Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) kids, moms healthier
MANILA – There’s newfound optimism in Manila nowadays. On Thursday, the Philippine government announced the country’s economic growth had reached 7.8 percent in the first quarter of 2013, making the Philippines the fastest growing economy in Asia.
News about the country’s robust growth, however, means nothing to Filipinos such as Rosely Salazar, a single mother of 5 girls in Navotas.
A manicurist by trade, Salazar sometimes makes about P100 to P150 (about US$3.50) a day by going house to house and offering her services. Some days, she comes home empty-handed and her family must make do with a meal of rice and fish sauce.
“There were days when we literally had nothing to eat except a little rice with patis (fish sauce). Some days, we didn’t eat at all,” she recounts.
Salazar said her life wasn’t so hard until her husband’s death due to illness. Now, they have to struggle to make ends meet while living on the second floor of a squatter shack on Kalye Impierno or “Hell Street,” so named because of a shocking crime wave that killed scores of people in the area.
Crime isn’t the only challenge for poor families in the Navotas. Aside from hunger, there’s also illness, pollution and intense heat during the summer. In the rainy season, floods are ubiquitous in the squatter colony and clean water is scarce. The Salazar girls, the youngest of whom is 8, are also under threat of sexual abuse, according to the local social welfare officer.
The Salazar family is just one of an estimated 5.7 million poor families in the country who have yet to feel the trickle-down effect of the country’s newfound prosperity. A National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) report noted that poverty incidence in the Philippines remains unchanged at 27.9 percent, from 2006 to 2012. It said a Filipino family of five needed P5,458 (about US$129) to meet basic food needs every month and P7,821 (about US$185) to stay above the poverty threshold (basic food and non-food needs) every month.
Luckily, the Salazar family is also one of 3.1 million poor families enrolled in the Philippines’ conditional cash transfer program as of 2013. The program, launched in 2007 and patterned after the conditional cash transfer Bolsa Familia program of Brazil and the Oportunidades program of Mexico, aims to give poor Filipino families by giving them cash to invest in the education of their children.
The Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) gives conditional cash grants to indigent Filipino families who have kids ages 14 years old and below. A P500 monthly cash grant is given for health and nutrition expenses while P300 monthly cash grant is given per child for educational expenses.
Only a maximum of 3 children per household are allowed to receive stipends, for a maximum total of P1,400 (about $32.90) a month for a household with at least 3 children. In return, beneficiaries are required to send their children to school, and the mothers must go for regular prenatal or postnatal care.
Beneficiary families can stay in the program for a maximum of 5 years. Afterwards, the family is “transitioned” to other government intervention programs that will help them find jobs or livelihoods.
Breaking the poverty cycle
The Tagalog word “Pantawid” perfectly captures the nature of the program since it is so often used in the phrase “pantawid gutom.” Literally, it means a stopgap measure to a desperate need -- like a small meal to stave off hunger.
“The 4Ps is not supposed to be a permanent intervention to help the poor. It is a lifesaver meant to help those in direst need, by giving them a leg up. It’s a necessary first step in helping poor families break out of the cycle of chronic poverty,” Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said in a radio dzMM interview.
Helping the poor, according to Philippine Institute for Development Studies president Josef Yap, is extremely important to address rising inequality in Asia.
In a press briefing, he said persistent inequality – where only the rich benefit from economic growth while the rest remain poor - is a threat to economic growth and could lead to the vanishing of the middle class.
Inequality is also a rights issue, according to PIDS senior research fellow Celia Reyes, as the poor are deprived of the benefits brought on by the country’s development.
She said that while some areas have good roads and public transportation that help children go to school, there are areas such as Naujan, Oriental Mindoro where children of 4Ps families have to cross a river to get to school.
She said the children ride a boat to cross the river before getting to school “and then after class, they wait until another boat reaches their part of the shore so they can hitch a ride back home.”
Reyes, who spent 6 months studying 400 beneficiary-families of the conditional cash transfer, said the effects of additional cash, invested for the education of children, are immediate. She said that while children used to put their dilapidated notebooks in bilaos (circular baskets) because they have no school bags, “now they have brand new school bags and notebooks. They demand it from the parents because they know the money is for their education.”
Simon Sedavia, 4Ps information officer for Metro Manila, says the impact of the program can usually be seen among the children-beneficiaries. “They don’t look like street kids anymore. They go to school and eat better,” he says.
He says the program has led to more consistency and less absenteeism for the children-beneficiaries who go to school. He also says the children-beneficiaries have become healthier because of better food and the immunization they get from health centers.
An impact evaluation study of the conditional cash transfer program also enumerates the gains of the intervention. The report, which was funded by World Bank and the Australian Agency for International Development, confirms that children of Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries are enrolling and attending schools, with improved health due to regular visits to health stations, and pregnant mothers getting proper care.
• In Pantawid barangays, 76 percent of preschoolers are enrolled in daycare, compared to 65 percent in non-Pantawid barangays;
• Among school children at age 6-11, 98 percent of children in Pantawid barangays are enrolled in school, as against 93 percent in non-Pantawid barangays; and,
• Children in Pantawid barangays from age 6-14 also have higher school attendance (95-96 percent) than children in non-Pantawid barangays (91 percent).
The assessment is based on an analysis of poor 1,418 households eligible for the Pantawid program from a survey covering 3,742 households in the provinces of Lanao del Norte, Mountain Province, Negros Occidental, and Occidental Mindoro.
Junko Onishi, World Bank’s social protection specialist, said the conditional cash transfer has contributed to reduction in the severe stunting among poor children 6-36 months of age in Pantawid barangays.
“This reduction in severe stunting indicates that CCT is enabling families to better care for their children. More parents in Pantawid barangays (villages) are feeding their children with high-protein food including eggs and fish, leading to improved nutritional status," she said.
A separate PIDS study also shows that the proportion of children in 4Ps families who attend school remains above 90% from ages 6-13.
PIDS Senior Research Fellow Celia Reyes said that before the CCT program was launched, many families simply did not send their young kids to school, or delayed their entry to school until they were 7 or 8 years old.
However, she also noted that school attendance of children in 4Ps families drops below 90% when the child reaches 14. This is also the age when the child is already out of the coverage of the CCT program.
Reyes said that since a child can only stay in the program for 5 years, a Grade 1 student could be out of the program before he reaches high school.
“4Ps is facilitating the child to have at least some elementary years but can you imagine if we facilitate that until the child graduates high school? There is a big difference between P169 to P246 (daily wage),” she said, noting that high school graduates get 40 percent higher wages than those who don’t finish elementary school.
Reyes said the Philippine government should follow the example of CCT programs in other countries that ensure kids in beneficiary-families finish high school. "If this happens, they will have more employment opportunities when they enter the labor market," she said.
DSWD’s Soliman, who helped conceive the program as early as 2004, admits that the true benefits of the conditional cash transfer may not be felt until years down the line when children of CCT beneficiary-families enter the labor force.
"The elimination of poverty cannot be done overnight, in 3 months or in 1 year. It's a long, long process and one of the elements is to help the poor find jobs," she said.
She added: "The lasting beneficiary should always be the Filipino people. There should be a new formula for sustainable development that will break the cycle of poverty among Filipino families." -- With reports from radio dzMM