We believe that the 4Ps is an important relief measure. The usefulness of such a measure needs to be underscored in light of the fact that many poor Filipinos are desperate to survive these trying times. Social Watch-Philippines has recently conducted a preliminary study and survey of 4Ps beneficiaries and has found out that for many beneficiaries, this is the first time that they have experienced direct support from government on a relatively sustained basis and are therefore grateful for the support. Furthermore, investments in education and health improve the chances of children for upward social and economic mobility.
Nevertheless, we are concerned with the current stance of government on the 4Ps which seems to treat the 4Ps as a magic bullet for poverty reduction. Our concern is based on the following reasons:
1. The 4Ps does not address all the dimensions of poverty and vulnerability. The 4Ps program is patently a poverty reduction program designed to address issues on maternal mortality and child mortality (the latter mostly through the provision of vaccines and cash), as well as keep children in school for five years. Other vulnerable groups like poor senior citizens, the chronically sick, people with disabilities, the millions of out-of-school, and functionally illiterate or the unemployed poor are not covered by the program. As such, other anti-poverty programs designed to address the other dimensions of poverty must likewise be prioritized.
For example, tuberculosis remains one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among the Filipino poor and yet, the budget for the Indigents’ Program under the Philippine Health Insurance Program was reduced by thirty-three percent for 2011. Furthermore, we note that twenty percent of school age children and youth are out of school, and yet they get less than one percent of the education budget. While the 4Ps is designed to attract the out-of-school to re-enroll, studies conducted locally and around the world have shown that a significant majority of the out-of-school will never return to school even with attractive packages. To continue, the housing budget was slashed by half for 2011(from P11 B in 2010 to P5.6 B), a move that will certainly negatively impact on the rising number of informal settlers in dire need of mass housing. Finally, the majority of the poor are in the rural areas and yet we note that public investment in agriculture, fisheries and forestry remains low. Much of the rationale used by government to justify low and or decreasing levels of public spending in these areas is to be able to free up and provide additional sources for the 4Ps, a policy position which we disagree with.
We believe the government should not reduce public spending for other pro-poor programs and re-channel the freed up resources for the 4Ps, which only address a few dimensions of poverty and vulnerability and therefore only targets a sub-set of the total number of poor.
2. The success of the 4Ps, which addresses the demand side, through the provision of cash grants, requires ensuring the supply side (e.g. availability of health, education and transport facilities and services). 4P areas are, by program definition, among the poorest. No amount of conditionalities will work if there is a lack of schools, health clinics, and means of transport in 4P areas. The fact that Philippine public investment in education and health is low and has generally declined between 2000 and 2006 at both the national and local government levels does not augur well for the 4Ps meeting its stated objectives. This means that public investment in education and health must significantly increase. Stress is made on ensuring the quality of services.
3. “Thanks for the cash but we need jobs.” The Social Watch study reveals that most of the beneficiaries it surveyed expressed gratitude that with the cash grants, the health and education status of their families were improving. Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of beneficiaries said that what would lift them out of poverty was access to regular employment. This underscores the fact that one of the most important elements in the fight against poverty is productive employment, an important component of MDG 1. In this light, Social Watch Philippines calls on the government to put quality job creation (which includes ‘green jobs’) and the protection of workers rights, including women’s rights, in the forefront of its anti-poverty agenda.
4. What works in other countries may not necessarily work here. Context matters. While conditional cash transfers (CCTs) around the world share similarities, features vary across countries, and more importantly, the economic and social policy settings in which these CCTs are embedded in, also vary. For example, Mexicos’ Oportunidades, apart from education and health cash grants, are accompanied by cash transfers for food and for the elderly while in Brazil, Bolsa Familia is part of a larger economic and social protection scheme composed of ‘complementary actions’ and services to poor families. Among the significant ‘complementary actions’ are employment creation, provision of income-generating activities, and improvement of housing conditions.
While the Aquino government recognizes that the 4Ps as a ‘stand alone’ program will not work and has taken steps to link it to other economic programs (e.g., Kalahi-CIDDS and Self Employment Assistance-Kaunlaran or SEA-K), we believe that there is a need to refine such a strategy. For one, the highly micro-ized and project-ized nature of Kalahi-CIDDS projects has generated, at best, localized impact on poverty reduction and has not made a dent on reducing over-all poverty. Second, data has shown that SEA-K activities revolve mostly around low-value trade and commercial activities with limited impact on poverty reduction as well.
5. Community organizing and mobilization are key ingredients to people’s empowerment. We believe that community organizing and mobilization should play a key role in the empowerment of household-beneficiaries. The government recognizes this as seen by its linking up the 4Ps with Kalahi-CIDDS (the latter being a community-driven development program). Based on the initial data that emerged from the Social Watch study, there is a need to ask: what is the current status and quality of community work, beyond the required parenting seminars, of which women are disproportionately represented? While one outcome of the 4Ps is the increased capacity of women to procure basic necessities, this also places more obligations and responsibilities on their shoulders, including increasing their workload. As such, more gender-aware interventions are needed. Furthermore, there is a need to examine how well-organized the community committees are, and what other functions these assume beyond organizing and ensuring attendance in parenting seminars.
6. Loans for what? Finally, we question borrowing US$405 M from the World Bank and US$400 from the ADB for the 4Ps because it not only increases our public indebtedness, which is cause for concern in itself, but more so because the government is infusing massive investment on a strategy, as it is currently conceived, that, at best, will have very limited impact on poverty reduction.
In this light, we call on government to do the following:
Increase public spending in the various pro-poor programs of government with stress on education, health, agriculture, housing, environment (e.g., see proposals of the Alternative Budget Initiative);
To come up with a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy, which includes both economic and social policy, and locate the 4Ps within this framework. Financing for the government’s anti-poverty reduction strategy should flow from such a framework.
In the immediate, we call for an independent monitoring and review of the 4Ps, and to include civil society participation. Part of the review is to gauge the capacity of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to handle the further expansion of the 4Ps. This review should be included in the 2011 budget. Program transparency should also be ensured, including easy access for the public to relevant information on the 4Ps.
Furthermore, we call for the conduct of a comprehensive program performance audit by an independent body, and to include civil society participation, by the end of 2011, before further expansion of the 4Ps. The audit should determine whether the program as designed and implemented yields the expected outputs and outcomes.
We know that the causes of poverty are complex and interlocking and based on the evidence of other country experiences, so effectively combating it will require a combination of economic and social development policies that require sustained economic growth, productive employment, asset reform and comprehensive social policies which includes universal social protection measures.
For as long as the Aquino government does not have a strategy that provides a holistic perspective and addresses the structural constraints to poverty reduction, its anti-poverty efforts will remain short-term palliatives.
*Contact Information of SOCIAL WATCH PHILIPPINES. Room 140 Alumni Center, Magsaysay St., University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City Telefax:. +63 02 436 6054 • E-mail: email@example.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org