Elections and Poverty: Will Arroyo Beat the Odds?

Apr. 19, 2007

The Arroyo administration consistently asserts that voting for its candidates will mean an improvement in the economy. But will this election really put an end to poverty?

By Joseph Yu
IBON Features

MANILA — Wala rin mangyayari (Nothing will change).

This was the reply of Bong, 30, a pahinante (helper) when IBON Features asked him if he thought the upcoming May national and local elections would improve the condition of poor people like him.

Bong had been voting since he reached 18 and is currently a registered voter in Mangahan, Pasig City. Still, he expressed support for an opposition senatorial candidate with a youthful image.

Poverty will undoubtedly be a major campaign issue in the elections. Administration Team Unity senatorial candidates said they are undertaking campaigns in barangays to present the Arroyo governments 10-point Beat the Odds anti-poverty agenda to local leaders and residents.

But as the past elections have shown, Bongs statement rings a sad truth: the elections will have no effect on the lives of the poor.

Poverty, Defined

The present administrations lack of understanding– or deliberate deceit– of the root causes of poverty, were highlighted yet again by its responses when confronted by the growing problem of involuntary hunger among Filipino families. First, the president ordered concerned government agencies to alleviate the hunger problem within six months. Then, it released P1 billion for emergency hunger mitigation.

These are predictable responses for a government that views poverty in terms of manipulating figures to get desired results.

People should be considered poor if they have insufficient resources to maintain a decent standard of living and to develop to their fullest potential. But under the Arroyo governments poverty framework, people are poor if their incomes fail to come up to an unreasonably low poverty threshold (defined as the income an individual or family needs to meet their basic food and non-food needs and thus, be considered no longer poor).

According to 2007 poverty threshold figures from the National Statistical Coordination Board, a worker in Metro Manila who earns all of P1,612 a month or P53 a day already has enough to meet his or her basic food and non-food needs, and therefore government no longer considers them poor. For an average family with six members, the poverty threshold would be P9,672 a month or P318 a day.

But these amounts are clearly just enough– at best– to maintain the barest physical existence. This is validated by the National Wages and Productivity Commissions own living wage figures, which show that, as of January 2007, a family of six needs at least P721 a day, or more than double governments poverty threshold, to meet its food and non-food needs. IBON estimates that 8 out of 10 Filipinos are poor.

Using the poverty threshold, the government claimed that it had reduced the number of poor Filipinos from 25 million in 2000 to 20 million at present. But poverty cannot be alleviated, much less addressed, by such numerical manipulation. Poverty in the Philippines is deep-rooted and results from the unequal character of the countrys economic system, which is structured for the benefit of the interests of local and foreign elite. This inequitable structure has resulted in weak agricultural and manufacturing sectors, lack of jobs and livelihoods for the people.

Such situation is further exacerbated by the implementation of neoliberal economic policies starting in the 1980s, which opened the countrys markets to cheap imports, turned over public services to profit-oriented private companies and opened to foreign investors sectors previously restricted to local entrepreneurs and the state. In the process these policies have also destroyed livelihoods, led to widespread closures and retrenchments of local firms and driven thousands of farmers off their lands.

Thus, it should not be surprising that poverty continues to be a lingering social problem that has only gotten worse under an administration that does not even appreciate its root causes. In fact, it makes the problem worse by continuing to implement such damaging economic policies instead of those that would bring about genuine national development.

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