Poverty, An Anathema To Democracy

Two recent poverty surveys – from the government’s National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) and the Social Weather Stations (SWS) – came up with similar results showing that the Aquino government is not making a dent in the poverty situation. According to the NSCB survey, the July 2012 poverty rate of 27.9 percent is statistically no different from the results of its 2006 and 2009 surveys. This despite the fact that the NSCB has a ridiculously low poverty threshold, which according to Ibon Foundation is a mere P51 per day ($1.24 if directly converted and not computed according to the PPP). This was extracted from the NSCB’s poverty threshold for a family of five of P7,821 ($190.75) a month.

So if a family has a combined monthly income of P7,821 ($190.75) or has a budget of P51 ($1.24) per family member, it is not poor and could afford a decent standard of living? Really? Out of this very low figure, the NSCB came up with a food threshold of P5,458 ($133) monthly for a family of five. If divided by the number of family members, this would amount to P36 ($0.88) per person per day. This amount is barely enough for a full meal at the neighborhood carinderia. No wonder most Filipino families could hardly afford to eat two meals a day.

Granting for the sake of argument that P5,458 ($133) per month for a family of five or P36 ($0.88) per person per day is enough for food, if we subtract this from the P7,821 ($190.75) monthly income or the P51 ($1.24) per person per day budget, the family has P2,363 ($57.60) per month or P15 ($0.36) per person per day left to spend on house rent, water and electricity, school expenses, transportation fare, clothes and footwear, personal care items, among others. This is not even enough for two jeepney or bus rides. Do we still wonder why urban poor communities proliferate in town centers and cities? Is it still surprising why a lot of people have no access to safe drinking water and there are a lot of illegal water and electric connections? Do we still need to ask why parents of public school students are protesting against the addition of two years in basic education?

And still, despite the very low poverty threshold set by the NSCB, the poverty situation remains unchanged. It would be worse if we use a more realistic poverty threshold level.

The SWS survey, on the other hand, shows that 52 percent of families or 10.6 million consider themselves as poor. Also around 39 percent or 7.9 million consider themselves as food poor. The median poverty threshold used by the SWS is around P15,000 ($365) in the NCR and the food poverty threshold as P8,000 ($195), which are much higher than the NSCB’s but still lower than the poverty threshold of P25,800 ($629) or P172 ($4.20) per person per day computed by Ibon Foundation.

Thus, neither the drive toward achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals, specifically that which pertains to ending poverty by 2015, nor the promise of change by the Aquino government has brought us closer to addressing the worsening poverty situation in the country. Poverty is actually worsening; even the NSCB survey results show that a family needs to earn more today than before to ease itself out of poverty. We would be able to see the worsening poverty situation if we use the actual, realistic poverty threshold, as computed by Ibon Foundation.

How does the government explain this? How does it intend to make a dent in the poverty situation?

Economic planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan was quoted by an interaksyon.com report as saying, “If the problem of visible under-employment in agriculture is addressed, then incomes of farmers would increase, poverty incidence would decrease, and we would not be compromising food security.”

Interaksyon.com interviewed Norio Usui, Senior Country Economist for the Asian Development Bank who pointed to the country’s weak industrial base as the problem. He pointed out that the country’s ‘strong economic growth’ has not benefited the people because jobs could not be had.

He added that the Philippines’ economic model depended on consumption, remittances from overseas Filipinos and the outsourcing industry, which employs highly educated workers.

Usui explained, “Why do you need a strong industrial base? To give jobs not only to the highly educated college graduates, but also to high school graduates.”

The two economists are right in pointing to rural poverty, unemployment and underemployment as the reasons behind the worsening poverty situation. But is the Aquino government addressing these?

Yes, but in the wrong way. The Aquino government, as the previous administrations, is trying to address rural poverty through trying to attract investments in mining and agro-industry. But mining companies, especially the preferred open pit mining method, displaces more people than it hires. And the displacements it causes do not only affect the indigenous peoples inhabiting the mining concession areas but also farmers and fisherfolk dependent on the bodies of water mining companies pollute. The same is true with big foreign agro-industrial corporations.

It is also trying to generate jobs through attracting foreign investments. But as I mentioned in a previous analysis foreign direct investments are decreasing because of the global economic crisis. Second, foreign investments could not be made as the building blocks of industrialization in the country because they do not transfer their technology; on the contrary they are monopolizing it. They have strengthened intellectual property laws. Third, more people are being rendered jobless, due to the closure of small and medium companies that could not compete with multinational corporations and their local partners, than the number of people they hire. Those with jobs, on the other hand, could barely cope because of the depressed-wage policy of the Aquino government.

The Aquino government could not solve rural poverty without implementing a genuine agrarian reform program, which it is not wont to do. It could not solve the worsening joblessness without striving to build the country’s national industrial base.

However, despite its promises of change, the Aquino government is merely continuing the economic and social programs of the previous administrations, no matter how disadvantageous it is to the Filipino people.

Last April 30, interaksyon.com came out with a report about the results of a survey conducted by the Father Saturnino Urios University in Butuan City. It revealed that 8 out of 10 respondents in Butuan City are willing to sell their votes. Seven out of 10 knew somebody who will do the same.

The university was shocked. The middle class must be aghast at this.

“For us in the university, our response to our findings is to redouble our effort on voter’s education and to look at our culture again. How we can present it in a way to encourage the voters to vote based on their conscience?” said its representative.

However, according to the same interaksyon.com report, the survey also revealed that “only 6 out of 10 were hopeful that the elections would help bring solutions to their most pressing problems, which 75 percent identified as employment, livelihood and sources of income.”

If you are part of the poor majority and you have observed that whoever sits in Malacañang, the Senate, House of Representatives, the provincial and town capitol, your life and that of your family does not change for the better and poverty is even worsening, what would you do? You might as well cash in on your vote.

I wrote in a previous analysis that there could be no inclusive growth without genuine democracy. The same is true the other way around. There could be no democracy without genuinely and effectively addressing the poverty situation in the country. (Bulatlat.com)

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