, NOVEMBER 8, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo ordered yesterday the release of P1 billion more for anti-hunger measures as part of the government’s stepped up fight this year versus poverty.

Mrs. Arroyo ordered Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. to immediately release the amount during the Anti-Hunger Task Force meeting that she convened at the Manila Hotel.

She said the additional appropriation would be distributed to government agencies directly involved in the implementation of the government’s hunger mitigation program.

She said the hunger mitigation program seeks to address the unavailability or insufficiency of food as well as the lack of financial resources to purchase food items.

On the supply side, the measures include increasing food production through productivity programs like livestock, crops, mangrove and coastal fishery development, farm and irrigation; and, enhancing the efficiency of logistics and delivery of food items to end consumers through the development of more farm-to-market roads, full utilization of the Roll-On Roll-Off (RoRo) ports and terminals, increasing the construction of more Barangay Food Terminals and Tindahan Natin stores and the strengthening of school feeding programs.

On the demand side, mitigating measures include, providing income to the poor through aggressive micro-financing programs, more employment opportunities, livelihood and training seminars and the development of “other value-adding products” such as coconut for coconut coir and virgin coconut oil; promoting good nutrition through social marketing information seminars; and managing the population through responsible parenthood.

Mrs. Arroyo stressed that concerned agencies should focus their attention on the supply side as this would have the greatest and most immediate effect on ending hunger.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, who was at the meeting, updated Mrs. Arroyo on the agency’s anti-hunger programs.

Yap said his department has already attained its target of 3,000 kilometers of new and renovated farm-to-market roads and 5,000 kilometers more are being readied.

He said 7,765 Tindahan Natin convenience stores are now operating across the country.

Yap assured Mrs. Arroyo that with the P1 billion additional appropriation, the government’s target of 8,000 Tindahan Natin stores by the end of the year would be achieved.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, for his part, said that under the Food for School Program (FSP) with the Department of Social Welfare and Development, one kilo of rice is issued daily for 120 days to families who suffer from severe hunger and whose children are in pre-school and Grades one to six.

Other government agencies involved in the program are the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, National Irrigation Administration, National Food Authority, Department of Transportation and Communications, Philippine Ports Authority, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and local government units.

Survey results welcomed

Malacañang said the results of the latest SWS self-rated poverty survey showed that more people have benefited from the country’s economic gains.

“The common people are now feeling the benefits of a growing economy. The implementation of the much needed tax reforms contributed to the strengthening of the peso and the increase in investments,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

According to the SWS, self-rated poverty has been at a lower range of 47 to 53 percent since September 2006 compared to the 55 to 59 percent between December 2005 and June 2006.

“That decline roughly translates to five million Filipinos or one million families,” Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

Presidential Management Staff director general Cerge Remonde pointed out that the average self-rated poverty under the Arroyo administration is the lowest since the Marcos regime.

Remonde said that based on the records, the average self-rate poverty rate was at 55 to 74 percent during the Marcos administration; 51 to 72 percent under President Aquino; 58 to 70 percent for the Ramos administration; and 54 to 66 percent under President Estrada.

“The news that 52 percent rated themselves poor today is welcome. It is one of the lowest self rated poverty thresholds of this generation and it is happening under the Arroyo administration,” Remonde said.

Remonde emphasized that the President has remained focused on governance and on ensuring the growth of the economy amid “political noise.”

He pointed out that the government has undertaken several measures to address poverty and that all agencies and offices are involved in this effort.

“The strategies include putting money in the hands of people through MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) loans and the like, bringing down food costs by enhancing supply through Department of Agriculture programs and food for school and food for work programs among others,” Remonde said.

‘Red alert’

A group that claims to promote anti-poverty initiatives said the country is on “red alert status” regarding poverty despite government claims that it is addressing the issue.

Global Call to Action against Poverty-Philippines (GCAP) said the economic growth trumpeted by the government “does not trickle down” but “stays put with those who already have a lot.”

“Despite the government’s continuous rhetoric that eradicating poverty is its overarching goal; poverty continues to grow amidst the trumpeted economic growth,” it said.

“The government’s response to the calamity of poverty and hunger in the country is mere palliative to the root causes of the problem,” said Erning Ofracio, an urban poor leader from Kilusan para sa Makatarungang Lipunan at Gobyerno (KMLG), a member of GCAP-Philippines.

“Billions of pesos are put into these poverty and hunger mitigation programs that have been proven to be ineffective and a waste of resources as evident in the government’s recently concluded 6-month war on hunger, which by the end of its duration witnessed the record rise in hunger incidence, with one out of four Filipinos experiencing hunger, and now one out of two Filipinos who see themselves as poor,” Ofracio added.

The Third Quarter 2007 SWS survey showed that “self-rated poverty” rose in all areas, except in the Visayas where the figures actually went down.

GCAP-Philippines cited the results of the 2003 Family Income and Expenditure Survey, which showed that the income of the richest 10 percent was still 20 times the income of the poorest 10 percent.

The group pointed out that the net worth of the nation’s 10 richest individuals and families in 2006 was equivalent to the combined income of the country’s poorest 9.8 million households.

“But 45 million poor Filipinos have spoken; the admission of poverty in the recent surveys has unveiled the truth,” Ofracio said.

“We are facing a war on poverty and hunger but this war begins with the government facing up to the true state of poverty and hunger in the Philippines,” he said.

“If the government is really doing their job in poverty reduction, then why do they need external surveys to tell them that hunger and poverty is rising? In fact, if they were really doing their job, our people would not be facing worsening poverty and hunger,” he added. - with Marvin Sy and Katherine Adraneda

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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