MANILA, JULY 9, 2013 (ABS-CBN) The Philippines said Friday it was aiming to lift more than 10 million people out of poverty in less than two years, and make an enduring impact on lessening one of Asia's worst rich-poor divides.

The government has set a target of cutting the number of people living in poverty to 16.6 percent by the end of 2015, down from 27.9 percent last year, Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said.

"It's a big challenge. We just don't have the luxury of time and the luxury of resources to waste," Balisacan told reporters.

The ambitious goal is set ahead of when Aquino is required to stand down in in mid-2016 after a six-year term.

It comes after stunning economic growth, credit rating upgrades and record stock market highs in the first half of Aquino's term failed to make a dent on crushing poverty.

Even though the Philippines had the fastest growth rate in Asia of 7.8 percent in the first quarter of this year, the unemployment rate rose to a three-year-high of 7.5 percent in April.

The number of people living in poverty -- defined as living on 62 US cents a day or less -- had also largely remained the same.

Last year 27.9 percent of the country was classified as living in poverty compared to 28.8 and 28.6 percent in 2006 and 2009 respectively.

That means more than 25 million currently live in poverty.

The Philippines has long had one of the biggest rich-poor divides in Asia, with a remarkably small number of families dominating politics and business.

While the Aquino administration has always aimed to create more inclusive growth, Balisacan said the government was "recalibrating" after the recent economic performance failed to make a big impact on poverty.

"We are learning the lesson of the last three years," he said.

The economy remains largely reliant on services and consumption, fuelled by the huge remittances of almost 10 million Filipinos working overseas.

Balisacan said that, as part of the remodelling efforts, the government would sharply increase spending on infrastructure to create immediate jobs and make areas more attractive for investment.

The government is specifically targeting ports, airports and roads.

Overall spending on infrastructure will rise from the equivalent of 2.5 percent of the Philippines' economy in 2012 to five percent by 2016, according to Balisacan.

He said the government would also continue to ramp up spending on social services.

One key focus is a "conditional cash-transfer" scheme where the country's poorest families are given money if various health and education requirements are met, such as keeping children in school.

He said the government was maintaining its forecast of 6.0-7.0 percent economic growth this year, rising to 7.0-8.0 percent in 2015. 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

CCT won't lift millions out of poverty - study by Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News Posted at 07/08/2013 3:06 PM | Updated as of 07/08/2013 3:12 PM

MANILA - A study finds that the Aquino government's centerpiece anti-poverty program will not lift millions of Filipinos out of poverty because of its limited scope, despite its constantly increasing budget and widening coverage.

Research by Dr. Celia Reyes of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) points to the design of the conditional cash transfer program, also known as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or the 4Ps, whose intended beneficiaries are poor families with children aged up to 14 years old.

The program provides cash of up to P1,400 monthly to families belonging to the poorest of the poor as long as they meet certain conditions: the children must regularly go to school, get vaccinated, and mothers must avail themselves of pre- and post-natal care, among others.

Reyes, senior research fellow at the PIDS, explained the program does not make the beneficiaries qualified to have jobs, an essential requirement for them to overcome poverty.

"If you look at the current design, it is not going to promote the beneficiary children to get good jobs when they enter the labor force," she said during a presentation of her study on Monday. According to the study, the 4Ps program does not influence the school participation rate of children aged beyond the program's coverage. This means that poor youths above 14 either do not attend school as often or drop out, with reasons ranging from lack of personal interest to the need to work.

The study also states that the program's maximum support period of 5 years won't allow children aged 6 at the time their families began to receive the benefit to finish grade school.

Based on Reyes's research, the average daily wage of a person who finished high school is 40 percent higher than that of someone who finished a few years in elementary. The average wage of an elementary graduate, meanwhile, is 18 percent higher than that of someone who wasn't able to go to school at all.

"If we want 4Ps to become more effective, it shouldn't stop at supporting at the elementary level," Reyes said. "If you really want to break that intergenerational cycle of poverty, you have to make sure than when the child enters the labor force, he or she will have a decent wage that will enable him or her to move out of poverty."

Reyes recommends that instead of expanding the coverage - the government plans to increase the beneficiaries from the current 3.9 million to 5.2 million by 2016 - the assistance should be "deepened."

This would entail extending the assistance to beneficiary families until their children finish high school at the very least, she said. She also said the targeting system must be improved so that only truly poor families would benefit from the program.

For University of the Philippines professor Leonor Briones, the cost of implementing the 4Ps is too high even if the program reaches only a small portion of the country's poor. Latest statistics show that 27.9 percent of Filipinos live in poverty.

This year, the program has a budget of P44 billion, and is seen to increase further as the government aims to cover more beneficiaries.

Briones also warned that dole-out programs such as the CCT would breed dependency.

"Five years of continuous conditional cash transfers might develop dependency in a society which has very strong tendencies for dependency," she said at Monday's forum.

Ultimately, Reyes said CCT must go hand in hand with other anti-poverty programs. She said in her study that the program "may not be adequate to move people out of poverty in the long term."

"A package of interventions is needed, including those related to livelihood."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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