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Rising above poverty –– still an MDG challenge in CAR
by Harley Palangchao

When night falls, 37-year-old Shirley Torralba, a single mother for eight years now, hurries home with only a bowl of rice and a simple viand to feed her three children.

This is all she can afford after a whole day’s work of selling mangoes at Burnham Park.

“There are times when I go home with only P50 to P100 in my pocket after working for a day. Definitely, this amount is not enough even just for our food,” said Torralba, who was nursing her sick nine-year-old daughter Desiree while selling mangoes to visitors during the Holy Week.

Some few meters from where Torralba sells mangoes is 35-year-old visually impaired masseur Arsenio Sernadilla, who takes advantage of the influx of visitors who avail themselves of his service which pays P100 for a 40-minute session.

Like Torralba, Sernadilla has three young children with 10-year-old Mark as the eldest and one-year-old Carl as the youngest. His wife, Shirley, is also sightless but can attend to the needs of their children.

The families of Torralba and Sernadilla are among the poor families in Baguio based on the criteria adopted by the government.

If poverty incidence will be a yardstick in measuring how successful the government has been in achieving its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the Cordillera, it will show that so much still remains to be done especially in Abra, Apayao, and Ifugao.

The United Nations has set 2015 as the deadline for achieving the MDGs. With less than a year to go, CAR is showing very slow progress on the 10 indicators as reflected by data from the region’s National Statistical Coordination Board.

“The results of the MDG indicators should not cause panic for concerned government agencies or even local government units. Rather it should encourage them to step up their efforts more in achieving these development goals,” said NSCB Regional Coordinator Benjie Navarro.

Navarro and his staff members are working round the clock preparing briefings for Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mountain Province government officials on the survey results of their poverty incidence.

Reducing poverty and hunger is one of the eight primary targets of the MDGs. Universal primary education, gender equality, reduction of child mortality, improved women’s health, stoppage and reversal of the spread of TB, malaria and HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability, and global partnerships for aid, trade and debt relief are the other goals.

NSCB has submitted to the National Economic Development Authority, the policy-making agency of the government, its 2012 latest survey results. Records show at least 18 of 100 families in the Cordillera lived in poverty by the end of 2012.

From the 66,000 poor families in the Cordillera recorded in 2006 representing 392,117 individuals, only a slight decrease of poor families or 65,516 (373,740 individuals) in the region was recorded six years later. This would mean that only 18,377 families were able to rise above the poverty threshold in the past six years.

The government has two methodologies in determining poverty level in the country.

First, to be considered poor by government criteria, the income of an individual or a family should fall below the poverty threshold or the annual per capita income as defined by NEDA.

Simply, so as not to be classified as poor, an individual aged 18 and above should be able to afford more than P19,483 for food and non-food basic needs a year. For a family of five, they must be able to spend at least P97,417 annually or P8,117 monthly.

Torralba said she earns P5,000 at the most in a month. From this, P1,800 is automatically deducted for their rented unit at Holyghost and another P1,000 is set aside for water and electricity. This means the family of four has to make do with the remaining P1,200 for food and other expenses.

“While it’s true that I can earn P5,000 some months, there are months that I can only raise P3,000 to P3,500 especially when it’s raining on weekends,” said Torralba.

Sernadilla, for his part, said he can earn as much as P10,000 a month on peak seasons like Christmas and New Year, the Panagbenga Festival every February, and Holy Week.

Otherwise his income is seasonal, as his clients do not go out on bad weather.

“My wife is a plain housewife and our expenses reach to more or less P300 a day. We pay more or less P900 for city services a month,” Sernadilla said. His family has been living in a shanty at Dontogan barangay for almost eight years now.

Clearly, Torralba and Sernadilla belong to the thousands of poor in the region.

The second methodology in measuring poverty is based on the capability of an individual or a family to provide on a sustained basis for basic minimum needs such as food, health, education, housing and other basic necessities.

Among the poor sectors in the Cordillera, children, women, self-employed, and unpaid family workers accounted for the largest number of poor in the region.

Overall, the accounted poor families in the whole country in 2012 were pegged at 4.2 million equivalent to 23.7 million individuals.

Apayao and Ifugao poor households

Apayao, with close to 113,000 population as of May 2010, had the highest poverty incidence rate among families at 57.7 percent, equivalent to 13, 462 families or 68,970 individuals in 2012.

Sadly, poverty incidence in Apayao worsened from 2006 to 2012. In 2006, poverty incidence was 42.1 percent, which increased to 39.9 percent in 2009 and further went up to 54.7 percent by 2012. This means that the 50,259 poor individuals in 2006 grew to 68,970 individuals or an increase of over 18,000 poor folks in six years.

But in terms of magnitude, NSCB reported that Ifugao, with a population of 191,078 as of May 2012, had the most number of poor families in the Cordillera with 14,950 families living below the poverty line in 2012 or higher than 1,488 poor families recorded in Apayao in the same period.

The poverty incidence in Ifugao in 2006 was 28 percent or representing 47,647 poor individuals, which ballooned to 79,680 poor individuals or a poverty incidence of 42.4 percent in 2012, the highest in the whole region.

Fewer people in Abra, MP

Abra, with a total population of 234,733 as of May 2012, improved the most in terms of poverty incidence among families. From 49.3 percent in 2006, this improved to 48.8 percent in 2009 then to a low 37.4 percent by 2012.

This means that the 18,054 poor families in Abra representing 105,370 individuals in 2006 was greatly reduced to 13,914 poor families to 84,347 individuals in 2012.

Like Apayao, Abra, which has 27 towns, still belongs to the Club 20, or the country’s 20 poorest provinces.

With a population of 154,187 in 2012, Mountain Province, in a three-year period, showed the highest improvement in poverty eradication. From 74,191 poor individuals in 2009, this went down to 59,186 in 2012.

Kalinga, with 201,613 population as of May 2012, on the other hand, with a higher poverty incidence than Apayao in 2006 at 47.3 percent or 85,794 poor individuals, was successful in its anti-poverty alleviation programs. Six years later, the poverty incidence in the province was at 26.8 percent, or down to 53,786 poor individuals.

Benguet – better standard of living

Based on clustering of provinces with 5 being the highest for most improved anti-poverty programs, only Benguet among the six provinces in the Cordillera garnered a perfect rating of 5 while Ifugao, Abra, Kalinga, and Mountain Province got a clustered rating of 3. Apayao was the only province in the region under cluster 1 or the lowest cluster.

Benguet, including Baguio, which has a combined 403,944 population as of May 2012, improved its poverty incidence among families from four percent 5,773 poor families or 40,123 individuals in 2006 down to 2.8 percent or 5,121 poor families or 27,789 individuals in 2012.

In the last quarter of 2012, NSCB and NEDA reported people in Benguet enjoy better quality of life because of higher income and education indexes as compared to the other five provinces in the Cordillera based on the 2009 Human Development Index (HDI).

HDI is a composite index measuring achievements in three basic dimensions of human development, which are to lead a long and healthy life, to acquire knowledge, and to have access to resources needed for a decent standard of living.

Benguet has consistently tops the Philippine Human Development Report through the HDI standards. Gov. Nestor Fongwan told the Midland Courier in an interview last year the award can be attributed to many factors like good allocation of resources and coming up with programs and projects that are responsive to the needs of his constituents.

But despite the accolade, Fongwan said there is more to be done.

He said the provincial government has to step up more in delivering basic services to the remotest villages in the province, especially in areas not accessible by road.

“Aside from making these areas accessible by opening up roads, we also need to improve our health services to lessen cases of maternal deaths. We will focus on health financing,” Fongwan said.

CAR doing better than NL provinces

But while the Cordillera is lagging behind in achieving the MDG goals as the deadline nears, poverty incidence among families in the region is far better than other regions up north.

Nearby Region 1 has 154,712 poor families, which is slightly higher compared to the 130,965 poor families in Region 2 while Central Luzon has 240,079 poor families.

The Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao has 271,355 poor families or four folds higher compared to Cordillera, which up to now, is pushing for autonomy, which some sector claim may be the key to peace and development in the northern highlands.

And back to the families of Torralba and Sernadilla. While both have breadwinners, what they earn is below the poverty threshold. Still, both parents are not losing hope that their lives will soon improve with their kids showing strong determination to finish their education.

Despite their undeniably precarious economic status, both families are not beneficiaries of any anti-poverty program of the government.
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:: The electric dream goes on for Cordillera’s remote sitios
:: Bridging traditional and modern maternal care
:: CAR needs to double efforts in gender equality
:: Perspective on Cordillera’s progress along the MDGs
:: Aiming for a responsible and AIDS–free generation
:: Increasing forest covers and wildlife conservation glitches
:: The rewards, challenges of bringing children to school
:: The Millenium Dev’t Goals: Towards a better future
:: CAR’s own ‘branchifying’ festival–versions
:: Convergence efforts key to sustain gains beyond 2015
:: Mobilizing TB prevention initiatives through CorCat

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