PERSPECTIVE - Cherry Piquero Ballescas (The Freeman) - April 30, 2020 - 12:00am

“Mahirappagmahirap (It’s hard to be poor).” White-haired taxi driver, Reynaldo Alcala, tearfully said these words in a TV interview. From March till now, many poor are unable to earn because of the ECQ, and are echoing and repeating these words through their tears.

Julio Abrigo, a poultry trucker, also repeated an often heard statement from the truly needy: “Napakahiraptalaga. Hindi koalam kung virus o gutomangpapataysaamin.”

Despite the billions reported to have already been distributed to the poor in each community, why are there still so many poor who are tearfully reporting that they have not been reached and are in deeper difficulty now during the ECQ?

Cannot a more systematic, dignified, faster procedure for assisting the poor be devised, implemented and regularly, promptly monitored?

A country of typhoons, storms, eruptions, and earthquakes, one would think, by now, after decades, centuries even, surely, we are now wiser and more systematic in of managing calamities and emergencies.

Shouldn’t those decades of experience and huge budget allocation not have resulted in an effective system for identifying and assisting our poor and for reducing and managing disasters?

Also, as poverty among our people throughout our country has been recognized for centuries now, surely, we know who are the poor, how many and where they are? Surely, by now, we have learned to effectively lift them beyond their poverty, their number less through the years, especially with huge budget allocated for them?

Sadly, the present pandemic is glaringly showing us that millions are still poor, with very little data about who the poor are. Many have not yet been assisted till now because there is debate about who should be considered poor and qualified for government assistance.

Before this pandemic, the poor have been battered by earlier disasters. The knee-jerk response until now is to allot public funds for the vulnerable, transfer them to ill-equipped, hastily designated evacuation centers. When the disasters pass, attention and public funds for them fade just as fast. The poor remain, unrecognized, unattended, until the next disaster and sadly, until the next allocation of public funds for them!

Can this present pandemic finally allow a genuine determination of who the poor are in various communities so that an effective, sustainable network for assisting them, even uplifting them beyond their poverty, can be developed and implemented?

Foremost, identify soonest who the poor are. Have a rapid survey to identify them in all communities.

National and local government can adopt the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) published by the UNDP’s Human Development Report Office which “tracks deprivation across three dimensions and 10 indicators: health (child mortality, nutrition), education (years of schooling, enrollment), and living standards (water, sanitation, electricity, cooking fuel, floor, assets).

The Philippine Statistics Authority, in charge of doing censuses, can lead, with DILG and DSWD as members. Community residents should also be involved and provided modest token (cash or kind) for their participation.

The survey results, then, can be collated and analyzed, with the help of NEDA and the academe. Within a month or hopefully less, the poor per community can be identified, validated by the poor themselves, and then published. This list can be updated yearly.

Having the list of genuine poor beneficiaries can guide government about how much public funds and what other assistance are needed for whom in whatever community in this country.

Before any new allocation is allowed, however, fund accountability and transparency should be demanded.

Government should consider non-cash supplementary and sustainable assistance that will allow the identified poor and communities to become self-reliant. Hiring the poor for jobs for stabilizing food production, ensuring health, waste management and improving their own communities, hopefully, will take them beyond their poverty.

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