Millions to remain in poverty as Philippines resets target

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 19 2014 03:55 AM | Updated as of Mar 19 2014 08:02 PM

MANILA - The Philippines will have to downgrade its target to reduce poverty, officials warned Tuesday, a move which would leave an additional four million people virtually destitute in 2016.

Socio-economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said that although economic growth had remained strong, it had failed to lift as many people out of poverty as expected.

The Philippines had originally projected that 16.6 percent of its 100 million people would still be living in poverty by 2016.

But Balisacan said the poverty rate was now forecast to be 18-20 percent by 2016, when President Benigno Aquino's term ends.

"This new target takes into consideration the slow response of poverty to economic growth beginning 2006 and the setback in 2013 due to the wide-scale destruction resulting from natural and man-made disasters," he said.

A super-typhoon which hit central provinces last November triggered unprecedented destruction that left four million without homes.

The official poverty rate measures how many people can barely afford food and other essentials.

Despite remarkable economic growth under Aquino, the poverty rate has stayed around 25 percent since 2003.

Economists and business leaders have warned that growth has been largely limited to only a few sectors like exports and business outsourcing, leaving sizable segments of the population such as farmers untouched.

"Some cities or provinces have been experiencing economic growth, but the poorest families are being left behind," Balisacan told a business forum.

He said the Philippines must train poor families to get better jobs while linking small farms to the larger economy to provide them with greater opportunities.

Aquino took office in 2010, vowing to help the poor and fight the massive corruption that has long weighed down the Southeast Asian archipelago.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the government had made significant achievements, citing the 7.2 percent economic growth rate last year.

But he added: "We know that much has to be done. We have lost a decade to meaningfully bring down poverty."