Election impact of poverty in the Philippines

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

Recent data on poverty in the Philippines as of 2022, acknowledged by the government, placed the figure at 15.5% to 17.55% of the population, which translates to 17 million to 20 million Filipinos. Data from private sources shows poverty incidence at 23% or 25 million Filipinos which rose by 5 million since 2018 with the pandemic adding the last 2 million. Poverty statistics in the Philippines rarely showed poverty incidence below 20% since after World War II, some years even exceeding 30%. But, as there were less than 50 million Filipinos in the 1950s and most were living in the rural areas, it was more tolerated. As the economy grew faster than the population, poverty incidence dropped to the 25% to 29% range. The Marcos years reversed this progress that it was only in 1987 onwards that it was trending downwards in the 20% to 25% range.

Recent poll surveys and analysis for the coming election has pointed out that the D and E economic sectors which are those in/or bordering on the poverty level are/have been very vulnerable to fake news/false information and would be likely be influenced by money politics. While inroads of false information have been pervasive in the last seven years, it is debatable if it only affected the D and E economic classes, because it is information and communication technology and social media that are driving this information deluge, and it is reaching all social classes.

As of end 2021, with Philippine population at 110 million and using the median 20% poverty incidence, we are looking at 22 million Filipinos in the poverty level. From a 65% to 35% rural to urban poor distribution in 1997, the rural and urban poor are now at 50% and 50%. Half of them are women and half of them are voters. Education and access to information have been increasing in both rural and urban sectors with the urban poor being more social media savvy. The urban poor are also more aware of the skewed income and privilege distribution and tend to be more dissatisfied with the government.

In Philippine election history from the 1950s to 1970s, the delineation of the D and E voting population was not emphasized as the perception was that they followed the overall trend of the election, and the growing economy was decreasing their numbers. But when martial law was declared massive corruption devastated the economy. The increasing poverty incidence affected even the middle class and it became a major factor. The election of the interim Batasang Pambansa of Marcos could have defeated the Marcos candidates if honest elections were indeed held. In fact, in Cebu all the administration candidates which were all scions of political families like the Osmeñas, Duranos, Cuencos, and Gullases, were trounced by neophyte/non-political candidates. In the snap election in 1986, called to legitimize the Marcos regime, in spite of the money and the coercion, Cory Aquino won, and the Commission on Elections had to alter the election results. This led to the historic public walkout of the Comelec computer operators that eventually led to the EDSA People Power Revolution.

In a growing economy with rising per capita income, the poverty incidence may have a steady or declining impact on elections. But in a recessionary economy where even the middle class feels the erosion and deterioration of their living standards, poverty incidence impacts badly on the outgoing administration and their endorsed candidates. The dissatisfaction affects proportionately all economic classes even if the D and E classes are more negatively affected. They will vote with their wallets and their stomachs, and not enough “vote buying” can offset these. There is the same proportion of voters who can be bought in all the economic classes, it just costs more to buy a middle class or upper class voter.


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