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Monday, May 27, 2024

War on poverty should be the priority

“Poverty reduction remains an elusive goal that the new administration must tackle head-on”

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During the recent electoral campaign, the Marcos-Duterte tandem adopted “unity” as its overarching theme.

Now that it has won the crucial political exercise with plenty of votes to spare over the team’s nearest rival, unity should be defined in concrete terms.

Instead of a war on drugs that the outgoing Duterte administration practically adopted as its centerpiece program right at the start, the incoming Marcos administration should focus on unity in fighting poverty as its central thrust in the next six years.

In other words, the new administration should pursue unity by all sectors in fighting poverty as its overarching goal.

It should not only be a whole-of-government approach but rather a whole-of-society effort.

What this means is that every department, bureau and agency should be given targets to be achieved on a yearly basis in fighting poverty.

The main revenue generating agencies should be made to set realistic tax collection targets within the next 6 years.

The question is this: Can we hope to reduce poverty levels in this country in the next 6 years? Is it possible to reduce absolute poverty from 20-25 percent to a manageable single-digit?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in the second quarter of 2020, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said it expected the country’s poverty rate to be halved by the end of the current administration’s term in 2022.

“This would be the first time in history that the poverty rate will be halved in just six years, a significant contribution and achievement of this administration,” according to the Economic Planning agency.

Statistics show that the country’s poverty incidence dropped to 16.6 percent in 2018, averaging a reduction of 2.23 percentage points per year, making the previous target achievable by mid-2022.

The decline was also broad-based, as all regions, except ARMM, recorded a decline in poverty incidence among the population.

At the time, NEDA attributed the decline in poverty to sustained growth that generated jobs for the poor, increased incomes of the poor that outweighed inflation, the implementation of social programs like conditional and unconditional cash transfers and pensions, population and family planning program, and less extreme weather conditions.

“Inclusive, job-generating growth and better-targeted programs helped increase the incomes of the poor. For those in the bottom 30 percent of the population, mean per capita income increased by 31.9 percent, outpacing the income growth of those in the top 20 percent of households,” NEDA said.

The government, it added, must continue to generate more quality jobs, increase the income of the poor, reduce the vulnerability of the poor through social programs and financial literacy, and speed up the implementation of the National Program on Population and Family Planning.

But COVID-19 ended the effort to lift even more Filipinos out of poverty as economic activity took a nosedive, sending many workers out of jobs and government scrambling to revive the economy.

Two years later, poverty reduction remains an elusive goal that the new administration must tackle head-on.

At this point, it is instructive to look at the example of our next-door neighbor China in fighting poverty.

When Xi Jinping became president, he made the eradication of poverty a key target of his administration.

He exhorted the party and the government to “win the tough battle of ending poverty,” and urged provincial and municipal officials to look after those most in need in their region.

He pledged to wipe out poverty by 2020 and to build a “moderately prosperous society.”

In total, more than 850 million Chinese people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in the past 40 years, according to the World Bank.

The country’s poverty rate — defined as the percentage of people living on the equivalent of US$1.90 or less per day — fell from 88 percent in 1981 to 0.7 percent in 2015.

China has achieved its goal of ending absolute poverty in 2020.

Its poverty reduction campaign is comprehensive and is aimed at ensuring that no one in the countryside has to worry about food, clothing, housing, basic education and health care.

Beijing’s strategy to achieve its poverty alleviation targets included several measures.

Among them are developing industries such as tourism and e-commerce to help people in the rural areas find a job after occupational training; relocating people living in geologically hazardous areas prone to earthquakes or landslides, or are based in remote areas; ensuring children get a basic education or occupational training to prevent poverty passing down the generations; developing public health services in poor areas as medical bills are a frequent cause of families falling into poverty, and ensuring the elderly and infirm will be eligible for social security payments.

But experts are saying that poverty alleviation efforts will not come to a halt after the goal is reached.

Even as basic poverty is eradicated, there will be relative poverty in different sections of society, which will have to be addressed by the central leadership with decisive measures.

China’s successful effort in licking absolute poverty holds important lessons for other developing countries, including the Philippines, and we ought to study the lessons that we can apply to our own specific circumstances and concrete conditions.

(Email: ernhil@yahoo.com)

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