Who should we listen to when the matter of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps is up for evaluation?
There’s the Commission on Audit (COA), which basically takes a dim view of the performance of the anti-poverty program.
It laments that after 13 years of receiving cash grants, about 90 percent of the active beneficiaries of 4Ps are still living below the poverty threshold.
The state auditing agency has even warned that most of them may be delisted from the program if necessary steps are not taken immediately.
The COA performance audit of 4Ps showed the government’s antipoverty program received a total of P780.71 billion in funding between 2008 and 2021.
It noted that there are a total 4.2 million active 4Ps beneficiaries who have been on the program for seven to 13 years.
But 90 percent of them, or a total 3,820,012 households, are still living below the poverty threshold.
The COA report showed that only 32,331 families, or less than 1 percent of the active households, have moved up the poverty line as of the fourth quarter of 2021.
“This shows that achieving breakage of inter-generational poverty is still minimal even when, in the past years, there was no term limit for being a 4Ps beneficiary,” it said.
If that’s the case, COA seemed to be saying, then the government is just throwing good money after bad units and, therefore, that should be discontinued.
But 4Ps has its staunch defenders. Former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo believes that the 4Ps should not be considered a ‘stand-alone’ program that can provide an immediate solution to poverty.
She said: “What the government should do is invest in clear economic programs that would create jobs and more programs that could help our fellow Filipinos, especially those who are below the poverty line.”
The current leadership of the Department of Social Work and Development, the implementing agency of 4Ps, said they “respect the COA performance audit report, but from our point of view and not to put the blame on anyone or any circumstances, let us remember that the one huge factor here is the pandemic.”
As of July, according to Social Welfare Secretary Erwin Tulfo, 1.3 million of the current 4Ps beneficiaries were to be delisted since they had “graduated” from poor to non-poor.
The conditional aid program was first implemented under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration and originally meant to encourage the very poor to send their kids to school and avail themselves of free health services, and it was regarded as a success in that regard.
In 2019, the 4Ps program was institutionalized under Republic Act 11310, or the 4Ps law.
But Albay Rep. Joey Salceda believes that 4Ps was “never meant to stand alone” and was always part of a bigger economic plan to revitalize urban and rural communities.” Poverty reduction, he maintains, “clearly requires a whole-of-government approach” and the 4Ps and similar projects are “not sufficient conditions” to reduce poverty without accompanying investments in rural development and urban poor communities.
That’s the proper way to approach it, from where we stand: 4Ps should really be part of a comprehensive economic development plan, not an end in itself.