By Paul Atienza | The Daily Tribune
The Palace has asked its critics to provide proof of anomalies in President Aquino’s flagship anti-poverty program called the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) which will have nearly P80 billion funding in next year’s budget after Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. sought a detailed audit of the huge yearly allocations for it.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda rejected Marcos’ assertion that the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program has not helped solve the worsening poverty problem in the country.
During the state of the nation address (Sona), Aquino claimed that 3 million Filipino families have risen from extreme poverty citing National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) figures.
Economists, however, said that the supposed reduction in the poverty level was the result of a change in the formula used in computing the number of poor Filipino families.
“I don’t know where Senator Marcos is coming from. Is he stating this as a matter of fact, based on evidence?,” Lacierda said. Marcos, however, said it was time for the CCT to get a thorough review.
“There is no proof that after so many years, it has helped alleviate poverty, considering that the poverty rate has gone up over the years, to 27 percent at present,” Marcos said.
Lacierda then took a jab at Marcos pointing out the economic crisis that happened in 1983 to 1986 under the term of his father, former President Ferdinand Marcos.
“Our present situation is definitely nowhere near the first half of the 1980s, particularly the period 1983 to 1986, when the economy was contracting. Inflation and interest rates were double digits. Debt was unmanageable and foreign investors were avoiding the Philippines.
“Today, the economy is certainly much better with growth rates being one of the highest in the region. Inflation is at less than five percent. The share of debt-to-GDP is declining. The peso is stable and the international business community (is) giving the country investment grade rating,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda added that in 2014 the budget for debt servicing was P377.6-billion.
“By sector, debt servicing went down from 16.7 to 15.3 percent. None of the symptoms of an economic crisis is present here right now,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda said the he could recall that,” for instance, interest rates during the 80s, during that period, was around 20 to 25 percent. Now, because we’re investment grade, you can avail of loans at [an] interest rate of around more or less three percent. There’s a big drop in interest rates.
“Business confidence has risen dramatically. So I’m not sure if Senator Marcos is defining economic crisis as to how economists and as to how we view it. If you go around the country, there’s nowhere that an economic crisis is happening,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda said “the poverty ratio has gone down” echoing the content of the Sona speech of Aquino.
“The poverty ratio has gone down three points. At no time did government say that it has solved all the problems,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda cited that the World bank itself mentioned in their 2011 report that the CCT program raised beneficiary incomes by 12.6 percent.
“I think this is noted in the World Bank report. It’s available in its website. There is empirical basis to say that poverty reduction, by way of CCT, has helped the poor,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda also cited as proof the APIS (Annual Povery Indicators Survey) survey where the poverty rate has gone down from 27 percent to 24 percent.
“Certainly, much more has to be done. But conditional cash transfer is not the only poverty alleviation intervention that we have. We’ve got the sustainable livelihood program,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda also mentioned the KALAHI-CIDSS (Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan–Comprehensive Integrated Delivery of Social Service) which is under the office of Peace Adviser Teresita Deles.
“CCT provides that bridge where the family, the children are provided education until high school, the mother who is perhaps pregnant is required maternal healthcare. So we move toward that,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda said aside from the health grant, they also provide sustainable livelihood program through a micro-enterprise development.
“For instance, we give them capacity building for starting a business. We give them 10,000 pesos. No interest, no collateral, and payable in two years,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda said there are vocational courses or skills training provided by either the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) or by NGOs (non-government organizations) that can provide training.
He added the CCT program is open to a congressional probe. “By all means, if you want to investigate, and that’s the reason we’re expanding conditional cash transfer,” Lacierda said.
The Tribune asked Lacierda that those poor people in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, who claimed to be beneficiaries of CCT have been complaining that their P3,000 had been reduced to P1,500 given through barangay officials in secret.
Also, in Victoria, Laguna, where most of the residents belong to the poor families, the Tribune had not found any CCT beneficiaries even after the recent typhoon Glenda struck down houses.
The Palace spokesman said the CCT program provides a bridge between that stage when the poorest of the poor have nothing and the time when they find employment.