Aquino gov’t borrowing billions for failed anti-poverty program

poor-filipinos

#BeyondElections2016 | The Aquino administration is borrowing more for an anti-poverty program of dubious anti-poverty impact, said research group IBON. Despite billions of pesos spent on the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) since 2011, poverty remains widespread and the program is failing even on its health-related conditionalities.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank in February both approved loans of US$400 million and US$450 million, respectively, for the 4Ps. These increase borrowing from the two multilateral institutions for the program to US$1.8 billion. IBON previously estimated that the government would be paying over US$1.0 billion in debt service for the initial US$805 million in loans from the ADB and World Bank.

The government budget for the 4Ps program reached Php295 billion between 2011 and 2016. This amount and its 4.4 million beneficiaries made the country’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program the fourth largest in the world after India, Brazil and Mexico.

IBON noted however that the number of poor Filipinos even by low official standards remains unchanged. Latest data from the Philippine Statistical Authority (PSA) reported official poverty incidence decreasing slightly from 27.9% in the first half of 2012 to 26.3% in the same period in 2015. But the improvement is so slight that the number of poor Filipinos remains at some 26.7 million.

Among the conditionalities for receiving the 4Ps cash dole-out are visits to health centers where children aged 0-5 years old are supposed to be immunized, children 0-2 years old will have monthly weight monitoring and nutrition counseling, and children 25 to 73 weeks old will have quarterly weight monitoring.

Yet Filipino children are suffering worsening malnourishment and declining immunization, said the group.  Latest data from the Food and Nutrition Institute (FNRI) report growing malnourishment among Filipino children between 2014 and 2015. The incidence of underweight children increased from 20.0% to 21.5% – implying 203,244 more underweight. The incidence of fully immunized children aged 12-23 months also decreased 68.5% to 61.9% which meant 629,113 less fully immunized babies.

All the leading presidential candidates have said that they will continue or even expand the 4Ps program if elected. But the next administration should resist the populist appeal of the 4Ps, reassess the program, and implement a genuine anti-poverty economic program, said IBON.<end>

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