The Manila Times, April 26, 2013
Aquino’s centerpiece program, the conditional cash-transfer program—basically a dole-out scheme for the poor—has obviously not made a dent on the country’s poverty. Based on government data recently disclosed, 1.32 million Filipinos joined the ranks of the country’s 27 million poor in the 34 months of Mr. Aquino’s regime.
However, the program, which Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman dubbed “4P” for Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program has emerged as the biggest vote- buying scheme in our history, which would affect not only the senatorial and local elections next month, but the presidential contest in 2016. Here’s how.
The program gives from P500 to as much as P1,400 monthly to supposedly poor families all over the country. The dole-outs are given as long as the beneficiary fulfills two conditions. First, the recipient (usually the mother) takes her children to the local health center for regular check-ups and deworming, and second, she keeps her children enrolled in school.
Since Aquino, took over, a staggering P100 billion has been expended for it, including the P45-billion budgeted for this year.
On the ground level though, the program has been perceived by Filipinos as “PNoy’s Pantawid Progam,” the President’s magnanimous giveaways for the country’s poor.
Worse though, election campaigners for Aquino’s candidates, especially for local posts, have pursued the following propaganda message, as narrated to me by ground-level political operators in a province in Southern Luzon.
“If Aquino’s candidates do not win here, the CCT will be ended here. Aquino plans to expand the program, but if his candidates lose he will not implement it here.”
“It’s a very clever plot,” one local political leader who is not with Aquino’s party said in Pilipino. “How can we counter it when they’ve spread the news about ‘ PNoy’s Pantawid’ that people are getting P500 monthly. People here also know actual families who are its beneficiaries, even if they’re not poor, “he added.
“Sa totoo lang, bale nabili na nila ang boto,” he said. (“In truth, they’ve already in effect bought the votes”).
The DSWD has not explained in detail its method for choosing beneficiaries, nor has it disclosed their geographical distribution. A suspicion is emerging though that the DSWS has focused on vote-rich provinces of the country.
Its reach all over the archipelago has certainly become extensive, as Soliman, the program’s champion, bragged in her recent press release: “Some 3,841,992 poor households are now benefiting from the program, as of April 3, 2013. It is implemented in 1,627 cities and municipalities in 79 provinces in 17 regions nationwide.”
That’s a huge pro- Aquino political base she has built up—or really bought from taxpayers’ money.
Soliman had also claimed that the CCT’s coverage will be expanded in the next two years, to double the total to P200 billion by the end of the Aquino administration, making it the biggest, and most clever votebuying scheme in our history.
It would be the most important campaign message the Liberal Party will pound on to defeat even the most popular candidate for the presidency in 2016: “If Aquino’s heir doesn’t win ( Mar Roxas?), the CCT program will be ended and you who are among the 8 million recipients ( the target number of beneficiaries by 2016) will lose your monthly allowance. Your choice.”
The CCT’s hidden political agenda explains a puzzle to foreign observers of the program —its relatively big benefit that requires a huge budget despite the other pressing demands on the country’s coffers. A January 2013 study of the World Bank’s Social Protection Unit observed: “Benefit levels for Pantawid Pamilya are relatively generous compared to those of other CCT programs around the world. The maximum amount of monthly household grants to which they are entitled is P1,400 ($32), estimated to be about 23 percent of the beneficiaries’ income.“
Never mind though if the CCT is basically a plot by Aquino for his party to hold on to power in 2016. Is the P100 billion so far spent, and another P100 billion to be spent a mammoth waste of taxpayers’ money?
It has definitely given much joy to nearly four million families so far. Soliman has been boasting that the World Bank’s January 2013 study showed such gains as higher percentage of children in “Pantawid barangays” enrolled in school and more children being de-wormed as well as getting vitamin A in these villages. But Soliman conveniently has never disclosed one crucial finding of the World Bank study:
“However, the findings suggest that the program has not had a significant impact on increasing enrollment among older children aged 12-17 years old . . . The program was unable to even improve enrollment of children 12-14 years of age, who are currently covered under Pantawid Pamilya.”
This finding is important, as all studies on poverty here and elsewhere show that the most important factor for a child to crawl out of the poverty he finds himself in is at the very least, getting a high- school education. How could CCT raise a family’s poverty level if it cannot afford to keep its high school child in school? And if the CCT has not enabled poor families to keep their children in high school, they are still condemned to poverty, even if they are a bit healthier for going to the health centers regularly as the program requires.
A 2011 study on the program published by the Asian Development Bank in fact raised fundamental questions regarding the CCT dole-out scheme:
“Some may argue that, if economic growth is the main engine of poverty elimination, it would be better to spend scarce public resources for other services, such as infrastructure, for higher growth. Others may challenge cash grants because these may give disincentives for people to work and discourage self-reliance among recipients.”
In more concrete terms, should the P100 billion spent so far (to increase to P200 billion by 2016), for the CCT have been more wisely spent for infrastructure, or even for state-funded industrial projects that would contribute to a productive economy, which has and always will be the way out of poverty?
But rationality is not a concern in this government. The CCT program has been the conjuncture of Soliman’s ego (as she thinks it is her brain-child and legacy) and an incompetent party’s greed to continue in power.