By Cai U. Ordinario
ORE Filipinos are expected to fall into poverty due to the coronavirus 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, erasing the gains of the past six years.
In the plenary hearing for the 2021 General Appropriations Bill, House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jose Sarte Salceda said he expects poverty to increase to around 24 to 25 percent when the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) is conducted next year.
This poverty incidence rate is higher than the 16.7 percent posted in 2018 and the 23.3 percent in 2015. The country’s poverty rate is derived from the results of the FIES, which is conducted every three years.
“Pero kung ako ang tatanungin mo, dahil po sa ginagawa po natin, mukhang kaya po ng gobyerno na maibalik natin sa [if you will ask me, because of what we are doing, it looks like the government can bring back to] 24 to 25 percent ang poverty and not more than that from the current 16 percent. It is, I think, reasonable given the unemployment and correlation between unemployment, underemployment and incomes and poverty, I think it’s reasonable to say that poverty will go up from 16 back to 25 percent,” Salceda said.
This estimate is higher than the recent estimate made by Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua, the head of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).
In a budget hearing at the Senate two weeks ago, Chua said the country’s poverty rate could be anywhere between 15.5 percent and 17.5 percent next year.
Chua added that the government estimates that the country’s unemployment rate could be around 6 to 8 percent next year. This means around 7 million Filipinos will still be jobless next year.
Stella Luz A. Quimbo, Marikina City 2nd District Representative, said, nonetheless, the estimate made by Salceda is lamentable given the difficulty faced by many Filipino families in graduating from poverty.
“It takes generations for a family to exit poverty. The intergenerational effect of poverty is significant [in the country]. You can become poor just by losing your job. In order to be considered not poor, so many things need to happen, including keeping your children in school and having access to healthcare and all those things. So I hope Neda would be able to continue monitoring the increase in poverty [in the country],” Quimbo said, partly in Filipino.
In order to better monitor poverty, Salceda and Quimbo expressed support for House Resolution 1241 filed by the Representative of the 2nd District of Bataan, Jose Enrique Garcia III.
The resolution urges the House of Representatives to increase the 2021 budget of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) for the Community Based Monitoring System (CBMS) to P2.5 billion from the proposed budget of P85 million.
Based on the resolution, the P85 million will only cover preparatory undertakings for the CBMS, which was instituted as a law in 2019. Financing the CBMS, according to the resolution, will be instrumental in providing services to the poor, especially those affected by Covid-19.
He said he will sign the “resolution that seeks to increase the budget of the PSA which was previously at P9.4 [billion] and has now been reduced to P8 billion to at least bring back the P2.5 billion for the CBMS. How can you make a good decision, where will you allocate the funds if you do not know where the poor are?”
Salceda said he has been using the CBMS in his province because it took three years before the FIES data could be collected and released to the public.
Quimbo said if only the CBMS were fully in place, it would have helped the government better distribute the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) this year.
Earlier, the PSA said the CBMS was tasked to be implemented by local government units but there were no standards set and, due to the lack of funding, the conduct of the CBMS was highly irregular.
National Statistician Claire Dennis S. Mapa earlier estimated that the PSA would require at least five additional personnel per PSA field office to ensure that the CBMS is carried out.
With 81 field offices, the PSA may require 405 new employees. This is a conservative estimate given that certain provinces have several highly urbanized cities (HUCs) which require more staff.
On top of the financing concerns, Mapa also said the confidentiality of the data for the CBMS is a concern. If the CBMS will be used for targeting various social services, the identity of the households will have to be bared.
But, Mapa earlier said, this is why PSA is looking forward to working with other government agencies in implementing the CBMS.
These efforts, Quimbo said, should be accompanied by the passage of the proposed Neda Bill which aims to transform the Neda into an “independent economic and planning agency.”
Currently, the Neda is an oversight agency whose authority rests on the Neda Board. The Neda Board is chaired by the President of the Philippines.
Quimbo said an independent Neda would be a good “referee” between the Department of Finance (DOF), tasked with raising revenues, and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), tasked with spending.
However, Salceda, who filed the bill and got it approved in the previous Congress, admitted there is now a lack of interest to have an independent planning agency.
“But right now, my view is, given the pandemic, we need a Neda, DOF, DBM, and other economic agencies, that is interdependent and coordinated,” Salceda explained.
Neda said passage of the proposed Neda Act is crucial to the implementation of the country’s development agenda, including the realization of the country’s long-term vision called Ambisyon Natin 2040.
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