EDITORIAL - Poverty down?
(The Philippine Star) - April 13, 2019 - 12:00am

Incredulity has greeted the release of a report showing that poverty incidence is down, as measured by the Philippine Statistics Authority. Critics consider the timing of the release suspect and in aid of election for administration candidates, while organized workers see it as an attempt to discourage wage increases. PSA officials say they are prepared to explain the methodology used.

The PSA assessment covers the first six months of 2018 when rice prices spiked. This has added to the doubts about the report, considering that food accounts for nearly 70 percent of the components in the PSA’s poverty assessment.

The figures could be altered once the assessment for the entire year is completed and the full impact of the fuel excise tax is factored in, although PSA officials say such figures usually improve in the second semester. The PSA placed the number of poor Filipino individuals at 21 percent in the first six months of 2018 – down from the 27.6 percent during the same period in 2015. The figure was lower for families, at 16.1 percent, from the 22.2 percent in 2015.

In the first half of 2018, a family of five needed at least P7,337 a month to meet basic food needs, or P48.91 daily per person, the PSA reported. If basic non-food requirements were added, the amount would be P10,481 a month – which is the poverty threshold.

Whether or not the amounts mentioned are unrealistic, the statistics indicate that over 21 million people, or about a fifth of the country’s population, live below the poverty line. That’s still too many people needing liberation from poverty. Other studies in the recent past have indicated that up to 30 percent of Filipinos were classified as extremely poor, and remained so despite direct aid programs such as the conditional cash transfer.

The PSA comes up with the periodic assessment to assist policy makers in crafting development and poverty alleviation programs. Even without bickering over the poverty figures, merely driving around Metro Manila and other congested urban centers around the country would indicate that the country has a serious poverty problem. Too many people lack meaningful jobs and livelihoods to sustain themselves and their families. Too many people lack the education and skills to earn a decent living. Even if the PSA figures might be correct, poverty alleviation remains a formidable challenge.

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