Government's 'unrealistic' poverty statistics hit

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 13 2019 03:06 PM | Updated as of Apr 13 2019 03:07 PM

MANILA - A think tank and the head of a survey firm have slammed the latest Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) report which found that poverty incidence fell in the first half of 2018.

The PSA report found that the proportion of Filipino families who lived below the poverty line from January to June 2018 was at 16.1 percent, down from 22.2 percent during the same period in 2015.

In a statement Wednesday, economic think tank IBON Foundation said the PSA report "grossly underestimates the real number of poor Filipinos."

It said the P69.5 daily per capita poverty threshold and P48.6 daily per capita subsistence or food threshold "do not meet decent minimum standards for food, shelter, transportation, utilities, health care and education."

The group urged authorities to update its official methodology as the subsistence and poverty thresholds are "in dire need of upgrading according to more decent standards."

It also noted that the method does not calculate a budget for shelter, transportation, utilities, health care and education.

"The choice of official poverty lines is a political one. Setting a high standard indicates the government having a high level of ambition for poverty eradication," the group said.

"Conversely, setting a low standard indicates low targets for dealing with the poverty situation. Government, however, has chosen the latter, which results in tens of millions of Filipinos not meeting minimum standards of well-being and hidden behind unrealistic official poverty statistics."

PSA Assistant Secretary Josie Perez, meanwhile, defended the official data, saying the methodology used to collect it was approved by different government agencies.

"May PSA board na members nito ay mga line agency na na-approve 'yung methodology ng poverty so hindi kami basta-basta nagiimbento ng methodology," she told radio DZMM.

(There's a PSA board composed of line agencies that approved the methodology for the poverty incidence so we're not inventing methodology.)

"I don’t want to say anything against them, basta kung hindi nila gagamitin, hindi na namin kontrol 'yun. This is our official statistics na ni-release namin based on different sources of information."

(I don’t want to say anything against them, we have no control if they won't use our data. This is our official statistics that we released based on our different sources of information.)

Social Weather Stations (SWS) president Mahar Mangahas, in a column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, said the official data was "stingy" and "set by the bureaucracy, top-down" compared with the SWS self-rated poverty polls "set by the people surveyed, bottom-up."

Mangahas pointed out that there was an average of 45 percent self-rated poor families in the first semester of 2018, a 6-point decrease from 51 percent in the same period in 2015.

The figure is much larger in scale than the PSA's 16.1 percent in the first semester of 2018 and 22.2 percent during the same period in 2015.

"The consistency is in the trend of poverty, its movement over time, rather than in the scale of poverty, its level at some point in time," he said.

Mangahas added that the decrease in poverty actually happened from 2014 to 2016, when self-rated poverty declined by 10 points (54 percent in 2014, 50 percent in 2015, and 44 percent in 2016).

"Unfortunately, poverty crept back up to 46 percent in 2017, and then to 48 percent in 2018. Thus, most of the improvement that PSA is now reporting actually happened during 2014-16, and then it got partially dissipated in 2017-18," he said.

This was because the PSA releases its Family Income and Expenditure Surveys (FIES) only once every three years and had no FIES between 2015 and 2018, Mangahas said. 

"This is the unavoidable consequence of measuring poverty too intermittently," he said.

Mangahas also noted the effect of the surge in inflation on the poor in the latter half of 2018, which he said would hopefully reflect in the next official PSA poverty incidence report.

"Hopefully the PSA official poverty incidence for 2018S2—for release perhaps in October 2019—will bear this out. But by then, we will already know Self-Rated Poverty for 2019Q2 and 2019Q3," he said.