Philippines plans to lift millions out of poverty

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 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, fueled by the huge remittances of almost 10 million Filipinos working overseas.

Balisacan said that, as part of the remodeling 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. — Agence France-Presse