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Self-rated poverty hits record low

Posted on October 13, 2016

THE PERCENTAGE of Filipinos considering themselves poor hit a fresh record low last quarter, according to results of a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey that signaled a good start for the new Duterte administration’s push to slash official poverty rate to 16-17% by the time it steps down in mid-2022 from 26.3% as of the first half of 2015.

Results of the latest SWS survey -- conducted last Sept. 24-27 via face-to-face interviews with 1,200 adults nationwide and with sampling error margins of ±3 points for national percentages and ±6 points each for Metro Manila, “Balance of Luzon,” the Visayas and Mindanao -- showed 42% of families (or an estimated 9.4 million) rating themselves mahirap or poor, breaking the previous record of 43% logged in March 2010 and March 1987.

“Self-rated poor [reading] has been either steady or declining for eight consecutive quarters from 52% in December 2014, to 51% in March 2015 and June 2015, 50% in September 2015 and December 2015, 46% in April 2016, 45% in June 2016 and 42% in September 2016,” SWS said in its report.

The same survey also found that 30% of families (estimated 6.7 million) considered the food they eat as mahirap, which the SWS termed “food-poor.” The September figure is a point below the previous record low logged in April and June at 31% (estimated 6.9 million).

“Self-Rated Food-Poor [reading] has been either steady or declining for five consecutive quarters, from 35% in September 2015, to 33% in December 2015, 31% in April 2016 and June 2016, and 30% in September 2016,” the pollster noted.

SWS attributed the three-percentage point decline in self-rated poverty rate nationwide last quarter to drops from June in “Balance Luzon” and Mindanao that were partly offset by increases in Metro Manila and the Visayas.

In “Balance Luzon” self-rated poverty fell by seven percentage points to mark a new record-low 34% in September from 41% in June.

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It fell by five percentage points in Mindanao to 49% from 54% seen in the second quarter, marking the lowest point since June 2013’s 47%.

However, it rose by four percentage points in Metro Manila to 36% in September from 32% in June, and by four points in the Visayas to 56% from 52%.

SWS also attributed the one-percentage point decline in self-rated food poverty rate last quarter to declines in the “Balance Luzon” and the Visayas and a flat reading in Metro Manila that offset Mindanao’s slight increase.

Self-rated food poverty fell three points in “Balance Luzon” to a new record-low 24% in September from June’s 27%, while in the Visayas it slipped a point to 36% from 37%.

However, it edged up two percentage points in Mindanao to 41% from 39%, while it stayed at 20% from June to September in Metro Manila.

The latest survey also found that the median self-rated poverty threshold -- the lowest monthly budget for home expenses needed by the poorer half of poor households not to consider themselves as such -- steadied from June at P15,000 in “Balance Luzon,” as well as P10,000 each in the Visayas and in Mindanao, but fell to P16,000 from June’s P20,000 in Metro Manila.

SWS said that the self-rated poverty thresholds in “Balance Luzon” and Mindanao are the highest levels ever reached in those areas.

The minimum home budget, SWS explained, is less than the minimum income that a household needs because it excludes work-related expenses like transportation.

Median food poverty threshold -- the lowest monthly food budget needed by the poorer half of “food-poor” families not to consider themselves as such -- steadied across three quarters at P5,000 in Mindanao, across six quarters also at P5,000 in the Visayas and from June at P8,000 in “Balance Luzon,” but fell to P9,000 from June’s P10,000 in Metro Manila.

The latest threshold in food-poverty in “Balance Luzon,” the Visayas and Mindanao are the highest levels ever reached in those areas, SWS noted.

Sought for comment, Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Martin M. Andanar replied in a mobile phone message: “Inclusive and sustainable growth is a campaign promise of President Duterte and for the past 100 days since his assumption (of office), he has been finding ways to make economic growth work for the poor with focus on the country’s 10 poorest provinces.”

“The Duterte administration reaffirms the state policy to preserve prime agricultural lands to ensure food security,” he noted, adding that “[a]fter 10 years of not holding a meeting, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council finally convened in Malacañang.”

Another state office, the Department of Agriculture, “released billions worth of former idle farm equipment within two months nationwide,” Mr. Andanar recounted further.

“We awarded millions worth of credit policy and millions worth of agri-fishery projects to farmers and fishermen and their children offered Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund scholarship.”

Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo told BusinessWorld in an e-mail that “so long as there are surveys that reveal findings that the poverty or hunger incidence in the country remains high, the national government and all its agencies should take survey results to heart and push to improve and expand access to their services, especially if these services have directly to do with the immediate welfare of Filipinos.”

DSWD, Ms. Taguiwalo said, “will strengthen our Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP) to complement the cash grants provided by the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program to its beneficiaries,” referring to a program inherited from the previous two administrations that gives the identified poorest of the poor households cash in exchange for mothers’ regular visits to community clinics and students’ regular attendance in class.

“As a community-based capacity-building program, the SLP seeks to increase the economic opportunities of Filipinos through the Community-Driven Enterprise Development Approach. We want the SLP to equip poor Filipinos so they can actively contribute to production and labor markets by looking at available resources and accessible markets.”

Sought for comment, University of Santo Tomas political science professor Edmund S. Tayao said in a mobile phone interview that September’s month-on-month decline in the self-poverty rate was “insignificant” as it fell within the survey’s margin of error, adding that “much remains to be done as far as the poverty incident in the country is concerned.”

“We can’t say that because there is a drop, there is already something good done by the incumbent government,” Mr. Tayao noted.

“So at best, this remains a benchmark of what been done and what remains to be done.” -- R. F. Javil