‘Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap’

So was, and still seems President Aquino’s slogan. . . .

The slogan was invented in the 2010 campaign by an advertising executive, who of course brainstormed the catchy sentence in the way she dreamed up ad copies for commercials for detergents and deodorants. Never mind whether it’s realistic or rational, just as long as it sticks in people’s minds. Never mind if no country on earth actually developed just through an anti-corruption drive.

After three years in power, Aquino’s campaign slogan haunts him. One is even tempted to argue logically from it: “There is more poverty now; therefore, there is more corruption? “

The poverty incidence—percent of population poor—has hardly improved, from 28.6 percent of the population in 2009 to 27.9 in 2012, the last available data. Subjective surveys of the Social Weather Stations do not indicate any improvement in poverty incidence after that.

Source: Computed from NSCB data.

Source: Computed from NSCB data.

But the rate masks the worsening lot of Filipinos under Aquino. There were 26.3 million poor Filipinos in 2009, now there are 800,000 more: 27.1 million. Among these are the extremely poor, barely managing to keep body and soul together: 9.7 million.

That means one in four Filipinos are poor, one in 10 barely managing to survive.

For all of Aquino’s boasts—and he will make many today, many even false ones— his administration hasn’t dented at all the country’s poverty problem. And that is the bottom line of any government’s performance: whether or not, it improves the lot of its citizens.

Aquino’s track record is dismal if one notes that during President Arroyo’s term, the 28.8 percent poverty rate in 2006 was reduced to 28.6 in 2009.

That was despite the slowdown in the gross domestic product’s (GDP’s) growth rate from 5.2 percent in 2006 to 1.1 percent in 2009 because of the Global Financial Crisis that was at its worst in 2009, a recession worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s, which severely cut down our exports. But Arroyo launched, just when the crisis appeared on the horizon, a P330 billion Keynesian type of response called “Economic Resiliency Plan” that shielded the poor from the global slowdown.

In sharp contrast, GDP in 2012 grew by 6.6 percent. But that hardly dented our poverty profile, which was at 27.9 percent of the population.

Aquino can’t make the excuse that growth doesn’t spread to the poor automatically.

Indonesia’s GDP growth rate last year was 6.2 percent, lower than the Philippines’ 6.6 percent. But Indonesia’s poverty incidence went down from 13.3 percent in 2010 to 12 percent last year. Thailand’s GDP growth was 6.4 percent in 2012; its poverty incidence went down from 17 percent in 2010 to 12.8 percent.

Quite obviously, Aquino’s growth has been mostly for the elite, aptly symbolized today in metropolitan Manila by images of towering condominium buildings with shanties in the foreground, and street beggars tapping on the windows of Audis, asking for loose change.

The world of Aquino’s elite has started to impinge on and directly worsen the poor’s world, a recipe for social and political unrest. Resort developments in such areas as Tagaytay and Batangas are ending the poor’s decades-old lease arrangements with absentee landlords, creating a new angry mass of squatters.

A type of local vicious cycle is being strengthened, its impact affecting the nation. The Communist and Islamic insurgencies in such provinces as Samar, Negros Oriental, Leyte, Apayao, Ifugao, and southern and central Mindanao provinces have been feeding on poverty in those areas. The intensified insurgencies worsen poverty in those areas as businesses flee the fighting, and the entire country becoming for the global community a politically unstable one.

Source: NSCB

Source: NSCB

The national poverty figures actually mask the reversal of gains in reducing poverty in many provinces achieved by Aquino’s predecessor, President Arroyo. In nearly half of the country’s provinces, the reduction of poverty achieved from 2006 to 2009 was reversed under Aquino, the incidence of poverty rising. (See table)

Even in such a minuscule province as Batanes, the fiefdom of Aquino’s ideologue and Budget secretary Florencio Abad, the poverty incidence more than doubled, from 14 percent in 2009 to 37 percent. No wonder, Abad’s wife nearly lost—winning by only 200 votes—in the recent congressional contest. The poverty rate in Capiz, home province of Aquino’s would-be successor Mar Roxas, went down to 29 percent from 2006 to 2009; it increased to 30 percent in 2012.

The impoverishment in several provinces under Aquino’s watch is actually alarming, with the poverty incidence at rates seen only in war devastated countries:

• In six provinces, half of the population have become poor, down from the 2009 levels: Occidental Mindoro, Negros Oriental, Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato, and Northern Samar;

• In four provinces, two out of three Filipinos are poor: Ifugao, Eastern Samar, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao.

On Wednesday: Why poverty won’t be solved under Aquino.