Freedom from poverty, still possible

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

We cannot surrender on hoping that eventually, there will no longer be hunger amongst Filipinos. The right to a decent dwelling, access to quality education and to obtain basic health services must be the north star that everyone, especially the leaders of our government, must see as the beacon of all our decisions and actions.

The battle against poverty is uphill and protracted, but the chance of victory is never lost. And to win, the long-term road map must be clearly drawn, where all stakeholders must have ownership and commitment for our collective success. The presence of beggars in our streets, informal settlers braving sub-human living conditions and children who don’t even have slippers under the heat of the sun, mean we cannot throw in the towel. But poverty is a complex problem.

Long way to go. More than 19.9 million Filipinos, or 18.8 percent of our population, try to survive daily. They are living below the official poverty threshold. As defined in the official report of the Philippine Statistics Authority in August 2022, in the “Preliminary Results of Income and Expenditure Survey” (FIES), a family of five that earns less than P12,030 monthly cannot sustain their required minimum nutritional intake, medical emergencies, education, social inclusion and other essentials such as safe water and sanitation.

I wonder what happens to a poor family of more than five members. And worse, the impact of real inflation to their regular struggle would be difficult to measure. But, even without being technical on the definition of extreme poverty, we can basically conclude that almost one fifth of our countrymen are in dire need of our help.

The complexity of this problem requires a comprehensive and deep understanding of the vicious cycle created by our weakness as a corporate nation. The lack of objective understanding of the problem and solution logic aggravates our dilemma on poverty. This pushes us backwards and further from the structural roadmap that will finally free our people from extreme poverty that gets worse before getting better.

The limited space in this column is not enough to exhaust our discussions on this. But let’s attempt, at least, to briefly discourse on these fundamental causes and hit the monster.

Palliatives are urgent. While the debate on what course to pursue to end poverty in our country is far from over, we have to undertake remedial steps and interventions to lessen the sufferings of those below the poverty line. They could hardly wait for the long-term programs and permanent solutions that would be put in motion.

This is where the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) could focus on. Under the leadership of its lead convenor, Secretary Ka Lope Santos III, the agency must muster all available assistance from agencies such as the DSWD, DOH, DTI, DepEd, DA and OCD. These agencies have their own general programs for their respective mandates. NAPC must compete for their attention for the urgent short-term actions that could at least mitigate the hardships of millions of impoverished Filipinos. I personally know Ka Lope and some of his supporters, Jervy Maglunob, Von Mesina and Girlie Amarillo. Their hearts are in the right place for the poor.

NAPC can offer new skills to provide the fighting chance for work options. TESDA can assist on this. Job placements for the graduates of the training programs can be provided by DTI and even civic groups. Creative solutions are most welcome in this crisis. NAPC can be the champion for this short-term bout.

The war on poverty will take years, or decades. Investments. Investments. Investments. We need huge, additional capital and technologies that will create more and better jobs. We cannot squeeze the current production machine of the country to provide more for our despairing population. The internal expansion of the present businesses in the country will not be enough. Or if at all, this cannot happen sooner than what’s urgent.

So, the challenge is, how do we attract these investments? Is the business environment conducive for more enterprises to come in? Is the legal framework and economic landscape open for more players in all industries? How can we stabilize and bring down the cost of electricity? How can we provide enough infrastructure? Are we at par in the ease of doing business compared to our neighbors? Does our politics provide confidence to the international strategic companies?

Fighting poverty is truly uphill. We have to look at the complexity of this problem to ultimately end it. But definitely, central to the solution is the entry of enough investments that will bring and create enough wealth for almost everyone.

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