By Alito L. Malinao|
MANILA, Nov. 15 (Xinhua) -- A survey conducted in early September by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), a reputable polling firm in the Philippines, showed that the number of Filipino families who rated themselves poor and those who have experienced hunger have gone up despite the 21-billion-peso (about 486 million U.S. dollars) cash dole-out program of the government of Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino.
The survey results have prompted critics of conditional cash transfer (CCT) to say that the flagship program of the Aquino administration has not been effective in alleviating poverty and hunger, particularly among the poorest Filipinos.
The SWS Sept. 4-7 poll, which was first published by the Business World, a leading business daily in Manila, showed that 52 percent or some 10.4 million households considered themselves " mahirap" or poor, up by 3 percentage point from June when the self- rated poverty was only at 49 percent or 9.8 million households.
Respondents who said that they were poor in terms of food (self- rated food poverty) accounted for 41 percent or 8.2 million households, a rise from 36 percent or 7.2 million households three months ago.
The survey also showed that self-rated poverty rating rose in Luzon (excluding Metro Manila) to 53 percent, a 15-point rise that erased decreases noted in Metro Manila (39 percent, from 43 percent), Visayas (53 percent, from 61 percent) and Mindanao (57 percent, from 62 percent).
In Luzon (excluding Metro Manila), the self-rated food poverty again showed a two-digit surge to 45 percent from 28 percent. Fewer families said they were food-poor in Metro Manila (25 percent, from 28 percent), Visayas (39 percent, from 48 percent) and Mindanao (44 percent, from 45 percent).
The Sept. 4-7 survey also showed that one in five households -- 21.5 percent or an estimated 4.3 million families nationwide experienced having nothing to eat in the last three months.
This was up from the four-year low of 15.1 percent recorded in June and a point worse than the 20.5 percent recorded in March.
The latest hunger figure -- 7.5 points above the 13-year average of 14 percent -- is the worst so far for the Aquino government but is still below the record 24 percent hit in December 2009 during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The survey showed that severe hunger was highest in Metro Manila, rising by 4.6 points to 6.3 percent, the highest since the 7.3 percent recorded in December 2009 and 2.8 points above the 13- year average of 3.5 percent.
Despite these alarming survey results, the Aquino administration remains confident that in the long-term the CCT would be able to address the lingering poverty and hunger problems in the country, particularly among the poor schoolchildren, the main beneficiaries of the program.
Secretary Corazon Soliman of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the main implementer of the CCT, said that from 800,000 beneficiaries when the Aquino government took over in June last year, the CCT now covers 2.23 million Filipinos as of September this year.
The CCT is being funded through a 400-million-U.S.-dollar loan approved last September 2010 by the Asian Development Bank. Recently, the government announced that the World Bank has approved a 100-million-U.S.-dollar loan as additional funding for the CCT.
The bulk of the funds for the CCT, however, come from the national budget. Next year, the CCT would have a total funding of 39 billion pesos (about 902 million U.S. dollars) to be included in the DSWD budget.
Under the CCT program, which is patterned after that of Mexico and Brazil, the government, through the DSWD, would distribute a maximum amount of 1,400 pesos (about 32.55 U.S. dollars) per month to poor families covered by the program.
Some legislators, including allies of President Aquino, have questioned the wisdom of the CCT program.
Earlier, in a signed manifesto, some 30 members of the House of Representatives said that the CCT is "a costly palliative, an unsustainable program of dole-outs that will perpetuate the politics of patronage and encourage a culture of mendicancy in the country."
The lawmakers urged the Aquino administration to instead adopt a long-term strategy to address the root causes of poverty through asset redistribution and job generation.
A study published by the Poverty Reduction, Equity and Growth Network (PEGNet), titled "Conditional Cash Transfer Programs and their Impact on Poverty Reduction: Lessons from Mexico and El Salvador," also revealed that the CCT program alone could not result in poverty reduction.
It said: "CCT programs are not a panacea against poverty and social exclusion and its limitations should be addressed by creating other strategies which focus on more comprehensive policy reforms such as the creation of productive options, temporary employment programs, access to micro-credit and micro- entrepreneurial opportunities, among others."
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