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PNoy doubts poverty data

Statistics exec: We stand by data we released President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday raised doubts on the veracity of the government’s own poverty statistics after data from the National Statistical Coordination Board showed that 28 of every 100 Filipinos were poor. “I have my doubts. Did they not make a wrong report on the population?” Mr. Aquino said, referring to an error by the National Statistics Office in which the wrong population data was used for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2009. The President, speaking from the sidelines of the Leaders’ Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, stopped himself from making further comments on the statistics that showed the number of poor families in relation to the total population had remain unchanged since 2006. “The NSCB might feel slighted,” he said. “These are off-the-cuff remarks that were on top of my mind.” The Manila Standard had been trying to reach NSCB chief and Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan for the last two days, but the calls and messages were unanswered. But economist and former Economic Planning secretary Solita Monsod said Mr. Aquino may have been referring to the erroneous population data that the National Statistics Office – not the NSCB – issued in 2009. She also said the 2012 data cited by the NSCB was based on the 2010 census, and therefore did not use the erroneous 2009 data from the NSO. Bernadette Balamban, the chief of the NSCB division that released the poverty statistics, confirmed that the NSO, not the NSCB, released erroneous data in the past, but the poverty statistics had no relation to the wrong NSO data. “We used data from the Family Income and Expenditures Survey for 2006, 2009 and 2012, based on the 2010 population report. Our report had nothing to do with the 2007 data,” said Balamban, who was among NSCB officials surprised by the President’s remarks in Brunei. “As part of the Philippine statistical system, we have independence from policy makers. That’s why we are a separate office. We stand by the data we released,” Balamban said. The President, however, noted how the NSCB report may have been skewed since poverty incidence dramatically increased only in Region XII and in the ARMM. “The whole country is not composed of two regions. There are only two regions that had dramatic increases in poverty levels. May I point out that one of them is ARMM, and if you factor in the population report on ARMM in 2009, then you have to ask how reliable is this?” he said. “Are you comparing apples to apples?” the President added. The President appeared to be displeased with the report of the NSCB, which is under the National Economic and Development Authority, and even questioned the timing of the release of the report. “NEDA released it just about the same time a copy was given to me,” he said. “They did not even give me 24 hours to study the report.” But Balamban said the release of official government statistics is scheduled in advance and it has been the established practice in the NSCB to submit certain statistical reports only the day before its release to the public. “We have a practice to submit reports on national accounts and poverty incidence to the NEDA only the day before it is released to the public,” Balamban said. “So far, we at the NSCB have never been accused of skewing or doctoring data.” Economist Benjamin Diokno, who was budget secretary from 1998 to 2001, said official government data is  used not only for poverty reports, but also for data on economic growth. “As President he should show better judgement. He can’t choose what official statistics to believe in. Otherwise, he puts pressure on government statisticians to doctor official statistics,” Diokno said. But Mr. Aquino admitted that it will take a while for the efforts of the government to address poverty to be felt at the grassroots. “Obviously they want dramatic changes. There has been reduction in the poverty levels in the rest of the regions,” he added. NEDA director general Arsenio Balisacan appeared to bear the brunt of the President’s displeasure and was bumped off the Brunei trip. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, however, said Balisacan was left off the Brunei trip not because of the release of the unflattering statistics, but because the Asean meetings would focus on trade instead of development issues. The opposition was unconvinced. “Being booted out of the ASEAN trip was the price Secretary Balisacan had to pay for telling the truth,” said United Nationalist Alliance senatorial candidate and Zambales Rep. Maria Milagros Magsaysay. Instead of praising him and finding solutions to the problem, Magsaysay said, the President booted Balisacan off the plane. “He should not be punished for exposing the true extent of the poverty problem in the country. President Aquino should take it as a challenge and make poverty alleviation a cornerstone of his administration and not just lip service,” Magsaysay said. Senatorial candidate and Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino also pooh-poohed the Moody’s Analytics calling the Philippines “Asia’s rising star.” Casino said “unreachable star” was more apt because the much-touted 6.6 percent economic growth has not reached the grassroots level where the poorest of the poor belong. “Stars rise and fall. We want to be superstar or star for all seasons. But to reach that, the government should be looking into comprehensive solutions to address widespread poverty in the country,” Casino said. Magsaysay agreed with Casino and advised President Aquino to spend more time on the ground among the regular folk before he gauges the veracity of the data released by the NSCB. Magsaysay also twitted the President for expressing doubts over the accuracy of the report. “President Aquino is basing his doubts on what his people have been reporting to him but has he seen how the regular Filipinos live? Does he know how the regular Filipinos scrimp to make ends meet with what little wages they have?” Magsaysay said. “If he believes that there was a dramatic improvement in the living conditions of the poor, then why are the regular folk still reeling from the high prices of oil and goods? Why are those in the agricultural sector still considered isang kahig isang tuka? Why do parents still go into debt to send their children to school?” she said. Gabriela Reps. Luzviminda Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus said the latest poverty statistics were proof of the Aquino government’s failed economic policies. “While President Aquino mouths economic gains, the 3.3 million poor families who suffer from poverty and the 11.7 million Filipinos still jobless claim otherwise. Aquino’s development is only in his imagination and it exists only for the benefit of big landed families, big businesses and multinational companies,” Ilagan said. “No different from its predecessors, the Aquino government has always pushed for further liberalization and privatization of the key national industries and utilities. Aquino’s flagship program, Public-Private Partnership or PPP allows the wanton plunder of our minerals, energy resources, and human resources. This further marginalizes the poor while the big foreign businesses are reaping windfall profits,” De Jesus said. De Jesus said the students’ right to education was at risk because of budget cuts. Health services and housing projects are not accessible especially for the poor, she added. After the release of the NSCB report, analysts reiterated the need to boost agriculture and manufacturing. “What we need is a solid economy that will create jobs with adequate wages,” Casino said. Senator Francis Escudero, who is running for re-election under the administration banner, said the latest poverty figures challenged the Aquino government to make economic growth inclusive and sustainable. “At least our economy is growing and the challenge is how it can be felt by the poor,” Escudero said at a forum Thursday. For economic growth to be felt by the poor, it should be maintained for at least two years, he said. “And these can be attained if we are to continue the righteous path program of President Noynoy Aquino and the private sector investing in real and actual hard assets and not merely in stocks,” Escudero said. Another candidate running under the administration banner, Senator Loren Legarda, said the government had existing social programs to benefit the poor. “Progress and poverty alleviation do not happen overnight. Let’s give more time to the administration to carry out its poverty alleviation programs for the poor,” she said, echoing a call by the Palace a day earlier. She cited the Aquino government’s 4Ps program, a P40-billion cash dole for the poor, as an approach to reduce poverty. She said there is also the universal health care program which will soon become law that will provide free health care benefits to the 25 million poorest Filipinos. With Christine F. Herrera, Macon Ramos-Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz
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