THOUSANDS OF GOVT SCHOLARS USE STIPENDS FOR FAMILY NEEDS, THEN DROP OUT OF SCHOOL


[DSWD Secretary Corazon Soliman. INQUIRER.net FILE PHOTO]

MANILA, MAY 27, 2013
(INQUIRER) By Dona Z. Pazzibugan- College scholars under the government’s key poverty alleviation measure—the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program—face major challenges to remain in school and graduate.

In its first year of implementation in 2012, some of the 4,041 scholars under the Students Grants-in-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (SGP-PA) run by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) dropped out.

Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said the first few months of the school year required major adjustments for the scholars, most of whom had not been to school for some time and were stepping into a college campus for the first time.

“College is quite an adjustment. They drop out because it’s just so difficult and traumatic,” said Soliman in a news conference at the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) during the first SGP-PA general assembly.

She said some parents would come to the university and insist on taking their children home.

“So the adjustment is a major part of it, the adjustment to city living. There is also the academic adjustment,” Soliman said.

Introduced last June, the SGP-PA aims to give families who are beneficiaries of the CCT program a chance to send one child to a state college or university.

The SGP-PA has a P500-million fund while the DSWD budget for the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) under the CCT was increased to P45 billion from P40 billion last year.

The SGP-PA provides a maximum P60,000 grant per student a year consisting of P20,000 for tuition and other fees, P5,000 for books and a P35,000 stipend for board and lodging, transportation and clothing.

Soliman said there were times parents would go to the university to ask for their child’s stipend in order to feed the rest of the family.

“As a result, the scholars scrimp on their food,” she said.

One of the SGP-PA scholars, Ronald Omazon from Negros Occidental, saw a huge change in his life when he enlisted in the program.

Among the oldest at 29, Omazon completed his freshman year as an agriculture student at West Visayas State University in Iloilo.

The eldest of eight, Omazon grew up working on a sugar plantation.

“Instead of sugarcane, I now plant palay. I now know how to take care of pigs. I have learned that it is never too late. I can still dream,” he said.

The CHEd has 45,000 beneficiaries of its student financial assistance programs consisting of scholarships, grants and loans under a “study now, pay later plan.”

FROM SOCIAL WATCH PHILIPPINES ONLINE REPORT

2013 - Poverty and Inequality: After the rhetoric of the past, a look into the future

Poverty and Inequality: After the rhetoric of the past, a look into the future » Philippines By Marivic Raquiza Social Watch Philippines

The Philippines’ economic growth rates have averaged at 4.7 per cent since 2000, but only the elite few are benefiting.

In the meantime, poverty has increased, reaching to 26.5% in 2009. It is not so much the size of the economic growth, but its nature that matters.

This Southeast Asian country must craft a post-2015 development agenda that reclaims human rights as the normative framework, especially ensuring the right to education, health and decent work, and addressing the long-standing inequalities.

This includes completing the agrarian reform, imposing a progressive taxation system and revitalizing the manufacturing sector to ensure the creation of quality jobs.

A new international financial architecture is required to provide adequate policy space for countries like the Philippines to independently chart its own development agenda.

The aspirations and the reality that unfolded

When the Philippine government signed the Millennium Declaration in 2000, the clear mandate was to overcome poverty and its attendant problems.

Furthermore, the overarching framework of the 2011-2016 Philippine Development Plan is inclusive growth, defined as sustained, high growth that generates mass employment and reduces poverty. According to President Aquino, this is to be accomplished by “improving transparency and accountability, strengthening the macro-economy, boosting the competitiveness of industries, facilitating infrastructure development, strengthening financial sector and capital mobilization, improving access to quality services, enhancing peace and security for development and ensuring ecological security.”

However, twelve years since the signing of the Millennium Declaration and three years into the Aquino presidency, the above stated goals generally remain elusive. With just about two years to go before the expiry date of the MDGs, no less than the United Nations has described the Philippines’ performance in that respect as dismal, an observation that hews closely to the views of civil society and social movements (see Social Watch Report, 2010). Despite these assessments, the government claims that the country is generally on track to achieving most of the MDG goals.

In particular, poverty incidence for the first time increased from 2003 at 24.9% to 26.4% in 2006 and then increased a bit more in 2009 to 26.5%. Self-rated poverty and hunger, as measured by the Social Weather Station, a private survey outfit, have registered peak levels in the first quarter of this year. According to the 2009 Small Area Poverty Estimates, poverty worsened in the Philippines in the years 2006 to 2009 for young people, migrants and formal sector workers (each with 1% increase), and children and individuals in urban areas (with 0.3% increase). The poorest people today are fisherfolk (41.4%), farmers (36.7%) and children (35.1%). This means that development in the last decade has not benefited those who need it most.

However, economic growth rates have remained fairly respectable, averaging at 4.7 per cent since 2000. Today, government is proud of improved assessments from established ratings agencies as well as in competitiveness. It points to important conclusions. In the first place, it is not so much the size of the growth, but the nature of the growth that matters. In particular, it is clear that only the elite few are benefiting from economic growth. In 2011, GDP increased by US$17 billion; on the other hand, the collective wealth of the forty richest Filipinos rose by US$13 billion in the same year (or a collective 37.8% jump), as former government official Cielito Habito recently observed (1). According to Habito, this means that the increased wealth of the country’s richest forty individuals is equivalent to the bulk —76.5 per cent or more than three fourths— of the country’s overall increase in income last year, reinforcing perceptions of an “oligarchic” economy. Little wonder why the country’s Gini co-efficient —at .44— is among the highest in the region.

The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) (2010) argues that employment is the single biggest source of income for most people. It is what keeps most individuals and families alive, and determines their ability to access to a good life. However, it is not just access to jobs but quality jobs that allows people to combat poverty. One can have a job but still be poor.

Employment, much less quality employment, however, is not the reality for the majority of Filipinos.

In 2011, the Philippine unemployment rate stood at 7%, the highest compared to neighboring countries like Thailand at 0.7%, Vietnam at 2%, Malaysia at 3.1%, and Indonesia at 6.6%.

Furthermore, the 7% unemployment rate has stagnated in the last five years, underscoring the fact that this indicator is not sensitive to changes in labor trends because the country’s labor force is significantly composed of self-employed workers and unpaid family workers (Raquiza, 2010).

In countries like the Philippines where most people do not have adequate access to social protection, the majority of people have no recourse but to work in order to survive (ibid). It is in this context that the underemployment rate is the more meaningful indicator.

The underemployment rate has generally been high in the Philippines, registering a high average of 19.25% in the last ten years. In July of 2012, this shot up to 22.7% which means that Filipinos are working doubly, or triply harder, in order to make ends meet. The underemployed constitutes a significant part of the working poor in the country as of the 2009 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES), and can mostly be found in the agriculture, forestry and hunting sector.

Furthermore, the proportion of working poor in the country rose from 18.7% in 2003 to 27.2% in 2006, a counter-trend as the percentages are dwindling in countries like Vietnam and India. And like elsewhere in the world, Filipino women are disproportionately represented in the informal sector in both rural and urban areas.

Because of the bleak employment scenario, some eight million Filipinos have opted to work overseas. Their earnings, sent back to the country in the form of remittances at USD 20 billion annually, drive consumption spending in the country. Overseas remittances benefit families at the higher end of the economic ladder, underscoring how overseas labor migration exacerbates inequalities in the country (Raquiza, 2010).

The long-time phenomenon of jobless growth has not been arrested by the Aquino administration.

What went wrong?

There are a few bright spots about the Aquino administration, foremost of which is the President’s clean-up drive to address rampant corruption, which the previous government was famously known for.

As a result, there is no denying that public trust in government has increased, although partly abetted by a mainstream Philippine media that, many observe, tends to be kind to, even protective of, the President.

Since access to quality employment is one of the most sustainable paths out of poverty, it is important to point out that quality jobs generally come from the manufacturing sector.

In the case of the nearby countries such as Vietnam and India, structural changes saw movement from the agriculture sector to manufacturing and other sectors. Indeed, the labor-intensive nature of the manufacturing sector has high employment potential, including for the less-skilled workers.

Yet, a look at the structure of the Philippine economy point to a shrinking agriculture sector (from 25.1% of GDP in 1980, to 13.1% in 2009 to 12.8% in 2011), a declining manufacturing sector (from 25.7% of GDP in 1980, to 21.3% in 2009, and 19.4% in 2011) and a burgeoning services sector (from 36.1% of GDP in 1980 to 55.2% in 2009, and 55.7% in 2011).

The Philippines saw the dismantling of the manufacturing sector in the eighties due to the debt crisis that made it very difficult to import inputs needed by local industries.

Furthermore, the manufacturing sector has been on a decline because it “has not benefited from intra-regional trade because the country is stuck in low-value added industries such as semiconductors and assembly-type activities”, according to Rafaelita Aldaba of the Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS) (2). Simply put, the Philippines generally imports parts and reassembles these for exports with low value-added in the process.

Joseph Yap, also of PIDS, further states that “while trade in parts and components in manufacturing goods has been increasing in the Southeast Asian region, the contribution of the country’s manufacturing sector to the total economic output has deteriorated” (ibid). Citing UN data, he observed that the share of manufacturing in the Philippine GDP declined to 21.4% in 2010 from 27.7% in 1980.

For Filipino women, this means that the manufacturing sector, unlike in the 70s and 80s, ceased being a source of employment for them and they have since turned to trade and services, as well as domestic work in households (Raquiza, 2010).

The President, in his 2012 State of the Nation Address, points to the Business Process Outsourcing (BPOs), or more specifically call centers and allied industries, as important sources for job creation.

The reality though is that, while providing much into Philippine coffers (to the tune of USD 9 billion in 2010), call centers only contribute one percent to Philippine employment given its focus on skilled labor.

Generally speaking, the government’s development strategy is essentially “business as usual”: remaining focused on ‘growing the pie’, so to speak, with the implicit assumption that when this happens, jobs will be created, and poverty will be reduced.

In this development vision, the role of the private sector is enhanced through public-private partnerships (PPP), although this program was very slow to start and as a result, as of this writing, is still in the early stages of project development.

In terms of social policy, the government has placed a premium on the Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program (Pantawid Pamilya), a conditional cash transfer program patterned after those implemented in Mexico, Brazil and other countries. The lion’s share of social protection spending in the national budget is devoted to Pantawid Pamilya, whose allocation has been dramatically increasing every year since the program started in 2007, while the budget for other pro-poor programs has suffered by comparison.

The Pantawid Pamilya is a demand-side intervention to increase access to education and health services to poor children and pregnant mothers.

A study conducted by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) however shows that the majority of health and education centers in Pantawid Pamilya sites do not pass the quality benchmarks imposed by the Department of Health and Department of Education, raising serious questions about the quality of services provided in CCT areas.

For as long as the supply-side aspects are not addressed, investing huge amounts of funds constitute a huge resource leakage and waste of public resources on the part of the national government.

Furthermore, part of Pantawid Pamilya’s funding are loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which raises questions about its financial sustainability.

Furthermore, a small study conducted by Social Watch Philippines (SWP) among Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries reveal that while the latter are grateful for the conditional cash grants, they believe that what will generally get them out of poverty is access to jobs.

Indeed, in an attempt to respond to the popular critique of Pantawid Pamilya that it is de-linked from job provision, program planners are currently linking it up with livelihood programs. However, the efficacy of these programs bears watching.

As of this writing, program planners of the Pantawid Pamilya admit that they have yet to finalize a clear exit strategy to this five year program.

The main question remains: after five years, will beneficiaries exit from poverty or merely from the program? For as long as access to sustained employment in general, and decent work in particular, is not part of the equation of Pantawid Pamilya, public skepticism abounds about its effectiveness as a pro-poor program.

In the meantime, universal access to quality education and healthcare remain elusive goals, especially given the problem of underfunding.

It also worth noting however, that increased funding in these areas requires capacity-building on the part of the agencies involved to absorb and effectively utilize additional funds.

But increased social spending is critical on two grounds: one, from a rights-based approach, these constitute an important part of citizens’ entitlements, and two, these serve as important ingredients in shaping human development, especially in the creation of a healthy and productive force in the country.

Furthermore, access to universal social protection is a discourse that needs to be jumpstarted with government, given the latter’s pre-occupation with narrow targeting approaches, not to mention the fact that social protection programs (besides Pantawid Pamilya) are largely fragmented and underfunded.

The Post-2015 development agenda: another chance at getting it right

The starting point in crafting a post-2015 Philippine development agenda lies in reclaiming human rights as the normative framework in the articulation of policies and programs. And grassroots movements for social change comprised of poor and marginalized women, men and children, regardless of age, ethnicity, (dis)ability, sexual orientation, and geographic location should be key drivers in developing the post-2015 Philippine development agenda.

At the core of people's participation is building their potentials and capacities —whether they be children, youth or adults. Therefore, ensuring the right to education and health are keys in empowering people with knowledge, skills, critical thinking, participation abilities and well-being to enable them in their productive and political life.

To address long-standing inequalities in the country, redistribution and affirmation action must take center stage. This includes the long-standing quest for social justice by completing the agrarian reform program. Unfortunately, this quest is beyond reach more than ever as the newly created Save Agrarian Reform Alliance (SARA) recently scored the current administration’s dismal performance on agrarian reform, charging that it has the worst implementation rate and which is accompanied by rampant land conversion from agricultural to commercial lands.

Asset reform, including the need to reform the tax system to make it more progressive, are urgently needed. Financing these reforms must come from revenues generated from more progressive taxation system—meaning prioritizing direct over indirect taxation, and taxing more affluent spending, to name a few measures.

Consistent with the demand of poor women and men for sustained access to decent jobs, there is an urgent need to make job creation central in the development agenda and to revitalize the manufacturing sector. This underscores the need for structural change in favor of the more dynamic sectors and that will help ensure the creation of quality jobs (UNRISD, 2010).

This also means pushing for reforms in the international economic and financial architecture that will provide adequate policy space for countries like the Philippines to independently chart its own development agenda. In terms of climate change, while acknowledging that the Philippines’ contribution to greenhouse gas emissions lies in the vicinity of 1% and is therefore more focused on adaptation, any forthcoming industrial policy must be consistent with a low-carbon path of development.

Furthermore, the majority of poor women and men are in the agricultural sector. As such, considerable investments must be made to increase the incomes and productivity of small producers through credit facilities, irrigation, farm to market roads, and the like. It is also important for farmers and fisherfolk to have access to non-farm incomes. This also means that rural women must be provided with the necessary support facilities (e.g., daycare centers) and capacity-building activities in order to have greater access to sustainable livelihoods and employment.

Rather than the Pantawid Pamilya, social protection could better focus on setting up the universal social protection floor so that not only the targeted few, but everyone, is able to access the minimum requirements that will allow them to live a life of dignity.

Finally, as the poorest peoples are those located in conflict areas, and are socially excluded due to differences in culture, language, and the like, the post-2015 development agenda must include peace building and the promotion of cultural diversity.

References:

1. Habito, Cielito (2012), Economic Growth for All, in No Free Lunch column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer http://opinion.inquirer.net/31439/economic-growth-for-alldownloaded on Oct. 26, 2012

2. InterAksyon.com, the online news portal of TV5 (2012) http://www.interaksyon.com/business/29747/manufacturing-revival-key-to-p... downloaded on Oct. 26, 2012


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