More Filipinos poor, Arroyo adviser admits

More Filipinos poor, Arroyo adviser admits
Salceda: Rich also became richer
By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The rich have gotten richer, but the ranks of the poor have expanded amid the economic growth since 2001, an economic adviser of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said Sunday.

“My biggest frustration as a presidential adviser is that 34 quarters of uninterrupted expansion in the past nine years did little to reduce poverty and the number of poor people,” Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said in an interview.

While the Arroyo administration continued to crank out glowing economic growth data, “these rosy figures cannot hide the fact that there are more poor people now than when the President started her term,” Salceda said.

He cited data from the National Statistical Coordination Board which showed that the number of poor Filipinos—five-member families living on a little more than P1,200 a month—rose to 27.60 million in 2006 from 25.47 million in 2001.

In addition, the incidence of hunger nearly doubled from 11.4 percent in 2000 to 20.3 percent last year, he said.

“That is a lot of poor people. Given our average economic growth in the last four decades, it would take 37 years for this poor to get out of poverty,” Salceda said.

Economists expect the number of people living below the poverty line to further go up because of natural disasters like Tropical Depression “Ondoy,” Typhoon “Pepeng” and the dry spell caused by El Niño, power outages and the economic slowdown.

Highest GDP growth

The Arroyo administration has boasted of having the highest gross domestic product (GDP) average growth of 4.4 percent among all presidents since 1966, according to Salceda.

But the windfall earnings have been enjoyed entirely by the country’s richest corporations and families, he said. GDP is the value of goods produced and services rendered in a particular country in a given period.

Government efforts to provide direct subsidies to the poor through power and fuel rebates, cheaper rice and medicine, and healthcare benefits have been negated by what he calls “structural constraints” to a more equitable distribution of income.

Salceda said profits of the country’s top 1,000 corporations jumped 21 percent a year while their return on equity or investments increased 15 percent a year since Ms Arroyo took power.

“Their total earnings amounted to P3.1 trillion of which P2.1 trillion was pocketed as dividends or earnings of the stockholders. Only P1 trillion was reinvested,” he said.

Salceda said he and the rest of Ms Arroyo’s economic management team “honestly believed” that economic growth would be enough to lift the well-being of the destitute.

Oligarchies too sturdy

Historical structural factors, however, have persisted and are tougher to get undone despite deregulation, liberalization and privatization, he said.

“The oligarchies were just too sturdy as the state was weak due to the ‘Hello Garci’ case. The business sector really exploited it,” Salceda said. He refused to elaborate.

The “Hello Garci” scandal refers to taped conversations between a woman believed to be Ms Arroyo and Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano about ensuring her lead while votes for the 2004 presidential election were being counted.

The opposition claimed that the tapes proved that Ms Arroyo stole the election. Amid calls for her resignation and street protests, she denied any wrongdoing but apologized to the public.

Salceda added that the annual population growth added more people to the ranks of the poor. There are now more than 92 million Filipinos.

He was nevertheless hopeful that the country’s next leader would have a broader base of popular support to help him or her carry out pro-poor programs.

The programs, he said, should be inclusive and should target the rural sector. Seventy-four percent of poor Filipinos are in the rural sector.

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.