunger that hits both parents and children. Our societal leaders must try to understand poverty in its various manifestations. It has to be an integrated approach because poverty is only one state with several faces and characteristics.

An “utak wang-wang” leader can never feel for the poor, never create a program to cushion the pain and fear of the poor, and never feel guilty for exploiting them. Take the CCT. It was initiated in the Philippines by the most unpopular president republic has ever known. It was an apparent copy of a program that was working well in a South American country – but only as one of several other anti-poverty measures. But it worked there because the leadership there was determined to make it work.

Gloria had her version of the CCT and yet hunger incidence reached record highs and stayed there. The way the CCT was implemented made it an abject failure because it did not impact on the hungry. Only the results of the last hunger incidence survey, under the P-Noy administration, did it show dramatic benefit that by itself justifies its existence and expansion.

My disappointment, though, was a lack of celebration with the 25% drop of hunger incidence in just one quarter, I failed to see our politicians, even our Church, getting ecstatic that millions more of Filipinos did not experience hunger. The achievement became a simple statistic, good to read but almost impossible to feel. The apathy of a people towards their own suffering brothers and sisters has numbed many to become uncaring.

If the leaders of the State beginning with Congress want to reduce hunger and have no better plan than the CCT, then doubling or tripling the CCT budget is the only thing they can do. If the leaders of the Church want to reduce the hunger incidence, they should march with more noise and determination to pressure Congress to approve the only plan so far to reduce hunger now – and participate in it as passionately as it can.

The CCT is not perfect. I want more for the poor who are threatened with hunger, who live like rats scampering when humans approach because they are squatters. I want home lots with security of tenure, I want decent homes to remind them they are human as well, I want food for them to grow even if we have to teach them how. I want more than the CCT but I can build from it instead of weakening it.

Here is advice unsolicited to DSWD. We cannot build our nation from distrust. DSWD is a bridge but not the builder. Everyone is the builder, most especially the local governments. If we cannot trust our mayors and barangay officials to rise above their partisanship for the hungry, then we are condemning them to be precisely what we have judged them to be. Most of all, where is the participation of the people themselves as volunteers in caring for our poorest of the poor?

Hunger is a national shame that leadership must eliminate with its resources and with the help of the citizenry. Already, a few brave mayors are feeding poor school children by the thousands and P-Noy can tap them to compliment the CCT. The exclusivity of DSWD in the roll-out of the CCT is its weak point because it can actually rally people to do good with it.

The CCT will not solve poverty. Other development programs, human and economic, must also be designed in tandem with the CCT and as aggressively funded. Many anti-poverty suggestions have been mentioned, but none will work when many millions of Filipinos are hungry or threatened daily by it.

Money for the hungry, cash for our future.

“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” — Albert Camus

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