Poverty, Dynasties: Main election issues

''Even in other dimensions of human underdevelopment, such as illiteracy and infant mortality, the Philippines had favorable initial conditions compared to its neighbors, especially Thailand and Indonesia. What had gone wrong?''

- Dr. Arsenio Balisacan (Poverty and Inequality, 2003)

The May 13 national and local elections are characterized by innovations in the automated electoral system, and the disqualification of a number of ''party-list'' parties pursuant to new Comelec implementing rules and regulations. Also, probably because Comelec has prescribed strict rules limiting candidates to just so many minutes of airtime on TV and radio, media networks have managed to engage and publicize senatorial ''wannabes'' (including those running independently) in various dialogues, debates, and public affairs programs in the effort to ''level the political playing field.''

The basic, most frequently discussed issues, however, still are (as before): POVERTY and POLITICAL DYNASTIES. The ABS-CBN network, principally thru its TV series ''Harapan'' and ''KampanyaSerye'' has, to its credit, carried out commendable background research and comprehensive primetime presentations involving the candidates, expert analysts, cross-sections of the electorate, and media hosts in interactive settings.

Surely, it will do everyone well to sit back, review, and reflect awhile on what the most important considerations are before going to the polls. After all, there are always two or more sides to any problem.

Poverty And Inequity

One of the most credible and insightful references on ''Poverty and Inequality'' is the chapter written by Dr. Arsenio Balisacan, now NEDA Director General (Secretary) in the P.Noy Cabinet, as part of the seminal compendium titled ''The Philippine Economy: Development, Policies and Challenges'' (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2003). The following are pertinent excerpts from Balisacan:

''While the Aquino Administration's central theme for poverty alleviation was rural development, it failed to address the single most important constraint to sustained development, namely, the poor state of rural infrastructure, particularly transport, electricity, and water, including irrigation. Indeed, during most of the second half of the 1980s and in the early 1990s, real public investment in agriculture and rural areas fell not only in relation to the total government budget but also in absolute terms...

''The Ramos Administration (1992-1998) de-emphasized agrarian reform as the key to poverty reduction and focused instead on accelerating the pace of economic growth, by building the international competitiveness of domestic industries, reforming regulation in services and industry (mainly in commercial banking, transportation, and telecommunications), and investing in basic infrastructure. But it also had a Social Reform Agenda for achieving its human development targets. A package of government interventions organized around 'flagship programs' for the country's 20 'poorest' provinces, the SRA is considered to be the first effort of the Philippine public administrative system to organize the various sectors of government toward securing so-called Minimum Basic Needs before attending to other demands of priority sectors. Indeed, overall economic growth accelerated under the Ramos Administration, and the welfare of the poor did respond respectably to this growth...

''The Estrada Administration (1998-2001) came to power with a lavish pro-poor agenda. It recognized the imperative of broad-based rural development to win the war against poverty. Its Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan for 1999-2004 identified the main elements of the development strategies required to spur growth and achieve sustainable development in rural areas. On the ground, the Estrada flagship program for poverty alleviation was Lingap Para Sa Mahirap (Looking After The Poor). The Lingap program involved the 100 poorest families in each province and city. They would be provided with a package of assistance including livelihood development, price support for staple foods, medical assistance, socialized housing, and a rural waterworks system.

''In practice, the Lingap budgets were largely pork barrels. But even if resources had reached the intended beneficiaries, the poverty outcomes would still have been inferior to those of other schemes tried in the recent past, including the SRA. Indeed, the poverty alleviation programs of the entire Estrada Administration did not go far beyond rhetoric...

''The ascension to power of the Macapagal-Arroyo Administration (in 2001) following the exit of the disgraced President Estrada gave birth to a new program for direct poverty alleviation. Dubbed KALAHI (Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan, or Joining Hands Against Poverty), the program covered asset reform, provision of human development services, creation of employment and livelihood opportunities, participation of so-called basic sectors in governance, and social protection and security against violence. While it is - at the time of writing - premature to assess its effectiveness, the program lack of focus, especially in view of the country's tight fiscal bind, casts doubt on what it will achieve. Moreover, it gives priority to major urban centers, especially Metro Manila, rather than rural areas where, nearly two-thirds of the poor live...

''In summary, the thrust and zeal to achieve sustainable poverty reduction as well as economic growth have certainly been present during the post-war period... During most of the 1990s, the emphasis shifted back to growth, though this time by exports and foreign investment. The late 1990s and turn of the 21st century witnessed a lavish pro-poor agenda centered on rural development.''

Reports/Comments On Today's Poverty

Cited below is a sampling of last week's front-page headlines and opinion-editorials in our major English broadsheets:

• ''Aquino Fails To Curb Poverty'' (The Manila Times, Mayvelin Caraballo, 24 April)

• ''PH Poverty Unchanged - 10% of Filipino Families Rated 'Extremely Poor''' (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Riza Olchondra, 24 April)

• ''Poverty Incidence Unchanged at 28%'' (Manila Bulletin, Edu Lopez, 24 April)

• ''Trickle Down Takes Time, Says Cayetano Of Economy'' (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Norman Bordadora, 28 April)

• ''Noy, Workers To Meet On Philippine Jobless Growth'' (The Philippine Star, Mayen Jaymalin, 29 April)

• ''The Right And Wrong Ways To Reduce Poverty'' (The Manila Times, Ricardo Saludo, 29 April)

• ''Kaya Natin! Leader Slams Bid To Link Gift Certificates To Polls'' (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Norman Bordadora, 26 April)

• ''Moody's Cite PHL As 'Asia's Rising Star''' (BusinessMirror, Atty. Jose Ferdinand Rojas II, 29 April)

• ''Poverty: The Good, Bad And Ugly News'' (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Dr. Cielito Habito, 30 April)

• ''Those Povery Numbers'' (Manila Standard Today, Gary Olivar, 30 April)

• ''The Haunting Image Of Poverty'' (Manila Bulletin, Hector Villanueva, 30 April)

On Dynasties And Related Corruption/Opportunism

• ''Influence'' (The Philippine Star, Ana Marie Pamintuan, 24 April)

• ''Corruption, Human Rights Abuses Persist'' (Manila Bulletin, Leslie Ann Aquino, 24 April)

• ''Bets Clash On Political Dynasties In PDI Forum'' (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 27 April)

• ''Dynasty, RH Stand for Crucial Senate Bets'' (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Amando Doronila, 29 April)

• ''About Political Dynasties'' (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, 29 April)

Re Other Issues: Infrastructure And Foreign Investment

• ''National Kidney and Transplant Institute Among World's Best PPP Projects'' (The Manila Times, Fatima Cielo Cancel, 24 April)

• ''No Happy Ending For PNoy At Catarman Airport: A Highway Runs Through It'' (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Michael Lim Ubac, 27 April). (Note: We know what PNoy went through at Catarman in our crash-landing in a PAF F-27 in December 1989 - but that's another story).

• ''PEZA And The Need For More Investments'' (Manila Bulletin, Andrew James Masigan, 29 April)

• ''Government To Exert Extra Push To Attain Inclusive Growth - NEDA'' (Manila Bulletin, Philippine Information Agency, 29 April)

• ''More Infra Projects To Restore Full Power In Mindanao'' (The Philippine Star, Delon Porcalla, 29 April)

• ''Bay Reclamation'' (Manila Bulletin, Floro Mercene, 29 April)

Let's Vote, And Vote Wisely

At this mid-term period of the Aquino III Presidency, it will do us well, as responsible Filipinos, to vote on May 13 and to vote wisely. What we're saying - and we've been saying these things before - is: Let's support PNoy - because PNoy is the skipper of our one and only ship ''Pilipinas'' and all of us are onboard, including rich, middle-class, or poor; Harvard PhD, high school grad, or unschooled; elderly, young, or unborn.

We only ask that our leaders, decision-makers, and CEOs be more Caring, Sharing and Daring for others (not just those in the family or dynasty) and for Mother Philippines, so that we can finally reduce poverty to the absolute minimum and build a better future for all Filipinos, especially for the younger ones after us. And, conceivably, soon enough after P.Noy, we shall achieve a position of respect, dignity and even admiration in the community of nations, a place of honor the Philippines once occupied.



Please send any comments to fvr@rpdev.org. Copies of articles are available at www.rpdev.org.