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Poverty reduction as primary election agenda in Cordillera
Rogerson Fernandez

FILIPINOS DESERVE BETTER -- The general elections on May 9 is a time when platforms, principles, and values must win over money, ambition, and greed. Candidates and the electorate must push for issues that matter, issues that will redefine the lives of more than a quarter of the population who remains poor. -- HFP

It is election season once again and as expected, the political circus has made every day leading to the May 9 polls a colorful fiesta of posters and sorties, and the streets a frenzied route of vehicles playing campaign jingles. As candidates continue to woo voters to get the ovals shaded opposite their names on election day, the litany of promises begin.

In a country where politics of patronage has long been the culture, poverty (if not the proposed solutions) always made it on top of the long list. People, especially the poor, have always wanted to listen to anything that would benefit them. Who does not want a better life anyway? Soon, the sweetest orations on gifts, cash donations, and many other favors and endowments will again fill the air. What comes after the election, however, is another story.

Over the years, it is disheartening that the central, multi-faceted issue of poverty has remained many politicians’ capital to win votes. After getting elected, the same politicians fail to translate their promises into specific policies that should have helped alleviate poverty and improve the lives of the poor. It is also saddening that in this democracy, election has become a vicious cycle of fast doles and broken promises. The poor have long been exploited of their poverty and their vulnerability. And this exploitation has to stop. What the country needs at this point is an informed, empowered electorate to change the system. At the same time, there must also be change on how politicians frame what should matter during election day. These changes must begin now.

What candidates (and voters) must know

There are few things that candidates and voters must recognize to help them appreciate how and why po-verty should matter. 

First, we must acknowledge the country’s recent economic gains. Yes, there is growth. Data from the National Economic and Development Authority shows a six-year average growth rate of 6.2 percent, the highest growth in the last four decades of the country’s history. The Philippines has been able to maintain this substantial growth, the latest seen at 5.8 percent last year.

In addition, the Philippine economy has been transitioning from an agriculture-based to one that is based on services and industry. According to NEDA, the agriculture sector contracted by 0.3 percent in 2015 while the services sector, dubbed to be the main driver of last year’s economy, accelerated by 0.8 percent.

Amid this economic growth, however, many poor Filipinos are still left behind, making the Philippines one of the most unequal countries in Asia and the world. For the first half of 2015, the Philippine Statistics Authority recorded poverty incidence at 26.3 percent of the population slightly lower than the 27.9 percent recorded in 2012. While there is downtrend in the country’s poverty incidence, more than a quarter of the entire population remains poor. In addition, although unemployment shrank to 5.8 percent early this year, the number is still one of the highest in the Southeast Asian region.

We have been wanting and pushing for inclusive growth, a state where the gains of the economy benefit all sectors of society especially the poor. But what is preventing inclusive growth in the country? According to the 2010 and 2011 Philippines Development Report of the World Bank, the major factors include high and persistent income inequality, unequal sector and regional growth distribution, structural barriers on mobility across sectors and regions, and high exposure to a variety of natural disasters. These are the same challenges that aspiring government leaders must adopt in their platforms to make their campaigns relevant.

We cannot say that past leaderships including the current administration did nothing to address the challenges, thanks to new policy directions adopted in recent years. Recent poverty statistics from NEDA also indicated a steady decline in income inequality. In particular, the income of the bottom 30 percent of the population has been increasing faster than those in the higher income categories. In addition, government allocation for social services is in its record high with the Education, Health, and Social Welfare departments receiving major budget hikes. While the Philippine government has steadily improved its expenditure on critical areas such as infrastructure, health, education, and other social services, there is still a pressing need to boost spending.

Are we on the right track? Yes, but we need to do more.

What can be done

An improvement in the overall image of the bureaucracy is needed to sustain growth. As we have seen in the last five years, an aura of good governance in the executive contributes to the overall improvement of the country’s investment climate by ensuring confidence from the business sector. Government leaders must therefore pursue transparency and accountability as their major principles of governance.

Furthermore, infrastructure support on transportation, social services, common service facilities including advancements in information and communications technology are also needed to boost local economies. Infrastructure growth (not only among urban centers) must now allow the regions to flourish and interconnectivity of the regions through infrastructure and technology must now be established. As industries rise and as agricultural lands shrink, policies to protect the local economy and the labor market must be greatly considered by local councils and chief executives.

Investment in human capital specifically on health and education must continue to ensure the future of the younger generation. As a proven mechanism for human capital development across the globe, the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program must be expanded and extended to cover all eligible families in the country. The debate on CCT must now stop. It is time that government institutionalizes it through a CCT law. Yes, CCT works and therefore must continuously be enhanced. But we must bear in mind that it is not a magic pill. It needs supplements. The CCT aims to help reduce poverty in the long term because it builds the very foundation of health and of knowledge and skill set of many poor Filipinos who will be joining the future labor market.

And while the CCT focuses on conditions in health and education of the young, the quality of all levels of education must also be improved in the course of the K to 12 implementation. The Philippine educational system must continue to provide for superior knowledge base and technical skills development to guarantee better paid jobs for more Filipinos especially those who would be employed in the leading services sector.

All levels of government must also continue to boost wealth creation programs and projects among the poor. While CCT programs cushion impacts of sudden shocks such as inflation or calamities, the poor’s participation in the labor market and local industries supported through scholarships, grants, and loans (access to financial aids) ensure a more sustainable livelihood and a higher income among poor families. With these, they become less vulnerable to economic shocks. At the same time, social capital must be built with strong social insurance and social safety net programs especially among the informal sectors of society.

Building disaster-resilient communities must also be a major goal of government leaders. Taking lessons from Typhoon Yolanda, all levels of leadership must recognize and address vulnerabilities from the individual to the community levels. Major shocks, including natural disasters, greatly affect the poor, hamper increase in their income, and their overall level of wellbeing. Hence, leaders must formulate and promote localized policies on disaster risk reduction and management in order to mitigate impacts on the poor.

Policy and program choices among present and future government leaders especially those that will address poverty must be well informed. For instance, well-targeted social protection programs are better using objective means such as the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction that has dramatically reduced leakages compared to programs without a targeting system.

A major opportunity

The elections on May 9 is one major opportunity for candidates and voters to make a difference and to achieve inclusive growth. It is the time when platforms, principles, and values must win over money, ambition, and greed. Candidates and the electorate must then mutually push for real issues that matter during the election period – issues that will (re)define the lives of more than a quarter of the population who remains to be poor.

Poverty remains a big challenge for the country, its leaders, and its people. Many great nations of the world went through the same situation in the past and were able to reduce it dramatically. We, too, must believe that it can be alleviated soon and it can only be achieved through effective policy choices among our leaders – policies that need to be translated into operative programs and projects. We need innovations in government that will allow people to realize their dreams of a better life. We need more projects that empower communities by making them not just mere spectators but also active collaborators. We want leaders who will listen to and will work hand in hand with their constituencies.

This election, candidates must recognize the need to prepare themselves better for the electoral exercise not only by preparing lengthy speeches for campaign sorties but by looking deeper into the country’s (and their constituents’) situation. It is time that politicians elevate the debate on policy options and their corresponding programs and platforms, not on allegations, scandals, and personal attacks. The Filipino deserves better.

Conversely, for us voters who are the more powerful actors this election, we must vote for candidates who have clear policies that address the most pressing problems in our communities. We need leaders who are able to lay down concrete plans of action including their clear stands on issues.

The realization of our aspirations as a people will rely heavily on  (y)our vote. The challenge then is to choose visionaries, leaders, and policymakers who will champion the future. On May 9, we must think beyond ourselves and beyond our generation. If the future of this nation and of the millions of poor Filipinos matter to us, then poverty should matter on election day.
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Cordillera Career Development College
Department of Tourism – CAR
Department of Trade and Industry – CAR
Informatics Institute
Medline International Training Institute

Baguio Central University
Baguio Multicultural Institute
Department of Agriculture – CAR
Department of Health – CAR
Department of Tourism – CAR
Fox Elite Immigration Consultancy
King’s College of the Philippines
Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan
Philippine Veterans Bank
Philippine Women’s University – Baguio
Pines City Colleges
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Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Benguet
Sutherland Global Services
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Assumption Medical Diagnostic Center
Baguio Center Mall
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Banco De Oro
Barangay 92.7 FM
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources – CAR
C & Triple A Supermart
Congressman Ronald M. Cosalan
Cordillera Kidney Specialists, Inc.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources – CAR
Department of Public Works and Highways – CAR
Department of Science and Technology – CAR
Department of Trade and Industry – CAR
Fabulo Beauty and Image Salon
Far East Pacific Commercial
John Hay Management Corporation
Mother Earth Deli Basket
Nagomi Spa
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration
Philex Mining Corporation
Philippine National Police – Police Regional Office – Cordillera
Pines International Academy Inc.
Pugad: Pugo Adventure
Rianella Printing Press
Social Security System


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