Opinion


Pantawid, politics and that P19-B figure




Surveil
Amina Rasul


Posted on July 14, 2015


Recently, the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Management (DSWD) came under attack. Again. More popularly known as 4Ps or Pantawid (Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program), political commentators seized on a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) which stated that close to P19 billion of the 4Ps budget did not go to the poor.

Cash grants have helped to bring about near-universal enrollment of elementary age children (6 -- 11 years old). Pantawid mothers are more likely to seek pre- and postnatal care and deliver babies in health facilities. Child labor among participating households has decreased by an average of seven days per month. -- AFP
What?! I have been a member of the program’s National Independent Advisory and Monitoring Committee for over two years now and was shocked by the figure. So I did my own research.

It seems that the media’s source was the ADB publication Learning Lessons, which said: “The inclusive growth study noted that improvements are needed in the program’s targeting system.” Where did the P19-billion figure come from? This is where it gets amazing. The footnote of the ADB document referred to a study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), which estimated a leakage rate of nearly 30% using 2009 data.

In 2009, the CCT Program’s budget was P8.3 billion, and the total number of beneficiaries was 777,500. Assuming the PIDS estimate of 30% was correct, then the amount of the purported leakage (based on the 2009 budget) would be P2.4 billion. How did the media come up with P19 billion? Simple. They applied 30% to the current budget (P62 billion). Voila! -- P19 billion, give or take P400 million. I may not be that great at math, but even a 4Ps high school beneficiary would know better than to use an outdated 2009 figure and apply it to 2015 data.

Assuming a 30% leakage is correct, the actual amount would be only 13% of the P19 billion figure thrown about by some so-called political commentators.

However, the estimate of 30% is a matter that requires investigation. As Yul Brynner as the King of Siam said, “It’s a puzzlement!” I have asked the CCT Secretariat to find out what the formula was, since its own monitoring in 2010 actually delisted some 15% of the beneficiaries for noncompliance of the requirements.

What is the CCT all about, anyway? Why is the government, from the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the present, supporting it with billions of pesos? Is it a poverty alleviation program, like so many before that threw money at the poor?

An inspired and useful program initiated by the Arroyo administration, the CCT adapted the programs implemented by Mexico and Brazil to help reduce poverty by subsidizing poor families with school-age children. To me, it seems like a scholarship program for poor grade-school kids.

How does it work in the Philippines? A poor family with no steady income, with children aged six to 14, can get up to P1,400 monthly for five years. The family gets the subsidy for a maximum of three children, as a health grant and the rest as educational assistance. The family needs to make sure the kids are healthy and attend school. Thus, the grant really is more like a scholarship for the kids. No kids, no grant. Kids fail in school, reduce the grant. Further, pregnant women are required to get pre- and post-natal check ups. To make sure that the beneficiaries really do accomplish the conditions set, the monitoring of Pantawid is quite strict. The public schools provide proof of enrollment and the grades of the kids, the Department of Health centers monitor the health of the babies, kids and mothers. Children up to five years old are required to undergo check-ups and vaccines.

Further, Pantawid has implemented a values formation program through the Family Development Services (FDS), where the beneficiaries in a community gather regularly to participate in capacity building on parenting, health and literacy, among many topics. Local nongovernment organizations are partners of the DSWD, with local coordinators acting as municipal links who facilitate the FDS. Parents are required to attend the FDS. Anecdotal information to date tells us that the transformation of the parents has been remarkable.

Launched in 2008 with 380,000 poor households, it doubled after a year. Today, the program has expanded to cover 4.4 million families this year. About 11 million school children are being supported. To date, the DSWD has reported that compliance of the beneficiaries with the conditions is high: 93% for health, 98% for education, and 96% for family development services.

With regard to the need to improve the selection of its beneficiaries, DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman has been quite zealous. Several years ago she invited leaders from civil society, academe, business and the religious sector to be part of the National Independent Advisory and Monitoring Committee (NIAMC) to help improve the CCT operations. Currently chaired by Evelyn Singson, the NIAMC members are as zealous as Secetary Dinky. I have attended several meetings where NIAMC members, like Economist Winnie Monsod, investigated DSWD monitoring reports the way the Senate conducts its hearings (without the harassment, bullying and disrespect).

When we analyzed the accomplishments to date, we were impressed by the impact of the cash grants. In education, near-universal enrollment of elementary age children (6-11 years old) and the enrollment rate for children aged 12 -- 15 was six percentage points higher among Pantawid households than non-Pantawid ones. Child labor among Pantawid households has decreased by an average of seven days per month. Further, Pantawid mothers are more likely to seek pre- and postnatal care and deliver babies in health facilities.

Richard Bolt, ADB country director for the Philippines, has issued three statements to date to correct the misimpression that today’s 4Ps is so poorly managed that P19 billion has been lost.

Acknowledging that there were leakage issues in 2009, Bolt wrote: “The targeting issue raised in the PIDS report has been addressed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Conditional Cash Transfer Program and related ADB support. As such, we are confident that the issue raised is dealt with in the ongoing Conditional Cash Transfer Program.”

He goes further and states that the ADB Independent Evaluation report is “strongly positive and supportive of the program and its achievements including improved health outcomes and increased school participation, as well as its likely effect on the employability of the beneficiaries, and their chances for breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty.”

Will Bolt’s statements arrest the attacks on 4Ps? I have heard the line of attack of some of the so-called commentators. Sadly, I doubt if they will give equal air time for the official ADB statements. Its just so much more rewarding to stoke the anger of the masses by repeating, ad nauseum, that the government has thrown away P19 billion. I do hope and pray that Congress will be guided by fact, not politicking, when they deliberate on the budget of the Pantawid program. After all, over 4.4 million families and 11 million school children, their constituents, will benefit. Hope springs eternal.

Amina Rasul is a democracy, peace and human rights advocate, and president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy.

aminarasul@yahoo.com