The Philippines’ welfare system offers no respite to the poor

A monthly allowance of 5,000 to 6,000 pesos is too little to help people living in poverty, say observers

A beneficiary receives a monthly stipend under 4Ps, a government social protection program for the poor in the Philippines. (Photo provided)

Posted: Oct 14, 2022 11:05 GMT

Updated: October 14, 2022 13:00 GMT

According to an audit report, a state-funded social assistance program that provides cash assistance to millions of poor families in the Philippines has failed to lift them out of poverty in recent years.

The report of the Philippine Commission on Audit (COA), published on October 13, indicates that 90% of the 4.3 million poorest families in the country who receive monthly allowances under the Pantawid Program Pamilya Pilipino (Bridging Program for the Filipino Family), also known as 4Ps, remained poor.

4Ps is a cash transfer program funded by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Families living below the national poverty line (earning less than 12,030 pesos or $204 per month) are eligible to receive 5,000-6,000 pesos ($85-102) per month under the program.

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In 2019, former President Rodrigo Duterte enacted the 4Ps program aimed at eradicating “extreme” poverty in the Philippines by addressing the health and education of the poorest families in 79 provinces of the country.

The report revealed that the situation of the poorest families remains the same despite receiving cash grants for years.

“It shows that intergenerational poverty reduction is still minimal despite the large sum of money distributed to millions of poor families,” COA representative Miguel Datian told UCA News.

This proved that government distribution projects had a “minimal” impact on poverty reduction, Datian said.

“We should really teach them (the poor) how to catch fish, not just give them fish. The large sum spent on the project could have been allocated to strengthen employment opportunities in the country or the health system,” he added.

A 4P beneficiary, Librado Grajo, 32, a mother of two from Tandang Sora in Quezon City in the capital Manila, said her family of five was struggling to survive on low income and insufficient cash grant.

Grajo, a laundress, and her husband Jose, 37, a taxi driver, earn about 12,000 pesos a month. They receive about 5,900 pesos from the government.

“We cannot survive with this amount. We mainly spend on food,” Grajo, a Catholic, told UCA News.

Despite the paltry amount, Grajo is still happy to receive the money.

“We are always grateful to have at least received something from the government. Instead of putting the amount in their pockets, at least they go to the poor,” she added.

The government’s anti-poverty program received total funding of 780.71 billion pesos ($15.6 billion) between 2019 and 2022, according to the report.

The amount spent on the program contributed to the country’s external debt rising to $98,479,781,367 in 2021, an increase of 17.77 percent from 2020, according to the Ministry of Finance.

Economic experts had predicted the outcome of the debt-financed program.

“The program required a huge amount of funding that we didn’t have then and now. It’s not sustainable and it’s loan-driven. Where have all the billions gone if more than 90% of its beneficiaries are still poor? JC Punungbayan, professor of economics at the University of the Philippines, told UCA News while alluding to the fact that at the end of August 2010, the Asian Development Bank (AfDB) approved a loan of $400 million.

The Catholic Bishops’ Commission on Population and Development recently cited AfDB data indicating that 23.7 percent of the country’s 110 million people live below the poverty line in 2021.

“The program has been in place for several years, has consumed billions of funds. Obviously distribution projects like this are not the solution,” commission secretary Fr. Carlos De Castro told UCA News.

Father Castro said the grant was used to build a politics of clientelism in poor communities where politicians “invest” money just to get votes in elections.

“A lot of politicians want this program because it builds their image of ‘generosity’ to the people even if it’s government money,” De Castro added.

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