“Mr. Duterte has been an unfocused, highly distracted Chief Executive.”
Rodrigo Duterte assumed the Presidency of this country in 2016 with a socio-economic agenda made up of ten items. At the top of the 10-item list were the elimination of crime, corruption and illegal drugs within six months and the ushering in of a Golden Age of Infrastructure. The elimination of widespread poverty was not near the top of the list.
It should have been. Shorn of high-flown rhetoric and reduced to the barest essentials, the principal responsibility of a government is the elimination of widespread poverty among the citizenry. That is the core of the social contract that the people of a country enter into with their government. When a government leaves office as poor as when it started its term, it has failed to comply with its contractual obligation. That is the state of affairs as the Duterte administration begins to wind down its six years in office.
There is no precise numerical definition of widespread poverty. The closest that economists have gotten to numerically defining widespread poverty is the laying down of a poverty line, i.e., a line running through a level of income separating a person’s ability and inability to pay for the daily basic needs of a five-member family. Those who have incomes below the poverty-line figure are officially said to be experiencing poverty; widespread poverty is said to exist when a high percentage of the population have incomes lower than the poverty line. A famous writer, using prose, has described a poverty-line income as the amount of income that makes it possible for a person to “keep body and soul together.”
During the last few decades the Survey of Household Incomes and Expenditure undertaken by the government every three years has regularly found the incidence of widespread poverty in this country – Filipinos living below the poverty line – to be between 20 percent and 25 percent of the population. The findings of the private survey firm SWS (Social Weather Stations) have been approximating the findings of the government surveys. That percentage of the national population translates to between one out of four and one out of five Filipinos. In a number-of-families terms, that’s around 4.3 million families.
Two days ago, in their last-of-the-year briefing, the nation’s economic managers stated that around one out of every four Filipinos was living in poverty. Given the crushing effect of the pandemic on jobs and incomes, I am inclined to believe that widespread poverty now involves more than 1 out of 4 Filipinos.
Granting that it did not accord the highest priority to the elimination of widespread poverty, the administration of Rodrigo Duterte has made little progress toward pushing many Filipinos above the poverty line. How could it, when Mr. Duterte has been an unfocused, highly distracted Chief Executive?
With inefficient use of fiscal resources, pursuit like the so-called war on drugs and insufficient dedication to economy-enhancing programs, the outgoing administration really never gave widespread-poverty elimination a chance.