'It's not the dramatic result we wanted,' says NEDA chief Balisacan
MANILA (4th UPDATE) - The Philippines has failed to make headway in cutting rampant poverty, with more than one in four citizens deemed poor despite the country's economic growth, according to census figures released Tuesday.
The July 2012 poverty rate of 27.9 percent is practically unchanged from 2006 and 2009 data, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB).
Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said: “Although this first semester result on poverty incidence is not the dramatic result we wanted, we remain hopeful that, with the timely measures we are now implementing, the next rounds of poverty statistics will give much better results that will reflect the government’s massive investment in human development and poverty reduction, which understandably needs time to take full effect.”
Families forced to live on less than P7,821 a month (for a family of five) are considered poor, according to the government's poverty threshold.
Balisacan said under-employment in rural areas, security problems in provinces facing insurgencies and warlords, and the falling price of a number of commodities such as sugar were mainly to blame.
"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," Balisacan said in a statement.
In a separate interview with ANC, National Economic Development Agency (NEDA) Deputy Director General Emmanuel Esguerra said: “Of course, there were problems along the way, we could have achieved more, except that more areas dependent on agriculture were shattered by calamities such as in Mindanao.”
The negative events during the second semester of 2011 and first half of 2012 include typhoons Mina, Pedring and Sendong. The estimated cost of damages from the three is almost P20 billion.
Esguerra said “underemployment” was also a major problem during that period. Majority of the Philippine labor force is in the agricultural sector.
NSCB Secretary General Jose Ramon Albert also stressed that while the aggregate numbers did not change from 2006 to 2012, “the inequality figures pretty much say that there are structural changes that are hard to implement.”
Esguerra said the focus now is the long term. “We will focus on areas where there is a large concentration of poor and high underemployment.”
WRONG ECONOMIC MODEL?
The nation of about 100 million people posted 6.6 percent economic growth last year, and this year obtained its first-ever investment-grade rating from Fitch Ratings.
However the January 2013 jobless rate stood at 7.1 percent, with a further 20.9 percent under-employed, or working fewer than 40 hours a week.
About 41.8 percent of the under-employed are in the farming sector, it said.
Norio Usui, Senior Country Economist for the Manila-based Asian Development Bank, said the government must solve the problem of jobless growth if it hoped to reduce poverty.
"I am not surprised at all. The benefits of strong economic growth have not spilled over to the people because they still cannot find a job," he told AFP in a telephone interview.
He said the Philippines' economic model depended on consumption, strong remittances from its large overseas workforce and the outsourcing industry, which employs highly educated workers.
However, the Philippines, with its weak industrial base, has stood out in the region, he added.
"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," Usui said.
The government put the annual per capita poverty threshold at 9,385 pesos (227.24 dollars).
The NSCB found that at least 28.6 percent of the population was considered poor in both 2006 and 2009. -- with Agence France-Presse; Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com